I’ve seen a lot of awful skincare advice on the internet, but some of the most cringeworthy and, unfortunately, most persistent are DIY treatments that use common household items.
I understand why these treatments are attractive: they're cheap, easy, readily available, and may seem safer than the unfamiliar and unpronounceable treatments on drugstore and boutique shelves. Plus, some of these popular treatments, like honey, yogurt, and oatmeal can be truly beneficial to the skin.
But, as I hope you know by now, natural is not always safer or better. And I say that as a born-and-bred granola girl who practically eats compost for breakfast. Some of the most popular DIY treatments you’ve probably "pinned now to read later" are downright terrible for your skin.
Lemme ‘splain you why.
Your skin, the beautiful, multilayered beast, is topped off with a couple of protective barriers. The acid mantle, a thin coating on your skin that maintains your skin at a pH of 4 to 5 keeps it slightly acidic so that your skin is inhospitable to unwanted bacteria while supporting the good flora, making it harder for acne and infections to thrive on your skin. You also have a lipid layer, another thin layer of fatty oils secreted by the sebaceous glands that protects the skin and retains moisture so that you don’t dry out like an unlucky starfish.
DIY treatments like lemons, sugar, baking soda, and toothpaste, are very unkind to these layers and disrupt the work your skin is constantly doing to repair itself. I know some of you in the comments will tell me that these things have done awesome things for your skin. Fine. But I’m confident that there are plenty of better-formulated treatments will give you the same clear, smooth skin without the potential damage. It’s worth giving some of the alternative recommendations I’ll give below.
First up, let’s talk about lemons and lemon juice. This is the bad beauty advice that just will. Not. Die. I’ve seen it everywhere, from beauty mags, bloggers, online forums, pinners, and YouTube gurus. The only thing that makes me cringe harder is when I hear of people mixing lemon juice and sugar, but I’ll get to that later.
People use lemons for exfoliation and to lighten dark marks, but they are bad news because they are highly acidic, with a pH of 2. They will mess with the natural pH of the acid mantle and can irritate the skin. Also, because the citric acid content in lemons varies from fruit to fruit, you don’t really know how strong of a treatment you’re putting on your face; not to mention that citrus oils are potentially phototoxic, meaning that when you make contact with daylight with lemon on your face, the irritation will only increase, possibly to the point of chemical burns.
If you want the benefits of lemons without the nasty irritation, try an AHA toner with a pH between 3 and 4--still a low enough pH for an exfoliating effect, but not too low that your skin will freak.
Some good options include Makeup Artists Choice Mandelic Toner (if your skin can tolerate the alcohol), Paula’s Choice 8% AHA gel, Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir, or Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner.
If you still want to go the natural DIY route, though, try blending a little bit of pineapple or papaya with plain unsweetened yogurt and applying it as a mask. This will exfoliate your skin gently with a combination of fruit enzymes and lactic acid.
As I mentioned before, I often see recommendations to mix lemons and sugar. Sugar is another major skin NOPE. The uneven, jagged edges of sugar crystals will tear at your skin cells and disrupt your lipid barrier right quick, leaving you vulnerable to dryness and flakiness. After you’ve irritated your skin by scratching at it, the disruption of the lipid layer will only make it take longer to heal. If you want to make your skin soft and smooth, sugar will have the opposite effect in the long run.
Alternatively, if you must with physical exfoliation, your best bet is a more subtle method like the gentle application of a microfiber cloth, or a honey and turmeric mask, which will exfoliate lightly while the humectant honey draws moisture to the skin, rather than letting it slip away.
Another “natural” exfoliant I see floating around is baking soda. Avoid this one, too. Not only is it too harsh of a scrub, but it is also extremely basic (in the pH-of-9 way, not in the thirsty-haters way), so it will knock all the power out of your acid mantle, making your skin more basic than acidic. So basically, baking soda will tear your skin up and then strip it of its first line of defense against bacterial infection.
Finally, I want to talk about what is quite possibly the first ever DIY beauty treatment you ever tried: toothpaste. The first beauty magazines I ever read recommended this as a spot treatment for acne. And in a sea of acne treatments marketed to teens that are way too harsh and quickly strip the lipid barrier, I can understand why toothpaste seems like a gentler option. Still, this is misguided advice because most toothpastes are very basic in pH, so they mess with the acid mantle--the opposite of what you want to do when killing acne bacteria is your aim.
Also, they contain a whole bunch of ingredients that aren’t doing your skin any favors. The surfactants that make it foam up and the flavorings that keep it minty fresh? Irritants. All of them.
Better spot treatments include tea tree oil (diluted with your favorite carrier oil, please) or a dab of your favorite clay mask. Some of my best bets are Origins Clear Improvement mask, Proactiv Refining Mask, or just bulk yellow kaolin clay from your local health food store. (Try mixing it with honey!)
If you are nice to your acid mantle and lipid barrier, your skin will be nice to you. High five for skin horror stories avoided! That said, what's the most horrific DIY treatment you’ve ever tried?