Should You Use Natural or Drugstore Face Wash?

Your daily facial routine of wash-dry-repeat can seem pretty boring once you browse online for DIY facial scrubs or even walk through any drugstore. Names like “Lemon Citrus Exfoliating Mask” and “Coal-Infused Morning Wake-up Wash” are tempting to try right away, but the ingredients can leave you guessing whether it’s truly safe for your skin and could blast out your breakouts for good.

Sure, your bar of gentle soap and warm washcloth have worked fine for years, but could those stubborn crops of pimples be a sign that you’re in need of something new? Maybe, but don’t dive for any scrub, mask or cleanse you see. The skin on your face is sensitive, and while removing oil, pollutants and bacteria that have built up over the day or during the night is important, it’s not worth sacrificing for a zesty cinnamon smell or harmful chemicals. Before you cleanse, check into these facial facts.

Natural

Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so it only makes sense you’d like to show it some love every day. DIY skincare, which could include items found in your kitchen, can act as a gentle way to cleanse, exfoliate, enhance blood circulation in your face and protect you from harmful chemicals lurking both in the air and in your drugstore beauty buys. But here’s the catch: you have to pick the right products in your pantry.

Common DIY scrubs call for milk, lemon, egg yolks or spices like cocoa or cinnamon, but some say to stick to what our ancestors used in the past as remedies instead. Safe picks include olive oil, yogurt, vinegar, honey and aloe. Honey is known for acting as an antiseptic, because it creates a breathable barrier when applied on wounds. It can also double as an acne treatment or de-puffing tired eyes. If you’re prone to oily skin, lightly apply olive oil or coconut oil to your face for a clean, hydrating complexion. Adding baking soda with these substances can meld into a fine-grained exfoliant to scrub away those stubborn blackheads.

Whatever you do, stay away from citrus fruits like lemons and oranges and spices like cinnamon. The acidity of the fruits can irritate and dry out your skin, while the spice could scratch and cause blisters. Caveat: A homemade cleanser could also result in an allergic reaction, so test out any new product on the inside of your arm before applying it to your face.

Drugstore

If homemade scrubs and cleansers aren’t exactly on your agenda, a drugstore, beauty counter or cosmetics shop is likely a better fit to find the products you need. But walking down the aisles filled with masks, moisturizers and astringents can soon feel overwhelming. You want something that will clear your skin but is safe to use. With the fear of harmful chemicals lurking in popular beauty buys, it’s important to pay attention to the labels.  

According to the FDA, words like “natural,” “non-toxic,” “clean” and “safe” don’t have an official or legal meaning when it comes to cosmetic labeling, but they’re being used now more than ever. If you’re feeling confused, keep these keywords in mind of products to avoid: emulsifiers, parabens, formaldehyde, FD&C.

Emulsifiers are soap-based substances in many facial scrubs, body washes, lotions and creams that leave behind a soapy residue on your skin’s natural protective layer, causing it to dry out and age faster. Stay away from the usual ingredient culprits including emulsifying wax, polysorbate, stearate, steareth, cetearyl and ceteareth. Parabens are used to increase the shelf life of products but can wreak havoc on the hormonal system, are thought to appear in breast cancer biopsy samples and have led scientists to think that the chemical could cause cancer. Although this hasn’t been proven, it’s safe to stay away from products containing methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben or butylparaben. Artificial colors are represented by the label FD&C or D&C that you’ll often see paired with a certain color and number—FD&C yellow 5, for example. These colors come from petroleum or coal tar sources and are thought to act as a human carcinogen, a skin irritant and a link to ADHD in children. The European Union has even banned it in their own products.

Not all chemicals are harmful, though. Retinol, niacinamide and peptides can actually help your skin stay moisturized and looking younger longer. Bye, laugh lines! So while you should pay attention to the chemicals on the “do not disturb” list, you shouldn’t have to avoid using your favorite drugstore products completely if the ingredients list doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.

The winner

Choosing between homemade and drugstore beauty products can prove difficult if you’re considering the time spent either making or finding a facial wash you want and being mindful when looking at ingredients.

If you’re set on creating your own washes, stick to using gentle moisturizing products found in your pantry like olive oil, honey or baking soda, and leave out acidic citrus fruits or strong spices, which could irritate the skin.

Drugstore products from beauty companies aren’t off limits, but take a look at the ingredients list before applying the serum to your face. Words like polysorbate, propylparaben and FD&C blue 1 are unnatural chemicals that leave a layer of residue, dry out your delicate skin and could potentially be linked to cancer later on in life. Picking the right products and ingredients can lead to beautiful, acne-free skin, so take into account what you’re buying or slathering on. Hello, fresh face!

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.