Beauty 101: Recipes From Readers

This week's Beauty 101 is focusing on homemade beauty treatments, and your fellow readers have come through with various "recipes" for everything from body scrubs to shampoos:

As always, I'd like to thank everyone for the helpful hints they submitted in the comment section of yesterday's thread or by email: though I can't use them all, due to space issues, they are all appreciated. Before I list the recipes sent in by various readers, I'd also like to remind everyone that this entire series relies on user submissions, and that what works for some readers might not be ideal for others, and that when dealing with skin issues, it might be best to check with your doctor or dermatologist before trying anything new. As commenter A Small Turnip points out:

While there's absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with using natural products on your skin and hair, remember that just because it's something you can pick up in your greengrocer's doesn't mean it can't do some serious damage to your skin. Grapefruit is notorious for causing rashes. Papaya gives many people hives. Almond extract can cause sun-sensitivity, and witch hazel will burn you like a motherfucker if you're not careful.

Keep in mind that some of the spookier names you read on a cosmetics label, like ammonium lauryl sulfate, or triethanolamine, are preservatives (and plant-derived preservatives, at that). They prevent microbial contamination—something that you do need to be aware of if you're going "all-natural". Practice safe skincare, guys!

A, who wrote in via email, agrees:

I'm a long time addict of natural beauty remedies. However, as I've gotten some nasty rashes after applying some face masks containing either yogurt, milk, tomatoes or strawberries I'd advise for caution. I remember reading somewhere that if you're afraid of an allergic reaction you should test the product on a coin sized area on the inside of your elbow. Skin is comparatively sensitive to the one on your face and any rash can be covered and treated way easier.

With that in mind, here are a few reader suggestions:

Scrubs/Salves:
From commenter samplesize:

I make a olive and coconut oil salt scrub with kosher salt. Kosher salt is way cheaper than sugar, with a nice, course grain, but beware, if you have any cuts it will burn. Olive oil is cheaper than coconut, but coconut gives it a nice smell.

From S, via email:

I use this get rid of dead skin on my face about once or twice a week (more in the summer when you're all sweaty): 1/2 teaspoon organic brown sugar + enough olive oil to soak the sugar through. Mix it in a small bowl and then use it like you would any facial scrub. Wash off sugar with water, and then wait a few minutes before washing your face or showering more thoroughly to make sure that the olive oil doesn't just sit on your skin doing the opposite of what it should. Your skin should feel soft and moisturized, but not oily.

From P, via email:

For my body, I combine a bowl brown sugar with a tablespoon of honey and a few tbsps (depending on the amount I want) of olive oil to make AN AMAZING sugar scrub. It's good all over (but ignore your nether regions) and you can work longer and use more on dry areas like the backs of your arms, your knees and where ever else needs it. It's amazing, and probably enough moisturizer for a lot of people, but I follow it up with some thick Hempz lotion just to make sure (I live in a very dry place!)

From S, via email:

I swear by this stuff, especially during the cruel winter months. I hate
using lotion. It's too expensive, it takes too long to apply (especially to
your entire body), and it takes way too long to soak in. This has been my
solution to "winter skin" for the past 10 years:

Single Batch Body Scrub Recipe
* Recipe can be doubled.

2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp honey
1/4 c. olive oil

Directions: Blend ingredients with a fork. Start with the brown and white
sugar, then add the olive oil and honey. Store the clumpy mixture in an
unbreakable, water-tight container in your shower. (I use cheap-o
Tupperware.) After your usual cleansing ritual, turn off the water and apply
small handfuls of the scrub to your entire body using circular motions. I'm
not prone to acne, so I even use it on my face. Rinse off (the water will
bead off your skin), and pat dry with a towel.

After 2-3 uses, it cures even my worst winter skin. Then I only need to use
it every other day (or less) to maintain soft, supple skin.

