Let's Talk About Skin

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My parents did a wonderful job providing me with all manner of books when I was growing up. One series, the name of which escapes me now, was very science-oriented, and had a book with a chapter entitled, “Skin: The Bag You Live In.” That title totally struck me at the time and made me think of my body in an entirely different way.

Most of us are familiar now with how our skin can absorb things it touches, which is how transdermal patches (NicoDerm CQ, Lidocaine pain patches, et cetera) are able to work so well. If you doubt how rapidly your skin absorbs environmental elements, try this simple experiment: Plug your nose (optionally,) and have someone cut a garlic clove in half and rub it on the sole of one of your feet. Soon, you’ll taste garlic in your mouth, as it is absorbed and circulated throughout your body.

To cut down on how many chemicals my skin sucks into my body, I’m trying to replace typical, petrochemical-laden personal care items with more natural substances wherever possible.

Facial Skin.

The bag I live in has largely been pretty good to me over the years; I never really had a problem with acne, and while it is on the delicate side, it’s done a nice job on the whole. I have never fussed much with my face – I’ve worn a make-up foundation perhaps 10 times in my entire life, don’t usually wear any make-up at all, and in terms of a cleansing regime, for most of the time I’ve used Clinique #1 astringent as the primary cleanser at night, and whatever soap I use in the shower. I’ve never really moisturized. During the years when I wore some make-up everyday, it was primarily a little mascara, coupled with some under-eye concealer to hide the slightly darker skin there.

As I stampede toward 40 (la la la la, I can’t hear that,) it’s started having some Issues, however. I spent the better part of two years with minor to moderate red bumps around my eyes and nostrils that resisted all over-the-counter treatments. They were not pimples, per se… more like tiny, hard little nodules that had only lymph (if anything) inside. Coming into this winter, the bumps went a little bonkers to the point of my being very self-conscious about it.

Working in a computer-filled building, the air is very dry and very ionized – completely brutal for delicate skin. The bumps raged and I started getting visible dry, scaly patches on my face. I was appalled.

Mostly, I attribute the bumps to irritation and dryness. I switched to unscented Dove bars a few months back and began applying a sensitive skin formula of Oil of Olay, but those two things had little to no effect.

Then, several weeks ago, I discovered The Joys of Real, Natural Soap. The bumps are pretty much gone, as are most of the dry patches. The natural soap seems to be doing its job! My skin is softer and doesn’t feel all tight and dry after I get out of the shower.

With the weather being as cold and dry as it is, I bought a bit of coconut oil face cream to see if that helps keep even the most minor annoyances at bay, as some dry patches do still crop up from time to time. Still, it’s only been three or four weeks, and I’ve had an entire lifetime of regular soaps drying it out. It has some catching up to do, learning to regulate itself. The other thing I’m contemplating, and will soon try, is giving up soap on my face entirely, and washing it with oil. I’m not yet sure how to keep it out of my hair, though… sounds a bit messy/fussy, and I’m most decidedly a girl who prefers not-messy/unfussy. Given I’m taking nightly salt baths, though, it should be easy enough to incorporate into my routine.

Wash your face with oil? Are you mad?!” It’s crazy to see how much of our current “conventional wisdom” is just completely and utterly dead wrong. Most of us have been raised in a television commercial society, telling us skin should be raked with chemicals, food should be fast and easy, convenience is king.

The Flakes.

[This is the delightful part, wherein I regale you with tales of dandruff. You are forewarned.]

The biggest of my skin’s problems has been relentless scalp flaking. It started hitting me in my teens, and never released me from its grip. I’ve tried prescription shampoo and pretty much every over-the-counter shampoo there is, all of which eventually let me down after a too-brief period of adjustment. A constant rotation of anti-dandruff shampoos is an annoyance, and there was nearly always a little flaking all the time, anyhow, even with the maximum strength stuff, sometimes coupled with red, irritated patches.

