A clean beauty approach.

Jessica DeFino
Updated Apr 29, 2020 @ 1:23 pm
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Credit: Jessica DeFino

We all want to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, but today, there’s so much pressure to be a purist that it can be intimidating—not to mention costly or geographically unattainable. That’s why, throughout April, Going Green Without Going Mad will unpack how to be more eco-conscious without sacrificing your sanity or 401k. We’re diving into the truths about sustainable fashion, talking about the business of going green, and highlighting the brands and people making changes towards a better and safer planet.

In this installment of our series A.M. to P.M., writer Jessica DeFino breaks down a sustainable beauty routine to try this month and beyond.

Age: 30

Skin Type: Sensitive, dry, and acne-prone

Skin Concerns: Dryness, barrier damage, breakouts, and dermatitis

After five years of investigating the beauty industry—interviewing experts, researching products and practices, diving deep into the science of it all—and 30 years of being a human with arguably the most temperamental skin in existence, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is this:

“Skin care” is not the same thing as using “skincare products.”

I wish I had learned this lesson earlier, before I dried up my skin’s natural moisture supply (sebum) with a round of Accutane (which shrinks sebum-producing sebaceous glands). Or before I took antibiotics that promised to kill acne-causing bacteria, but also killed my gut microbiome. Or before I emptied endless bottles of abrasive acne washes, skin-tearing exfoliants, and overly harsh “as seen on TV” treatments to no avail. I really wish I’d learned it before I slathered on two years’ worth of topical steroids to “cure” my dermatitis, which only caused more dermatitis and thinned my skin barrier (two well-known side effects of steroids).

Eventually, it hit me. If no products were helping… maybe no products would.

It seemed weird enough to work, so I quit skin care as I knew it and taught myself to truly care for my skin. I nourished it from the inside out, supported its natural functions, honored its connection to mind and body, recognized every breakout and blemish and bout of dermatitis as communications from within. And guess what? Almost as soon as I traded topical skincare products for whole-being skincare practices, my skin started to heal.

Ahead, the 10-step, zero-product skincare routine I rely on to keep my complexion clear, moisturized, and lit from within.

A.M.

Step 1: Meditation

I try to meditate for 15 to 20 minutes every morning and, yes, I consider it part of my skincare routine. On the most basic level, stress leads to skin issues and meditation lowers stress levels—ergo, meditation supports the skin. The mind-skin connection goes so much deeper than that, though. Studies show that meditation may slow or even reverse physical signs of aging and calm inflammation by turning on anti-inflammatory genes. Deep, slow, mindful breathing only boosts the beauty benefits. It’s known to increase blood circulation, decrease moisture loss, stimulate lymphatic drainage, and oxygenate cells, all of which translate to healthier skin. I said it: Meditation is the new moisturizer.

Step 2: Affirmation

You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, yes? It works on your skin, too! (At least, it works on my skin.) As I shower and get ready, I repeat this mantra: “I am beautiful on the inside, and it shines through the outside.” Sure, repeating an affirmation like this helps ease anxiety, and that’s lovely. However, research suggests mantras may also support physical healing on a cellular level.

Step 3: Hydration

I start my day with a bevy of beverages: warm water with lemon to kickstart the digestive system (so important for skin health), Chaga tea to boost my immune system (of which the skin is a part), and bone broth to support natural collagen and hyaluronic acid production. Sometimes, I’ll throw in 16 ounces of raw celery juice for added hydration or a shot of turmeric ginger juice to reduce inflammation. And, always, always eight glasses of water a day.

Step 4: Gut Health

The gut, brain, and skin are formed from the same bit of embryonic tissue in utero and remain connected for life. That’s partly why the state of the gut is almost always reflected in the state of the skin. To keep my gut microbiome healthy, balanced, and thriving, I feed it a daily dose of good bacteria via Seed Probiotic Capsules, as well as a balanced diet of gut-friendly veggies.

