Exfoliation — One of the main things you can do to get smoother skin is to exfoliate regularly. It’ll really make your skin smoother, and it helps with folliculitis/bumpy patches of skin or hair follicles. It’ll also help moisturizers sink in better.
Personally, I find tools like loofahs, scrub gloves/cloths, etc. more effective than cream scrubs or exfoliating washes/soaps, and they don’t clog your shower drain or dirty your tub like scrubs can. My very favorite method is those cheap spa-type scrubby gloves they sell in the drugstore — I find these to be FAR easier to use than loofahs, etc. and you can get better pressure and reach weird places like behind your ears and between your toes. (Okay, I admit it, I’m obsessed with exfoliating.) The best ones I’ve found are by Earth Therapeutics — they make some that have an extra level of waffle-like texture that makes them scrub even more superbly.
Another fun thing to try, every once in a while, is a bar-based exfoliator such as LUSH’s Buffy Body Bar. It’s an oil-based massage bar with exfoliants inside to scrub away dead skin. Not for everyone, but those who like it tend to love it. They have a couple other similar exfoliating bars, too — one that I tried was You Snap The Whip, which was blackcurrant scented and contained pumice, and it also had sudsing agents so it had to be used in the shower (which they didn’t tell you on the packaging!). It was very messy, but smelled divine! I don’t love all the ingredients in either of these items, but for those who are a bit less picky about such things, these are a fun option.
You can also make a good homemade scrub by mixing oil (olive works well, and so does coconut) with sugar or salt and rubbing that vigorously into your skin. Some claim that sugar = better exfoliation, since it contains glycolic acid which also helps, but I’ve read studies indicating that plain cane sugar doesn’t really contain those beneficial sugar acids that help slough off dead skin sells. And salt is easier to clean up your tub if you sling it around by accident, plus the grains are a bit scratchier, which I like for body scrubbing. If you want to get a bit more skin-friendly, you can stick to using unrefined organic oils from places like Mountain Rose Herbs. Such oils tend to contain more skin-happy nutrients than the refined stuff you’ll find in most kitchens.
Moisturization — This is the second major soft-skin must-have. A good body lotion or oil will help combat the drying effects of soap or harsh detergent body washes, as well as the drying effects of air conditioning in the summer and heaters in the winter.
Personally, I think body oils are better than lotions, as many lotions are full of fillers and slip agents like silicone which can actually dry skin out. But hey, different strokes! There are definitely a few good lotions out there, too. The main thing with any moisturization is to make sure you apply the product to slightly damp skin, like right out of the shower — they’re meant to seal in the water, so if you apply them to dry skin you’re really just wasting product without helping your epidermis.
As far as actual lotions go, 100% Pure and Ecco Bella are my favorite brands — both have plenty of moisturizing oils, and they don’t use tons of fillers or alcohols. I also really like Mountain Ocean’s Skin Trip Coconut Lotion, despite the less-than-ideal ingredient list (including lanolin alcohol, ew).
Some other less impressive brands are Kiss My Face and Avalon Organics — I’d actually steer people away from those two labels. Both contain tons of fillers, and Kiss My Face’s reformulation SUCKS, plain and simple.
Every once in a while it’s good to do a deeper moisture treatment, either with a heavier lotion, or with body oil. If straight oil is too much for you, try mixing a little oil in with your normal lotion. Mixing in a bit of glycerin can be a good boost too, but it tends to make skin slightly sticky for a bit.
Another trick is, when you take a bath, smooth on a natural body oil all over first (try Burt’s Bees Apricot Baby Oil, sooooo yummy-smelling) so that it can sink into your skin easier.
Yet another option is lotion in a bar form. While many of LUSH’s products contain scary things, I find that most of their massage bars and body butters are fairly A-OK (read ingredients first to be sure).
If you are prone to bacne or chest acne, avoid using lotions and/or hair conditioner that contains petrochemicals such as mineral oil or petrolatum (when you rinse that stuff can linger on your skin and block pores). You may also want to steer clear of dimethicone and other ingredients ending in “cone”, which can be tricky to do (but ‘cones can clog some people’s pores).
