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This post also appears at the Purely Primal Skincare blog!
you do less while accomplishing more?
While many of us feel like we’re not being proactive with our skincare routine unless we’re doing something (and, in some cases, a lot of somethings), the truth is that sometimes an extremely simple, uncomplicated, basic routine is warranted. When discussing this with people, I usually call it a “gentle routine.”
Of course, I consider most of our Purely Primal Skincare Guide recommendations to be “gentle;” however, when I encourage someone to adopt a “gentle routine” specifically, I mean a very basic, uncomplicated routine – free from almost any substance, synthetic or natural, that could have even the most remote possibility of causing a reaction.
This helps encourage chronically inflamed, unhappy skin to calm down, reset, and resolve.
Yep, I said free from almost any substance, synthetic OR natural. You see, while natural ingredients like nourishing oils, hydrosols, butters, and homemade toners have a unique and amazing way of working with the skin to regenerate it, soothe it, and resolve issues (that’s the foundation upon which the Purely Primal Skincare Guide is built), the truth is that anyone can react to anything – including any substance, also known as chemical – that’s put on the skin.
Wait a minute, you say. Chemical? I thought the whole idea here was to avoid chemicals! What gives?
Here’s the thing: while many people mistakenly call “natural” skincare “chemical free skincare,” the fact is that everything in nature – even the natural stuff, from oil to cotton to wool – is composed of chemicals. Chemicals are simply matter. The world is made up of chemicals – some manipulated, synthetically manufactured, and dangerous; others completely naturally-occurring. That’s why we take care to differentiate between naturally-derived substances (oils, hydrosols, etc.) and factory-made skincare that uses industrially-derived ingredients by using the phrase “unnecessary chemicals,” not by simply dubbing the “bad stuff” chemicals. It’s all chemicals!
This is an important distinction, because we believe that some chemicals are nourishing to the skin, and others simply aren’t. The ones that aren’t fill most modern skincare bottles and jars – they’re filled with unnecessary chemicals that so many of our customers are absolutely beyond frustrated with. For most of our customers, modern products filled with unnecessary chemicals have offered absolutely nothing but irritation and frustration.
That’s why we dedicate ourselves to exploring, recommending and helping others discover healthful, naturally-derived ingredients to soothe, nourish and improve the skin whenever possible. However, nothing works for everyone all the time. Finding what works is a process of discovery with many moving parts, including nutrition, digestion, time, season, climate, history, body chemistry and beyond. Those who pursue natural skincare take on the admirable task of finding what works with the body naturally; versus what battles physical symptoms into submission using unnecessary chemicals that may impact the body in other negative ways.
Often, folks go whole hog into “natural skincare” assuming it will always be immediately beneficial – ditching other products cold turkey, going off prescriptions, and sometimes not spot-testing to ensure lack of sensitivity. We don’t recommend any of these strategies in the PPSC Guide. Here’s why: the body, depending on its history of issues, sensitivities, digestive health and nutritional status, as discussed in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide, can react to absolutely anything – from “natural” skincare to “unnecessary chemicals.”
Think about it: some people are allergic to artificial dyes and colors. This makes sense, because these substances (composed of unnecessary, factory-derived chemicals) can certainly work against the body in a number of ways. Others, however, are allergic to things like strawberries and avocado, which are natural, healthy and nutrient-dense. Does that mean strawberries and avocado are bad? No! There’s a huge difference between being intolerant to something that is incongruous with our biology and has never before been ingested across millions of years of human evolution, and being intolerant to something natural because of the damage that exists within our bodily landscape that makes our bodies less able to tolerate it.
This simply means that the body is a complex landscape with a history that we have to take into account to find the right approach to skincare. If the body is extremely sensitive and reacting poorly to even the most natural ingredients, it’s probably time to pull back, adopt that “gentle routine” we speak of, and allow the body time to bounce back from chronic irritation, reactivity, and damage. Otherwise, the body may continue to react to anything and everything.
This brings me to the “gentle routine.” If you’re removing irritating, unnatural chemicals from your body care routine, yet have been unsuccessful with immediately introducing more natural substances and feel your skin is as irritated or MORE irritated than ever, this probably means your body needed time to get acclimated to functioning without the junk; to heal from the inside-out; and to get its bearings before introducing a new routine filled with lots of natural, yet highly biologically active substances.