I distributed this recipe among my friends years ago, and at the start of
every winter, they tell me when they make their first batch. Warning: My
husband is quite hairy and tells me this does not rinse easily out of body
hair. However, when he's desperate (he gets terrible winter skin), he'll
still use it. It's *that* good.

From S, via email:

I used to pay $9 for small container of "Japanese Grains" face scrub
at the Body Shop - a great scrub to exfoliate and minimize pores.
When the product was discontinued, I hoarded my last container, until
I happened to look at the ingredients - "Adzuka beans" was the only
ingredient listed. I ran off to the health food store and bought a
quarter pound of the dried beans from the bulk foods aisle and ground
them up in my coffee grinder. For about $.50, I got about four times
what I would spend $9 for at the Body Shop!

Adzuka (or Azuka) beans are what red bean paste is made from. To
grind them, run a tablespoon at a time through your clean coffee
grinder, pulsing until the beans are ground to the consistency of salt
or smaller grains. Put in an airtight container to keep moisture out.
To use, pour a teaspoon into your hand and add a small amount of
water and mix to a paste, Spread on your clean, damp face and scrub
it up, especially around your T-zone. Use a couple times a week - not
every day.

From commenter gonewilde:

I started making homemade skin salve for my pregnant friends who wanted something super-natural for their bellies, and I loved the result so much it's now all I use as a body moisturizer.

The recipe is super easy, produces amazing skin cream, and makes a beautiful gift for friends if you put it in a nice jar. It has the added bonus of giving your skin a golden glow because of the olive oil base.

In a pot or slow cooker, pour about 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Add a good amount of clean, washed fresh herbs you like (I prefer lavender and rosemary), NOT the essential oil (this keeps it very mild) and let it steep on the lowest heat possible for a couple hours. Remove the herbs, squeeze the herby goodness out, and pick out any stray leaves.

Then, add in some beeswax to make the cream spreadable - I use some from a local farmer's market; $3 buys me enough for several batches. Use a cheese grater to get a few tablespoons - you need less than you think to make it hold together. If you want to test how thick the salve will be, put a plate in the freezer and drip some of the mixture on it to see how it sets (like jam!). Stir the wax in till it melts.

Once you have the right beeswax amount mixed in with your infused oil, then add in 2 tbsp or so of pure vitamin E oil (only if you're not allergic to it - if so use aloe vera oil). It's absolutely magical for your skin and helps preserve the salve.

Then, pour the resulting mixture into a bottle, chill in the fridge for a half hour to set, and enjoy!

Masks/Facial Cleansers:
From commenter metaphorsbewithyou:

I came up with this mask several years ago when I was working for a med-spa. It's soo amazing for anyone with a dull complexion or combination skin. Plus, it involves booze :)

in a small bowl, combine 8oz plain Greek yogurt and one shot of vodka. Stir with a fork (to break up the yogurt; it may clump). When well-blended, apply with a brush or clean fingers to your clean face. Leave on for 15 minutes. During this time you are free to drink any vodka that may be left over. After 15 minutes, rinse off with cool water.

The lactic acid and enzymes in the yogurt help to soften and moisturize skin, and the alcohol in the vodka acts as an astringent to zap bacteria and minimize pores. Plus, the yogurt prevents the alcohol from drying out your skin. When I worked at the med-spa, this was the most requested mask during facials.

For very oily skin, mash up some fresh, raw cranberries and add to the mask mixture. The fruit acid helps get rid of oil, but is still gentle. You can do this mask a couple times a week. Besides, it has delicious booze in it, what's not to love??

From S, via email:

I am so happy that this post is happening, because I want to share
that olive oil is hands down the world's BEST makeup remover. Doesn't
leave your skin dry, and is surprisingly not nearly as oily as you
think it would be. Works great. I haven't bought makeup remover in 5
years, and it's soooo much cheaper.

From commenter Not-Shattered:

Skin type: Combination, slightly sensitive. I only really break out during my period, and I just started a new birth control to help that.

For my face, I mix honey and lemon juice as a cleanser. I add brown sugar if I want a scrub. I swear the lemon juice really brightens my skin.

