The other day we got an email from Elianna, a reader with an incredibly frustrating problem: She doesn’t know what’s going on with her skin. She’s suffering from constant breakouts that seem to have appeared out of nowhere—and now they won’t stop.
Elianna appears to be doing most things right from a health perspective, isn’t particularly stressed out, and doesn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on products or alternative practitioners.
We are not doctors on this site, far from it. But I’m compelled to try to help Elianna figure out what’s going on with her skin. My mind jumps to a few possible culprits:
—An allergy or intolerance to something she’s eating or putting on her skin (even clean products can cause reactions—perhaps it’s a reaction to mica?).
—A chemical sensitivity to something in her environment. She just moved back to her native Florida, but chemical sensitivities can develop suddenly even if we were previously immune.
—An internal imbalance caused by an earlier stress or trauma that’s manifesting now.
—Hormones. But see above.
In the hopes that someone here has some insight, here’s the email exchange:
So I had a question, I’m not really sure where to start. I recently just moved back down to Florida after being in Westeren New York for the past three years and my face has been severly acting up. I use to have clear skin until around last year and it began to break out in a rash and acne like form and nothing seems to be working. I use Korres mineral powder for foundation, I wash my face with a very well known clean brand cleanser, exercise, eat right for the most part, take vitamins, and use nightly oils. So my question really was is there anymore advice out there that can be given to me. I heard of an organic brand from Hungary called Eminence Organics but they are to expensive on my student budget. I’m desperate at this point, my face makes me so self concoius that I don’t even think to have a boyfriend for fear that I’ll get rejected more often than not. I know, it sounds silly. But thank you for reading this and any help would greatly be appreciated.
I wrote Elianna back asking her to further describe her situation and what her breakouts look like. I inquired about allergies and whether she would be open to seeing alternative practitioners. I also asked her if I could share the exchange with you. Here was her response:
I do not mind at all :) and I would love to see a Chinese practioner or ayuverdic however I know they are expensive. I am only allergic to peanuts, at this time. I was told that was the only problem I have with allergies. I did just move back to Florida from New York so that might be the high stress but I’m not stressed personally so I didn’t know that stressed out skin could still happen without the person being emotionally stressed. The breakouts come in clusters sometimes, they feel flat and look mostly like a rash, red bumps.
Have you or someone you know had a similar experience? What do you think might be causing this? What steps would you take if this happened to you?*
*I feel compelled to remind everyone that nothing on the site is a medical recommendation! We are just women trying to help other women through anecdotal experience. :)
Let’s hear it for the boys. Well&Good has put together a list* of both the best clean crossover brands for men—the ones you can just sneak in the shower and leave on the sink—as well as those designed just for him. Are the men in your life clean? Did you it take convincing? Tell us what they use!
For some guys, moisturizing is already one skin care step too many. (It’s a stereotype, but it’s true.) So it may be difficult to turn your partner, brother, or pops on to the benefits of chemical-free products.
The best way? Set them up with brands that cater to them with neutral packaging and subdued scents that don’t reek of roses and lavender. We enlisted the men in our lives to help us choose the most effective natural products that fit that criteria. Some are unisex (so you can share) and some cater to his specific needs, i.e., non-toxic after-shave.
Here are the ten guy-friendly lines to start strategically placing in the shower now.
This Australian, Kiehl’s competitor has been a go-to line for guys for a long time, because of its no-frills, apothecary packaging. The Purifying Facial Cream Cleanser ($39) is a great mild face wash that comes in a tube he can toss in a gym bag, and if wants his own eye cream or anti-aging moisturizer (instead of poaching yours), Aesop makes those, too. Note: While the brand uses lots of plant-based ingredients and leaves out some gross chemicals like parabens, they’re not all natural.
2. DR. BRONNER’S
This one is an inexpensive, first-step no-brainer. Dump his Axe Body Wash and have him soap up with the liquid or bar version of the certified-organic Magic Pure Castile Soaps ($16.99), in almond, peppermint, or citrus. The strange, hippie ramblings written on the label in tiny print make for great shower entertainment.