Natural does NOT mean neutral. Natural products are highly active substances. This is why it’s important to find the ones that work for you.
This “gentle routine” can process of discovery. Fixing the skin naturally takes patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness. Just like with modern products – which number in the millions – no one natural routine, mix of natural routines, or combination of natural products will work for everyone. It’s a process of exploration.
Think about it: you’ve probably been looking for the right mix of drugstore products since you were a pre-teen. For me (ahem, yes I am old) that amounted to almost 2 decades of searching before I finally transitioned to a natural routine.
Luckily, seeking the right natural routine, and finding healing, generally takes a dramatically shorter amount of time than any of us wasted in the drugstore aisles. It did for me – all told, with diet, digestive, and lifestyle support, I was able to clear my skin naturally in months rather than many years.
But still, when results aren’t immediate, people tend to get frustrated. These are unfair, stressful expectations, so please keep a level head! You WILL figure things out.
So, here’s who a “gentle routine” might be right for:
- Individuals who feel their skin is worse than ever, no matter what they try;
- Individuals whose skin is so confused and irritated that it reacts to everything;
- Those who are willing to take a stepwise approach to determining what works and what doesn’t work for their own, unique skin.
Here’s what a “gentle routine” might look like:
You’d get started with the nutritional and digestive health recommendations outlined in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide, but you’d be very gradual and deliberate with regards to adding new methods of skincare on top of all these changes.
This means you wouldn’t immediately drop all old routines. You would wean off of old products, whether you have acne-prone skin, dry skin, overly oily skin or combination skin. You wean off old products so you have a better idea of how your skin reacts to each gradual change. As you do this, slowly and steadily, you wouldn’t ADD anything else – except the gentlest substances, like water, soothing aloe, and gentle touch.
In fact, you would go as minimal as possible, in particular, with how you touch your skin and how you show your skin to the outside world. This means gentle cleansing and the bare minimum of products – and as little makeup as possible, as infrequently as possible.
(In fact, minimal makeup, no matter what skin issue you’re trying to resolve, is always going to help.)
This can be difficult, especially if you feel insecure leaving the house without makeup. Especially if you feel you have to pick, squeeze, cover, remove, flake off, scrub, smooth, and peel your skin to make it even look right under makeup.
I understand. I have been there. But a few weeks of foregoing all that and allowing the skin to breathe and reset can be incredibly valuable.
Look. Nobody is truly judging your makeup-free skin. Most people are so worried about how THEY look that they don’t truly take time to judge others. And if they do? SCREW. THEM.
So, all that said, a gentle routine would, as you began to wean off old products without adding the new stuff just yet, look something like this:
Washing gently morning and evening with water and a gentle washcloth – I like Norwex microfiber cloths, which I cleanse with Dr. Bronner’s soap (the washcloths, not my face). Don’t rub, just gently wipe to remove any crust or debris from the day.
Spritzing the face with this homemade soothing toner. (It uses aloe juice, cucumber hydrosol, and soothing tea) to soothe the skin gently. To create a bit of extra moisturizing power, you can experiment with adding 1/4 tsp. non-GMO vegetable glycerin to every 2 ounces of prepared toner to experiment with its moisturizing properties (which can vary depending on climate and skin type).
And that’s it. If a moisturizer is needed (are you sure you don’t need a humidifier?), either opting for an incredibly light, easily absorbed oil like Rose Hip Seed Oil (spot test!); or using a very light amount of whatever has worked for you in the past as you allow your skin to adjust to a minimalist routine.
While I’m partial to oils for moisturizing, they’re not appropriate for everyone (part of the reason I’m working hard on developing a natural, non-toxic skincare line not based around oils) and gentle, natural, oil-free moisturizers are hard to find. Many people find hyaluronic acid moisturizers to work well without irritation, although this also varies by climate and season since HA is a humectant just like glycerin.
I like Synthovial Seven HA, and their products are solid. Combine with a drop of water and moisturize (make sure to spot-test first).
If you choose to wear makeup, you might find that removing it with a gentle washcloth and water is not enough. If this is the case, you can use a very mild combination of one part non-GMO glycerin blended with one part water as a neutral cleanser to gently massage in to the skin (spot test first) and break up makeup. Then, wipe away with washcloth and rinse with water as recommended above.
Remember, this is part of the process of figuring out your skin for good. Be patient, and as you learn what works for you, please be sure to keep in touch!
Thanks for reading!