image via Crunchy Betty

If you ask me, the beauty of the natural skincare movement is that you don’t have to drop tons of dough to find an effective routine. Not everyone is inclined toward DIY, and I get that, but I wanted to share a DIY product that’s so simple, so cheap, and so effective it kinda blew my mind—it’s a toner made from thyme steeped in witch hazel.

So here’s my story. A few months ago I rekindled my love affair with yoga—the kind that makes me sweat like nothing else. Though my mind, body, and spirit were feeling tiptop, I quickly broke out across my shoulders. It’s something I’ve come to expect when I work up a sweat routinely, but this was particularly bad. I instantly went into treatment mode, determined to have clear skin. I diligently cleansed morning and night (and immediately following yoga), and used a variety of natural acne products that were antiseptic and relied on salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid to turn over skin cells and unclog pores. It didn’t work. With summer approaching and sundresses on my mind, I began to panic.

Then I remembered thyme. We’ve talked about this ubiquitous herb and its acne fighting powers before. Remember the study Alexandra discussed that showed a tincture of thyme to be more powerful at treating the bacteria that causes acne than benzoyl peroxide? (As a little reminder, benzoyl peroxide is HORRIBLE for you.) I also remembered Ann’s Blemish Banish Oil, a DIY recipe that a reader submitted, and I was inspired. I did a little Googling, and found a simple thyme toner recipe that looked like it would do the trick.

Oh. My. God. After one use, I stopped getting new blemishes. After a week of use my skin was 95% clear. Two weeks in and I’m never looking back. I am still shocked by the simplicity and effectiveness of this toner. If you have trouble with breakouts, do not hesitate to try this. It’s gentle and it works. Here’s how I made it:

  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of dried organic thyme to a sterilized bottle or jar.
  • Pour 6 tablespoons of witch hazel on top (I used this alcohol-free witch hazel).
  • Shake up the mixture and allow the thyme to steep for 3 days.
  • The witch hazel will turn brown thanks to the thyme. That’s good!
  • Strain the thyme and store your toner in a cool, dark place for up to a month.

Pro tip: Go ahead and make two small batches at the same time. You can begin using one after a few days of steeping and allow the other to continue to steep until you run out of the first bottle. Now go fight some acne.

Have you had any luck with thyme? What’s your go-to treatment for breakouts?




DIY Beauty: Ann’s Blemish Banish Oil

Remember when we told you that thyme is a more effective acne treatment than benzoyl peroxide?

So why is it that we hardly ever see thyme used as an ingredient? Granted, it is present in one of our favorites, Osmia Organics Spot Treatment (love this gem!), but what if you need something more? Something that you could smear liberally across your shoulders if your yoga sweats were so intense it caused the dreaded bacne (ew, that word!).

One of our lovely readers couldn’t find her ideal acne-fighting product either, so she made her own! Check out this fun DIY and let us know what you think. If you’re still looking for answers after this, don’t forget about our Best of NMDL post on Natural Adult-Acne Cures.

Name: Ann

Current hometown: New Prague, MN

Product name that I made up: BB oil (Blemish Banish)

Ingredient list:

  • 7 1/2 tsp apricot kernel oil (can be substituted with meadowfoam or cherry kernel oil)
  • 3 tsp neem oil
  • 140 drops thyme extract (that’s 1/2 tsp+80 drops)
  • 40 drops tea tree oil
  • fragrant essential oil (optional)

Hint: If you really don’t want to stink like neem, feel free to replace it with tamanu or whatever other potent oil you like.

How I made it: I know most people measure oils in ounces or grams, but I’m too lazy to bother with the hassle and just converted it to everyday teaspoons instead. I sterilized everything with alcohol and poured the ingredients into an amber 2-oz bottle with a dropper attached. It’s best to shake really well before using because the oils still tend to separate a bit.

