Natural Beauty - Head to Toe
A Holistic Guide to Looking Your Best
Is it true that, You’re only as pretty as you feel? Yes, says Alan Dattner, a New York medical doctor and pioneer in holistic dermatology. “The most important thing that people can do for beauty,” he says, “is to come from peace, joy, appreciation and happiness inside, and let that radiate out on their faces.”
Many experts agree: The secret to true beauty is to work from the inside out, as well as the outside in, reducing exposure to toxins of all sorts, including stress, and watching what we put in the body, as well as what we put on it. Here’s how Natural Awakenings’ panel of beauty professionals answered when asked how we can take good care of skin, hair and nails, and look our best, naturally.
How do I keep my skin resilient, clear and looking youthful?
“Lifestyle issues, including stress, have a huge impact on skin,” advises Allison Tannis, a registered holistic nutritionist and author of Feed Your Skin, Starve Your Wrinkles. Before spending money on creams and treatments, look at your eating, sleeping, working, playing and exercising habits. “Stress, whether environmental or internal, increases the body’s production of free radicals, which leads to damage of cells, including skin cells,” Tannis explains. So, anti-stress activities, including relaxation, boost your appearance. Adequate sleep is also crucial for cellular rejuvenation, which is why signs of sleep deprivation show up in the face immediately, ranging from pimples and puffiness to creases and dark under-eye circles.
A healthy skin diet is high in anti-inflammatory foods and antioxidants that fight free radicals. Tannis notes that, “Inflammation disorganizes the skin’s complex infrastructure that keeps it tight and strong.” Basically, a diet that’s good for the body is great for the skin, as well, and comprises vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, such as olive oil.
As for key foods, helpful antioxidants are found in berries and brightly colored fruits; Tannis especially likes kiwis and raspberries. Seeds and nuts have well-known anti-inflammatory properties, as well as minerals that form the building blocks of healthy skin and hair. Studies in the British Journal of Nutrition and elsewhere indicate that omega-3 oil, from borage, flaxseed, or fatty, saltwater fish like salmon can help hydrate the skin and reduce puffiness. According to research from the University of Brussels, silica—present in cucumbers, rhubarb, bean sprouts and other veggies—seems to play a role in skin hydration, as well as the formation of healthy nails and hair.
Because skin, nails and hair all need a range of nutrients to grow, repair, and rejuvenate, Tannis also suggests a good multivitamin supplement. Finally, drinking plenty of water is vital to keeping skin hydrated from the inside out.
Labels on my hair care products show a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. Is it possible to get great hair without dumping all these chemicals on it?
It’s smart to be concerned about the ingredients in hair care and skincare products, because they are subject to little official regulation and may include ingredients that are not only ineffective, but harmful to health and damaging to hair and skin. That’s why green living expert Renée Loux, author of Easy Green Living, makes environmentally friendly choices. “If it’s toxic for the Earth, it’s probably toxic for our bodies, too,” she believes.
Complex ingredient lists often make it hard to know what we’re applying. Fortunately, consumer advocates like Loux (ReneeLoux.com) and the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) have done our homework for us.
When choosing products, Loux’s rule of thumb is, “plants over petroleum.” In other words, if the primary ingredients—listed in descending order by percentage in a shampoo, conditioner, gel, serum or mousse—are botanical or plant-derived ingredients, you and the planet are probably safe. Petroleum and petrochemicals—which are commonly used in many hair care products and are derived from a non-renewable resource—don’t break down well into natural components in the environment and may be harmful to human health. Loux also pays special attention to the last few ingredients listed on the label because this is where innocuous-sounding toxics often hide, perhaps as a fragrance or colorant.
In the shampoo category, Loux likes low-sudsing versions, because suds are typically created by synthetic-foaming agents called sulfates (sodium lauryl sulfate is common) that may irritate skin and poison the environment. With hair color, look for a stylist that uses low-ammonia dyes, or buy them yourself in health food stores and natural pharmacies; temporary colorants are safer than permanent dyes. “The deeper the color, the more important it is to look at the ingredients,” counsels Loux.
With so many products and spa treatments to choose from, I’m confused about what my skin really needs to look its best. What are the basic necessities for a natural skincare routine?
Cleansing (morning and night for oily skin, just at bedtime for dry skin) and moisturizing (all skin types) are the basics of daily skincare, according to dermatology physician Jeanette Jacknin, author of Smart Medicine for Your Skin and founder of the J.J.M.D. Botanical Dermatology skincare line. She says that soaps are generally too harsh and drying for facial skin, so use a non-soap cleanser instead, preferably one that is pH balanced. Oily skin will need a toner after washing to control oil secretion, and then a moisturizer, while dry skin can go straight to the moisturizer.