From commenter ElviraGooch:

Tea tree oil on a zit, clears it up in a couple of days. I have living, 6'4'' proof right here in my 19 year old son. Also, a crushed aspirin, as has already been stated, mixed with a bit of water, put on a zit, will take out the redness because it reduces inflammation. I am also a big user of teabags, regular tea not herbal, on the eyes to make them feel better and look nice and bright. Good during allergy season! Any cheap oatmeal, whizzed in a blender, can be added to a bath for a soothing soak, way cheaper than Aveeno, which is great stuff. Olive oil and kosher salt is my go to for hand and feet exfoliation. I think everyone knows about the vinegar rinse for hair, it removes soap residue, so it is shinier. I have gotten so that I use vinegar for everything, even as a fabric softener in the washer. I am almost chemical free now at my house.

From commenter HanaMaru:

Egg facial masks for everybody:

Egg yolk is moisturizing and high in Vitamins A and E. Vit. A is a powerful chemical exfoliant. Vitamin E is very moisturizing and soothing, but both are potentially irritating to some people, so proceed with caution if your skin is sensitive, or you have known allergies. If not, you'll have lovely glowing moisturized skin.

Egg white:This is a magical mask for oily skin, acne, and large pores. As it dries, it sucks everything out and tightens your skin. There's nothing in here to irritate, and there's no eggy smell. After you rinse, you'll be amazed at how much smaller your pores look. It might be too much if your skin is normal/dry.

Whole beaten egg: a little of each aspect for normal or combination skin. For this one and the others: Wash your face well, pat dry, rub the stuff all over your face and neck with your fingertips. Let it dry, and done!

From commenter SomeAuthorGirl:

Dark circles/tired, itchy eyes: soak two slices of cucumber in cold witch hazel, put on your eyes under a very cold washcloth, and don't move for 10 minutes.

Another thing I do when my skin is dry and I get eczema-y is smear my entire (dry) body from the neck down with olive or avocado oil, then get in the shower. After washing my hair and face, I get out of the shower, wrap up my hair, and then massage into my skin whatever oil is left on my body. This is also a good reason to take your time in the shower and chill in the bathroom (I am not a person that typically "chills," "chillaxes," or slows down very much at all).

I don't think I could say enough about olive and avocado oil.

From commenter Anna.Molly:

Honey + Aspirin masks are sent from heaven! They exfoliate, moisturize and brighten your skin all at once!

I usually place 4-5 non-coated aspirin in a small saucer, and add several drops of water until aspirin dissolves then I add about a teaspoon [probably a bit less for a thicker consistancy] of honey and mix it with my fingers.

Rub the mixture onto your skin and neck using circular motion.

Let the mixture stay on your skin for about 20-25 minutes. And then rinse off using warm water.

Sometimes, if my skin is super fussy, I'll place a warm washcloth over my face as the mask is drying. The steam makes your skin unbelievably smooth, and reduces swelling of pimples!

I will usually use a facial cleanser after this to make sure I have no sticky honey left over, and then moisturize!

From commenter liesegregory:

I really like to use plain black or green tea as a facial cleanser and pore tightener. I don't wear makeup day-to-day, but I still get really greasy, especially in the summer, by the end of a shift. Hot or cold, black or green, tea is a great way to gently remove that grease and refresh my face, or just to start the day.

I just pour 6oz water over a teabag or a tablespoon of plain (no other flavors or herbs added) black or green tea (black tea has more tannic acid and thus is a stronger cleansing/tightening agent), let it cool enough that I can apply it to my face, and swab it really well. Leftover tea can be saved and used as a pick-me-up later, and teabags make wonderful eye masks.