Try to really rinse skin clean after conditioning your hair, and consider using a toner or astringent with salicylic acid on those areas after showering and before dressing — a really good (though not very natural) option is Peter Thomas Roth’s Max Complexion Correction Pads. Try to wear loose, natural-material clothing so your skin can breathe, and make sure to shower right away after getting sweaty at the gym, etc. Some people on EDS also swear by using Head and Shoulders shampoo on their back, or a special bar formulated with zinc. Check the threads for more info on this. (Never tried it so I can’t vouch for that myself.)
Generally, it’s good to avoid soaking in bubble bath — steeping your skin in moisture-stripping soaps or detergents is not a recipe for nice skin. Instead, try using bath oil, or better yet, massaging oil directly onto your skin before immersing yourself, as mentioned above. Another nice soak is Epsom salts — if you add two or three cups to your bath, it actually is enough to seep into your skin and get you a boost of magnesium, a mineral that is great for your muscles and has an added bonus of being a relaxant/sleep aid. (Note — if you can’t give up on bubble baths, I’ve found 100% Pure’s gels to be a reasonably non-drying option.)
If the skin on your legs is at all dry or flaky, try shaving with oil, hair conditioner, or a moisturizing shave cream formula (NOT a foaming one) instead of soap or your normal shaving “cream” (which is usually more of a lather). Your skin will be softer and thankful! Just make sure to rinse your razor really well. I personally like to create my own blend of shaving oil, that contains unrefined cold-pressed organic soybean oil as well as clary sage essential oil. Some studies have shown that these ingredients help inhibit hair growth, and while I’m not sure just how effective this is, I’ve found my shave oil to be quite helpful, and moisturizing too.
For folks with Folliculitis or Keratosis Pilaris, my derm recommended two specific creams — AmLactin and KP Duty. However, since AmLactin is foul smelling and contains loads of mineral oil, which tends to make my skin break out anyway, I was more of a KP Duty fan. Yet another good option for DIY types is to buy an acid solution from Diana Yvonne and mix it with other lotions or oils. I do this, and sometimes I even mix DY and KP Duty together for a stronger kick. It stings a bit, but usually doesn’t irritate even my sensitive epidermis. I also recommend scrub scrub scrubbing the heck out of it with the aforementioned scrub gloves in the shower. Also do moisturize the hell out of it, even if you don’t choose to use one of the above-listed treatment lotions. (Some people avoid moisturizing because they mistake it for acne, but this only exacerbates the problem).
Sun Protection — Body sunscreen is important too, although I personally only apply it when I’m actively sun-soaking for a long time, or when my left arm is exposed in stop-and-go traffic. I hate how sticky and icky many formulations are, so I go out of my way to try and find body sunblocks that aren’t disgusting to use. Like with facial sun protection, I feel strongly that physical rather than chemical sunscreens are the way to go.
I personally like Burnout a ton. It’s fairly non-greasy, and it doesn’t have a massive whitish cast, just a mild one. This also means it gums up black swimsuits less than other physical formulations. I also find it to be somewhat water-resistant, though of course you do still need to reapply.
Another one I dig is Devita’s body block, which is very similar to their facial sunscreen but better value for your money. The ingredients are very similar to the face one, and this stuff has a similarly non-gunky consistency. However, it scores very low in terms of staying power — the Burnout is much more long-lasting, particularly if you’re in sweaty conditions.
Lastly, I found some physical sunscreen wipes by MD Moms — they’re little towelettes soaked with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreen, and they are quite heavily fragranced and contain dimethicone. I find them to be easier to use on the go than many other body sunscreens, as I’m always bad about applying that stuff. Anything to make it easier! I don’t love the non-active ingredients, but I think sun protection is so important that I’m willing to use crappy ingredients (on my body, not my face) because it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
A very important thing to note is that most people don’t use nearly enough sunscreen on their bodies to adequately ensure safe coverage. The average adult in a swimsuit needs to use an entire shot glass worth of sunscreen to completely cover their exposed skin generously enough to be protected.
