The beetroot, vodka and olive oil on my shopping list could be the ingredients for a delicious soup or salad. The beeswax, vegetable glycerine and dried soapwort root, however, don't sound quite so tasty. But these delicacies aren't destined for the dining table. They're about to become beauty products that will have pride of place on the bathroom shelf.
Checking food labels for nasties has become de rigueur among those who care about what goes into their bodies, but, according to the beauty expert – and co-founder of the organic-chocolate company Green & Black's – Jo Fairley, it's time to start thinking about what goes on them, too. "I prefer to know exactly what I'm putting on my skin, just as I choose carefully what I put in my mouth – I grow, buy and eat exclusively organic food," she says. "The logical progression from thinking about what you put in your body is thinking about what you put on your skin."
To this end, Fairley has written The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book, a guide to do-it-yourself beauty products, which features recipes for 100 lotions and potions. By encouraging people to make their own cosmetics, the book taps into the fact that the beauty industry is increasingly coming under fire on a number of fronts. Last year, research funded by the breast-cancer charity Genesis suggested that there was a possible link between breast cancer and aluminium found in antiperspirants. And research conducted by the biochemist Richard Bence claimed that an individual can absorb up to 4lb 6oz of chemicals through their skin each year. Given that women use on average 12 skincare and makeup products every day – a combination that can clock up as many as 175 different chemicals – it's unsurprising that consumers are becoming concerned about exactly what their toiletries contain.
One of the benefits of brewing your shampoo at home, says Fairley, is that you know exactly what's going into it and whether any of the ingredients have an impact on the environment. "I don't think petrochemicals have any place in what we put on our skin," she says. "I would rather use something that is renewable and sustainable, and can be grown season after season. It's possible that our descendants will need every last drop of oil that the earth can produce to light and heat their homes, and I don't want to be responsible for having consumed a single extra drop of that, just to slather something on my face, when I can use something that is natural and renewable."
Ditching branded beauty products is also a way of reducing the "moisturiser miles" that are an inevitable result of buying products shipped from the other side of the globe, while decanting your concoctions into old glass bottles and plastic containers means less waste, too.
So, the green credentials of Fairley's recipes hold up, but surely they're tricky for the average woman, without a lab and white-coated assistants, to create? Apparently not. "If you can make a dressing or melt chocolate, you can make your own cosmetics."
While I'm a dab hand at vinaigrette, my past forays into making my own cosmetics – creating pongy "perfume" from browning rose petals and water, then stirring my mother's unguents together in an unholy mess – haven't been much to write home about. Despite this, I'm keen to see if Fairley's home-made cosmetics work. Leafing through her book, I pick five "essentials" to try: aloe vera cleanser, rich rose moisturiser, simple soapwort shampoo, lavender deodorant and beetroot lip and cheek tint. At the back of the book is a list of companies that stock the dried roots, essential oils, vegetable glycerine and beeswax granules required, and after spending £40 on two online orders and a couple of beetroots, it's time to put on that apron.
Beetroot lip and cheek tint
This consists of a few glugs of vegetable glycerine heated over a pan of boiling water with some grated beetroot. After 15 minutes, strain into a bottle and leave to cool. Just as Fairley claims, it does a pretty good impression of the cult beauty brand Benefit's lip and cheek stain. Except it tastes of beetroot.
Aloe vera cleanser
You simply pour all the ingredients together and blend them in a food processor. However, lacking the equipment, I resort to pouring them into a recycled plastic bottle and giving it a good shake. It needs to be kept in the fridge, but this means that, when applied to the skin, it's wonderfully cooling. I use it to take off my makeup and it works like a charm.
Simple soapwort shampoo
Fairley's take on this recipe, when I ask her advice, is a little discouraging. "It's tricky, and it's hard to get it to foam," she admits, "but it should leave your hair clean, which is the point." The foaming agent in most shampoos is sodium lauryl sulphate, which creates a great lather but can irritate sensitive skin. With this in mind, I start grinding up dried soapwort root with a pestle and mortar. Eventually it's ready to be steeped, along with rosemary and a few drops of essential oil, in boiling water. Once cooked, it is sieved and poured into a sterilised glass bottle that once contained cough medicine.
The shampoo certainly leaves my hair clean, but it's strange having no froth, and the fact it only lasts a week makes me wonder if it's worth the effort.
Although it's a doddle to make, this deodorant doesn't produce instant results. You have to infuse vodka with dried lavender and essential oils for three weeks before pouring into an atomiser and squirting it on. Fairley warns against using it on freshly shaved or depilated skin as it will sting, and I doubt whether it would stand up to a sweaty session in the gym, but it smells delightful.