3. INTELLIGENT NUTRIENTS
Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda (who sold that company to Estee Lauder in 1997), made this farm-to-face line virtually edible, and in many ways his products have more in common with the supplements aisle or a salad dressing (think coconut and pumpkin seed oils) than Sephora. Almost all of them are based on an antioxidant blend of fruit and plants, so they’re not a bit flowery in scent. And the skin care and hair care are especially high performance. So you might be able to swap out your guy’s (hideous) drugstore hair product for Intelligent Nutrients’s amazing Styling Pomade ($29).
4. JOHN MASTERS ORGANICS
This classic organic hair and skin-care brand always had unisexy packaging and masculine appeal. But its recently released just-for-men line, made with eucalyptus and agave, brilliantly appeals to guys by offering 2-in-1 solutions. The Face Wash ($22) doubles as a shave foam and theMoisturizer ($28) is also an aftershave. Talk about streamlined skin care.
This brand’s functional products are made with results-oriented plant ingredients—from aloe vera to plant stem-cells—and come in sleek, sophisticated packaging for a classy dude. TheSoothing Shave Cream ($25.70) was hands-down the best natural shave product my guy tried. And we quote: “It spreads out easily, unlike some of the other natural creams that can be pasty, and it provided great protection.”
Joshua Onysko, the Boulder-based founder of Pangea Organics, is passionate about formulating non-toxic products in the way some guys are about a fantasy football team. The soaps won’t dry out skin, the moisturizers aren’t cloying, and the toners are great skin-calmers post-shaving or workout. And while the products are really simple, the herbal blends make them interesting, like the Italian White Sage with Geranium & Yarrow Shower Gel ($16). They’re also affordable, and you can pick them up at Whole Foods.
7. PRADA LAB
This indie brand imitates Aesop in its glass-bottle, unisex apothecary feel, but unlike the bigger brand, it’s totally natural. The “volcanic ash,” a type of clay, used in the Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($29.99) makes it sound bad-ass, and the Macadamia Hand, Body, and Scalp Scrub ($29.99) is great for sloughing off rough skin. And if he gets a little in his mouth, it may taste like dessert—other ingredients include dates, honey, and white tea.
*Many of these brands are already favorites but a few we have yet to vet. Have you tried them?
Whoops, sorry this took so long! Here are the five winners chosen at random to win the Konjac sponge from NuboNau. How did we choose? Eyes closed, finger-on-screen. If this is your name and comment just email firstname.lastname@example.org and claim that Konjac!
Elizabeth: My favorite natural product for the past three years has been local raw honey which I use to wash my face. It works great and I think it would work even better used with a Konjac sponge for additional exfoliation.
Alexa: Going to echo some previous comments here but oh well…
For cleansing, I’ve been alternating between May Lindstrom’s The Clean Dirt (fantastic stuff!) and a pot of raw honey I picked up from Whole Foods after reading a blog post by La Bella Figura (their FB page and blog are nice to follow even if you don’t buy/use their products). I use La Bella Figura Daily Elements Face Oil for the daytime and I love it so far! Also, I’ve just started dabbling in DIY skin care with the brightening oil that Rebecca B. posted a while back. I made a sample batch and the results look promising so far; I just need to purchase more carrier oil. My charcoal konjac sponge just reached the end of its life, so it’s time for a new one :)
Beatrice: I just got some John Masters blood orange and vanilla body milk (after nubonau sent me a sample with an order, in fact!) It’s a little expensive for me but it smells So. Good.
Moni: Yay! I have yet to be able to take advantage of a Friday Deal (somehow its never in my budget on the weeks that happen :( ) but one day!
I just got some Unyevu Butter from Belle Butters, and I am obsessed; it smells amazing and is so creamy and moisturizing for my extremely dry winter skin. Since spring seems to be taking its sweet time to make it to us here in NYC it’s the perfect remedy.
Pepper: Ha! I’m actually freaking obsessed with my Konjac Sponge (the pink one)! I do really want to get one for my husband, and I’m eyeing the green one for him. I’ve been excited to get up in the morning because I want to wash my face. I’ve been using it with either my Stark balm (old fave!) or the new sensitive face wash from Acure which I very much like and am glad I purchased it! I’m also digging my new Evan Healy Immortelle hydrosol. It smells weird but my skin loves it.
