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DIY cosmetics

Whilst DIY cosmetics can get a bit of an iffy rep given that a complete amateur can try their hand at them, there are reasons to believe they can actually be good for your skin. Here, Edith Petitet, a doctor in biological sciences, clarifies.

The pandemic, through the closure of stores and the various lockdowns and restrictions, led people to turn to homemade solutions in many fields, including cosmetics. Gone were the long-winded formulas, replaced by natural and authentic remedies. Edith Petitet is a doctor in biological sciences with an ecotoxicology specialisation, who has written a book about making your own cosmetics, called “1 ingrédient = 3 cosmétiques.” She shares her take on this phenomenon, and discusses the basics of DIY cosmetics.

DIY cosmetics
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How and why DIY cosmetics can be good for your skin, according to Dr. Edith Petitet

As a doctor in biological sciences, with an ecotoxicology specialisation, you suddenly stopped everything to turn to phytotherapy and aromatherapy. Why did you make this choice?

It’s all a question of continuity, really. Born in the Gironde [region of France], I spent my childhood building dens in the woods, while watching with a dim view the arrival of the oil industries, which completely destroyed this exceptional environment. We no longer ate the good fish that my father used to catch in the Garonne River, but fish that tasted like oil… Even the fruit tasted like oil. After a scientific baccalaureate, I decided to learn what it takes to depollute land and water. I spent more than 20 years at Rhône-Poulenc as a toxicologist and then as a pharmacologist, and then I joined the French national agency for innovation [ANVAR]. More than 10 years ago, together with my husband, then a pharmacist and researcher in pharmacology, we decided to go back to school to learn about herbal medicine, aromatherapy and natural cosmetics. Then we opened a herbalist’s shop and a small centre for training and workshops on these subjects. I am now developing several activities that allow people to become aware of the numerous pollutants that surround us and how to limit their consumption as much as possible, whether in cosmetic, therapeutic or nutritional products.

With the pandemic, consumers have turned en masse to DIY cosmetics. Is this the future?
I think consumers have turned to do-it-yourself (DIY) in a very general way, not just in cosmetics. But there was a heightened awareness. Not only did they realise what was not good for their health, but they also realised that they could do a lot of things for themselves.

How are these cosmetics more friendly for the skin and the planet?
A skincare product, that is to say, to maintain good [skin] health, does not need to be anything other than a little fat and a little water. A cosmetic is not a medicine. It is not intended to cure a skin disease, and it is not permitted to have side effects. It can simply be made from compounds emanating from organisms living on this planet, and not from synthetic molecules that the mineral, vegetable or animal world does not know, or does not know how to process to eliminate.

DIY cosmetics
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People might also think that making your own cosmetics is not an easy task. Is it really accessible to everyone?
If we think that it’s complicated, it’s because we believe that we will have to replicate what industrial cosmetics have developed, namely chemical, technological… and regulatory prowess. So we have to start by understanding that the cosmetic product we will be able to concoct has nothing to do with what the market offers. If you aren’t aware of that, if you don’t accept it, it means that you are not ready to get into self-made products. Some people propose to ‘copy’ conventional cosmetics by making people buy hundreds of ingredients… and that makes good business sense.

What are the basics of homemade cosmetics? 
As I just said, you don’t need a lot of things. The quality of the starting ingredients is essential, of course, but you also have to be careful not to harm yourself with extracts whose biological activity can be very powerful, like essential oils, for example, or by lack of cleanliness, and end up spreading your face with a cocktail of bacteria. Beforehand, it is necessary to learn certain basic things, just as you might learn basics in the kitchen. First of all, avoid making yourself unwell! Everyone knows to put leftovers in the fridge, and the same goes for your cosmetic product.

You suggest making three cosmetics with one single ingredient. Which ones would you say are the essentials?
As basic ingredients, it is important to have a vegetable oil and a hydrolat, but also a bacteriostatic preservative as a basic technical product.

Are natural ingredients really as effective as compounds developed in laboratories?
It all depends on what you mean by ‘effective’. If I want something basic, namely to minimise water loss — that’s what’s behind the ‘moisturising‘ label on a cosmetic product — then yes, a vegetable oil can be just as effective.

DIY cosmetics
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Folk remedies and natural alternatives are more popular than ever. From lemon and honey to baking soda and sugar, they are even taking over social media. Could a more responsible future for beauty actually lie in the past?
I don’t think it has anything to do with the past or the present. Let’s say that tradition led us to do something on the basis that ‘for years we’ve done it this way, and it works’. And today, we can give ourselves the means to understand why it works. My book is in this vein. The reader has to understand why he or she is going to mix this ingredient with that other one, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. On social networks, everyone copies everyone else. We don’t know why we mix this with that. And when an ingredient is missing, it is replaced by another ingredient that has almost the same name… but which does not have the same chemical function. As a result, we turn a good skin care product into something that can be toxic. When I give natural cosmetology training sessions, I ‘have fun’ asking people to come along with their favourite recipes, and after two days of classes, they start to become critical enough to say what works and what doesn’t.

What ingredients should we turn to for purified, radiant and ‘young-looking’ skin?
It’s so different from one person to another… The advantage of DIY cosmetics is that you can play an active role in caring for your skin. You try ingredients until you find the right one for you. There is one last point that should not be forgotten, although it is not in the book: the best thing to have a healthy skin is simply to pay attention to what we choose to ingest voluntarily — such as water and food — and what we don’t, like the toxic elements found in cosmetics and household products, but also in food and water. One day, some hydrotherapy students asked me what to dilute essential oils in to apply them to the skin. I told them that any vegetable oil could be used — or almost any vegetable oil. An intrigued student was astonished: “No, surely not even the olive oil that we eat.” Faced with this level of disbelief, I answered by telling her that everything you eat should be able to be applied to your skin, and vice versa.

This article is published via AFP Relaxnews. 

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