Rich rose moisturiser
This is fun to make. After melting the beeswax, I add a healthy dose of olive oil, allow to cool and top up with wheatgerm and rose oil. It looks like custard and starts solidifying as I spoon it into a jar, but when I try a little on dry hands, it's sublime, with a delicious rosy scent.
Fairley suggests adding frankincense for its anti-ageing properties: "It's naturally preservative – it was used for mummification." If it was good enough for Egyptian queens (even if it was applied post-mortem), it's good enough for me.
Mountains of washing up aside, the experiment has been a success. The DIY approach isn't for everyone, but many of the products work. However, if it all sounds too much like hard work, Fairley has a final tip: "Rub your finger on a piece of pickled or juicy fresh beetroot, and you've got a lip stain just like that!"
To order The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book for £13.49 (normally £14.99), with free p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897; or visit independentbooksdirect.co.uk
RECIPES FOR NATURAL LOOKS
* Rich rose moisturiser
The perfect, rich-textured, sumptuously scented night-time moisturiser for thirsty skin. If you like, add 10 drops of frankincense essential oil as well
as the rose. Frankincense is renowned for its anti-ageing powers.
2 large handfuls of fresh, scented rose petals
50ml (2fl oz) sweet almond oil or extra virgin olive oil
5g (1/4oz) beeswax granules or grated beeswax
1 teaspoon wheatgerm oil
15 drops rose essential oil
Pack the rose petals in a wide-necked glass jar and cover with sweet almond oil. Bruise the petals with a spoon in the jar, to start the maceration process, and seal the jar. Position it where it can absorb sunlight daily (a south-facing windowsill is just perfect), to speed up the infusion process. After 3 weeks, strain off the rose-infused oil.
Heat the beeswax in the sweet almond oil in the top of a double-boiler until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the wheatgerm oil and rose essential oil. Cool for a further 1-2 minutes then pour into a sterilised glass jar to set thoroughly. The mixture will harden, but it emulsifies when you touch it.
TIP: Wheatgerm acts as a natural preservative; you don't need to keep this refrigerated. If you can't find wheatgerm oil, you can pierce wheatgerm capsules, available from natural foodstores, and measure into a teaspoon.
* Comfrey acne mask
50g (2oz) fresh comfrey leaves and flowers (if in season) or
25 g (1 oz) dried comfrey
225 m (8fl oz) freshly boiled filtered, mineral or rainwater
1 egg white
50g (2 oz) Fuller's earth
Put the comfrey in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cover and allow to cool completely, then strain. In a second bowl, mix the egg white and the Fuller's earth and moisten with 2 tablespoons of the comfrey liquid. Apply the mask all over your face avoiding the eyes and mouth area. Leave for 20-25 minutes. To remove, soak cotton wool pads in the remaining comfrey infusion and sweep over your face until it's clean. Allow the skin to dry naturally.
* Cucumber anti-blemish mask
Cucumber is calming while rosemary is a super-effective antiseptic. You'll find the egg white will tauten on your face.
2.5 cm (1 inch) chunk of cucumber
1 drop rosemary essential oil
1 egg white
Whizz the cucumber in a blender until it becomes completely liquid, then add the drop of rosemary essential oil. Whisk the egg white until stiff, fold in the cucumber mixture and smooth over the face avoiding the eyes and mouth area. Remove after 15 minutes using a clean, damp washcloth.
TIP: If you have a spotty back or shoulders, ask a friend or partner to apply the mixture to your back: it makes a wonderful 'back pack'.
* Rosemary and mint mouthwash
You can use this just like any mouthwash - swig, swish, gargle - but unlike alcohol-based mouthwashes (which can dry out the inside of the mouth and actually unbalance the natural 'flora') this is gentle while still being effective. The glycerine acts as a natural sweetener.
25g (1oz) fresh rosemary or 10g (1/2oz) dried rosemary
25g (1oz) fresh mint or 10g (1/2oz) dried mint
1 litre (13/4 pints) boiling filtered or mineral water
30ml (1fl oz) vegetable glycerine
10-12 drops peppermint essential oil
5-10 drops myrrh essential oil
Make an infusion with the herbs and the water; allow to cool and stir in the glycerine. Add the essential oils and pour into a sterilised bottle. Shake before use and discard any that remains after 2 weeks. (Don't swallow it - though it won't do you any harm if you do.)
TIP: You can also successfully freshen your breath in the following ways: chew a little fresh parsley. (This herbal garnish is rich in chlorophyll, a green plant compound that kills the bacteria that cause bad odour.) Or, chew on a dried clove, some fennel seeds or a juniper berry. Rinse your mouth with water that contains chopped watercress.