~ The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (SafeCosmetics.org)
“Men’s skin is actually thicker, rougher, and more oily and sweaty than women’s skin,” notes Jacknin. “Also, men have the special challenges of a beard.” So, while a man may borrow his wife’s or girlfriend’s lotion, he may also want to find a skincare line made especially for him.”
The next two steps in Jacknin’s natural skincare routine are exfoliation, to remove dead skin cells from the skin surface, and facial masks, which deep-clean, nourish and revitalize skin. These steps should be done once or twice a week, depending on skin type and the strength of the exfoliator or mask.
Exfoliates come in two forms: abrasives, which physically rub off the dead skin cells; and chemical, which dissolve or peel away the surface skin layer. Natural abrasives include oatmeal and sugar granules, while fruit sugars and fruit acids, from pumpkin, apple or papaya, for example, provide natural chemical peels. Look for products with fruit-derived exfoliates or make your own (Jacknin recommends Skin-Care-Recipes-and-Remedies.com). Take advantage of professional exfoliation and facial treatments by estheticians and spas that use professional product lines with plant-based ingredients.
~ Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan
The final step in any skincare routine is sun protection. Wearing essential clothing, including hats, sunglasses and long sleeves, and staying out of the midday sun are dermatologist Dattner’s first choices for protecting skin from rays that can age and damage it. When in the sun, wear a mineral-based sun block such as zinc oxide, which stays on top of the skin, rather than getting absorbed, and forms a physical barrier to both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays. Also, watch out for nano-minerals; these have been broken into particles small enough to be absorbed by the skin during the manufacturing process, with possibly harmful results, according to Dattner, Loux and other experts. Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not require that nano-minerals be listed on labels, so consumers must do their own research.
What about makeup? As Loux points out, the skin absorbs 60 percent of what goes on it, and many cosmetics are full of unregulated, untested petrochemicals. Does that mean you shouldn’t wear any makeup? Not at all. Makeup artist Jessa Blades, of Blades Natural Beauty (BladesNaturalBeauty.com), says that switching over to natural, safe, mineral- and plant-based cosmetics is easy, as long as you are realistic. In general, the fewer ingredients used, the safer the product.
“Give natural products a bit of time, and don’t be so hard on them,” she suggests. Her natural eyeliner requires reapplying a few times a day, she says. “But I’m willing to do that for my health.” Her tips for making the transition: 1) Switch slowly; don't dump all your old favorites all at once; 2) Go natural on the products you use every day, such as concealer and lipstick, which gets absorbed directly into the bloodstream when you eat or lick your lips; 3) Change your expectations, as natural makeup is not as long-lasting, inexpensive or easy-to-find as the more common, but toxic, stuff. The good news is when it comes time to remove it, all you need is raw coconut or sweet almond oil and a cotton ball. “Natural makeup just slides right off,” says Blades.
The smell at the nail salon is noxious; should I be worried about what’s going onto my fingernails?
“If your eyes are watering, your nose is twitching and your lungs are seizing up, you should listen to your body,” says Loux. It is hard to get colors—especially bright, deep, rich, shimmering colors—to stick to nails; consequently, of all cosmetics, nail polishes tend to contain the most toxins.
“Nail polish is one of the tougher products to find for someone who’s looking to go natural,” says Loux. But she points out that some brands are eliminating toluene, a petroleum-based solvent that the Environmental Protection Agency has linked to mild to severe problems with respiratory and nervous systems as well as kidney and liver functions. These less toxic polishes require more benign removers than conventional noxious-smelling acetones. Always apply them outside or near an open window.
Even better, achieve a smooth, clear shine without any polish using a nail buffer. It’s a quick, inexpensive way for men and women to sustain a natural, finished look.
~ British Medical Journal
What can I do to get my winter-weary feet ready for sandals?
In a word, exfoliate. Rub away calluses and thickened, cracked skin with an emery board, and then relax while soaking feet in Epsom salts to soften skin, and rub gently with a luffa or pumice stone. Foot scrubs containing salt or sugar granules invigorate and increase circulation, especially if they include peppermint, rosemary or tea tree oil within a moisturizing Shea butter or organic foot oil. Exfoliating creams, similar to facial exfoliates, but stronger, also help peel away withered winter skin. Always be sure to apply a moisturizer to protect the newly exposed skin. Remember to soften elbows and knees, too.