This is the main ingredient group to explore in the making of truly sustainable skincare products in your kitchen. In Asia, food and beauty products are often interchangeable, and roughly half the ingredients in most dishes are used in a traditional beauty regimen. The reason why we should use food for our skincare products is obviously for safety because food ingredients are far more regulated than cosmetic ingredients. In addition, they are biodegradable and both our bodies and the Earth know how to process them.
Grains, Beans and Seeds
Grains, beans, and seeds make great exfoliants, face washes, masks, and can be used as fillers or thickeners. They are usually easily sourced in grocery shops too. The following are found to be effective when applied topically:
Almond (Prunus dulcis)
Both the Indian and the Chinese traditions recognise the mild bleaching effects of almond meal In the United States, almond meal is widely used as an exfoliant.
These are the seeds of the tree Bixa orellana, commonly called the lipstick tree, and are used to colour food as well as cosmetics. They are also known to reduce the signs of wrinkles and blemishes as well as to tighten the pores when topically applied. They have a bright chilli orange colour and are used traditionally in Vietnamese noodle soup, Bun Bo, without making it spicy.
Azuki (Phaseolus angularis)
Packed with vitamins and minerals, azuki beans are a traditional Japanese beauty ingredient. The ‘seed coat extract is a humectant, skin conditioning, and skin protecting’.
Azelaic acid, a component of grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, is beneficial when applied to the skin. It can have desirable results on heavily pigmented melanocytes. It is also recommended for acne treatment as it kills the bacteria which infect pores and cause development of acne.
This derives from soybeans and egg yolk and plays an important role in strengthening the skin’s outer structure. Lecithin is a powerful humectant which prevents the skin from becoming dry and vulnerable. It is also a softening agent and a natural antioxidant. It absorbs quickly with no feeling of grease and heaviness afterwards. In this respect, it functions similarly to hyaluronic acid, glycerine, and ceramides. It acts as a natural emulsifier, thickener, stabiliser, and preservative.
Oats (Avena sativa)
The whole dried plant can be made into decoction and used as a face wash to heal certain skin conditions. It also has anti-itch, antifungal, and antigenotoxic properties. Oatmeal (coarsely ground oat kernels) is used for atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and sun protection. It moisturises and is effective for sterilisation and acne eruptions as it makes for a gentle daily exfoliating cleanser. It may cause irritation for those individuals sensitive to gluten.
In cosmetics, rice serves as a natural source of ceramides, which is an excellent moisturiser and helps condition dry skin.Rice oil contains vitamins, minerals, and tocopherols,which are recognised as antioxidants.
Rice Bran (Komenuka)
One of the best-kept Japanese beauty secrets, rice bran is rich in vitamins B and E as well as fatty acids that help promote healthy skin. The powdered rice bran makes an effective exfoliant and softening and moisturising agent while rice bran water has been used in traditional baths for centuries.
Soybean (Glycine Soja)
Soybean extracts neutralise free radicals, stimulate collagen production, increase skin moisture, and reduce hyper-pigmentation. Soybean is also used as a skin whitener and softener. One study shows soy isoflavones work to fight oxidation in the skin. Although not known how, it also appears to boost hyaluronic acid production, as well as reduce pigment production and block transfer of pigment between cells.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are not only an excellent source of many nutrients. Some raw fruits and vegetables can be used for home spa treatments, while dried versions can be made into tincture and infused oil, which can then be used to make creams and lotions. Some can also be used as colorants for make-up products when freeze-dried.
This substance has excellent soothing, healing, and moisturising properties and also helps slough off dead skin cells.
These occur naturally in apples, milk, citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes, and blackberries. When applied topically, they help stimulate production of natural moisturizing factors that aid the skin in attracting and retaining moisture.
This fruit has been traditionally used in poultices for skin inflammation as well as to treat skin infections.
Apple cider vinegar:
A gentle exfoliating astringent, apple cider vinegar soothes and relieves itchy skin and restores the skin’s natural pH
It contains a powerful antioxidant property and is helpful in treating acne. Freeze-dried beetroot powder is a bright red colorant.
This plant helps the body eliminate toxins through the skin and is also useful for acne when dry leaves are applied as a poultice.
This vegetable has anti-inflammatory properties and is also helpful for acne.
It is a green pigment present in plants and is packed with nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. It is fat soluble and is a green colorant.
Cocoa powder (Theobroma cacao):
Cocoa powder has a powerful antioxidant property and helps repair damaged skin while regenerating new skin cells. It is also a bronze colorant.
Pediatricians often recommend using corn starch for diaper rash as it protects the skin and treats minor skin irritation. It is also an organic filler which works well in dry shampoos and make-up foundations, but it must be GMO free.
Cream of tartar (Adosonia gregoril):
A by-product of wine production, this is used in some cosmetics as a stabiliser and filler.
Contains amino and organic acids that cool and refresh the skin and tighten the pores.
Fruit pectin (processed powder):
Derived from citrus fruits, apples, or berries, it is an effective thickener and emulsion stabiliser.
A natural source of collagen and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) that help moisturise the skin.
Strong astringent, disinfectant, and mild bleach for the skin
The peel actually contains higher levels of vitamin C than the fruit itself and is rich in antioxidants. It is a mild exfoliant and generally improves premature ageing of the skin when applied as a mask.
