Radiant from the Inside Out
About a month ago I attended an all natural skin and beauty workshop at my Ayurvedic institution. Now even though this wasn’t a part of my curriculum, I felt drawn to this course. And although it was offered online, I knew I had to get myself there and really be in it, for some reason or another. I can’t begin to describe how happy I am to have made that trip.
I’ve always had problematic skin. Not to say I’ve suffered with chronic acne, not even close. But I felt as if I’ve been playing a non-stop game of Whac-A-Mole against my pimples since the time I hit puberty. As soon as one was violently executed, another popped up somewhere else and, eventually, in the same place. What was I doing wrong? I had tried every drugstore brand, many high-end skin bundles, and every unpronounceable acne fighting ingredient I could get my hands on. In the end, I always found my skin over dried and under nourished. How could stripping my skin of its natural equipment be the right way to go?
So I opted for something new, something that honestly made me a bit skeptical: an all natural approach to skincare. I mean, let’s be real. We are constantly told that we need a laundry list of skin-care products to have glowing, healthy skin. Cleansers, toners, serums, astringents, moisturizers, and masks, all loaded with chemicals, dyes, and fragrances. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by the cosmetic industry. *Raises both hands.* I needed a fresh approach.
Let me just say, never be skeptical of nature. I am a true believer that everything we could ever need is provided abundantly and naturally, we just have to do a little digging. In this course we were introduced to several different products that were completely void of chemicals (as well as self-care practices and skin superfoods), which can be made in home or ordered online, if not in your local health food store.
My plan once I returned from this skinlightenment adventure was to do some sort of cleanse. I’ve recently learned the importance of reseting your system as the seasons changed and as summer was nearing, I wanted to put this into practice. Before I left, I hadn’t decided on what kind of cleanse. But once I returned, it was clear what I needed: One month completely natural, inside and out.
Why a month? They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so I thought I'd push myself and go for a month. I knew that if I just did a week or two, it was very likely I would say Well that was great, now let's get back to how things were before. No, no. I wanted this to be something that I got used to.
When I told most of my friends about my endeavor, the main question was “Ok but what exactly does that mean?” Allow me to explain. I would spend the next four weeks avoiding any foods that were processed, refined, that had added sugars, synthetic chemicals, artificial coloring, etc, etc. Basically, if its not readily available in nature I wasn’t eating it. And the same went for my skin. No chemicals, no dyes, no fragrances. No makeup. Nada. I also eliminated allergens such as wheat and soy. And yes, no alcohol.
When it came to foods, it was surprisingly easy. And might I say extremely eye-opening. I was forced to really read the labels on my food and ask what was in it. As a vegan, I already have to do this. But once I see the little “V” symbol or check that there are no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey present, I usually just dive right in. Of course there were things that I am always more cautious about. But for the most part, if it was vegan, I considered it fair game. This is the part where I remind you that vegan doesn’t always mean healthy.
So from here on out, I made it a point to read the labels. And to my pleasant surprise, I found that there are so many better options of foods that I was already eating. These alternatives were completely natural, not a preservative in sight! I started to wonder why I never paid closer attention to this before. And because I couldn’t eat anything processed, I found myself naturally eating more whole fruits and vegetables as well as avoiding almost everything packaged. Yay for less plastic! When I craved sweet things, I went for fruits, dates, or made smoothies and all natural shakes and ice creams. I chose popcorn and raw veggies over chips, fresh guacamole over store-bought hummus, and water or tea over mixed drinks. Instead of meat replacers I had chickpeas, beans, and lentils (dried, not canned). I switched out my soy sauce for liquid aminos, had black and brown rice instead of white. I was truly eating foods that were lively, that were giving me life. And I even found some wonderful all natural desserts, with no added sugars!
As for skin and hair, this was a little more DIY. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of doubt here so let me preface this by saying that I have tried all of these methods and have in fact been using them for the last month. They work. (If only Mother Nature could sponsor me). Among the many I tried, there were a few that truly stood out:
Mung bean flour. When I told this to my roommate he said that it sounded like something off the Black Market. While that would honestly be a lot cooler, I actually just bought it on Amazon. Keep the mung bean flour in a dry container in a dry place until you are ready to use it. In a separate bowl or container, mix it with enough water to make a paste and apply to face and body. One tablespoon of dry flour is enough for the face and neck and 3-4 will suffice for the whole body. It removes dirt, gently exfoliates, and doesn’t strip the skin of any natural oils.