Hair Hints:
From commenter beturtlement:

Conditioner: Coconut oil is a good pre-shampoo conditioner. Load it on damp hair, let it sit (or even add some heat), then wash out. Afterward, I use a little bit of the same moisturizer concoction in my hair as a leave in

From commenter almostanangel21:

I have an addiction to homemade hot oil treatments. You can find straight joboja oil online at puritan's pride or at a local health food store. Pour about 1/4 cup into a small glass or jar, set that in a pan filled with water, and heat it up until it's just slightly too warm to your fingers. Apply it to damp hair, and wrap a warm towel around your head for about 5-10 minutes. Shampoo your hair as usual. It's an ultra-frizz and dryness killer.

From A, via email:

I've used henna to colour my hair for about seven years, now, and if you want to be on the red spectrum it is a great (but time consuming) way to colour. I started because I always wanted red hair and was born a brunette, but was starting to react badly to regular hair dyes.

First off, a bit of basic chemistry. Henna is a plant that grows in the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and northern Africa; it grows best in dry and hot climates (1). The leaves are filled with lawsone, a type of tannin. Tannins are the things that make black tea turn a rich reddish brown, or make red wines red (and give them that particular flavour)—and, if you've ever spilled red wine or coffee or tea onto white clothing or furniture, you know that they stain like mofos. Fresh henna leaves, straight off the plant, will stain without any encouragement, but they don't keep very long. Henna comes as a powder (it'll be varying shades of leafy green, depending on where it was grown and how old it is), and needs to be mixed into a paste. There are lots and lots of ways to do this, but you need a little bit of something acidic to get it stated—acids break down the cellulose in the leaf cells and allow the lawsone to escape and stain more easily (2).

Because lawsone is a tannin, henna only comes in one colour: red-orange-brown-ish. The particulars of the region and wet/dryness of the climate are much more evident when henna is used for body art, but not so much on hair. Real, unadultered henna will make your hair red. What sort of red depends a lot on what colour it is when you start (3).

Henna plays nicely with other natural dyes, like walnut (which can be a problem if you have tree nut allergies) and indigo, which can be mixed in varying proportions to get cool browns to black. Stores like Lush carry "henna hair dyes" that have a lot of unnecessary stuff in them and often don't contain any henna at all, promising colours that aren't really possible without bleach. There are a couple brands available at health food stores, like Rainbow, which also promise a wide range of shades. Trust me: it is easier, safer, and cheaper to mix your own up at home. Henna has a really bad rap with a lot of beauticians and hair stylists, because they are told that it has metallic salts in it which will react badly to traditional dyes. Henna that you mix yourself from plain, pure henna powder and some water and a bit of acid is absolutely safe to dye over or use over dye or bleach or whatever you like (I've bleached mine, put in Manic Panic—a great brand if you want crazy colours and only vegetable dyes—dyed over both of those, and my hair's still in great shape). The stuff you can buy in the health food store in your favourite shade, however, might not be so safe to dye over in a couple of months.

My final tip: wear gloves when you're putting the henna in, or your hands will be bright orange for days.

From commenter Daisycat:

I love coconut oil for moisturizing my natural (4a) hair. Also, when doing twists, I use pure shea butter to help seal the ends. When I need protein, a mix of full fat yogurt, honey, and olive oil left on for an hour or so does the trick. But, I think the real trick is to try a bunch of things and seeing what works.

From commenter portmanteau:

Moisturizing treatment for natural A-A-A hair:

1 T. olive oil
1 T. molasses (you can sub honey)
1 ripe banana (I sometimes use baby food bananas, because they're already pureed)
1 egg yolk

I usually add a teaspoon of cornstarch to this after blending and heat it in a saucepan briefly to thicken it. (hate feeling stuff run down my face and neck!) Sometimes I'll add a 1/2 c. plain yogurt to this too. Then just put a plastic cap on and let it sit. Rinse thoroughly, and your hair will be soft!

From commenter HanaMaru:

Deep conditioning with oil for dry hair:
Use coconut, palm oil, olive, and avocado oils (basically straight chain glycerides, but not other oils) They can actually penetrate to the hair's cortex (the inner core within the cuticle), which will make your hair softer and less frizzy and last through a bunch of shampoos.

