Ah, a topic combination I get really excited to talk about: skincare and empowerment. You may initially think the two are not linked; this is my story of how they absolutely have been for me.
My skin care story started at the ripe age of 14 when I walked into a Caryl Baker Visage for a free facial and walked out with almost $200 worth of products that would mark the beginning of my slight obsession with skin care. On this day I internalized the following messages about my skin, as the outer visible layer to the world:
- My natural skin, and therefore outer self, is not good enough.
- I can fix this “problem” only by using products.
- If I start early, I will have nicer (aka younger) skin longer.
My Early Years
As a 14 year old, I worked at McDonald’s (a place I have proudly not walked in to, not even to pee, in over 8 years) for about $6 an hour. I basically had to work two full months, part-time, just to pay for my skin care! It wasn’t feasible. So, I changed tactics and turned to drugstore conventional products. I used everything from Noxima, Neutrogena, Clean & Clear, etc., to try and “eliminate” my almost invisible-to-others “acne”. I bought into the message that the more I wash and scrub and remove the harmful oil that is the cause of the pimples, the less pimples I’ll get! (As it turns out, this is a myth that continues to be perpetuated by the industries that directly profit from how much of their products we purchase and use.) My skin was miserable. At first it was too dry, and later in the day it became excessively oily. It was an absolute mess. I struggled less with this than did my sister, who would wash her face two to three times a day and still wake up with so much oil on her forehead that she used to say “you could fry an egg on it!” Our skin was desperate to be left alone, and it was reacting in hopes that we would listen…but we didn’t.
In my late teens and early 20’s I decided to invest more on my skin care. I started purchasing skin care products from places like “beauty counters” at Sears or Sephora. I started buying significantly more expensive skin care because I felt it must be worth it, and clearly, nothing else was working. So I would buy Clinique, Este Lauder, Korres, and, one time only, the almighty Dior. I bought into the idea that the more expensive, the better. I would look at the ingredients, but I never knew what they meant, so I would trust whatever the girl at the counter told me and purchase with that. Always matching the line, because, of course, it works better with the same line cleanser, make-up remover, toner, exfoliate, eye cream, mask, serum, and moisturizer. Exhausting, but my skin marginally improved. I’d walk out with hundreds of hard-earned dollars left behind, and the only thing that was worth it in the end it was the scent.
The skin on my body faced an even worse fate. Most of my life, I would purchase a regular body wash, usually the cheapest thing I could find on sale, and I would scrub every bit of my body with a sponge, hard, as though I had worked in a minefield all day! At least I only subjected my skin to this torture 3 or 4 times a week rather than daily. After each shower, I’d slather myself with cheap lotion, as I was trying to save the good stuff for my face. For my body, my good stuff was Avene! Today, I find this laughable. For my extra dry heels, often I’d use Vaseline, put on socks to sleep, and hope it would work. It never did.
I could never understand why this was the case. I followed the advice I was given from everyone who should know what they’re talking about, but it never worked. My skin remained perpetually dry, flaky, and dull and my relationship with my skin remained perpetually unhealthy.
I’ve also had stretch marks all over my back and hips since I was 11 years old. They continued to get worse with time, despite what I products I used. I just figured my skin’s elasticity was bad, so I needed more product rather than less. Since the lotions I kept using never worked, I saw a commercial for a product called BioOil that was supposed to help pregnant women with their stretch marks, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was surprised to find that it worked better than the lotions I’d been using until then, and so I kept using it. I believe this experience opened the door for my acceptance of oils as appropriate skin care (even though my mother had been telling me to use olive oil for years…who listens to their mother, though, right?!).
My skin was so thirsty — for nutrients, for positive attention, for intimacy and love.
“When you know better, do better.”
A short while after I met my Bestie, she introduced me to what became the Queen of my skincare routine: unrefined coconut oil. Suddenly, my skin. from head to toe, felt properly nourished, glowing, and healthy. My life drastically changed forever.
I became absolutely intrigued with how amazing my skin felt, so I began researching ways to alter all my skincare routines (after all, I am a fantastic researcher). I studied ancient and traditional skincare routines, including Indian, Asian, African, and European. I became fascinated with all the benefits reaped from the raw ingredients these groups used to heal skin ailments and to keep skin glowing and healthy.
One of the main messages that popped out at me was: use oil everywhere! (my mother was right, after all…)
Carrier Oils & Butters: All Over Moisturizers & Make-Up Remover
So, I learned about the importance of adding unrefined, cold-pressed oils to my skincare routine. I started cleaning my make-up off with oils such as coconut and olive (still my favourites) which left my skin nourished and ready for bed. I learned how to give myself facial massages both by hand and with a gua sha. I lathered myself in oil before a relaxing, hot bath. I’m learning the significance of doing this before every shower, but I’m not there just yet… I made eye, face and body serums comprised of combinations of oils (I always loved pomegranate seed, argan, jojoba, avocado, almond, grapeseed, rosehip seed, sesame seed) and butters (shea butter and cocoa butter are my favourites). I mixed oils and made my own hot oil hair masks. I use oil to soak my nails in and nourish the sensitive skin there. I use butters on my lips. I made baby oils for my nieces and nephew (turns out, WHO has found conventional baby oils are quite a bit toxic for babies). I also helped a few people manage terrible cases of eczema!
