The Do's and Don'ts of DIY Skincare

If you haven't already noticed that I've taken my skincare products off my website, I have some news: I'm putting natiF. skincare on hold for the time being. With being in school full-time, working part-time, and starting my naturopathic medical program in January, I simply no longer have the time to invest into my skincare line. Also, a significant part of the curriculum in naturopathic medical school has to do with learning about the properties of different herbs and plant extracts, so I strongly believe that having this knowledge will allow me to create a wider, better range of products to suit more specific concerns. However, I wanted to take the time to reflect on my experience making my own skincare; and offer some advice to those who want to try it out for themselves.


I started making my own skincare for two main reasons: 1) I was tired of paying monstrous prices for products with sub-par ingredient lists, and 2) almost every product I have used have either irritated or dried out my skin. At this point, you may be thinking, "well, you're just using the wrong products"; and yes, you would be right. However, the world of skincare was way too confusing for me to decipher which products to use and which to avoid - especially for someone who was not at all interested in skincare.


So, when COVID forced me home from university, I decided that I would use this time to figure out how to properly take care of my skin, as well as make my own skincare products. That's when I found oil cleansing. I learned about how to oil cleanse, the different fatty acid profiles of different oils, the comedogenic scale, the difference between cold-pressed and expeller-pressed, and skin pH. I also want to note that, I wasn't looking up this information from your run-of-the-mill mommy blog who advocates for slathering coconut oil on your face (yes, those exist). I was reading scientific articles, looking at formulations used by skincare companies, and researching the experiences of different people who regularly oil cleanse. I learned how to properly sterilize and store my products; as well as was well aware of the different expiration dates of different oils.


Even though I may be biased, I think that DIY skincare doesn't fully deserve the bad rep it has. HOWEVER (and this is a big however), I think that DIY skincare encompasses an enormous spectrum, where some of it is downright harmful and some of it is helpful. When we think of DIY skincare, our minds (or at least my mind) immediately goes to sugar and lemon face scrubs, coconut oil as a moisturizer, and using cooking ingredients as face masks. However, there's another side of DIY skincare, where individuals are specifically buying appropriate skincare ingredients, properly formulating products, and ensuring they are preserved properly.


So, as someone who has had their fair share of experience in the world of DIY skincare, I want to share with you my top do's and don'ts if you are thinking of making products for yourself:


1) DO HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF CHEMISTRY

You don't need to go out and get a PhD, but you do need to understand basic things like the pH scale, what fatty acids are, what compounds are soluble in what, hydrophobic vs. hydrophilic, etc. It's really important that you have a good grasp at why you are adding what you are adding to your formulation; and how each ingredient will react with each other and on your skin. For example, you cannot mix a hydrophobic ingredient (ex. oil), with a hydrophilic ingredient (ex. water), without a proper emulsifier (something that will dissolve un-dissolvable ingredients into each other). Additionally, ensuring your products are the proper pH is important to avoid irritation and even chemical burns (i.e. why people don't recommend you put lemon juice straight on your face).



2) DON'T USE INGREDIENTS YOU ALREADY HAVE IN YOUR KITCHEN

This is a huge one. If you want to try oil cleansing, please do not pick up the olive oil sitting in your kitchen and put that on your face. First of all, the oil you're buying from the grocery store is not the same quality as oils that are designed for the skin. Second of all, if you haven't been storing your oils in a cool, dark place, and instead they are sitting on your counter by the stove, the heat and light will oxidize the oil, destroying the composition of the beneficial fatty acids. Lastly, there are much, much better oil options that are geared specifically for the face, rather than for cooking (although some do overlap).


3) DO BUY TRUSTWORTHY, HIGH-QUALITY INGREDIENTS

You need to do significant research regarding where you're products are coming from and how they are extracted/processed. If you are using oils, you want to make sure that they are organic, cold-pressed, and hexane-free. Cold-pressed means that the extraction process is done without heat, meaning that the beneficial fatty acids and nutrients in the oil remain in tact. Hexane-free means that no chemical solvents (hexanes) have been used during the extraction process. Lastly, when you are buying your ingredients, the more paperwork and certifications available, the better. You should be able to access documents like their certified organic status and certificate of analysis.


4) DON'T USE PRODUCTS PAST THEIR EXPIRY DATE

This should be obvious, but don't use either your products or ingredients pas their expiry date. If it's an oil, when it expires it will become rancid, meaning that the oil has oxidized and is now ineffective. You can typically tell an oil has gone rancid if it changes colour, smell, or texture. It is also important that you check the expiry date on all ingredients because most of them have been previously stored in a warehouse prior to being delivered or purchased by you; and you don't know how long it's been in storage. Most oils last between 6 months to a year before going rancid.


5) DO KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY STERILIZE AND PRESERVE YOUR PRODUCTS

If you're going to take anything from this post, take this: it is crucial that you know how to sterilize and preserve your products to avoid microbial growth. Preservatives get a bad rep because the majority of them are "unnatural", however, if your product contains water or water-soluble ingredients, it must be preserved. Also, essential oils are not strong enough preservatives despite their alleged antimicrobial activity. The caveat to this is that, if your products are all oil-based and anhydrous (don't contain water), they do not require a preservative because microbes cannot survive without water. However, oils do need to be "preserved" with an antioxidant. Lastly, you must sterilize your bottles before adding your products to ensure that no microbes contaminate your product right at the packaging stage. The easiest way to sterilize is by placing your containers in boiling water for about 10 minutes.


6) DON'T WORK BEYOND YOUR ABILITIES

When you're making products at home, you are unable to test things like how long will your product last before expiration, if your concentration of preservatives is effective enough, etc. This is one of the main shortcomings of DIY skincare. However, if you stick to the basics and don't try and go too out of reach, I'm sure you'll create a beautiful, functional product. Making oil cleansers are a great start because they don't require preservatives and you have some creative freedom to add the oils that best suit your skin type and concerns. If you are unsure of what you are doing, you run the risk of causing damage to your skin. If you are interested in learning how to make more involved products with more complex formulations, there are online courses that teach you to make your own safe and effective products (i.e. moisturizing creams, serums, wash-off cleansers).


Did you find this helpful? Have you ever tried making your own skincare products before? Let me know in the comments!