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Relearning Beauty, Naturally

This April marked two years since I first embarked on a quest to discover natural solutions to my daily beauty routine. Concern for my skin and the products that I was using arose out of desperation and, quite frankly, vanity. You see, at the mature age of 25 I suddenly began to experience terrible bouts of acne. Whether the cause was a hormonal fluctuation or my skin’s protest against years of suffocation by synthetic makeup, it compelled me to examine what I was applying on my skin. As a result, I came to learn – or rather, relearn – everything I thought I knew about personal care.

When I began researching natural cleansing products, I did not expect to find the very concept of soap to be turned on its head.

When I searched for breakout-fighting solutions, I did not expect to learn that I should use the very thing that I had been taught to fear, oil.

When I looked into natural hair care methods, I did not expect to be told that I should stop washing my hair.

But there it was: my journey of relearning challenged my conventional understanding of do’s and don’ts and led me to a deeper understanding of the body’s natural processes.  I came to question many social norms and grooming habits which are commonly reinforced by ad campaigns and marketing tactics. We all know those commercials—with the woman at the party who raises her arms and is mortified to find that she has perspired through her dress, or that man in the shower who lathers himself into soapy freshness.

The father of marketing psychology, who believed that brands could sell anything by tapping into the public’s emotions, was Edward Bernays.  He was influenced by his uncle’s writings on psychoanalysis and the power of emotion.  Not widely known at the time, this uncle was none other than Sigmund Freud.

Contemporary marketing campaigns by laundry detergent companies have certainly succeeded in convincing the public that being clean means smelling clean. Brands even extol their ability to extend scent life. Unfortunately, soaps and scents and social habits mask the way our bodies work.

Chronically at the mercy of dry skin, particularly in the winter, I finally opted to try working with my skin’s natural oils rather than fighting them. Stripping skin with an obsessive routine of sudsy soaping actually disturbs its natural balance of oils. Now that I use a dry skin brush to slough off dry skin and other impurities that build up on the skin’s outer layer, only washing the essentials with natural soap, my once dry and itchy skin is at peace at last. It was not finding the right product but the right method that finally worked for me.

During high school, a friend of mine went on an exchange to France. When she returned it was not stories of fabulous food and beautiful sites that I remember but the “shocking tales” of her French classmates who washed their hair only one to two times a week. This past year I came to understand the logic behind French hair hygiene: it was not a national boycott on shampoo, but rather, an understanding that our body adjusts its oil production based on availability. Go without washing your hair, and at first you might need to invest in a hat, but after the first week or so, you should realize that you can go longer and longer without any oil buildup at all.

It certainly has been an adjustment to undo nearly three decades of routines and learned behavior, to understand that what we have always accepted as true may not always be best. I enjoy writing reviews of natural beauty products on the market, and I have happily discovered many fantastic products that are superior to their synthetic counterparts.  Over the past two years I have gradually replaced everything in my cosmetic arsenal. In fact, I have left many products behind; relearning beauty care has taught me that I need far fewer grooming products than before.   My new beauty care regimen is more streamlined, more natural, simpler. Breaking habits is hard, but understanding how our body works means we can be less reliant on lotions and potions to be beautiful.