Aloe vera gel. I’m pretty sure that aloe vera gel came directly from some divine being itself. I think it can be used for almost anything. In fact, aloe vera will have to have its own post soon enough, I’m that obsessed. However, as a cleanser I used a fresh leaf from Whole Foods, removed the outer parts, blended the gel in a blender, and added in some tea tree oil. Here is a great demonstration that also gives you some tips on things to add as natural preservatives.
Coffee scrub. I say coffee scrub but feel free to use sugar or salt instead! Mix with coconut oil and store. This is great for face and body but remember to apply gently, especially on the face.
Rose water. Rose water is super easy to find pre-bottled. I like Heritage Store because it's mixed with glycerin, which is great for moisture retention. Simply spray this on your face at the end of your routine. This is great for people who tend to run hot, as rose water is quite cooling in nature.
Witch hazel. This all natural toner is a wonder for everyone, but especially for those of us who tend to be more prone to breakouts. Witch hazel is a natural astringent and is amazing for dirt removal as well as for calming inflammation. But don't let the term astringent fool you. It's super gentle! Squirt it on a cotton pad and put that stuff all over. I even like to use this on my neck and back.
Oils. Sadly, we have all been programmed to be afraid of oils. But in fact, oils are some of the most nourishing things we can add into our daily routine. For oily and acne prone skin, jojoba oil is a godsend. It mimics the natural sebum in your skin so that your skin is tricked to producing less oil itself. Vitamin E oil is amazing for acne spots, hyperpigmentation, and scarring. Rosehip oil works wonder for wrinkles, discoloration, and even helps with eczema and rosacea. As for the body, you can never go wrong with carrier oils such as coconut oil, almond oil, even sesame oil. You can even use argan oil on your brows and lashes to stimulate hair growth! But of course, sometimes oils can be a bit oily in the day time (shocking I know). So instead of applying them last in my skincare routine, I apply them first, let them absorb for at least 5-10 minutes, and then wash my face after. This allows my face to be moisturized without that greasy feeling. And because I'm not using a store-bought cleanser, it doesn't completely wash away the oil. You can also finish off your routine with oils by applying them to the face and then wiping with a cotton pad. I love doing this at night because it's amazing for removing any little bits of dirt that might be left over.
Aloe vera gel. As I said before, aloe is a miracle plant. As a moisturizer, I just leave it on (face and/or body) plain over night and let it do its thing. Then rinse in the morning. Or don't! Honestly it absorbs so nicely you really don't even have to.
Castille soap shampoo bar. I used Dr. Bronner's which was very effective. It cleaned my hair very well and maintained silkiness.
Aloe vera gel. Well look at that, here it is again! Aloe is also a great conditioner. Just make sure it's blended well before applying because the chunks aren't so easy to wash out.
Apple cider vinegar. Although this one is extremely pungent, it is an amazing clarifying conditioner and really makes the hair silky and shiny.
Now of course I wasn't perfect. There were times I accidentally ate wheat, or had to wash my hands with chemical soap because I was in public, or I wore makeup for photos. So do your best but never beat yourself up when it comes down to it. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept the unexpected.
So what was the takeaway from all of this? Well for one, it’s much simpler to live a natural lifestyle than I ever could have thought. We live in a world where everything is at our fingertips and it is up to us to use that advantage for our well-being. Its truly amazing what we can find when we just open our eyes and search for it. Second, you can't have great skin on the outside without being good to your insides. As important as a natural regimen is, if you are eating tons of greasy foods and sugary snacks, it will come out in your skin. So be as mindful of your choices. And finally, beauty on the outside is nothing without a beautiful energy from within. As my teacher Dr. Vaidya Jayarajan Kodikannath says, "Beauty is the external expression of the internal health and radiance." So get out there and be radiant.