Taking care of your skin should be simple, easy, and accessible. It’s not about the $200 serum (tried it) or the 10-step K beauty routine (unless that’s your thing). If you just want to take the best possible care of your skin without having to think about it too much, here’s where to start.
The Foundation of a Natural Skincare Routine
Use as: a daily cleanser, weekly mask, or spot treatment as needed
Manuka honey is a specific kind of honey that's native to New Zealand. It comes from bees that feed on Manuka bushes, and has been used for centuries to treat infections, restore tissue damage, and soothe irritation. This stuff is truly incredible: Manuka honey's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties help fight and soothe nearly any skin condition, especially acne and fungal acne, thanks to something called methylglyoxal; Manuka rebalances the healthy bacteria on your skin and prevents acne-causing bacteria from regenerating; and it actually absorbs moisture from the air and draws it into the skin, leaving you super-hydrated and glow-y.
When sold, Manuka honey is given something called a UMF Rating, which essentially determines the level of methylglyoxal in the honey — AKA, it determines how potent the Manuka will be in treating inflammation and bacteria. Look for a jar with a rating of 15 or above, guaranteeing that it’s powerful enough to tackle all your skin’s problems. I prefer Flora Manuka Honey UMF 15+.
Of course, you can (and should) ingest Manuka honey — but it’s more useful slathered on your skin than on a piece of toast. Manuka honey is a gentle cleanser (just mix it with some warm matter, massage onto skin, and rinse off), face mask (use it on its own or mix with yogurt, French pink clay, or rose water and leave on for 20 minutes), and spot treatment (dab a bit on active pimples and chill).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Use as: a toner or chemical exfoliator
You probably already know ACV as a miracle product for everything health- and wellness-related, and now you can add beauty-related to that list. When diluted in water, the pH level of apple cider vinegar serves to balance the skin’s pH, while also preventing the spread of bacteria and lightening any lingering acne scars. Alpha hydroxy acids are naturally abundant in apple cider vinegar, and they act as chemical exfoliators that break down the bonds between the dead cells sitting on the skin’s surface and the fresh, radiant cells just below. That might sound pretty harsh, but ACV is totally safe to use on sensitive skin or active breakouts — just make sure you dilute it in water first!
Apple cider vinegar is Mama Earth’s favorite toner. Mix one part ACV to three parts water, then dab it on the skin with a cotton pad. Use this after cleanser and before moisturizer or oil.
Use as: an oil cleanser, a moisturizer, or an overnight face oil
Let’s get this out of the way first: it’s pronounced ho-ho-ba. And it was pretty much made for your skin. When used topically, jojoba oil mimics the skin’s natural sebum production, which in turn regulates your oil production. (Basically, if your skin is dry or oily, this miracle oil will help get you back on track.) On top of that, it is chock-full of Vitamins B and E (both essential to skin health), protects the skin from free radicals (like pollution and sun exposure), and slows the signs of aging. If you have an active breakout, jojoba is a great oil to reach for: it’s known to speed up the healing process and prevent the growth of new bacteria.
There are three main ways to use jojoba oil: as a cleanser, as a moisturizer, or as an overnight oil. To cleanse with jojoba, warm a few drops between your fingertips and massage onto your skin (it will remove makeup, as well). Then, use a cotton pad to wipe off the excess oil, and follow with a gentle cleanser like Manuka honey. To moisturize with jojoba, pat a few drops onto the skin after cleansing and toning. To use jojoba as an overnight oil, slather a healthy amount onto your skin after the rest of your routine, and let it sink in while you sleep. Next: Wake up glowing!
Tea Tree Oil
Use as: a toner
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties that dry up inflamed areas (pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, cysts), disinfect pores, and actually unblock the sebaceous glands. If you’re thinking, Wait! My skin is already really dry!, it’s totally OK. Tea tree strips your skin of excess oils, not moisture, so it’s still a must-have for all skin types.
This powerful oil is also an age-old remedy for garden-variety acne, rosacea, and even psoriasis. Plus, just smelling it has been said to help with depression. So, basically, if you’re a human with skin and feelings, tea tree oil is probably a good product to incorporate into your routine.
Much like apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil should always be diluted before you apply it to your skin — never put straight-up tea tree oil on your face! It works best when diluted in water (three to four drops of tea tree oil to four ounces of water) and used as a toner. My favorite way to do this is to mix up the tea tree oil and water in a spray bottle and spritz my face after cleansing, letting it sink into the skin before moisturizing.
NOTE: Essential oils can be irritating for some (although I’ve found tea tree to be a skin superhero). Do a patch test on your arm or wrist before using tea tree on your face.
Use as: a cleanser, a toner, or a face mist
Rose water is as basic as beauty gets. This two-ingredient tonic (you guessed it: roses and water) has been used in skincare treatments since Cleopatra’s time — and for good reason. Rose water has the same pH as our skin (5.5), so using it topically brings irritated skin back into balance. It's a powerful anti-inflammatory; meaning it can reduce redness, puffiness, and irritation on contact, calm active outbreaks, and prevent future ones. It even prevents and treats scars, scrapes, burns, and infections.
Rose water is intensely hydrating and safe for all skin types; you’d be hard-pressed to find a more mild ingredient that packs such a punch. Even those of us with the most sensitive skin (hi!) can handle a soothing rose water spray. Finally, studies have shown that inhaling the scent of rose water can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Can your skincare do that?
You can’t go wrong using rose water as a cleanser, toner, or face mist — but pure rose water should be diluted before use. You can buy pre-formulated versions almost anywhere (I’m a fan of BeautyCounter’s clean version and Heritage Store’s formulation). Or, you can make your own rose water remedy. Simmer organic rose petals in distilled water (just enough to cover them in the pot) for 30 minutes and strain out the petals; this is your “pure rose water.” Measure out how much you have, then add an equal amount of plain distilled water to create your safe-to-use rose water cleanser/toner/mist.
Use as: an inflammation tamer
Ice, which is basically free, is the key to reducing inflammation. We know this when it comes to sports injuries or sprained ankles… so why do we think we need anything else when our skin is inflamed? (FYI: Breakouts, redness, puffiness, flakiness, eczema flare-ups and more are all signs of inflammation.)
Not only does ice reduce inflammation, but it boosts circulation (making your skin look brighter) and tightens the skin (preventing wrinkles and fine lines).
You really can’t overuse ice. I recommend rubbing an ice cube (covered with a paper towel or cloth) over your entire face once a day until it melts. It has short-term and long-term benefits, so go crazy. Follow with a spritz of rose water or a few drops of jojoba oil to lock in hydration.
Of course, nature is filled to the brim with wonderful healing ingredients — but these six are key. To discover more of nature’s potent skincare products, click here to download the free ebook, Heal Your Skin with Herbs, Plants, Flowers, and Foods: A Guide to Natural Skincare, Inside and Out.