Why you Should Approach Natural Self-Care Products with Caution

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I did not have sensitive skin, or I didn’t know I did until I tried “natural” skincare products.

I plunged myself into the natural skincare world in February this year, and my skin hated it. Five months down the line, I can finally say that my skin has started to forgive me for the atrocities I put it through, but it hasn’t been easy. It has taken a lot of learning and unlearning. I have paid some good dollars for it. I see you people of sabuni ya kipande and Vaseline, and if that works for you, well and good, but some of us have tried it all. Notice I didn’t say Arimis, coz that thing is a miracle worker, and I have nothing negative to say about it.

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Don’t Buy into the Hype

I’ve always had problematic skin. Since puberty kicked in, it has been big, painful pimples on my cheekbones, fighting the urge to pop them, failing, and dealing with the black spots they leave behind. Even when I managed not to pop them, they still left their mark. Let’s not even start with the period acne. As if cramps were not enough of an alarm system.

I’ve always been casual about my skin problems, often joking about a prolonged adolescent age. But this year, I decided to be more proactive with skincare. I did my research, and all the talk about “natural” skincare got to me. I decided that it must be what I need. I use a lot of these natural products on my hair, and the results have been nothing short of magical, so I thought they would be the best solution for my persistent skin needs.

Natural skincare is all the jazz now. Numerous sellers on Instagram and Facebook will proclaim the miraculous impact of their natural skin products, from cold-pressed oils to black soap, papaya soap, rice soap, among many others. They will wear the badge of “natural” or “organic” with pride, and you will buy into it because chemicals cause cancer, and your favorite influencer swears it is the new vogue.

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But remember, persuasion is an art form. Marketers will finesse you by plastering the words “natural” or “organic” on products, even though they might not be, especially in this our Kenya. If natural is what they’re buying, natural is what they’re gonna sell.

Anyway, I went for raw black soap, a “magical” night serum that combined aloe vera gel, Vitamin E, honey, and all the good stuff, and rosewater. The first two weeks were promising. My skin glowed as it had never glowed before. You probably could have seen the COVID-19 future reflected on it if you looked close enough.

Do your Research

Things quickly took a turn for the worse. My face started to get really itchy, especially along my jawline. My skin started breaking out in places it had never broken out before. I had pimples the size of Tanzania’s denial. It became hard to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t want to be invited anywhere because my face was not fit for public consumption. I see you with your “beauty is skin deep,” but these things can really mess with your esteem.

I contacted the lady who sold me these products, and she was quick to tell me, you must be allergic to coconut oil. There have been others with similar complaints, and it turned out their skin didn’t agree with coconut oil. Here I thought coconut oil was the holy grail for black skin, but small small research on Google revealed that it was a big enemy for oily skin. The lady who sold me the black soap made with coconut oil promised to replace it with one that did not, but corona came, and that became a story like county preparedness to combat Covid-19.

The lesson here was that even if the product is natural, it may not suit your skin type. Most of these vendors will not tell you that. They will post testimonials about how their products changed the lives of their customers. The onus is on you to find out whether the ingredients favor your skin type or not. I even found out later that topical Vitamin E is a no-go for most people with oily skin. Imagine all the harm I was doing to my skin, thinking I was serving it!

Photo: Courtesy

Natural Does not Necessarily Mean Perfect and Synthetic is not always the Bad Guy

Synthetic products get a bad rap, but they’re not necessarily as evil as they’re being painted. Look at Arimis- it’s made only of petrolatum, yet it is the gentlest and purest form of love you can show your skin.

Honestly, though, don’t let the big chemical words scare you. Some of these natural ingredients need to be combined with some chemical elements to be better absorbed into your skin. According to an article on Paula’s Choice, “many natural, organic ingredients used in skin care products can cause significant skin sensitivities that build up over time.” If not balanced effectively, they may be abrasive and harsh on the skin, going as far as making you vulnerable to infection. Be especially wary of essential oils that promise to cure all of your skin problems, because they are probably fragranced and that’s no good for your skin.

Photo: Courtesy

Natural products are also labeled as such because they do not contain preservatives, which can be a good or bad thing. Without chemicals, the products probably have a shelf-life of approximately three months, after which they will be a disaster for your skin. None of the natural skincare items I bought had a manufacture date on them, begging the question, “How the hell do I know if they’re expired or not?”

When I finally opened up about my skin, a friend advised me to go cold turkey on all the products I was using. For about two weeks, I put nothing on my face. Only washed it and let it air dry. The itching stopped. The breakouts stopped. There was no doubt that the “natural” products I was using were the root of all my skin issues. I hopped off that all-natural skincare train and haven’t looked back. My skin is doing significantly better now- I started using The Ordinary products (Azelaic Acid is a game-changer), and my skin seems to be loving the regimen I am on, two months down the line.

I’m not saying natural products are all harmful and that you shouldn’t buy or use them. I swear by clay masks, turmeric and yoghurt masks, and black soap (without coconut oil). However, approach them with caution. Use one at a time so you can pinpoint what works or what doesn’t. Get to know your skin and give it what it needs. Vet that skincare product vendor before you purchase. Demand that they disclose manufacture and sell-by dates.

Request that they reveal all the ingredients. Ask questions and then ask some more. We’re only getting older, and our skin’s not gonna have much ‘bounce-back’ left soon. So take care of it now. Love it. Be gentle with it. And for fuck’s sake, mind what you put on it.

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