Here's What Happened When We Replaced Our Entire Skincare Routine with All-Natural Products

Castor oil, raw shea butter, tomato  juice, avocado and plenty of honey.
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Castor oil, raw shea butter, tomato  juice, avocado and plenty of honey.
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After my skin completely freaked out early last year, I’ve been obsessed with finding better and gentler ways to approach skincare. Last spring, I got rid of all my jellies made with chemicals like salicylic acid, made the switch to fragrance-free products and started wearing sunscreen. My routine was going well, but the overachiever in me couldn’t help but think, “How can I do this better?”

One afternoon, during a big apartment cleanup, my roommate mentioned to me that she wanted to start buying natural cleaning products. I thought she was crazy. After all, don’t we need those chemicals to get rid of grease and dirt? “Yes,” she replied. “But they’ll be gentler on our surfaces.” A light bulb went off in my head. If natural cleaning products would be kinder to our countertops, could the same principle apply to my face? I decided to give it a try. I adjusted my regimen to include only natural products, which mostly consisted of stuff you can get at the grocery store. I replaced my face wash with natural oil, my store-bought astringent with tomato juice, and made my own avocado masks and body lotion. I enlisted the help of coconut oil when I needed a little extra moisture.

I tried to stick to my regular routine. Normally, I wash my face once or twice a day before applying moisturizer (I add sunscreen in the summer, but not much in the winter since I’m inside for the vast majority of the day and also: lazy). I use some sort of lotion moisturizer every day, which I apply twice a day in the winter, and I do a pore-cleansing treatment or mask at least once a week. Click through to see what happened when I went on my naTRILL skin regimen -- what worked, what didn’t and which of these things I’m still practicing today.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Cleansing 

My usual products:Pond's Cold Cream face cleanser $7.09 • Philosophy Purity Made Simple cleanser, $23 • Arm & Hammer baking soda, $2.95 (I use this with my cleanser as an exfoliator)

I wanted a way to wash my face every day without getting that awful stiff feeling afterwards, or stripping my skin of its natural oils and causing a rash (or worse, acne). I did a little digging, and discovered the Oil Cleansing Method (often abbreviated to "OCM"). The theory behind it is that natural, “clean” oils, like olive and castor, are ideal for cleansing because they’re “good” oils, which penetrate to draw out the bad ones (the stuff that clogs your pores), supposedly leaving you with glowing, moisturized skin.

The routine: Once a day, I rubbed a quarter-sized amount of an oil blend -- 1/8 cup castor and 1/8 cup olive, mixed in an old Smucker's jelly jar -- on my face. I then placed a hot washcloth over it for a minute, and subsequently wiped away the solution. When I needed extra exfoliation, I added a sprinkle of baking soda to the mixture.

Did it work?: For the first two weeks, it did. My roommate commented on how great my skin looked after my first couple of times doing it, and, yes, I was glowing. My skin felt supple, moisturized, and soft -- so, so soft. But after two weeks, it started to dry out. By the end of the month, my radiant skin had disappeared, leaving a dull, splotchy mess in its place. It was so bad that I e-mailed NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Heidi Waldorf. “I don’t recommend it," she wrote. "First, there is a significant risk of allergic contact dermatitis to some natural oils like castor oil. Second, even if the oil applied to the skin helps remove some of the natural oil (sebum) from the skin surface, it is just replacing it with additional oil which, if it isn’t a noncomedogenic oil, could aggravate acne.” You live and you learn.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Moisturizing

My usual products: • On face: Kiehl's Skin Rescuer, $40 • On body: Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula, $6.72

The only thing I knew I was going to miss during my natural skincare kick was my Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula, you know, the solid stuff that comes in a jar and smells like straight-up chocolate. I only use it in the winter. Over the years, it’s become my little way of dealing with seasonal affective disorder. But, for the sake of experimentation, I had to give it up.

I ditched my delicious-smelling balm and got to work making one of my own. I picked up a 16 oz. jar (about the size of a takeout soup container) of raw shea butter instead (about $8, available on Amazon). According to the label, it can be used to treat dry skin, eczema and burns; applied as a sunscreen, hair conditioner or stretch-mark cream; and even help with pain from swelling.

