This month’s challenges for The Wellness Project were a little less rigid than my 30 days without alcohol, caffeine and sugar. But they still involved detoxing, this time with my bathroom cabinet instead of my bar.
For February, I decided to take on the topic of natural beauty and make the final steps towards cleaning up my personal care products. It was amazing to see what tweaking my diet by eliminating my three worst vices did for my skin. But in the process of learning more about my liver, I began to understand how much I was throwing at it everyday with my skincare routine.
The choice to slather your face with foundation every morning may not be as intuitively self-destructive as reaching for your 4th martini at a work happy hour, but over time it might cause more lasting harm to your system.
According to the Environmental Working Group, women use an average of 12 personal care products a day, which means inflicting around 186 unique ingredients on your body on a daily basis. The idea of consuming that many different substances in one meal seems crazy (unless you’re eating at a Guy Fieri restaurant, in which case, you might hit that quota by the main course). So why is it more acceptable to ambush our systems with this onslaught of ingredients, many of which are more toxic than an Almond Joy cocktail with a side of Donkey Sauce?
Unlike with food, the FDA has very little control over cosmetics, so most of these substances have never been tested for safety before hitting the market. 60 percent of them are known endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in the body and can cause a host of reproductive harm.
Since I’m already endocrine-challenged, I made it my mission over the last year to start switching some of my products to naturals. But before I could part with my Clinique double matte powder, I had to figure out how to live without the safety blanket of makeup. Because as hard as it was to go without alcohol for 30 days, when my skin was at its worst, I might have been even more attached to the liquid courage of my concealer.
This month I made a vow to go make-up free on Mondays and take the final step of purging my bathroom of all the old products from my days working in the beauty industry, including my beloved double matte powder. I also tried out the ancient detox ritual of dry brushing before getting in the shower every day.
Read on for what I learned about my products and myself in the process of embracing natural beauty.
From one healthy hedonist to another,
The irony of makeup is that the less you need it, the easier it is to go without. And the face that we feel most embarrassed to show to the world is the skin that could probably benefit from not being covered up all the time.
When I did MFM for the first time last Spring, I ended up becoming a hermit on Mondays. As much as I wanted to prove that I was living a more empowered life than the fashion bloggers who use Facetune to retouch their “candids” on Instagram, with my skin still not being close to my old state of perfection (i.e. manageably flawed), going without makeup just didn’t leave me feeling very good about myself.
I’m lucky in that I work from home, and therefore if I want to hide my face, I can do so make-up free by never leaving the house. I realize for people who have to go to an office that make-up free Monday may be an even more stressful prospect, especially since after wilder weekends, under eye circles lend match the beginning of the workweek blues. But after I got in the habit of going makeup free for a few days in a row and finally got up the courage to do so in public, I realized that seeing other people didn’t really make me any more self-conscious than I already was cooped up at home by myself. Through my thick lens of self-criticism, what I saw in the mirror must have been so much worse than what others did. And those distortions only got worse the more time I had to dwell on them in between batches of banana muffins.
But at the end of the day, there’s something to be said for what a polished look does for your self worth. So I had to wonder: if putting on powder everyday makes me feel less stressed about the state of my skin, am I doing more harm than good by going without it?
I asked Dr. Amy Wechsler that question in my Wellness Wednesday hangout this week about the Mind-Beauty connection. Her answer was a resounding yes: make-up can do amazing things for your self-confidence, while stress is a lose lose.
That said, over the last year, between the vice detox, wearing less makeup, and switching my skincare products to naturals, my face really did improve. I’m not sure what role MFM had in this, but I do think my skin benefited from not having the added irritation of brushes and sponges and creams, natural or otherwise, one day a week.
I may have been stressed out looking at my face in the mirror every morning. But forcing myself to step outside my comfort zone had a big long-term benefit. It helped me break my dependency on makeup and ultimately feel more comfortable in the skin I’m in.
2. Greenifying your skincare routine is easier than you think. Saying goodbye to your old facial friends is another story.
I had the help of a few experts who helped steer me in the right direction for my new beauty regimen. I immediately fell in love with the new skincare products my facialist recommended. But it took me longer to get used to my natural makeup.
Since the equivalent of Sephora doesn’t exist for naturals, I was lucky to have Kristen Arnett save me a lot of time and money by matching my skin tone during our product consultation, which I traded her for a knife skills class. But I ended up having to buy three products to do the job of my beloved powder compact.