Our society simply does not tolerate dandruff well. It carries a huge stigma for many of us – It’s a sign of being unwashed, dirty or simply not caring enough about one’s appearance. Having visible flakes can cause considerable stress, and made me want to wear a sign saying, “I swear to god, I honestly did wash my hair this morning.” The flakes would appear as soon as my skin dried from the shower, irrespective of what moisturizing or anti-flake products I might have used.

After seeing what natural soap did for my facial and body skin, I tried it on my scalp and hair, figuring “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” The flakes abated for a good almost two weeks. Then… holy shit. They came back with renewed strength and purpose. My scalp had decoded whatever required decoding to overcome the soap, and suddenly WHAM! More flakes than I’d ever had, ever seen on another human. They were impossible to hide! I’m not certain, but I may have been leaving a visible trail in my wake. I was completely, utterly mortified and switched back to Head & Shoulders a few days ago. It is slowly bringing things back under control – painfully slowly.

The coconut oil shampoo bar arrived today, and I’m going to give that a shot after H&S gets me back to a point at which I don’t have to obsessively pick through my hair every 5 minute to groom out any flecks of skin. I’ll let you know how that works out.

The Armpit Skin.

When I started using natural soap, I also switched away from using your standard, commercial deodorant. First, I tried an all-natural substitute, but wowsers, was it ever ineffective on its own. Only a few hours after showering, I would catch a whiff of Armpit as I was sitting at my desk and firmly clamp my arms to my sides for the remainder of the day (which only made things worse, I assure you.)

Barbara suggested using the rock salt crystal (which I already had from years ago,) followed by the natural stuff, followed by a dusting of cornstarch or arrowroot powder. This totally worked. Three-ply deodorant for the complete win! It’s a bit more on the time-consuming and slightly messy side, but it is basically chemical-free and darned effective. Definitely one possibility, and the messiness could probably be mitigated by using a powder puff or large make-up brush for the starch application.

The main thing I’m doing, though, is to use my own, homemade deodorant, which consists of coconut oil, cornstarch and baking soda with a bit of lavender oil sprinkled in for aromatic purposes. This stuff also works really, really well, especially when coupled with a primer layer of the crystal deod. It’s a bit less messy than dusting starch onto ones pits, but also requires a bit more care (at least, it does for me having delicate skin.)

If applied too liberally, the deodorant will “pill up” in the crease of my armpit and the baking soda acts as a tiny piece of sandpaper, actively grinding away my flesh. This is easily remedied by applying the brew only lightly, and making sure there aren’t any areas of heavy residue after the coconut oil is quickly absorbed.  This formulation has held up exceedingly well under synthetic fabrics in a very warm room, which is not something I can say commercial deodorants ever did.

The scent of the coconut oil itself is very pleasant, and with a bit of lavender mixed in, it’s really nice. I took 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup cornstarch and enough coconut oil to mush everything together into a good mash, then plunked it into a small jar and dab it out with my fingertips. Easy peasy!

Initially, I was a bit concerned about oily residue showing up on my clothing, but that hasn’t happened at all – it is absorbed by my skin very quickly. Coconut oil liquefies at 76 degrees, so it melts immediately upon contact with skin, which makes it simple to spread evenly.

The Coconut Oil Craze.

There’s quite a movement afoot extolling the virtues of coconut oil for everything from weight loss to skin care to body purification. While I haven’t completely gulped down the Kool-Aid yet, I’m dipping a toe in to see if and how it works for me.

The site I’m buying from, at Barbara’s recommendation, is Tropical Traditions. If you like coconut products or decide you’d like to try something, I’d love it if you’d enter my ID (5801795) as the person having referred you – I get some kind of a coupon for referrals. Once I have a better feel for how their stuff works, I’ll provide a full review.

In other “living more chemical-free” news, Mike Neir is attempting to give up Mountain Dew! This is a huge, huge thing – that boy drinks probably between 6 and 8 bottles of the stuff every day. After his sister’s intestinal ailments cleared up when she gave up caffeine, Mike decided to try it as well, to see if his symptoms abated. They did, almost immediately. Stick to it, Mike Neir! 🙂

Anyone have any natural products they’d like to share?

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