* Rosebud lips
This luscious lip-slick gets its purplish-pink colour from alkanet.
75ml (3fl oz) olive oil
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
45g (11/2oz) dried alkanet root, chopped
20g (3/4oz) beeswax
9 drops rose essential oil
Gently heat both oils in the top of a double-boiler for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the alkanet root and steep for around 30 minutes, to extract the colour from the root. Strain the root from the oils through a muslin cloth and compost the root. Return the oils to the double-boiler with the beeswax. Once this has melted, remove from heat and add the rose essential oil, drop by drop. Pour into small, sterilised pots or jars. Allow to cool thoroughly before capping.
* Simple Soapwort shampoo
Use this in the same way as a normal shampoo. However, you'll need to use more of this than you would a detergent shampoo - and don't expect much of a lather; soapwort cleans without lots of froth. Keep the soapwort mixture out of your eyes as some people find it stings, and follow with a conditioner or herbal rinse.
2 tablespoons crushed fresh soapwort root or 1 tablespoon crushed dried soapwort root
2 tablespoons of herbs (elderflower, fennel, horsetail, nettle and rosemary are all herbs hair loves)
5 drops of essential oil (lavender or - if you have a tendency to andruff - sage or rosemary)
1.5 litres (21/2 pints) filtered, mineral or rainwater
Pour the water over the soapwort root and the herbs in a pan and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool thoroughly, then strain through a piece of muslin or kitchen paper over a sieve; press down to extract as much as possible of the herbs. Add the essential oils, drop by drop. Transfer to a sterilised glass bottle, shake and store in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.
Use around 200ml (7fl oz) each time you wash your hair; the technique is to wet your hair first, then pour the liquid into the palms of your hands and massage in well, until your hair is lathered lightly. Rinse thoroughly and repeat, if it's more than a few days since you've washed your hair. Follow with a final herbal rinse made as an infusion from the same herbs that you used in the soapwort mixture. This quantity of soapwort shampoo keeps for just over 1 week, in the fridge - or you can freeze it in a plastic container and defrost as required.
* Rosemary foot reviver
The mint and rosemary in this recipe are naturally cooling and invigorating, while the lactic acid in the milk is soothing. If you put pebbles or marbles in the bottom of the bowl, you can roll your toes over them while you soak your feet, which is totally relaxing for body, soul - and soles.
225ml (8fl oz) milk
50g (2oz) fresh mint leaves
6 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
6 drops peppermint essential oil
Put the milk and fresh herbs in a small pan over a low heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and pour into a bowl large enough to bathe your feet in. Top up with warm or cool water, as preferred - or, best of all, some more milk. Add the peppermint essential oil, drop by drop, and swish.
* Lady's mantle hand softener
Keep this soothing hand-softener in the fridge and apply daily - it's wonderful after washing up.
10g (1/2oz) fresh or 5g (1/4oz) dried lady's mantle leaves and flowers
10g (1/2oz) fresh or 5g (1/4oz) dried lemon balm leaves
150ml (1/4 pint) filtered, mineral or rainwater
50ml (2fl oz) lemon juice
30ml (1fl oz) vodka
4 drops sweet orange essential oil
4 tablespoons vegetable glycerine
Chop the lady's mantle and lemon balm and put in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes and then allow to cool thoroughly; strain. Take 4 tablespoons of this infusion and pour into a sterilised bottle with a cork or a screw-top; add the other ingredients and seal. Shake well.
TIP: Face masks work wonders on hands, too - cleansing or delivering a moisture surge. Next time you indulge in one of the face masks in this book, slather it over your hands, too - then rest your hands on a towel for 10-15 minutes while it works its magic.
*Aloe vera cleanser
30ml aloe vera gel
50ml olive oil
4 drops rose essential oil
2 drops grapefruit seed extract
Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor and decant into a small bottle. Ideally, keep in the fridge. Shake before use, as the ingredients may separate. Massage into your face and remove with either a muslin cloth or water.
* Beetroot and glycerine cheek and lip tint
45g raw beetroot, grated
3 tablespoons vegetable glycerine
Put the beetroot and glycerine a heat-proof ceramic bowl over a pan of boiling water for 15 minutes. Cool, then strain into a sealable container. Shake before use, then apply a dab to your cheeks and lips.
* Lavender deodorant
50g dried lavender
50g fresh rose petals
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rose essential oil
Pour the vodka over the flowers and petals and add the essential oils, drop by drop. Allow to infuse for 3 weeks, then strain and use in an atomiser in place of your regular deodorant.
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