How it smelled, felt, worked: It smells like neem, which is very pungent and strong. Some people like the smell, but most are turned off by it. Loading up on essential oils could mask it somewhat, but if you can’t stand it, use something else. It feels like, well, oil. It works very verrry well, but I’m not going to claim this is a miracle product. You still have to watch your diet.

Why I will or won’t do this again: Since the results are good, I will make this again, probably tweaking ingredients around and adding something new. I hardly ever stick with original formulas, and this one is very basic.

Random tips: to really give acne the boot, I make two masks once or twice weekly: (1) Fuller’s earth clay, and (2) this Ayurveda inspired hydrating and purifying face mask. Fuller’s earth is the strongest of all clays and is super effective at pulling out all kinds of gunk, so it’s probably not the best choice for really sensitive or mature skin. The Ayurvedic mask uses pretty simple ingredients, but it packs a powerful punch. I first let the clay sit for half an hour, then wash it off and follow with the Ayurvedic one. Why I use them together—the clay pulls everything out and the second one puts nutrients in. It works.

P.S. This oil is not greasy, but in hot weather anything can happen. To keep the shine off I top it with Coastal Scents Silica spheres (a cheaper equivalent to RMS Un-Powder).

As a little safety precaution to our readers, please note that the recipe calls for thyme EXTRACT, not thyme essential oil, which is super sensitizing and should be only be used in highly diluted formulations. 140 drops of thyme essential oil would probably melt your skin.


Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil, Two Ways

DIY Salt and Oil Scrub with Sea Buckthorn Berry Oil

You’ve seen it pop up in some of your favorite serums and treatments — and with good reason. Sea buckthorn oil is loaded with vitamins and essential fatty acids. I burned through a small bottle of sea buckthorn oil this past winter, adding a few drops to other serums and oil blends. It’s a lovely orange and viscous oil with a musky smell, and it brightened my skin tone considerably.

There are two distinct types of oils that come from sea buckthorn—the seed oil and the berry oil.

This summer, I’m trying out sea buckthorn berry oil. Both the oils can be taken internally as a supplement or applied topically, but the seed oil has the most internal benefits and the berry oil has the most topical benefits. When I started using the berry oil topically, I learned pretty quickly that it needs a good dilution. It’s far more concentrated and pigmented than the seed oil, or a blend of the two.

Beta-carotene gives the berry oil a blazing reddish-orange color. Seriously, it will turn you a painted shade of golden sunshine if you decide — like I did upon first try — to smear it all over your pretty face without diluting it. Like macadamia nut oil, this berry oil is rich in Omega 7 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and nourish skin cells. The berry oil contains a generous supply of vitamin C — about 15 times more than an orange — and it’s the third highest source of vitamin E in the plant world. You can also count on a healthy dose of carotenoids, amino acids, minerals, polyphenols, flavonoids and much more. We’re talking serious antioxidant power.

I’ve found two ways to incorporate sea buckthorn berry oil into my skincare rituals with lovely results.

I add it to my DIY oil and salt scrub. This scrub cleans, hydrates, and protects my skin in one step. In the shower, I rub myself down with the scrub, rinse, and pat myself dry. Just enough oil remains on my skin. I don’t need an additional moisturizer outside of the shower, and I don’t have to wait for my skin to absorb the oil before getting dressed. If I’m wearing SPF, it glides right on top. That, my friends, is efficiency in skincare.

Adding just a dropper full of sea buckthorn berry oil to my scrub gives me the topical benefits and — get this — boosts the color of my skin ever so subtly. Seriously, it’s like nature’s self-tanning oil, without the nasty chemicals. I swear I don’t look orange, just sort of glowy, like when you binge on veggies. Also, it hasn’t stained my shower, towels, or clothes. That’s good news, since I’m really enjoying its bronzing affect.