Meet Kayla—she’s always been a product enthusiast, only now she’s gone clean. Lucky for us, because she has a TON of great recs here including some makeup application tips. Enjoy!
Hometown: San Luis Obispo, CA
Current Weather: Sunny and cool.
Hair: Long, wavy, thick — I was a chronic hair-dyer but its mostly my natural color now.
Skin: I started getting acne in my early 20s, which was extremely frustrating after being blemish-free in my teen years, when I was expecting it! Guess I’m a late bloomer… Now I’m mostly clear with the occasional blemish or two, thanks to my mostly-clean beauty routine and avoidance of sugar.
Favorite star: Gwen Stefani
In the Shower…
In regards to my face, I’ve tried a few different products — including Proactiv which was DISASTROUS as one use made my face puff up like a blow fish. That was that! Now I use Dr. Alkaitis’ line of products – the cleanser, toner, soothing gel, nourishing treatment oil, and universal mask. The products are fantastic and my skin is much happier, but since the line is quite pricey I sometimes sub in plain ol’ Trader Joe’s tea tree cleanser, which seems to be working for me. On my body, I simply use Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap (especially the mint or rose scents, yum!) and a nice scrub brush to exfoliate. I love how soft my skin feels from the brush and how sudsy Dr. B’s gets. For my hair, I try not to wash it too often, but I exercise and get sweaty almost every day, so every-other-day washing is the least I can do. It’s softest with the Acure argan shampoo and conditioner, but the waves form the best with Rahua’s volumizing shampoo and conditioner, so I go back and forth with those. I shave with Trader Joe’s shaving cream (again, it offsets the price of my Dr. Alkaitis loves, plus I it makes the razor glide smooth, but itsn’t too thick like some other shaving creams). Finally, I use a pumice stone to attack my feet. I’m a long-distance runner, so that skin can get extremely rough if not tended to!
Outside the Shower…
I moisturize my body with plain coconut oil, which has been affordable, great on my skin, and I LOVE the tropical scent (as does my boyfriend). Like I said, I Dr. Alkaitis’ toner, gel, and a TINY drop of the nourishing oil on my face. I use the Dr. Alkaitis eye cream as well (even though I’m only 25, I think about wrinkles a lot and am taking precautions). After the shower and throughout the day, I use Weleda’s pomegranite hand moisturizer – also delicious smelling. And finally, a spritz of Honoré de Pres perfume — either Love Coconut or Vamp à NY, if I’m feelin’ sexy.
I LOVE makeup. Putting it on is one of my favorite parts of the day, and I never run out of products I want to try. I’ve always been a product whore, but now I try my best to be a natural product whore ;). I usually wear makeup every day, so I try to keep the products as clean as possible. One of my favorite beauty looks is strong eyebrows — unfortunately, I was gifted with naturally sparse eyebrows. So I fill them in with a medium-brown powder eyeshadow from Alima Pure. For some reason, my eyelids can get VERY oily. I never put oil around my eyes, and the rest of my face will be fine throughout the day, but my eyelids….ugh. I’ve tried applying powder before eyeshadow, I’ve tried a natural oil-fighting white tea gel, I’ve tried just about every primer out there… the ONLY thing that’s worked for me at all is Too Faced Shadow Insurance. So I use that, and then either the Blonde shade of eyeshadow from Alima Pure, which is my “no-makeup” looking eyeshadow, or Onyx from Kjaer Weiss, which applied gently is a nice light grey, applied more heavily creates a sulty, smokey eye. I have an array of other shadows as well from Alima, Kjaer, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, Urban Decay…but those are the ones I use most frequently. I like Elizabeth Arden’s powder eyeliner, which I apply with small slanted brush. It goes on extremely black, and the powder stays on my eyes. With the brush, I can make the perfect kitten eye (like a cat eye, but less dramatic). I still use a dirty mascara… Cover Girl Lash Blast. I’ve tried many a natural mascara, but my eyelashes are about as sparse as my eyebrows, and I love a thick row of femme fatale lashes. For my face, I adore RMS un-cover up. It melts into the skin, and covers up red areas around my nose, small blemishes around my chin, and dark shades under my eyes wonderfully. However, if I get a REALLY scary blemish, which unfortunately does happen now and again….like when I visit my family for the holidays, of course…I use a tiny dab of Makeup Forever’s full cover concealer. After