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The Do’s and Don’ts of DIY Personal Care

With all the buzz going around about DIY beauty and personal care, it’s hard to resist raiding your pantry and filling your bathroom with sugar and spice and everything nice. Perhaps the biggest lure of DIY is that it’s easy on your wallet, and there’s the added benefit of having the freedom to use entirely organic, biodegradable and environmentally-friendly ingredients. But before you go wild and whip up every recipe you have saved on Pinterest, you may want to consider that not everything you can eat is necessarily the best thing for your skin. While common kitchen staples may be non-toxic, some can certainly cause unwanted irritation or damage to your skin, teeth, and hair. To save you from some of these potential DIY disasters, we’ve put together a list of Do’s and Don’ts, with suggestions for better alternatives for achieving what you want, using ingredients that are just as gentle for you as they are for the environment.

1. Don’t: Baking soda Baking soda has been touted as a cure-all for its astringent and exfoliating properties. While that fine powder may seem like the perfect addition to a DIY scrub, sodium bicarbonate is a chemical compound with a very high pH, making it one of the worst candidates to go from your pantry to your face. Healthy skin has a slightly acidic pH of about 4-5.5, whereas baking soda is very alkaline at a pH of about 9. While that may not seem like a big difference, each whole number on the pH scale represents a 10-fold increase. But what do you mean? All the health food blogs tell me that an alkaline body is healthy, so alkaline=good, right? Nope! When it comes to your skin, a pH of 6.0 or higher can compromise your skin’s outermost layer that acts as a protective barrier, making it susceptible to acne-causing bacteria and microbes. Prolonged use of high pH products can lead to long-term barrier damage, which can cause chronically dehydrated skin, acne eruptions, excess oil production, and premature aging. When it comes to baking soda’s exfoliating properties, physical exfoliants can actually break the skin, causing further damage to its barrier. Rough, grainy scrubs like salt, sugar, and ground up seeds can also be far too harsh, causing micro-tears that make your skin work harder to repair itself. Do: Konjac Sponge If exfoliation is what you are aiming for, a konjac sponge is a great alternative to get the job done without compromising your barrier. Konjac sponges are inexpensive and biodegradable, made from fibers of the konjac plant, an edible root that is sometimes used in Japanese cuisine. The jelly-like sponge is gentle enough to use daily without causing irritation. It can be used with a cleanser or just plain water, and will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.

2. Don’t: Lemon Juice Lemon juice is another popular go-to ingredient for DIY, with the belief that its high acidity lends it astringent and exfoliating properties. It is also believed to have brightening and anti-aging powers due to its high Vitamin C content. However, lemon juice’s high acidity can cause irritation, making it a bad choice for DIY. High and low extremes on the pH scale can cause chemical burns, and anything below a pH of 3 is not recommended for skincare. At about 2.0 on the pH scale, lemon juice falls just below the safe threshold for topical use. Another important, albeit lesser-known factor is that many citrus fruits like lemon contain chemical compounds called furocoumarins, which can cause phototoxicty. These compounds can increase photosensitivity, leaving you more susceptible to sun damage like sunburns, skin cancer, sunspots and premature aging. Do: Green Tea A great alternative to acidic lemon juice is green tea, which contains beneficial compounds that calm rather than irritate. Green tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant known for its brightening and anti-aging properties, and its ability to repair sun damage. Because of its gentle, calming properties, green tea is one of the most versatile ingredients for DIY. You can use it as a toner, in a mask, or strong brew a batch for a green tea bath. Matcha powder can be used instead of brewed tea for a different textural effect. For an added boost, try yerba mate tea, which is known to contain 90% more antioxidants than regular green tea.

3. Don’t: Lemon Juice Part II: Tooth Whitening The high acidity in Lemon Juice isn’t just harmful to your skin. When used for tooth whitening, it can also wear away at tooth enamel, increasing sensitivity and making you more susceptible to cavities and tooth decay. The good news is there are gentler alternatives for natural tooth whitening that can even strengthen your oral health.

Do: Oil pulling with Coconut Oil Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic technique that has been proven to whiten teeth and improve oral health. It involves swishing about a tablespoon of oil around your mouth for about 20 minutes (or however long is comfortable for you). The oil will draw bacteria from those hard-to-reach areas your toothbrush may not be able to get to, improving the condition of your teeth and gums over time. The thought of having a spoonful of oil in your mouth may sound a bit unpleasant, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. In the first few seconds, any flavor from the oil becomes diluted and undetectable. When your time is up, spit, rinse with saltwater and brush your teeth as usual. Just make sure to use two different toothbrushes, one for oil pulling and one for regular brushing, and allow your toothbrush to dry completely before using it again. While sesame and sunflower oil are used traditionally, coconut oil is also a great choice for its added anti-microbial properties and whitening benefits. 4. Don’t: Mineral Oil Mineral Oil is one of the most commonly used ingredients for the oil cleansing method, which involves massaging oil onto dry skin for 1-5 minutes and rinsing with water or a damp wash cloth. The oil reacts with you skin’s natural oils, loosening up oxidized debris from your pores and aiding in removing stubborn sunscreen and makeup. You may want to follow with a foaming cleanser to remove any excess oily residue that may be hard to rinse off completely with just water. While jury is still out on whether or not mineral oil causes premature aging, it is known that mineral oil is slow to biodegrade, and the environmental buildup can be potentially harmful to birds and marine life. That, compounded with the environmental impacts of the pollution-heavy mining industry, mineral oil becomes a bad contender for use in DIY. Do: OCM using Plant-based Oils The good news is that the oil cleansing method can be done with pretty much any oil that works with your skin type, so there’s no need to use potentially harmful mineral oil. Create your own oil blend by using inexpensive cooking oils like coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, and grapeseed oil as a base, and add skin-healthy oils like jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, evening primrose oil, tea tree oil, or rosehip seed oil for added benefits.

5. Don’t: Baking Soda and Vinegar Hair Wash While we already know that baking soda shouldn’t be used on your skin due to its highly alkaline pH, the same principle applies to your hair. Healthy hair has a pH between 4.5 – 5.5, so it maintains its strength and shine best with products that have a similar acidity. Even when diluted in water, baking soda has a pH of about 8, which can damage your hair leaving it dry and brittle. Apple Cider Vinegar has a more appropriate pH of 4.5-5, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for your hair. While it may provide temporary benefits like closing the hair cuticle to increase its shine factor, over time it can be drying and cause your hair to grow weak and lose its structural integrity. The acidity can even remove your hair’s natural pigments, leaving you with brassy orange highlights (yikes!). Do: Coconut Oil Hair Mask If you want to give your hair some special treatment, try a coconut oil mask instead. Remember those commercials in the 80s for “Hot Oil” hair treatments that claimed to instantly make your hair soft and radiant? Some say you can achieve the same results with a coconut oil hair mask. Just massage an appropriate amount of oil into your hair, pin it up and cover with a shower cap for a few hours or overnight. Then wash and dry as usual.

text by Susie Lee

images © Marcus Nyberg