My second discovery is that the tiniest dash of sea buckthorn berry oil takes the white out of my natural sunscreen. Game changer! I have a couple of sunscreens, like Suntegrity Face Sunscreen and Primer and 100% Pure Argan Oil Facial Moisturizer SPF, that leave a slight white cast but perform beautifully otherwise. When I blend them with this berry oil, I get a golden glow that’s more natural looking than makeup. It’s a fine line, though. I added too much once and headed to the dog park looking distinctly yellow. Uh, embarrassing. But when I get it right, I feel kind of French Riviera.

Are you taking shortcuts in your routine this summer or geeking out over ingredients? I’d love to know!


The Beauty of Bath Salts

Is there anyone who doesn’t like a chance to soak in the tub?

Maybe it doesn’t happen too often, but that just means it should be more special.  Even my son loves a soak after hockey – the warmth and the salts are great for healing muscles and general relaxing.  But is there scientific evidence supporting the use of bath salts?

Bath salts are said to be good for all kinds of things, from treating psoriasis to muscle soreness to arthritis.  There’s evidence for positive effects on the skin, such as cleansing, improving hydration, and decreasing redness (it seems most of the studies are done with Dead Sea salt).  There are claims of the minerals in a sea salt bath being absorbed into the body, and though the amount may be small, it does seem that some absorption does occur (particularly magnesium).  So, let’s just say that bath salts are good for the skin and may treat a variety of skin conditions, as well as helping conditions like sore muscles.  I personally feel that a sea salt bath improves muscle soreness over a warm bath without salts.  It definitely makes my skin softer, and helps heal inflamed spots, like a rash or pimple.

Bath salts are one of those things that I feel I can make so easily myself it’s rarely worth spending money on a brand.  I’m not dissing the brands out there – and I’ve been known to keep some brands around or gift them – but especially if you use them often you may want to make your own.  The other reason I like to make bath salts myself is that I don’t like a lot of oil mixed in with the salts.  This is purely laziness, as I don’t like to have to scrub the tub out very often.

1. Choose your salts.  There are so many to choose from, and you can use a single one or mix them.  A mix is often pretty in a glass container, so nice for a gift or to pretty up your bathroom.  My preference, based largely on simplicity and the nice grain size (I use it as a scrub, too), is plain Dead Sea Salt that I buy in bulk.  Mountain Rose Herbs and SaltWorks carry a variety of salts, and have information about each.

2.  Add essential oils, if you like.  There are oils for energizing, relaxing, detoxing, etc.  My favorite sources for info are Mountain Rose Herbs (you can buy the oils there too) and Hope Gillerman’s Essential Oils Deck.  Add a few to several drops of a single EO or blend per cup of salts, depending on how strong you want the scent.  Lately I’ve been leaving the salt plain, and adding my EO of choice directly to the bath after the salt goes in.  That way I’m not committing to any particular scent in a big batch of salts.  But premixing is a good way to go, too.  My current favorite EO detox blend is a little different each time I make it, but let’s just say this:  5 drops sandalwood, 5 drops helichrysum, 15 drops grapefruit, 15 drops fennel, and 3 drops spearmint.  This will last through several baths.

3.  Add an oil, if you like.  Jojoba, sunflower, or sweet almond are popular.  But you can really use pretty much anything that doesn’t compete with your scent oils.  You can decide your proportion of oil, probably 10-20% of the salt volume.  Just remember the oils make it tougher to clean your tub!

4.  Add any extras.  Maybe crushed seaweed, or dried flowers or herbs.  There may or may not be therapeutic benefits here, but it will make a pretty and nice smelling mix.

Often ½ cup to 1 cup of your mix per bath of comfortably warm water is recommended, but you can play with that as desired.  Sometimes I put in lots of salt.  Sometimes I sit in the tub, stick my legs out of the water, and use the salt as a scrub.  Then when I get back under the water it mixes in so all my skin can benefit.  I especially like to sink down so the salt water gets on my underarms.  This feels very cleansing, and if I have any irritation there the salts help.  If the water is too hot or you are recently shaved, the salt might sting a bit, especially at first, so be careful.

