I frequently field queries from friends and acquaintances regarding cosmetics, and particularly about skincare. I don’t mind being asked questions; people know I have an interest in cosmetics and I love talking about my interests. Futhermore, I’m glad I can dispell some ridiculous and downright harmful skincare myths that have gained traction in the more gullible factions of the internet (yeah, I’m looking at you, Pinterest).
A question I have received on multiple occasions goes something like this: “I’ve read some pieces online about DIY skincare and how I can make cheap facial scrubs and masks using kitchen ingredients like baking soda and lemon juice. What are the benefits of using DIY skincare? Are they as effective as store-bought manufactured products?”
I’ve read many of these same DIY recipes for skincare, and when I come across popular Women’s Magazines encouraging this behavior, I see red. Imagining rubbing baking soda into my face makes my assohole pucker. It’s an immediate and visceral reaction to the kind of damage and discomfort that uninformed attempts at DIY cosmetics can wreak on your face.
First, let me speak to the efficacy of using baking soda and lemon juice to promote smoothness and even tone. It will be highly effective in removing hyper-pigmentation and dead skin cells, because it will melt off your entire face!!!
That may be a slight exaggeration.
But in all seriousness, do not use either of those ingredients on your face. To explain why, we need a quick lesson in biochemistry. The surface of your skin is covered by a mildly acidic film of sebum, sweat, and general lipidy/waxy goodness called the acid mantle. This protective barrier shields your skin against bacteria and other contaminants while locking in lipids and moisture. In order to maintain a healthy, functioning surface environment it is important to avoid products that are overly acidic or alkaline, as they can strip away the acid mantle and bring it too far outside of the proverbial sweet spot, which according to dermatologist Patricia Wexler is a pH level at or slightly below 5.5. Without an acid mantle, bad shit will happen to your skin. Baking soda is fairly alkaline (pH 8.3), and when used on delicate facial skin can cause serious irritation. Coupled with the potential for irritation from manual exfoliation (baking soda is, after all, an abrasive cleanser that can be used to scrub stains toilets and bathtubs), Arm & Hammer has absolutely no place in anyone’s beauty regimen.
On the other end of the pH spectrum, we have acid. Specifically, citric acid. Citric acid is found in citrus fruits like lemons and limes. It is also an alphahydroxy acid and can be found in AHA treatments aimed at chemical exfoliation and decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The difference between using said AHA treatments and rubbing a lemon on your face is that one has been tempered with other ingredients and one is straight up rubbing a lemon on your face. I know it looks cool when people post recipes on Pinterest (see sample 1, sample 2), but these skincare routines can pose a serious health risk. Citric acid can trigger extreme photosensitivity in some individuals that may result in severe 2nd degree chemical burns. Futhermore, chemical and mechanical exfoliation should never be done at the same time or with the same product. Using a salt or sugar scrub (mechanical exfoliant) that contains lemon juice (chemical exfoliant) is like asking for red, inflamed, painful skin. Again, my asshole is puckering just thinking about it.
There are healthy, beneficial skincare products you can make at home (which I will feature in my next post), but choosing the correct ones requires knowledge. All cosmetics consumers need to be aware of the ingredients they’re using and try not to fall into a naturalistic fallacy. Not everything that comes from nature is good for your skin (e.g. poison ivy, alcohol, cinnamon, ghost peppers), nor are all synthetic chemicals inherently bad for skin. The goal of this post wasn’t to scare people away from good, nourishing, natural products.
But seriously, baking soda is bad, mmkay?