Skip to content

Making the switch to natural skin care products

2013 September 8

Even though Leaf + Grain is primarily a whole foods and gardening blog, I think I’ve managed to work in a few complaints about my skin. It’s cranky. Cranky-crank-crank.

My complete diet overhaul has improved things considerably, but chronic rosacea and an annoying combination of dryness and oiliness means perfectly clear, magazine-cover-worthy skin stays in the realm of wishes.

But. Last year, I began experimenting with natural skin care products. And I mean, actually natural, not natural-enough-to-pass-ourselves-off-as-natural (looking right at you, Burt’s Bees).

What follows are the results of all the experimenting (fun!).

I do want to put a warning in front of this post, though: I started near the top of the natural skin care food chain, and what’s shown here represents a good chunk o’ change. I didn’t purchase these items all at once, but rather over the course of eleven months — patience and sleuthing scored coupon codes and happy deals on most of the purchases. I also started off with sample sizes when available, which made the whole testing thing affordable. As effectiveness and tolerance continues to be time-tested, I’ll be narrowing my selection below to a permanent few.

I’m not covering the brands that didn’t work for me — there’s little point in that because my skin is so sensitive that it rejects the most ridiculously innocent of products — I don’t want to smear a good brand’s reputation. (And this is where sample sizes are a godsend — some brands didn’t even make it through half of the sample. It might feel a waste of money to buy trial sizes because the valuation is so terrible for what you receive, but I’d rather spend a few bucks on a fraction of an ounce than ka-ching! for a full size that fails after the 3rd use.)

Okay, here we go.


Facial Cleansing

Embracing this change had led me down some paths I never would’ve considered, including May Lindstrom’s Clean Dirt. A dry, powdered cleanser, this gentle exfoliator is an experience: you mix a few drops of water into a small palmful of powder until it reaches mousse consistency, and then massage into your skin. The scent is fabulous — cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, and nutmeg — the texture, an invigorating mix of clays and salts. Although fit for daily use by normal people, just 3 to 4 times a week leaves my skin smooth, soothed, and completely unirritated. It’s a bit messy, so I use it in the shower, with the added benefit of being able to treat my neck and decolletage. The bottle contains a generous amount, and careful recapping has so far kept the ingredients fresh for many months.

My workhorse cleanser is Tata Harper’s Refreshing Cleanser for sensitive skin. “Refreshing” is precisely the word. It smells like spring, and it leaves my skin feeling clean, toned, and soothed, all at once. I’m completely in love with this cleanser. Some days, I can’t wait to get home from work and just wash my face right away. Without a doubt, it’s the best cleanser I’ve ever used, and, eleven months and the start of a second bottle later, Ms. Harper’s amazing concoction now is an essential part of my skin care routine.


I dreaded this particular leg of the adventure, so no one was happier than I when I scored multiple wins with the very first brand I tried. It was early winter at the time, and my skin was going through its normal dry, flaky, for-the-love-of-God-why-is-the-furnace-running-all-the-time phase.

RMS Beauty’s “Un” Cover-up foundation (in color 11), full of lush coconut oil — and a measly total of only seven ingredients — seemed just the ticket. And it was. At the time of purchase, I also fell for the rave reviews of RMS Beauty’s Living Luminizer (I had a coupon code, people!), and together, they give my skin the coverage I want with a natural texture I never thought possible. The Luminizer is a glowy overcoat that adds an indescribable sheen to my skin. For folks with medium or dark skin, it adds a dewy shimmer, but for us fair-skinned folk, the effect is … translucent and luminous. I love it.

As the weather warmed, I noticed the “Un” Cover-up wasn’t setting as well as it did in the winter, leaving my skin feeling slightly tacky. I expected this to happen — it contains coconut oil, after all — so I quickly purchased a sample of RMS Beauty’s “Un” Powder. Cosmetic powders have never worked for me in the past, so I wasn’t certain what to expect. But, the stuff is miraculous. It perfectly sets the “Un” Cover-up foundation, leaving behind a gentle matte finish. A little goes a very long way — my sample size is going on Month 2. This is the only make-up I carry with me (except for lipstick). The “Un” Cover-Up doesn’t need re-application during the day, but the powder keeps everything looking fresh, especially in the stale, recycled-air environment of the office.