Do you use bath salts?

Meet Rachel and her eclectic routine that mixes DIY with off-the-shelf, and a lot of clean with a little dirty. She also blogs about clean beauty! Woot. (PS you guys, it’s supposed to be stars from the distant past, but these Canadian twins are pretty adorable so we’re letting it slide… :)

Name: Rachel

Age: 31

Hometown: St. Paul, MN

Weather: Winter. It’s mostly been below zero, but we’ve had a few warmer days. Mother Nature can’t make up her mind!

Hair: Shoulder length, henna-ed, limp and fine

Skin: Mostly clear, thanks to an 8-month round of low-dose Accutane I did about a year and a half ago (I know, I know… I hope you can trust me when I say I had previously tried everything and nothing helped. It truly was a last resort). After Accutane, my dermatologist put me on a prescription anti-acne topical cream to keep things clear. I stopped using it a few weeks ago, and I recently switched from the pill to a copper IUD, so I do have a few blemishes right now. Nothing serious. I do have some scarring and general sensitivity, and I blush easily (oh, the joys of being a fair-skinned redhead).

Favorite star: Tegan and Sara (sorry, I had to pick both, they’re kind of a package deal…)

In the shower…

I start out with a DIY sugar/argan oil/honey scrub and I tackle my face, pits, knees and elbows. I shampoo and condition with Acure (the mint version for fine/limp hair). While the conditioner works its magic, I exfoliate the rest of my body with a Shoba exfoliating cloth. I only use bar soap on my pits, feet, and nethers (right now it’s Shea Moisture Frankincense and Myrrh but I switch soaps after each bar). For shaving my pits, there’s usually enough oil leftover from the scrub for a smooth shave. Everywhere else, I just use soap.

I usually only shower every other day. On my off-days, I cleanse my pits and nethers with a hot washcloth, rinse my face with warm water, and use Acure dry shampoo in my hair. I really can’t get away with washing my hair less than every other day. It’s just too fine and it starts to look pretty greasy, especially in the bang area.

Outside the shower…

I moisturize my entire body with whatever carrier oil I’m in the mood for (I tend to rotate between grapeseed, apricot kernel, and just this week I started using coconut oil, which I LOVE). I make sure to moisturize my pits, either with coconut oil or a DIY cream I whipped up (made of shea butter, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and essential oils). Using one of these each morning seems to boost the effectiveness of deodorant. I use Soapwalla cream deodorant most days, and on shaving days I use one of those salt crystals you wet down. On my face, I use Pangea Organics Rose/White tea eye cream and 3 drops of argan oil all over my face. I do need to start incorporating sunscreen into my daily routine; I’m not getting any younger, and besides, I burn pretty easily. That will be my next project!

Finishing touches…

This is where my routine takes a turn for the dirty. I can’t seem to give up perfume or make-up. I enjoy them too much! I have switched some of my make-up products to slightly cleaner brands, but I know I can probably do better.

I use Tarte for most of my make-up products (undereye concealer, powder, bronzer, blush, eyelid primer, eyeshadow, and mascara). For eyeliner, I tend to alternate between Physician’s Formula, Urban Decay (both pencil), and Eyeko (liquid). To fill in my brows I use Alima Pure loose eyeshadow. I use S.W. Basics of Brooklyn (formerly Sprout) lip balm like it’s going out of style — it is hands-down the best lip balm I’ve ever used.

I don’t put any other product in my hair, I just blow it dry and go. On days/nights when I plan on going out or looking fancier, I use a bit of hairspray and gentle teasing to try and boost volume at the roots.

At night I remove my make-up with S.W. Basics make-up remover and a cotton ball and I wash with local raw organic honey. I just started mixing coconut oil with the honey before applying it to my face (it smells so good!) and I find that is a very nice touch for winter. Then I use eye cream and argan oil and I call it a night.

There you have it!