This orange fruit contains large amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as AHA, making it an effective ingredient in body or facial treatment to exfoliate and smoothen skin
Contains bromelain and exfoliates with natural AHA, aids the removal of dead skin cells, and boosts cell regeneration to reveal a more youthful-looking complexion.
Pomegranate (peel extract):
Stimulates collagen synthesis and promotes skin regeneration. Pomegranates
This fruit is packed with vitamins, and when applied topically, it helps loosen dead skin cells.
Being rich in vitamin C and having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is used in preparing shower gels and scrubs. In addition, tamarind bark is added to lotions and poultices that are applied on open sores and caterpillar rashes. It has been used as a scrub in Thailand for centuries.
Herbs, Botanical Extracts, and Spices
Plants, flowers, and marine extracts contain phytochemicals that can be beneficial to our skin. In homemade products, we can control the amount of these useful extracts to make them truly effective. Plants, flowers, and marine extracts make great tincture and infused oils which can be used in creams and lotions.
Arrowroot or kuzu (Maranta arundinacea):
A plant harvested from rugged mountains, it soothes and heals irritated skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. It is odourless and has deodorising qualities too.
Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita):
Chamomile prevents pigments from being produced and provides an anti-inflammatory effect. As it prevents skin irritation, including sunburn while some studies show it has SPF 15, chamomile is commonly used in sunscreen products.
Cherry blossom (Prunus yedoensis):
Cherry blossom is effective in reducing skin inflammation and is used in skincare preparations owing to its soothing properties. Cherry blossom flower extract is known for its antioxidant properties and has been found effective in treating age-related skin damage. The leaves, bark, and fruits have proven antioxidant properties which means they help fight damage caused by UV rays. You may find unsalted dried flowers or dry tea in Japanese grocery stores.
It is a bronze brown colorant, although it requires caution as it may irritate the skin.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis):
The extract of green tea contains polyphenols which are known to be potent antioxidants and fight free radicals. Topical green tea extract provides photoprotection and reduces the number of cells damaged by UV radiation.
Liquorice extract is helpful to improve hyperpigmentation. It is commonly applied once or twice a day for 3–4 weeks before sun exposure. Licochalcone A, which is extracted from liquorice root, is known to effectively reduce UV damage. Having been a traditional herbal remedy in East Asia, liquorice root extract is valued for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, depigmenting, and skin-lightening properties
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus):
The leaves can be used as an astringent when made into a tincture, and it is also beneficial for treating infection if used when bathing wounds. It also makes a soothing eyewash.
Filled with antioxidants and various vitamins, it helps soothe and cool sensitive and irritated skin, as well as balances and cleanses. It also has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.
It is known to have anti-inflammatory, healing, and antiseptic properties. Some studies confirm that it helps fade hyperpigmentation. It is known to be an effective antibacterial agent, killing a broad range of microbes.
Other Edible Ingredients
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate):
Helps draw out toxins as the body attempts to balance the percentage of saline content between the water and skin. Add to a hot bath.
Honey is proven to have a broad spectrum of anti-infectious action against at least 80 germs and is used topically to cure wounds and burns both in traditional and modern medicine. Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a humectant which draws moisture to be retained in the skin. It also has astringent and soothing properties which explains its wide use in creams, face masks, toners, and so on. A traditional recipe containing honey is used to treat acne.
Glucomannan, a natural fibre derived from the root of the konjac plant, is widely used in personal care products and cosmetics due to its water-retention capacity; it ensures that the skin is moisturised, smooth, and supple. Use for a peel-off face mask as inflammation, eczema, and acne. It is proven to stimulate the cells’ immune system and retain moisture.
Contains both alpha-hydroxy and niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, making it a useful ingredient for moisturising and anti-ageing.
It has antifungal and antibacterial properties, making it effective in combatting acne. Some studies also confirm its antioxidant property, as an effective anti-ageing ingredient.
Salt (Sodium chloride, Ammonium chloride):
It helps adjust viscosity in creams. It also detoxifies and cleanses the skin. Epsom salts (Magnesium sulphate) are known to relieve aches and pains
Fragrance-free alcohol can be used as a solvent for herbs. As vodka may be expensive, rice wine is a good alternative.
The main ingredient in commercial skincare products is water to lower viscosity. And the water used in products is mostly deionised water (DI water), from which almost all mineral irons have been removed to avoid any chemical reaction with other ingredients. For homemade products, you can either buy distilled water or use the following simple method to prepare the water:
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana):
Native Americans have long recognised the medicinal properties of witch hazel. It has antibacterial and antiseptic properties and can also accelerate the healing process, making it beneficial for acne. It is used as a natural astringent for removing excess oil as well as toning the skin.
Most of yogurt’s beneficial impact on the skin is due to its component lactic acid, as certain lactic bacteria strengthen the skin’s barrier and fight skin dryness in topical applications. In pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, yogurt is used for its conditioning and soothing properties when applied topically. Research states that Streptococcus thermophilus, a lactic acid bacteria found in most yogurts, enhances ceramide production, thus fighting acne (if applied to the skin for seven days as a cream). Yogurt can also be a nice supplement to bath rituals for a softening result.