But among these cosmetics victories, I’m sad to report failures on the lipstick front. My primary issue is color: I do not like pinks and salmons (reds are completely out of the question — hello, pasty circus clown). I wear only neutral pinkish-browns, and I’ve yet to find a color that comes acceptably close. For now, I’ve tabled the research and am sticking with my Nars Masai (which, of course, has been discontinued {shakes fist in Nars’ general direction}).



And now to my favoritist of favorite discoveries:  Oils, Part I.

I never woulda thunk oils could work on my skin — apply oil to oily skin? Pfft, no way. I took a crazy chance, and ordered Lina Hanson’s Global Face Serum (sample size!).


I’ve struggled and struggled with cream moisturizers and anti-aging treatments. They work for a bit — just until after the return policy expires, natch — and then my skin revolts.

Although I’m approaching the half-century mark (and totally repressing that I just said that), my skin is actually in really good shape, texturally. I have a light wrinkle load — crows’ feet when I smile, and a slight ruching of my neck — so if I keep my skin properly nourished, I really have no complaints on that front.

My biggest problem isn’t haggard skin, but rather, red, rashy skin — the cranky factor — from irritating cream and gel moisturizers. Name a conventional brand (drug store or department store): I’ve used and rejected them all.

But then came the Global Face Serum. It smells wonderful — that’s a common theme in natural skin care products, I’m happy to note — and it sinks right into the thirsty areas of my skin without stirring up rosacea trouble.

It felt like an entirely new world had opened to me.

My summer skin is really liking Tata Harper’s Replenishing Nutrient Complex. Again, amazing, fresh floral scent, and absorbs quickly, leaving behind smooth, nourished skin. Its rollerball application is a bit of head-scratcher, but it does, I think, keep the mess contained. (The other oil serums I’ve used have snub nosed bottles, which leave oil schmears around the dispenser.)

I’ve also tried May Lindstrom’s Youth Dew — another lovely product by Ms. Lindstrom — but I will probably not replace it once emptied, as the price is a hard swallow (even with a coupon code – ounce for ounce, the difference between a vial of Youth Dew and Global Face Serum is $40).

I did experiment a bit with natural cream moisturizers, by the way (yay, free samples with order!). Unfortunately, they had the same rashy effect as conventional. So, it looks like me and oils are new BFFs.

Goodbye cream moisturizers — thanks for nuthin’.

Sunscreens and self-tanners

Sunscreens, for some reason, are the least irritating of all skin care products. It makes no sense to me, but it’s true. The first natural product I grabbed at the store, Sunny Face by Goddess Garden Organics, has passed all the tests, and is now my regular sun block.

Being a fair-skinned blonde with arms that tan (weird) and legs that don’t (gah!), I’m a veteran of every smelly self-tanner on the market (seriously, why do we women put up with that smell — it’s hideous).

I only tried Chocolate Sun’s self-tanner (not pictured) because I felt a duty to do it. I was not expecting to like it. My goodness, another revelation. It smells faintly like white chocolate and almond extract, and it actually works. I don’t go for deep, dark tans, so I can’t comment on that capability, but my poor, blindingly white legs get the subtle glowy color they need to get through bare-legged skirt season. I love it.


Anti-aging treatments

I’ve given up hope that any over-the-counter formula, expensive or not, will repair skin damage and reverse wrinkles. So, I turn directly to the individual ingredients that have been shown to a make difference in skin care. My previous post on DIY treatment serums covers my ongoing use of Vitamins C and E in my skin care routine. And, it’s very, very affordable.


Body care

Oils, Part II: the amazing success with facial oils led me to rethink body oils. Although not included in this natural skin care products round-up, I also switched out my hand and shower soaps in favor of natural cleansers. A long and painful, skin-crackingly dry experimentation period with natural soaps (ack!) lead me to discover that my go-to cream body moisturizer did nothing but make me feel goopy.

I purchased J.R. Watkin’s Body Oil Mist on a whim at Target, and haven’t been without it since. It completely relieved my dry, itchy skin, on first application (in the dead of winter, at that). It absorbs quickly, leaving my skin soft and nourished.