Oh, how I love the benefits of essential oils! The aromatherapy component alone has added years to my life! I love adding various combinations of these oils to my serums, massage oils, bath salts, diffusers, dish soap, vacuum cleaner, dryer balls, all-purpose vinegar cleaner, floor wash, candles, under my pillow, room spray, yoga mat spray, toners, headache roll-on, deodorant, perfume… I currently own about 30 different types of essential oils that have helped me replace toxic solvent-derived perfume (that actually makes me quite ill to my stomach when I smell it) with steam-distilled oils from healing plants (this is, after all, how perfume was derived historically…Grasse perfumes, anyone?).
I cannot tell you how happy essential oils make me!
I use toners mostly as a way to spray myself with an amazing scent first thing in the morning, and last thing at night. I use nourishing toners such as rose water, neroli water, sage water, thyme water, aloe vera, and non-drying astringents such as witch hazel.
Soap & Face Cleaners
While I’ve never made my own soap, and don’t really want to learn how, I have incorporated non-drying vegetarian soaps such as caster soap, African black soap, and other oil-derived soaps into my routine. I use these soaps to wash everything –my hands, my body, my hair. I tend not to use soap on my face anymore because I find it drying. Instead, I’ve learned how make facial cleansers from combining clays, flours such as chickpeas, oats and almonds, dried flowers, tea or spices, rice bran, activated charcoal, matcha tea, turmeric, seaweed, honey, aloe, coffee grinds, cacao powder, diatomaceous earth… I’m very open to suggestions, and am willing to try anything on my skin that I can safety ingest.
My go-to exfoliate is unrefined brown sugar and/or sea salt, coconut oil, and an essential oil of my choosing. Sometimes I add honey, lemon juice (like, from lemons, not from concentrate), and/or any of the aforementioned soap-alternatives.
Fruit juices are an excellent source of exfoliating and also nourishment. So, anytime I eat fruit, I also use their juices directly on my skin. Fruits I use include papaya, mango, or pineapple (this can burn your skin if you leave it on too long so do your research before you slather on), strawberries, grapefruit, orange, cucumber, tomato, and my absolute favourite: lemon (both juice and the peel). This may seem weird to you, and it is empowering to me. These are ingredients I find in my home and they provide an all natural way of beautifying our skin without causing any harm to ourselves or the environment.
I make a variety of combinations for masks with various raw ingredients. For example, I mix any type of clay (bentonite, rhassoul, fuller’s earth, kaolin, red, white, and green) or a flour (oat, almond, rice bran, or chickpea) with warm milk (always vegan!) or hot water, and even with whatever other nourishing goodies I have laying around…say, powders from kale, moringa, turmeric, cacao, green tea, flowers.
Otherwise, I mix fruits such as avocado and banana with oils such as coconut and rosehip, put my feet up, and enjoy!
Yup, I even make my own toothpaste! Here’s why. When I use conventional toothpaste, my teeth feel coded with…something…and that coating just does not feel right. Additionally, I find it just doesn’t clean my teeth the way I like them clean.
So, I make my own toothpaste with ingredients such as rhassoul clay, xylitol, coconut oil, sea salt, and food-grade essential oils. Sometimes, I add powdered coconut activated charcoal–but just a touch! Works wonders for my family.
As it turns out, pads and tampons are not only wasteful, but also toxic. So, I’ve switched to cloth pads (love them!), the Diva Cup, and organic cotton tampons when rarely needed.
As per deodorants, there are a ton of natural alternatives that do not contain aluminium compounds, parabens, or triclosan. Sure, I pay more for these brands, and it’s totally worth it.
I love make-up. I love playing with the colours, I love playing with the brushes, I love putting it on. While I I’ve made a variety of make-up products myself, like facial powder, mascara, and coloured lip balm, I now prefer to purchase them (except setting powder). Terra 20 and Well.ca are great sites to check out some fairly awesome make-up products.
Not quite skincare, but I’d like to add…Around the House
Lysol, a common all-purpose cleaner, is toxic on countless levels. EWG rates their products poorly, with the vast majority rated as “F”. This isn’t just Lysol that’s the problem–it’s the same with almost all conventional, supermarket, mass produced cleaning products. Check out if the cleaner you’re using is clean.