spot-correcting with concealer, I lightly buff on Alima Pure’s loose powder foundation. It evens out skin really well, but doesn’t have that I’m-wearing-foundation look and lets my freckles show. On my cheeks, I use either a tiny bit of Revolution Organic’s bright pink freedom glow beauty balm or RMS lip-to-cheek in smile. Then, on top of that, I might do a light dusting of Alima’s shimmering pink blush — but that’s only if I’m having a big night out, or if I know I’m going to have pictures taken of me, since powder blush is better for pictures than cream. Finally, I usually just use some natural balm on my lips, but every once in a while I’ll be feeling a Old Hollywood-style red lip. For that, I love Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetic’s lip tar in NSFW. It’s a great, neutral red that really stands out and stays put — but you have to use a TINY dab with a lip brush, otherwise it will bleed. Trust me, a little goes a long way. And I might do one more final touch – RMS living luminizer on the top of my cheeks, under the brow bone, and on my ‘cupid’s bow.’
For my hair, I again use Dr. Alkaitis’ nourishing oil – one little pump is enough to smooth and soften my abundant, long hair. Then, after years of fighting them with a straightening iron, I’ve fallen in love with my natural waves, so I lightly spritz on Josie Maran’s Bohemian Waves Argan Hair Mist for the perfect beach-y texture. I dry my roots with the diffuser on the blow dryer to keep my waves in tact while giving my hair a little lift. The rest of my hair air dries. I think letting my hair air dry, along with the bit of natural oil I use, has been the biggest difference in transforming my formerly dyed, dry, overprocessed hair into the soft, healthy hair I have now. My hair dresser is very impressed! (Seriously, between the bleaching and the straight iron, sections of my hair were downright CRISPY a few years ago). I pretty much try to touch my hair as little as possible: no dying, minimal products, minimal drying, and then I don’t brush it or really try to touch it at all during the day — which helps keep the waves nice.
…I think that’s it!
So, you may have noticed that I’m super into healthy living. And I really want to pass on relevant information to my kid and pretty much anyone who will listen to me. I love my products, but as we always note on NMDL, it’s what you put in your body that is most important. I’m not an expert in nutrition, but in teaching college level human anatomy and physiology to healthcare-career directed students for the past 20 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about the topic. Michael Pollan has been incredibly important in pointing out the research that validates my intuitive knowledge of food based on my personal experiences. I routinely recommend his books to my students. There’s one in particular that is fantastic for everyone. You don’t need any background in nutrition to get potentially life changing information from Food Rules.
I first read Food Rules aloud with my son years ago, when he was about seven. I would read one rule, then he’d read the next, and we picked together which ones we thought we could best follow.
There are 64 rules, but you don’t have to use them all to get significant benefit, and they are all super simple and straightforward. Pollan describes each rule with a bit of science or historical significance, but the details are covered in his other works, namely In Defense of Food (Omnivore’s Dilemma is another great read). Pollan is a journalist, not a nutritionist, but is well respected for his research into food and the food industry.
Here are my favorite Rules, the ones I do my best to follow:
#14 Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature. I personally take this one a little further – I prefer to eat food as close to the way it grows out of the earth as possible, meaning mostly raw.
#25 Eat your colors. That one is pretty obvious (and delicious).
#30 Eat well-grown food from healthy soil. And if eating animals (I don’t, but my family does) make sure the animals were themselves healthy.
#33 Eat some foods that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi. I love many fermented foods, like kombucha and miso.
#46 Stop eating before you’re full. I digest much better if I shoot for 75-80% of what would make me feel “full.” Basically, I’m not aiming for full, I want to feel “not hungry.”
#54 “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.” I modify this by eating a substantial breakfast, but I like lunch to be my biggest meal of the day.
If you’ve read the book, which Rules do you follow? Or have you created your own?