Someone down-thread mentioned the smell of coconut oil staying in their hair for many shampoos. That's how long it lasts, so use one that you like the smell of. Avocado is very neutral. You can also add essential oils to make it smell however you like. Coconut and palm oils are semi-solid, so easier to apply without dripping.

Apply to dry(not wet) hair from your mid-shaft to ends, avoiding your scalp unless you have a very dry scalp. Put your hair up with a claw clip/loose bun/etc. Hang out around the house for an hour, perhaps with a scary facial mask for good measure.
If you want to speed things up, wrap your hair in a plastic bag affixed with a bobby pin or a shower cap, then wrap that with a towel you've heated up in the microwave. Hang out for a mere 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly, wash your hair, applying shampoo only to your scalp, and conditioning only your ends. Voila, soft, shiny hair.

Healing Hints:
From commenter Gwenlet:

I almost hate to admit this, but on with it: the most effective way I know of to deal with shoes that give you blisters is vegetable shortening.

There's a product on the market called friction block which I bought for $7.99 (and it's tiny). I brought it home, and read the ingredients—'hydrogenated vegetable oil, cetyl alcohol, fragrance'—it's basically scented Crisco. And spreading a tiny tab of vegetable shortening on places where your shoes chafe really, sincerely, honestly will keep you from blisters, or at least hold 'em off for a long time.

From commenter PIKITIS!!

Rather than throwing out stale tea bags, I draw a hot bath, throw a few in, let it steep/cool, and have a lovely scented bath. Peppermint is especially good to clear up the sinuses.

Also, you can make your own scented, moistuzing bath balls by putting an eighth of a cup of powdered whole milk and coarsely chopped dried lavender or mint leaves in a circle of muslin or cheesecloth. Gather the edges so you can tie the ingredients in. This is great for sunburns - I take a heart medicine that reacts with lidocaine, which is found in aloe vera, so I have to find alternatives when I get burned. I like these homemade bath balls better than Aveeno oatmeal bath

Deodorant
From commenter itsonreserve;

Homemade Deodorant:

Regular deodorant makes the skin under my arms peel for some reason, but this homemade concoction I found on the internet keeps me from smelling at all.

1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup cornstarch go in a bowl. Add 15-30 drops of your favorite essential oil (I like lavender because it has anti-microbial qualities to help fight the stink bacteria). Add two tablespoons of virgin coconut oil to make it spreadable. A pea size amount under each arm keeps me smelling good.

From commenter banana.grabber:

My recipes, all of which have easy to find ingredients and are cheap to make:

**Deodorant (works super well!)**

4 Tablespoons coconut oil

3 Tablespoons baking soda
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
2 vitamin E capsules (optional)

Essential Oil, as desired

Melt the oils and then stir in the other ingredients. I put it in a ½ pint glass jar, but you can also put it in an old deodorant tube. Then, chill in the refrigerator (the quick chill keeps the ingredients from settling). In the winter, you can keep in the bathroom or whatever, but you should probably keep in the fridge during the summer. If you have really sensitive skin, you could try adjusting the amount of corn starch by adding more.

Didn't get the answers you were looking for? Be sure to read through the hundreds of tips posted by our commenters in yesterday's thread. Disagree with something you see here? Feel free to set the record straight in the comments. And of course, suggestions for next week's Beauty 101 are always welcome.

Earlier: Beauty 101: Make It In The Kitchen Edition

Looking for advice on another beauty topic? Check out the other Beauty 101 Q & A sessions:
Beauty 101: Your Scent-Related Problems, Solved
Beauty 101: Your Summer Beauty Dilemmas, Solved
Beauty 101: Your Blush And Bronzer Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Skincare Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Eye Queries, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Nail Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Lipstick Questions, Answered
Beauty 101:Your Hair Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Waxing/Shaving Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Foundation And Concealer Concerns, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Eyeliner Woes, Solved

Beauty 101: Recipes From Readers

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