And of course, sunscreen is always a last resort. Wearing tightly woven dark clothing and staying in the shade are far more effective methods of protecting your skin than slathering on a cream that can be sweated, wiped, and washed off in a heartbeat.
I like Burt’s Bees Coconut Foot Creme, or Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Cracked Heel Treatment — Burt’s is much more natural, but after learning that the company is now owned by Clorox or some other godawful corporate thing, I’m not even sure how natural THEY are! Both of these products contain a lot of glycerin, which is the best moisturizing and SOFTENING ingredient to really soften up hard skin on feet.
The way to use foot lotions is to apply the cream to clean, still-damp feet after scrubbing them with a pumice or file, and then wear socks over it so that it soaks in. Do this at bedtime or during the day, just so long as you seal in the cream with socks (they usually say to do it at night, but I find that for severely dry/cracked skin, it actually works better to do in the day because your shoes over your socks really seal in that moisture and soften up the skin — then you can exfoliate with a pumice stone that night to get rid of that dead skin).
To exfoliate, I find that scrub washes or creams, while pleasant, are pretty useless on your feet — you’re better off with a really rough pumice stone (and/or a metal file and/or scraper for extremely bad dry patches, though you should be careful not to take off TOO much). Never use bare blades; even if you’re safe and smart about it, the skin reacts and grows back tougher than before to protect the “wound” you create, thus making it pretty counterproductive. Gradual results are more lasting and less damaging, so scrub scrub scrub and file file file, or use a specially calibrated “heel scraper” that controls how much you can take off.
For really tough calluses/corns, there are salicylic acid “remover” kits from Dr. Scholls and similar, but these are treating the symptom and not the cause. If you chronically get some sort of painful dead skin buildup in a certain area, seeing a podiatrist can really help figure out what it is about your gait/footwear/bone structure that needs adjusting.
I am of the opinion that acrylic nails, nail polish remover, and nail polish all contain harsh ingredients that simply cannot be good for us. (Ever spilled nail polish remover on an open wound, and felt that sting? Or spilled it on a varnished wood surface, and stripped the varnish right off? A chemical that strong can’t be healthy for us.) The nail bed is very absorbent, so these chemicals could easily be transferred into our bodies. However — the newer UV gel and even LED gel nail polish systems are a nice middle ground, as they’re *slightly* less toxic, kind of, a little. Especially Julep’s LED.
I think moderation is key — don’t do polish and then remove it every day, and in general, don’t do acrylic nails unless your real nails are just that bad or you have a big event coming up. It’s also helpful to get a natural nail polish remover — I’ve seen a vanilla-scented variety by No Miss called Almost Natural, a scent-free one by Honeybee Gardens, and a few citrus-scented ones from health-food stores. Basically any natural version is less harsh but also less effective; use your judgment. Most natural nail polishes suck, but I recently learned more about Honeybee Gardens and want to give theirs a try. Zoya also doesn’t have formaldehyde, which is better than most formulations. I’ve yet to try Seattle-based Julep, which purports to be free of the three main toxic nail polish ingredients, but I have tried also-Seattle-based also-3-free Butter London and have remained somewhat unimpressed.
One semi-natural product I’ve used for hangnails, etc. is Burt’s Bees Lemon Cuticle Cream, which has a chapstick-like consistency and a lovely scent. Rub it into your cuticles, nails and surrounding area at night after washing hand. However, I’ve taken to just making my own cuticle oil, that’s a base of macadamia and other emollient (but light-colored) oils with essential oils of neem and manuka to fight bacteria and reduce hangnail infections.
I myself can’t stand the feel of hand cream, so I tend to forego moisturizing my hands even though they really do need it. But FYI, I find that Aveda’s Hand Relief actually dries out most people’s hands more than it moisturizes, so that’s definitely one to avoid. I’ve started slathering some lavender oil-based balm that someone gave me onto my hands at night, and I also find that I feel better about giving up on any given face or body moisturizer if I can at least get some hand moisture out of it.