But my major self-indulgence here is May Lindstrom’s The Good Stuff. With one exception — the price — I can’t express enough glowing praise for this product. The smell is absolutely heavenly (cocoa and roses — trust me, it works), it goes on golden, and leaves behind a subtle shimmer and touchable softness. This was a full-price purchase (after a surprise tax refund), and sadly — unless an amazing deal crosses my path — it might be the last. Very expensive for a body oil. But if your significant other loves to shower you with extravagant gifts, I highly recommend you ask for this — you’ll both benefit.

I use this on my arms, chest, and neck only, to stretch it out, and I do have to say that it’s lasting quite nicely. Unlike a cream lotion, you only need a little bit to do the job, so, six months since purchase, it’s actually not as expensive as I first calculated, and I’m still quite smitten with it. (Maybe it can become my annual tax refund reward?)


And finally, my latest DIY discovery: homemade rosewater toner, which I wrote about recently. Now that summer is here with its sun-scorching gardening tasks, there’s nothing I love better than splashing cold water on my face, and swiping a cotton ball soaked with organic rosewater. It’s so refreshing, and my skin feels cleansed and toned.


Happily — and contrary to what I secretly feared — my natural skin care products experiments did not lead to wasted money. Not much, at least, thanks to samples (both free and purchased).

And in the process, I discovered some amazing women pouring their heart and souls into natural skin care research. Their products are expensive — and only each of us individually can determine whether they’re “worth” it — but they work for me, and they’ve made a real difference in the appearance of my skin. I’m happy with my new skin care regimen.

I hope you get (or have had) the opportunity to try a few of them, and that you’ll leave your thoughts below.


The Dirty Dozen:
Here is a list of 12 common cosmetics ingredients, and their effects and potential risks.

Worried about what’s in your cosmetics?
Search for your current favorites in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database, and find out exactly what you’ve been applying to your skin, every day, along with their “hazards” score.

To purchase/find samples of products I’ve mentioned in this post:

The skin care artists:


4 Responses
  1. Darlynne permalink
    September 8, 2013

    You’ve been reading my thoughts. I’m going through the same process regarding skin care and have been trying to balance what I need with what I can afford. Initially, animal testing was what started me on this path years ago and trying to find a product line that didn’t engage in it has been frustrating. Now, the search for natural products (or even not-as-bad-for-me products) that don’t test on animals narrows the field. But that’s a separate rant.

    Anyway, after using Aveeno for years, I decided to switch to Burt’s Bees just the other day. It’s not rated as poorly as I initially feared and it’s definitely affordable (especially with Amazon’s subscribe and save program), but it’s obviously not perfect. Your article about vitamins C and D, however, is pretty close to perfect and I don’t know how I missed it originally. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

  2. September 8, 2013

    Thanks for sharing. As a very pasty fair girl, I’ve always had to be very careful about what I use and I still seem to be figuring it out – so am excited when I see new options on the cleanser/ moisturizer side. (You would think that at almost 40 I wouldn’t still have to stress about some of these things).

  3. October 3, 2013

    I’m also about to make the switch to natural skin care products, and it’s daunting PLUS expensive!! But I’ll keep a lookout for some of the products you mentioned. Hopefully they’re available here!

  4. Julia permalink
    January 29, 2014

    Really interesting reading, I have been making my own natural skincare (mainly facial oils) for years as I have never been happy with the commercial skincare products I am also a great fan of Dr Hauschka as I love his products but unfortunately they have become more and more expensive to use and then discovered he uses “Peanut Oil” not impressed – I am now considering making natural / all plant based skincare products to sell. So I have found your blog really interesting. So far I have tested the natural creams on my own skin (I am 50 with reasonable skin texture apart from the usual wrinkles on the forehead and around the eyes – due to long childhood in Africa) and so far my skin feels hydrated / moisturised and possibly with addition of Vitamin C in the cream – wrinkle fighting but will have to wait and see on that one as it takes 4 to 6 weeks for skin renewal so any new products will not be immediately revealed on the skin.
    In making my own range of skin care, the products will be natural and all plant origin including the preservatives. It is a really exciting journey discovering different vegetable oils their abilities to help with differing skin conditions and blending differing oils to get the most benefit into one product – If you are interested to hear more, I would be more than happy to blog further.

Comments are closed.