Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Amazing Aloe

In 2009, I have discovered the joys of two amazing ingredients that I now use every single day. Aloe Vera Juice and Unrefined Coconut Oil. This post is about aloe. I'll save coconut oil for next time.

Aloe Vera is a desert succulent plant with a tough green exterior and a translucent fleshy interior. While we usually see aloe sold in bottles looking like bright green gel, this is not actually its natural state. Color, gelling agents, stabilizers, preservatives, and even fragrance may be added to aloe juice to create that emerald concoction we see on store shelves. True aloe vera is a clear gelatinous fillet cut straight from the plant or is also available as pure juice. You can find gallon jugs of aloe vera juice (99% organic aloe vera juice with citric acid/potassium sorbate or some other food grade preservative) at Trader Joe's or health food stores like Whole Foods.

Most of us know that aloe is an excellent remedy for sunburns and rashes. But it does sooo much more than that! Here are some of aloe's wonderful benefits:

- Anti-inflammatory topically and internally
- Anti-bacterial
- Anti-viral!
- Anti-fungal
- Detoxifying topically and internally
- Amino Acid, Vitamin and Mineral-rich
- Immune Boosting
- Scar Healing/Tissue Repairing
- Promotes Healthy Digestion

About a year ago, my facialist and I were talking about my very difficult skin that has for years been prone to inflammation and cystic breakouts due to hormones, stress, etc. She said "Hey, do you ever drink aloe juice? It just occurred to me that this might be helpful to you." This thought was based on the fact, I think, that she perceived my skin concerns to be emotionally-seated and the result of a fire/liver imbalance (ayurvedically speaking). The day of her recommendation, I went out and bought a jug of organic aloe vera juice and began drinking the recommended serving of 2 to 8 ounces each day. Let me tell you, it's got a strong tart taste that strikes you as fairly unpleasant. I recommend mixing it with a 100% juice at first. I promise it gets easier.

I now drink 6 oz each morning mixed with 6 oz of water. Not only have I gotten used to the taste, but I now crave it if I have to go without. On a trip to New York, I had to run into a Whole Foods in Manhattan for a small bottle of pure aloe vera juice and could hardly wait to crack it open outside! I also mist it onto my face twice a day in place of a toner.

As, for the benefits I experienced? Aloe has been the number one factor in helping to clear up my skin, minimize pores and scarring, and reduce hyperpigmentation and redness. In fact, I went went without it for a month and my skin began to backslide, but quickly cleared up as I started drinking it again a couple of weeks ago. This effect inspired me to blog about this amazing plant! I also recently learned that my great aunt, who has now outlived all her siblings, drinks aloe vera juice every single day. I will follow her example and keep it a part of my morning for the rest of my life as I can't say enough good things about aloe and I encourage others to try it if they feel it may help them too.

Just like with any supplement, check with your doctor before taking it internally.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Natural Exfoliator Recipe and Exfoliation Advice

I have been experimenting over the past several weeks with a simple blend to help skin with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, sun spots, acne and pore congestion and have had great success.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Aloe are both excellent for clearing blemishes and fading pigmentation associated with blemishes, sun exposure, age, and hormonal changes.

Mix 1 tsp Organic Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar with

5 tsp Organic pure aloe vera juice (not gel)- you can buy this in $8 gallons from Trader Joe's)

For Sensitive or over-processed skin:

Use 1/2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar and 8 tsp Aloe Vera Juice

Mix the two ingredients and apply to clean skin patting gently with a cotton ball (don't scrub or drag the cotton ball over the skin) or just with your fingers taking care not to get any in your eyes. If you experience noticeable itching or burning, then you should rinse immediately. Leave this on for two minutes- no longer! Rinse with tepid water. Mist the skin with pure aloe juice and follow with your moisturizer. Store the rest in the fridge. Use no more than 3 times per week with at least two full days between applications. Do not use any other scrubs or exfoliators if you add this treatment to your skin care routine. Protect your skin with a Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide sunscreen during the day.

Your skin may look rosy in the areas you treated with this mix for a couple of hours after application, so I recommend doing this at night. If redness is severe, persists for a long time, or if your skin feels uncomfortable, you should use less apple cider vinegar in your mix and leave it on for less than two minutes.

The key to successful exfoliation is restraint! Just because your skin looks great the day after this 2 minute treatment, this does not mean it will look even better if you use a stronger mix or use it more often. ACV and aloe may be natural ingredients, but they are very active- especially the apple cider vinegar. ACV should never be applied undiluted. This is serious business! So if you stray from this recipe, only do so by reducing the ACV, not increasing it.

UPDATE!! After using this recipe for many weeks, I find best results using it only twice a month, so this is the frequency of use I recommend for the greatest benefit.

