My philosophy is if you wouldn't eat it, why put it on your skin?
'You smell like a salad,' said a close, concerned friend a couple of years ago.
True, I had just used some of their virgin olive oil to remove makeup. I had run out of my natural, eco-brand cleanser and couldn't get hold of any more in the local shop. Rather than buy any of the petrochemical-based stuff, I decided to raid the kitchen cupboard and improvise with olive oil. My skin felt wonderfully soft afterwards. And, as it was night, there was no risk that I would roast in the sun.
There are plenty of reasons to make your own beauty products. For starters, you know exactly what goes into it. It's like preparing food from scratch. You can avoid ingredients, such as preservatives, that you're allergic to, and choose the best ingredients in terms of quality, purity and sustainability, tailor-making it for how you're feeling or how your skin is.
Making your own can save you money (although some of the ingredients can be quite expensive). You can also use things from the fridge, kitchen cupboard or garden. And, if smelling like a salad isn't your thing, with a choice of oils, essential oils and fresh ingredients you can also choose the aroma. Once you get adept at making salts, oils and scrubs they are great, personalised gifts.
Since my olive oil experience I have experimented here and there with mashed bananas in my hair, yoghurt on my face and sea salt in the bath, but really I haven't made much progress in the recipe department.
So I contacted two experts on natural beauty and asked them for their top tips and favourite easy recipes...
Sherron Holder-Culver - Holistic Beauty Therapist, London
Sherron has worked in the beauty industry for several years and spends much time and energy trying to source organic and natural treatments. ‘My philosophy is: if you wouldn't eat it, why put it on your skin?' she says. ‘Many products are so full of toxic chemicals that the skin suffocates. Making your own products is easy. There are so many things in the kitchen cupboard you can use.'
*Sherron's top tips*
• Instant face exfoliator: Buy a bag of cornmeal (about 60p). Take a tablespoon of that and a tablespoon of olive oil and one drop of lavender. Exfoliate your face. Then use a hot flannel to wipe it off.
• Sea salt body scrub: Buy a normal jar of sea salt. If it's a bit coarse then grind it down. Add any kind of oil, a drop of lavender and a drop of rose oil. Beforehand dry-skin brush the body, brushing towards the heart.
• Face moisturiser: Get hold of some good-quality coconut oil. Add one drop of jasmine and rose oil (for mature skin) to a tablespoon of the coconut oil. You only need a small dab for the entire face.
• To remove makeup: Use olive oil. Rub it into your face with your hands, over your eye make-up. Then either use Marseille soap (an olive oil soap available from Neal's Yard Remedies) or soak a flannel in warm water, add a few drops of lavender oil and just wipe it off twice for a deeper cleanse. [NB pick your olive oil carefully – here's why]
• Face massage: While taking your make-up off, once it's warm and oily, massage your skin and facial muscles. It's like going to the gym. Work it out. Warm it up. If lazy, like a body, it will become sluggish. Get rid of tension and lactic acid in the neck.
• My star product is argan oil. It's so good you can use it for almost anything – on your hair, body and face. You don't even need to add anything extra to it.
• For nail polish use Provida nail care. You can't get organic coloured nail polish. If you must use conventional nail polish, then protect your nails with Provida.
Emma Thomson - Head of aromatherapy and natural beauty at Neal's Yard Remedies, London
Emma started making her own products when she became an aromatherapist. ‘A lot of my clients had diseases like cancer and it was very important that the products were as pure as possible,' she says. All the ingredients she uses are from Neal's Yard Remedies. ‘I used to be a buyer for them so I know where their shea butter and coconut oil is from, and that it's been sourced sustainably.'
*Emma's top tips*
• For sunburned skin: Make a turmeric and cinnamon face pack
Tumeric is traditionally used in Ayuverdic medicine to relieve inflammations and is used in some sunscreens. Simply mix together 1tbsp of plain Greek yoghurt, 1tbsp of clear honey, 1/2 tbsp of cinnamon and 1/2 tbsp of turmeric. Apply to skin and leave for five minutes
• Aloe Vera and Lavender cooling after-sun: This is cooling and soothing, perfect for sensitive skin that has been exposed to the sun. Infuse 2tsp lavender flowers and 2tsp of chamomile flowers with 40ml hot water for 10 minutes then strain and add 10ml of organic aloe vera juice, two drops of Roman chamomile essential oil, two drops of lavender essential oil and one drop of patchouli essential oil. Pour it into an atomiser and spray yourself.
• Strawberry and Oat exfoliating mask: A gentle exfoliating mask to be made fresh and used at once. Strawberries are packed full of antioxidants and cream contains lactic acid, a natural skin brightener. Mix 20g of organic ground oats, three large ripe organic strawberries, 5ml or 1tbsp of organic light cream (or soya cream) and one drop of organic geranium essential oil. Apply to damp skin and leave for five minutes.
Lavender essential oil: Works in every blend to relax both mind and body, can be used dilutes or neat.
Sweet almond base oil: Great for all skin types, use in a face or body oil and to make balms.
Calendual macerated base oil: A plant oil that has captured the healing qualities of marigold, great for dry cracked, irritated skin, add a capful to your base oil, lotion or use on its own for dry patches.
Beeswax: Thickens balms and creams naturally.
Shea nut butter: A natural fat obtained from the fruit of the tree, it melts easily and is solid at room temperature. Makes a great natural balm.
Stellaria herb: This common garden weed has a cooling action on the body tissues. Use an infusion on itchy skin or add to creams and washes.
Chamomile herb and essential oil: Incredibly useful as a tea, an infusion or in the bath as it calms and cools. Add to a balm or cream and it treats allergies, cramps, skin irritation and sensitivities.
Aloe vera: A great first-aid plant that grows easily on your window sill. Break off a piece to relieve a burn or buy in the liquid form and use in cooling sprays and creams to relieve itching.
Oats: Soften and nourish the skin. Excellent as a mild exfoliant, especially for sensitive skins.
Unperfumed organic lotion base: Lotions can be hard to make as the emulsification process is often hit-and-miss at home. Buy a good unperfumed cream and add essential oils to it to suit your mood.
Dead sea salts: Add to the bath with a drop of essential oil to relieve aching muscles and help heal skin conditions, or add to a base oil to make a great salt scrub.
Resources: Books, courses and ingredients
• The Holistic Beauty Book by Star Khechara (Green Books, £12.95) has more than 100 natural recipes. Star, based in Devon, also runs practical workshops. Find out more at www.blossomstar.co.uk
• Recipes for Natural Beauty by Romy Fraser, the founder of Neal's Yard Remedies, (Haldane Mason Ltd, £9.99) is a make-your-own classic
• Skin Deep by Pat Thomas (Rodale, £7.99) contains tips and recipes for making your own toiletries and cosmetics.
• Aromantic Ltd based in Findhorn, Scotland, offers courses in London, Scotland and the US. It's also a one-stop ingredients shop with a catalogue of more than 1,000 items.
• Neal's Yard Remedies in London runs a one-day 'Recipes for Natural Beauty' course for beginners. You'll also be able to buy ingredients from Neal's Yard stores and website.
• The Organic Herb Trading Company supplies organically certified raw materials including herbs, flowers, flower waters, plant oil and cosmetic ingredients such as cocoa butter and clay.
For ethical and sustainable suppliers of health and beauty products goods and services check out the Ecologist Green Directory here