She gave me a lot of pointers on how to apply makeup like a real adult. And as grateful as I was to leave my droopy black mascara eyes in the post-college past, I hated the idea of having to use three different brushes just to get my skin to look less flawed, when before I could just lazily smear on some tinted moisturizer. In some ways the experience just confirmed my fears about switching to naturals. It was impossible to replicate my old routine with green products.
But my more high maintenance routine has been partially responsible for weaning me off the need for mindless make-up. The more time that went on, the less makeup I wore. And the more used to my new natural options I got, the less I seemed to mind the lack of coverage in general.
Sometimes I revert back to my old green powder compact when I’m in a rush or need something to pop in my purse for touch ups. But when I look in the mirror at my even, powdered face, it doesn’t feel the same. I don’t see flawless coverage. I just see makeup.
So it took me the better part of a year to take the plunge, and I definitely procrastinated up until the last days of February, but I finally did it. I kissed my Clinique compact goodbye and ceremoniously threw it in the trash. It was joined by three dozen other semi-used products that had been sitting in my bathroom for the last 5 years.
The dehoarding was definitely harder than I thought. There’s something about having a cabinet full of products that makes me feel abundant, even if I never used them and got 90 percent of my lot for free.
But now that I’ve unloaded my product pantry, I love opening my bathroom and knowing that most of the things in there are clean and safe. I still couldn’t stand to part with the 6 to 8 shades of vampy lipstick, for Halloween purposes.
3. Dry brushing made me feel like a pony. And not a unicorn.
I gave it a fair shot, but it’s now official: dry brushing is not for me.
The whole process doesn’t actually take that long. But when you’re in a hurry, as I usually am when I finally get around to showering at the end of the day, it can feel like an eternity. During the winter, my time under that semi-scalding water is precious and needs to be savored. And it becomes much less enjoyable when my skin burns for the first few seconds of contact because I’ve just groomed myself with a harsh horse brush for 5 minutes.
I haven’t noticed any big differences except that my skin feels a little softer and it’s been less dry and flaky. Sometimes in February my poor legs leave the inside of my pants looking like someone shook baby powder in them (I know, ew). But the brushing, as unpleasant as it is, seems to get rid of all that dead skin pre-shower.
I don’t know what an improved lymphatic system is supposed to feel like, but I’m pretty sure the flu I had a few weeks ago isn’t it. And though I know God didn’t create the world in a day, and he isn’t going to rid my cellulite from it any quicker, I’m too skeptical to continue brushing for this purpose alone.
My friend on instagram told me that dry brushing has become addictive for her and like going a day without brushing her teeth, she doesn’t feel clean without it. She also assured me that the bristles soften over time.
Perhaps I’ll give it a shot intermittently going forward, but it’s not something I feel like I need to commit to as part of my ever-growing wellness routine.
The good news is: the dry brush still makes for an excellent back scratcher when your significant other is not around to facilitate. So not all is lost.
So where do I net out on this whole green beauty thing?
There’s no arguing with the fact that synthetic products contain a lot of ingredients that are proven to be harmful for your long-term health. But for many people, these cosmetics are effective on their skin and, more importantly, their self-confidence. And there’s something to be said for that.
The most damaging ingredient for your skin, which is likely to wreak both short-term and long-term havoc, is stress. So if the idea of parting with the products you’ve become incredibly attached to is as emotionally jarring as it was for me, then it might not be worth making any big changes just yet.
If, after reading this, you feel more stressed out that your cosmetics could be killing you in your sleep, then there are natural options out there that can help you sleep better at night (with lavender essential oil to boot!). Get my timeline on how to make the switch gradually here.
These products really work, you just need to know where to look for them. Whole Foods is a great place to start. But just as not every vegetable in the market is organic, not every body product on their shelves is better than what you’ll find at the regular drug store. Here are some of my favorite skincare and makeup brands you can order online.
Just remember that your liver was designed to let you choose your own toxic adventure—you don’t have to be so black and white in order to be more green.
The Wellness Project is now a book! It’s part memoir, part health primer, with 20 inflammation fighting recipes for clearer skin, better digestion, and a thriving thyroid. (Because who doesn’t wake up in the morning wanting a thriving thyroid?!). You can read more and preorder here. To find out more about the inspiration behind the project and to get the monthly theme schedule, click here. To see past challenges and other posts from this series, click here.