While that's quite a list, I was only using it for dry skin, particularly on my body (the texture was too heavy for my face, and I usually felt pretty hydrated after my new oil treatment, at least at first). The formula is rock hard, difficult to get out of the bin and a bit of a nuisance to rub in. It also has a rubbery smell I didn’t like -- some people don’t mind it, but I wasn’t about to put up with it for an entire month. Something needed to be done. My roommate suggested that I tweak the shea a little to alleviate my concerns.

The routine: I got to work making my new formula. I removed about half the shea butter from the jar into a bowl, and added about 1 tablespoon of melted coconut oil ($10 at The Vitamin Shoppe) and two teaspoons of lavender oil ($8 at Walgreens) for scent. I mashed the shea butter down, which made it creamier and easier to manage, and it smelled a heck of a lot better when I was done. After I rubbed the mixture into my skin, all anyone could smell was lavender. Score.

Did it work?: Of course it did. It was a good replacement for my cocoa butter, performance-wise. Plus, making my own moisturizer proved to be quite economical, which was great. I made another batch with the rest of the shea and all said, it lasted me the whole month.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Toning

My usual product: Kiehl's Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free toner, $16 (weekly)

The pores on my cheeks can sometimes look a lot bigger than they need to. Of course, they might look bigger to me than they do to everyone else, but regardless, I slap on a store-bought toner once a week to help out. While it's a gentle formula, I'm paranoid about drying out my skin/too lazy to remember to do it more often, so I decided to stick to the same frequency for this experiment.

The routine: I decided on a tomato juice and honey concoction. The acid in the juice helps shrink your pores, and the sticky sweet honey naturally provides moisture. I mixed together about 1 tablespoon of each, and applied to my face with a cotton pad. You can definitely feel it working -- you get that strangely satisfying tingly feeling when you use it.

Did it work?: Much better than I thought it would. The tomato juice did wonders to shrink my pores -- it almost seemed like they were non-existent afterward -- plus, the stuff smelled really yummy.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Masks and Treatments

My usual products:Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate, $46 (nightly) • Boscia Luminizing Black Mask, $34 (weekly)

I like to use a nourishing mask to give my skin some extra love during the week -- it really feels like it's pulling out a lot of the dirt that gets in my pores. But since the Oil Cleansing Method was supposed to do that particular job, I needed something that would put moisture and nutrients back into my skin. The Keihl's Midnight Recovery serum I use every night contains essential oils (like lavender) and botanical lipids (squalane) that give my skin a nice luster, and I wanted something that could work as a substitute. Avocado is packed with vitamin E and those good, fatty oils that make your skin appear healthier. Again, dewey is what I was going for. 

The routine: I mashed up half an avocado (you can also use a food processor, if you’re lazy), mixing it with about a tablespoon of honey. I slathered it all over my face and let it sit for about 10 minutes before washing the goop off with a washcloth.

Did it work?: Just OK. My skin did feel pretty good afterwards, but I wasn’t bowled over with the results.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

The Ultimate Conclusion

Store-bought skincare is just more fun and convenient, period. There’s a reason why we rush to Sephora or the nearest drugstore to get our hands on new products. They’re easy and not perishable. After my mask treatments, I wound up having to eat my fair share of avocado halves (not that I’m really complaining).

Also, it is time-consuming to have to mix your own formulas. On most nights, the Oil Cleansing Method seemed like a chore, especially with my busy schedule. It was definitely more of a production than just slapping something from a bottle onto your face. I can’t tell you how many times I came home after a late night of boozing and cruising, just dreading the process. Way too high maintenance.

After the month was up, I ditched most of my "natural" routine, but I have returned to the tomato toner, and I'm happy to report it still works great. I'm also still using the leftover shea butter mix as a body moisturizer (I haven't even bought a new my jar of beloved Palmer's Cocoa Butter!).

But, in the end, if you want to go all-natural, make sure you have the time and patience to do so. For those who do, I salute you.