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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Natural Alternatives to Commercial Cosmetics

Natural ingredients are the latest trend in commercial cosmetic and toiletry products. Vitamin E, avocado oil and green tea extract are added to everything from shampoo to shower gel. However, the beneficial ingredients in packaged products are usually present in concentrations too small to make a difference, and most can’t be absorbed by skin and hair anyway.

The benefits of commercial cosmetics don’t always outweigh the risks, considering the widespread use of potentially dangerous chemicals as fragrances, colorants and preservatives. For safe alternatives, use whole foods in do-it-yourself hair and skin care treatments and nourish your body naturally.

Commercial Cosmetics

Any company can say that their cosmetic is “natural”, “hypoallergenic”, “not tested on animals” or “dermatologist recommended” because there are no legal definitions for these terms. Consequently, many products make false or exaggerated claims. For example, skin care products often promise revitalized and younger-looking skin. The truth is that although topical beauty products may temporarily cover unwanted blemishes, fine lines and wrinkles, they cannot prevent or reverse the effects of aging.

Potentially hazardous chemicals are commonly found in make-up, shampoo, bubble bath, shower gel, toothpaste and dish soap. With the exception of colors and nine prohibited ingredients, cosmetic manufacturers can use any raw material in a product and market it in the United States without FDA approval.

Chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol, parabens, talc, formaldehyde, diethanolamine and mercury have been associated with allergic reactions, skin injury, damage to the nervous system, hormonal disruption and increased risk of cancer. Absorption of these chemicals is limited when products are used externally, but risk of harmful side effects increases with lifelong use, inhalation or ingestion.

Natural Alternatives

A diet for healthy skin is full of olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, green tea, fresh fruits and vegetables. These same foods can be applied directly on the skin and hair as natural beauty treatments. To find fresh and simple alternatives to store-bought beauty products, head for the kitchen.

Olive oil can be used to remove make-up and moisturize skin. It can also be used to moisturize and condition hair, improving strength and elasticity. Rinsing hair with diluted apple cider vinegar adds shine and helps maintain the natural pH balance. A mixture of plain yogurt and finely ground nuts, seeds or grains, gently massaged into skin can cleanse and exfoliate, making skin softer and smoother.

Other foods that soften, moisturize and nourish skin include honey, avocado and fruit. Avocados contain essential fatty acids and many fruits contain alpha-hydroxy acids that dissolve bonds between dead skin cells. Moisturizing masks are easily made with mashed avocado, banana, grapefruit, grapes or strawberries. Green tea is an astringent herb and can be used as a natural toner.

Whether products you use are commercial or home-made, test for allergies first. Before using a new treatment on your hair or skin, apply a small amount and observe for any reaction, which may occur up to 48 hours after application. Individuals with skin problems or sensitivities should talk to their doctor before using any new treatment on their skin.

Moisturizing Banana Honey Masque

½ ripe banana, mashed
1 tsp honey
2 tsp finely ground oats

Combine all ingredients and apply to a clean face, massaging in gentle circles. Leave on skin for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove with a warm washcloth and rinse with cool water.

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