Instead of ingesting toxic chemicals on a daily basis, I chose to replace my all-purpose cleaner with vinegar and essential oils. This works well for me. I also use a product called “pink solution” that I dilute with water and add essential oils to (is there an end to the things we can do with these wonderful little magic bottles?!…I think not). There are a ton of healthy, non-toxic options out there–you just have to be willing to accept the truth of their toxicity and spend your money differently.
And what about dish and laundry soap? Well, I take mine biodegradable, refillable, and bulk, thank you!
Today, I am happy to publically announce that I love the skin I am in! Flaws, and all. Through the evolution of my skin care routines over the last 6 years, I have learned so much not only about my skin, but also about the health and self-esteem consequences of choosing products that align with my values and sustain my being. One of the best choices I have made for my skin and my beauty rituals is learn how to replace toxic conventional skincare products that cost me a fortune with health-loving ingredients that give me joy. It is amazing how many alternatives there are—all we have to do is change our mind about what and how we use, and also about the consumerist, destructive messages we internalize.
I often think about what led 14 year old me to walk into Caryl Baker Visage in the first place? I now know it is good marketing techniques, of course. And the reason why marketing worked for me is because I was already beginning to feel vulnerable about my skin because of marketing (spot the cycle, if you can). If we are constantly shown women with beautiful, white but perfectly tanned, youthful looking skin in all the adds and all the runways and all the movies and all the music videos and all the entertainment shows and all the billboards and all the magazines and all the educational brochures and all the…everything, then how can we expect women and men of any age to feel comfortable in the skin they are in? I now believe this is not the intention of the beauty products mass-producers. The normalization of youthful, glowing, photoshopped skin is intended to send and sustain the message of “I am never good enough”. And we all buy into it.
Society instructs us to perceive our skin, our self-esteem, and our value as a woman on this planet a certain way that does not encourage positive self-worth and compassion but instead promotes self-centeredness and narcissism. These are the messages I picked up along the way, some of which I temporarily internalized: see tired, dark circles and bags under my eyes that should, really, be violently “liposucked” out of me, along with that unflattering, bumpy fat on my thighs; see “ugly” stretch marks that need to be “erased” with petroleum by-products; my see “abnormal” “skin conditions” like pimples that need to be dried out; see an “asymmetrical” face that, with the right doctor and the right amount of money, could be “corrected”; hyperfocus on my aging skin and spend half my money on products advertising to “reverse the years”; consider injecting my skin with known neurotoxins to “correct” and “fight” the “abnormal condition” of ageing; cover my face; colour my hair; tan my skin; beach my skin; glue on hair; pluck our hair. Get bikini ready.
Be youthful. Be pretty. Be plastic.
Be mortified of losing your youth.
Be perpetually unhappy with what you see.
Let us mould you.
What Fucking Bullshit.
My experience has shown me that producing life-long consumers a) works well if you convert them early, and b) requires continuously perpetuating low self-worth in order to keep people addictively purchasing the next escape from themselves.
This was not going to be my journey. I have bigger plans than continuously buying into consumerist propaganda perpetuated by greedy, inhumane, amoral corporations whose only concern is the bottom line. I refused to compare myself to plastic models. Instead, I chose to choose differently.
So, I chose the unconventional revolutionary act of, get this, consciously and continuously loving myself exactly as I am in this moment, and making choices that align with the core values of who I AM, not what social constructs tell me I should align with.
Enter freedom and empowerment in the form of: a. acceptance of what is (thank you yoga, meditation, Buddhism, Sikhism, and WEL-Systems); b. love and care for the skin I’m in; and c. resistance of the conventional bullshit (both messages and products).
Really, though, I simply changed my mind.
I still embody my Eastern European heritage via features of “(big, beautiful) bags under my eyes”. I still have and chose to love the beautiful growth stripes over my body that connect me to all humanity and remind me I am capable of adapting to change (otherwise known plainly as “stretch marks”). I still have battle scars on my face that remind me I am capable of thriving, not only surviving. I still have bumpy fat on my thighs that makes me Bootyliscious (yup, I went there). I still have white wizard hair growing in my head, reminding me that I am becoming increasingly wiser, increasingly more magical. I still have fine wisdom lines forming all over my face reminding me of the incredible journey of my life as it has unfolded until now.
I AM. I am beautiful. I am real.
I love my youth, and I love my ageing and the wisdom I am gaining from stepping into the new phases of life. How fortunate would I be if I got to experience all of them?!
I am grateful and happy with everything I see, and what it all represents.
I am whole. I am mySelf.
FYI: I’ve mentioned here some of the products and processes that worked for me and my loved ones, and these might not work for you. Still, there are tons of amazing companies that produce incredible products. Check it out here, at the Clean Beauty Market and one of my personal favourites, Mountain Rose Herbs, and Terra 20. Even Burt’s Bees has affordable, healthier alternatives that can be found almost anywhere. If you’re unsure about a product or a company, well, start doing your own research.