At this point, I think I’ve probably tried at least 500 products for my skin, teeth, hair, what have you. I’m constantly on the lookout for the newest concoction that will promise me a clear complexion and reduced split ends. The thing is, I’ve been keeping my eye on a certain all-natural beauty routine for years — about 10 years, to be exact — that has consistently proven to give its user just that. My sister Natalie, a 28 year-old sustainability guru whose life (and body!) is largely void of harmful chemicals and unnatural ingredients, has the glowy skin and pearly whites of my dreams — and she makes nearly all of her own beauty products for a fraction of what I spend on store bought ones. Sister, I’ll give it to you: you might be onto something.
We grew up on a small goat farm in Colorado and Natalie was always interested in living off the land. Halfway through college, she decided to pursue an alternative lifestyle, leaving to first live out of her car while traveling the U.S. for a year, then settling into communal living situations in North Carolina. Eventually, she met her now-husband Andrew, and the two of them, along with my niece, Chloe, live in a house in the Appalachian mountains. They grow and raise much of their own food, make beautiful handicrafts, and concoct tinctures, salves, and other all-natural products that make Burt’s Bees look mainstream.
Natalie is an expert when it comes to the uses of various plants, and I trust her knowledge about what is healthy to put on or in my body implicitly; she was pre-med in college and has done LOADS of research. And let's face it — we all know that putting harmful chemicals found in so many household products into our body might be bad for us, and we just choose to live with it. "Some shampoos include the same ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate, as dish soap," says Natalie. "I don't need my hair to get washed like a lasagna pan each day."
Admittedly, I still use pretty much all mass-produced, drugstore-bought products, but I’ve always been fascinated by how healthy and radiant my sister's all-natural routine makes her look. So, I called her up to get the low-down on what she uses to get her teeth, hair, and skin so enviably sparkly, and honestly, everything she makes is totally doable. Before I get into the specifics, Natalie wants to express that the below is simply what works for her, that it’s not a routine that will fit everyone’s lifestyle, and it won’t promise to clear up acne or result in uber thick hair. She eats very clean (almost everything she consumes is local and fresh) and leads an active lifestyle — both factors that can affect skin, teeth, and hair.
For her complexion, my sister only uses one product: a salve that she makes at home, which she uses on her face (and body) when her skin is dry. She never washes her face with any sort of cleanser or soap and never wears makeup or uses spot treatment. The result? The healthiest skin ever.
To make the salve, she uses two main ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, which she buys at a store, and beeswax from her own beehives, though it can be bought at any health food store. "Sometimes, I'll infuse my own herbs into the olive oil to start," she says. "Calendula is a good one for sensitive skin, it's very calming. I'll pour the olive oil over dry calendula flowers and heat it up to 150 degrees, where it'll sit for a couple of hours. It turns a beautiful orange color! I'll strain out the flowers and it's ready to use." From there, she heats up the oil and beeswax together in a double boiler at a five to one ratio, respectively, and mixes in whatever essential oils she wants to include (tea tree oil is a favorite, and it's a proven home remedy for acne) while letting it cool. As different essential oils have different evaporation temperatures, you should research to see at what point you should add your selection in.
The salve smells good, is surprisingly not overly oily, and is void of other harmful chemicals often found in face creams and washes like diethyl phthalate and parabens.
While she used to only use her homemade tooth care product, Natalie has integrated Tom's of Maine Fluoride Toothpaste ($8; Amazon) into her routine over the past few years due to a change in diet. "We need to be realistic with ourselves when it comes to our teeth — their health is so important. We want them to be there when we're older," she explains.
She'll use the paste at night, but for her morning brush, she uses her homemade "tooth powder." It contains bentonite clay, which provides a slightly abrasive texture; powdered charcoal, which helps with whitening; and whichever natural antimicrobials and herbs she's feeling. "People with gum irritation can use astringent herbs like geranium, while myrrh gum resin serves as a disinfectant for your mouth," she says. "I've also added in peppermint powder, cinnamon, rosemary, and fennel before."
Natalie notes that this tooth powder is excellent for young children, who have a habit of swallowing toothpaste, as it has absolutely nothing in it that's bad to ingest.
Think of the thickest hair you've ever seen and then double it — that's my sister's hair. "I'll add one tablespoon of baking soda into one quart of water and let it dissolve. Then, I'll pour it over my hair," she says. "Next, I mix a couple of tablespoons of vinegar into the same amount of water and rinse my hair with that. I feel like it removes everything that needs to come out.
She does the above routine once a week, though I would recommend upping it to twice or thrice a week if you want completely oil-free hair. As Natalie notes, "It took about three or four months after I stopped using shampoo for my scalp to get used to not being stripped of it's natural oils. It was overproducing oil and my roots were super oily. That time period is not for the faint of heart."
Worth it, amiright? While Natalie's routine is as natural as you can get, remember that incorporating these principles into your existing routine can still help you reap the benefits. As with most things in life, a natural beauty routine needn't be all-or-nothing.