Whether using this mix or another exfoliator, watch for signs of excessive exfoliation.

Symptoms of Over-Processed or Over-Exfoliated Skin:

- Skin that is oily yet dry at the same time.

- Feeling the need to exfoliate very frequently

- Flakiness, itchiness, and redness or red patches

- Excessive dryness or excessive oiliness

- Peeling and irritation

- Chronic acne breakouts

- Pore congestion accompanied by general inflammation

- Heightened sensitivity to the sun

- A feeling of thinned skin over time

Giving your skin a break from excessive exfoliation can yield a clear, plump, smooth complexion that maintains its natural balance and defies premature signs of aging.

Tips for Breaking the Cycle:

- Try backing off gradually. If you exfoliate everyday, cut down to every other day, and then ease off to less and less frequent treatments.

- Massage instead. Facial massage actually helps lift away build up, enhances circulation, stimulates the skin for increased collagen production, and improves pore function. If you are using a creamy cleanser, you can massage for a full minute or more while cleansing. You can also massage with a light oil or an organic and very emollient cream or lotion.

- Drink enough water. That feeling of needing to exfoliate to work through congested or rough skin is often a result of insufficient hydration. 64 oz per day of pure water can do wonders for the skin.

- Resist the urge! If your skin has become addicted to exfoliation, you may find yourself just dying to exfoliate. During the process of allowing your skin to find its equilibrium, it may be very hard to abstain from your scrubs and peels at first. But your skin will gradually come back into balance and feel healthy and calm.

Mild, very occasional exfoliation can have a very positive impact on your skin. But you have to commit to the "less is more" principle in order to see long term benefits. Properly cared for skin should be calm, comfortable, supple, and look radiant. If you feel anything less than this result, contact me by leaving a comment to this post or via email so that I can help you make adjustments to this recipe for your skin's special needs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I had the opportunity recently to try out DermaBrush Makeup Brushes from DermaMinerals (Dermaquest, Inc.) and I have to say I was very impressed! DermaMinerals states that these brushes are 100% vegan, hypoallergenic, and non-shedding. The first thing I noticed was their texture - they certainly are as soft as can be. Then I began pulling on the bristles to put that non-shedding claim to the test, and the brushes showed no sign of loose hairs then or over the course of days of use.

But the most exciting part was that they really are better than others I’ve used in the past (I’ve used both expensive natural hair brushes and budget synthetic brushes). The Dual Define Brush is a cool double-ended brush with a soft rounded head for applying eye shadow and a stiffer blunt head for applying liners or blending penciled liner. I was surprised how much I liked this brush and was able to use it for shadow, liner, and brow color. These brushes allow for buildable color and are very easy on the skin.

The kabuki brush actually improved the function of my mineral foundation. This super soft brush deposits just the right amount of makeup to give you good coverage while still making it hard to tell that you are wearing anything at all. This is the only powder brush I will use from now on.

While DermaMinerals makeup and DermaQuest skin care is not at all natural, the brushes are a great find. They make all my natural makeup work even better. There are few if any high-quality, soft, vegan makeup brushes out there like DermaBrushes. Good brushes should last for decades and I think these are a worthwhile investment.

Find them at

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Chemical Confession

I'm officially a sellout and a hypocrite. Yesterday I walked right into an Aveda store with my credit card practically leaping out of my wallet. After endlessly searching the inventory on Aveda's website and cross-referencing it to, I still weirded out the sales girls by reading the ingredient list of every item in the store at least once (and it turns out some of the products have been made cleaner since they were put in the datatbase) before making my choices.

Don't get me wrong, I love the one truly natural hair care line that I believe in: Morrocco Method. It's incredible! And I will still recommend it first and foremost. But as my hair grew longer, I literally couldn't afford to have enough of it shipped to me. So I ventured into the land of health food store shampoo with little success. After trying a few different brands, my hair still felt dry and was so prone to tangling that I felt like a little girl again having to sit still and not squeal while my mom ran a comb through my knotty locks.

So I gave up on the "low hazard" options and returned to the realm of "moderate hazard" green-washed hair products that occupy the shelves of serene "concept stores" rather than the fluorescent lit aisles between the canned goods and the vitamins, reminding myself that hair care will be the one and only place I break the rules a little bit. The result? Few to no tangles, smoother, shinier hair, and just a little pang of guilt.

I still chose options that did not contain parabens or phenoxyethanol in their long lists of other crappy ingredients. But I can't help but think of what my Dad used to say- "Do as I say, not as I do."

Despite this transgression, I still feel qualified to continue this blog about natural beauty choices for women; though apparently I value silky hair over my health? Vanity wins this round.