I don’t know that I buy into all the email-hoax-type messages about how deodorant causes breast cancer and Alzheimers. BUT, the active ingredient(s) in anti-perspirant (aluminum chlorhydrate, etc.) is at least somewhat linked to these diseases, so that’s a scare. Furthermore, I think it’s just creepy and unnatural to block your sweat pores, as sweat is our body’s way of excreting certain toxins. PLUS if you read the fine print, all normal anti-perspirant warns not to use on “broken skin” — i.e. right after shaving — so I do think there’s some merit to all the hype. I very much prefer to go natural.
That said… natural deodorants tend to suck, and you tend to stink when you wear them, especially if you’re also wearing a shirt made of synthetic material that doesn’t breathe easily (or if you’re doing anything labor-intensive). I’ve done a pretty exhaustive tour of nearly every natural deodorant out there, and I’ve pretty much concluded that they all leave you stinky when the sweat gets flowing — except for ONE.
The one that does well was LUSH Aromacreme, and they discontinued it! The closest non-DIY replacement is Oyin Funk Butter, another natural one whose ingredient list is much the same as Aromacreme. However, the formulation is not as good — it’s dry and crumbles off easier, and it doesn’t protect against stink as well.
So I actually started making my own formulation based on the ingredients in LUSH Aromacreme and Oyin Funk Butter, plus some other tweaks to improve it. My formulation contains less baking soda (which is the ingredient I believe causes the irritation) and I’ve experimented with other odor-busting ingredients like powdered orris root and zinc oxide. I’m still playing and tweaking, but please email me if you’d like to custom order some.
If you’re wigged out by the idea of using a cream that you have to apply with your fingers, there may be solutions yet. Within the world of non-cancerous deodorants, there are definitely tiers.
First, there are several drugstore varieties of deodorant-but-not-antiperspirant — these are usually clear in color, and contain the active ingredient Triclosan which is a strong chemical bactericide. Good for icky bacteria that cause bad- smelling sweat, but… according to many, bad in the long run. We’ve probably all heard the speculation that antibacterials such as Dial soap and Purell sanitizing hand gel (which is actually usually alcohol-based) are bad because they cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop. The premise behind this rumor makes sense to me, as that’s the precise sort of reason behind why you’re supposed to finish an entire course of antibiotics, but I have yet to see scientific documentation about this issue. Still, here’s my take: if there IS any truth to it, who wants resistant ARMPIT bacteria? Ew, ew, EW. I say you’re best of sticking to gentler varieties. (There’s also research out there somewhere showing that when Triclosan combines with the chlorine present in tap water, it forms and/or releases chloroform, a known carcinogen… I’m a bit fuzzy on the details here, but still: ew.)
Second, there are tons of stick and roll-on natural deodorants, but most of them leave a little bit lacking. At some point in time I’ve tried formulations by Kiss My Face, Alba Botanica, Desert Essence, Tom’s Of Maine, Jason Natural Cosmetics, and many more, and found them all to leave me still-stinky, especially if I’m doing anything remotely active. And I don’t like having to half-ass it in order to keep from smelling funky, so I’ve never really gotten into these.
Thirdly, there’s the “crystal” camp. If you’ve browsed for a natural deodorant before, chances are you’ve seen crystal rock deodorant on the shelves. I’m torn about this stuff — on the one hand, I believe it’s made of a naturally occurring mineral salt. On the other hand, I believe the name for the chemical is alum, and I have this sneaking non-scientist’s suspicion that it’s similar chemically to the aluminum chlorohydrate that we’re striving so hard to avoid. So I’m not sure that I can get behind the crystal stuff. I haven’t tried it straight up, but I’m experimenting with adding powdered alum to my own natural deodorant blend. We shall see. If it works miracles, I’ll probably toss out my hangups.