Step 5: Seed Cycling

Credit: Jessica DeFino

As I’ve said before, hormonal acne can’t be “cured” with a topical product—it’s a result of an internal issue, and needs to be addressed internally. I support my hormone levels through my diet (pro tip: read WomanCode by Alisa Vitti ASAP), and part of that includes seed cycling.

I’ll be honest, the entire concept of seed cycling sounds strange: It involves eating two tablespoons of raw seeds every morning, rotated in accordance with one’s menstrual phases. The seeds—pumpkin and flax for weeks one and two of your cycle, sesame and sunflower for weeks three and four—help mitigate the hormonal surges responsible for PMS, period pimples, and even cramping. Before you roll your eyes, you should know that two months of seed cycling helped clear up my hormonal cysts like nothing else. (You can read more about the how-to here.)

Step 6: Facial Massage

Okay, fine, you caught me: I do use some skincare products, but technically, this is an action you can take to care for your skin, supported by skincare products. In the mornings, I do a light cleanse with pure rose water, then apply organic jojoba oil to my face and neck to prime it for the main event: gua sha facial massage with the Wildling Empress Stone (also a 2020 Beauty Crush Award winner!).

Fifteen minutes of daily gua sha has replaced almost every skincare product in my arsenal. It drains lymphatic fluid to depuff (no need for that “cooling eye gel”), detoxify (bye, charcoal mask!), and cleanse on a cellular level. It increases blood circulation to better deliver nutrients to skin cells, create a healthy glow, potentially boost collagen, and support desquamation (the skin’s built-in exfoliating mechanism). Anecdotal evidence suggests that gua sha can even reduce and prevent fine lines and wrinkles. What more do I need? (Nothing, except SPF if I’m going outside, in which case I reach for Kari Gran Essential SPF 28.)

P.M.

Step 7: Sweat

Sweating is a form of natural detoxification—yup, even for the skin. As sweat pours through your pores, it pushes out toxins and buildup. The stuff even has antibacterial properties to help heal breakouts. I try to sweat at least once a day via yoga, cycling, or—when I’m feeling lazy—my infrared sauna blanket.

Step 8: Lactic Acid Probiotic Face Mask

Credit: Jessica DeFino

I know what you’re thinking: “You said no skincare products! But the lactic acid probiotic face mask I speak of isn’t so much a skincare product as it is a kitchen staple: It’s yogurt. Plain, organic, dairy yogurt. Yogurt contains the same probiotics pumped into modern face masks and serums to support the skin barrier. It also boasts super low levels of exfoliating, hydrating lactic acid—a little less than 1%—which naturally occurs in the skin barrier. Once a week, I rinse my face with water and cover it in yogurt, wait 20 minutes, and rinse. (On off nights, I wash my face with Flora Health Manuka Honey 15+ and go to bed bare-faced.)

Step 9: Gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful thing. Saying a simple “thank you” once a day—to your skin, the universe, your loved ones, and to yourself—is proven to lower anxiety and depression levels and “hard-wire” the brain to feel more grateful and less stressed. “When someone is feeling great and happy, it shows on their face [because] the skin’s barrier function is working better,” Dr. Amy Wechsler, a board-certified dermatologist psychiatrist, previously told The Cut, noting that increased feelings of happiness can actually help the skin “stay hydrated, turn over cells healthfully, and overall have a brighter appearance.” I get that gratitude glow by doing a quick gratitude journaling exercise at night.

Step 10: Sleep

You know when a fancy new night cream claims to make you “look like you got eight hours of sleep”? Yeah, that’s my pet peeve. Nothing can make you look and feel like you got eight hours of sleep except actually getting eight hours of sleep.

Sleep is a glorious period of rest and rejuvenation. This is when the skin gets a much-needed break from playing defense (since it’s not battling environmental aggressors, blue light, and UV rays), moves into healing and repairing mode, and even enzymatically sloughs off the dead skin cells that are ready to be shed. It’s when hormones level out and collagen production starts. Insert “beauty sleep” cliché here, but hey, it’s a cliché for a reason. Sleep is the best beauty “product” money can’t buy.

Luxurious bath? Soothing skin serum? Perfect manicure? Take this quiz to discover your self-care secret weapon!