The kitchen is the place you go to find snacks, not skin care—right? But long before beauty became commercialized and marketized, people were mixing roots and herbs together to make potions, face masks, and scents. From 10,000 BCE, ancient Egyptians used thyme, lavender, and peppermint in their perfumes, and Grecian women were said to apply crushed mulberries as rouge. If these ingredients hardly sound exotic, it might be because they’re only a few feet away from you, in your pantry or kitchen herb garden.
Lockdown this year imposed an effective moratorium on my skin care shopping. As the days stretched into weeks and my sheet mask supply dwindled, I found myself inspecting my fridge with a gaze fueled by more than hunger. Or rather, it was a sort of hunger, but the hunger to pamper my skin in this age of austerity.
The grocery store not only turned into the place to stock up on essentials like bread and milk, it also became my social hub and skin care stop. There I could spy the masked faces of neighbors and remember what other families looked like. I could replenish my sunscreen stash and arm myself with an array of fresh ingredients for homemade masks. The produce aisle brimmed with possibilities.
As the days stretched into weeks and my sheet mask supply dwindled, I found myself inspecting my fridge with a gaze fueled by more than hunger—the hunger to pamper my skin in this age of austerity.
As a teenager, I was an expert at mixing spices from my mother’s pantry into creamy goop for at-home “facials.” When I grew older, however, I apparently thought that to be an adult, one had to buy skin care and prove one’s maturity by toting bottles with scientific-sounding words like “niacinamide” and “hyaluronate.”
I had almost forgotten the joy that comes from crushing blueberries into a delicious paste and the soft skin produced by oatmeal scrubs. The best part of kitchen skin care? It’s 100 percent natural and biodegradable. You’re not hurting your pocketbook or the environment by opting for these homemade masks.
My love for home remedies springs from my Indian upbringing, where mixing turmeric and rose water for brightening face masks seems a standard brown girl practice. In India, many people still use neem twigs to clean their teeth and coconut oil to impart a luster to their hair and skin. The kitchen is an alternative skin care closet, where unruly skin conditions can find surprisingly simple and affordable solutions.
Here I’ve listed a few skin woes and the skin care solutions you can find for them directly in your kitchen! Be warned that most of them are messy, so wear old clothes and keep paper towels handy to wipe up spills.
Inflamed or Sunburned Skin
If you’ve been out in the sun too long and your skin is throwing a tantrum, here’s how to calm that baby down: cucumber. This vegetable is the icon of homemade masks for a reason. Cut into coins or wedges, arrange artistically around your cheeks and over your eyes, and voilà! Your skin will be soothed and the energy the sun stole away will come slipping back. I always buy cucumbers in twos: one for my skin and one for my snack.
I always buy cucumbers in twos: one for my skin and one for my snack.
Want baby-soft skin? Say hello to the oatmeal mask! Use natural organic steel cut oats and mix with a little water. Rub the oats in gentle concentric circles around your face. You can leave the oats on your face for as long as you like, but you’d better stay in a still position as they tend to slide off pretty easily. After 10 to 15 minutes, gently wipe away the oats with a paper towel and dispose in the bin. Don’t wash them down the drain, please! Oatmeal masks are ideal for making skin feel baby soft.
Dry, Flaky Lips
Brown sugar scrubs are perfect for flaky lips (or flaky skin in general). Moisten your face and rub organic brown sugar around your skin. You can also use a toothbrush to exfoliate. If you want to exfoliate your face, do this step around your cheeks and chin. Rinse off after 10 minutes and follow up with a moisturizer. Exfoliation is a key step in skin care and one that we tend to skip far too often. Your skin after the sugar scrub should feel radiant and refreshed.
Maybe you’ve been out in the sun and dust all day, or you live in an area that is highly polluted. Green tea is a great skin purifier, and you can apply it topically as well as drinking it for better health.
Brew a couple of tea bags of green tea and let it cool. Soak a clean muslin cloth in the green tea and spread over your face, sheet mask-style. (Remember to avoid the eyes! I highly recommend cutting holes for your eyes and lips.) After 10 minutes, rinse off and moisturize. Green tea is a key ingredient in many skin care lines, and not only should this mask ease the toll of environmental stress on your skin but it will also perk you up.
You can also make a green tea facial mist and store it in your fridge for a couple of weeks as a quick pick-me-up if you don’t have the down-time for a mask.
Perhaps you have a last-minute date or were too busy juggling work projects to treat yourself to a facial. Or maybe, like me, you would rather read a book or binge-watch that show than actually spend time grooming. I like skin care, but I’m also lazy. This is where the humble sheet mask is so useful—it imparts an instant glow in 10 minutes. But to have the sheet masks on hand means to shop in advance for them, and often I’m too lazy or too broke to do that. If you’re unashamed of these struggles, join the club and allow me to let you in on my little secret.
Say what? Yes, yogurt. I’m talking the sugar-free, natural kind. The lactic acid in yogurt helps gently exfoliate your skin. Paint your face with this stuff, wait for 10 minutes, and rinse off. Your face will emerge like the dawn (okay, too lyrical). Your skin will look refreshed, ready for a gentle moisturizer and all set for that dinner date or night out. And it cost a fraction of what you’d pay for a sheet mask.
And if you’re vegan, try coconut or dairy-free yogurt.
Too afraid to try lactic acid peels? Worried your skin will burn off from the power of AHAs, BHAs, and all those terrifying-sounding acids? Why not take the cautious way out by testing with berries? Strawberries contain AHAs, which help naturally exfoliate skin. Berries contain vitamins A, C, and E, which are utilized in skin care potions for their anti-aging properties. Berries are also less astringent than the lemons and baking soda we’ve all been guilty of applying on our faces at some point in our facial experiments. They’re a gentler alternative and help firm up the skin. Just grind strawberries or blueberries into a paste and apply to clean, dry skin. Rinse off and apply aloe vera gel as a coolant.
The best part of skin care from your kitchen is that you can eat it! Not all those berries make it into the mask, and I’m guilty of eating half a container of yogurt before I convert it into a mask. Still, isn’t that the beauty (har) of it? You’re caring for your gut health and your skin health. Never underestimate the kitchen as a source of both inner and outer radiance.
A final disclaimer: Be aware of potential allergic reactions to any of these ingredients. I have focused on the ingredients that are least likely to produce reactions, but always do a patch test and try to buy fresh, organic produce if intending to use them for homemade masks.