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Want to be sure what’s in your cosmetics? Then make your own

Marisa Duffy The Herald
Want to be sure what’s in your cosmetics? Then make your own

If you wouldn't want to eat it, don't put it on your skin. This is a mantra for consumers who are increasingly alarmed by the number of chemicals used in everyday products. While the jury is still out on whether significant amounts of chemicals can enter the body when used on the skin, cosmetics are under scrutiny as never before.

Perfume, for example, can contain up to 100 different chemicals, albeit in tiny amounts. Before the 1950s, fragrance was created by mixing plant and flower extracts with wine alcohol - but then the chemical industry started synthesising scents using alcohol derived from petroleum. The process was much cheaper, but fears about the use of petroleum, which is refined using some potentially harmful chemicals, persist to this day.

Now, consumers seem to be developing a nostalgia for basic, natural products. With demand increasing, established names such as Aveda and Neal's Yard are facing competition from the mighty supermarkets: Tesco has brought out a range called BNatural (natural, though not completely organic) while Sainsbury's has created Organic You (containing at least 70% organic ingredients).

One way to be sure what's in a product is to make it yourself. Anna Hill of Woodland Herbs, a complementary medicine shop in Glasgow, has launched a make-your-own cosmetics course in response to customer enquiries. "The aim is to teach the basics so you can go away and teach yourself," she explains.

She says consumers need to adjust their expectations if they're serious about cutting out the chemicals. "People either have to put up with these ingredients or realise that the products without them are not going to look and feel exactly like those bought in a shop. Regular shampoo foams because it has harsh chemicals in it. Natural creams need to be kept in the fridge and used within a certain time, because there are no preservatives in them."

No special equipment is required to make your own, however - and the ingredients are easy to find.

Hill has two golden rules. The first is to remember that the approach should be similar to cooking in terms of cleanliness. Secondly, only mix oil-based ingredients together and water-based ingredients together; a combination will not mix.

So how do these hand-made products compare? We enlisted the help of some testers to find out. The lip balms proved popular. "The consistency wasn't as thick as regular balms, but the oil mixture kept my lips soft for a comparable amount of time," says Leanna, 27. "I liked the peppermint flavour - it was really fresh - but I found the lavender one a bit odd for a lip balm."

Bath products are often the easiest to give as gifts. Gordon, 31, tried out bath salts containing dried petals. "The salts produced a pleasant, fragrant smell which filled the bathroom. There was a lot of debris in the bath once it had drained, though - and the petals stained the bath enamel yellow, which took scrubbing with bleach to remove."

Customers can create a perfume by blending their favourite essential oils. Elaine, 42, tried out one made from clove and bergamot. "After a while the clove smell became a bit overwhelming: I might try a different oil next time. I had to keep re-applying it - but, stored in a small, lipstick-sized bottle, it was easy enough to carry around in my bag."

  • The next Make Your Own course is at Woodland Herbs in Glasgow on Sunday, February 24, 1-5pm, priced £50. Call 0141 564 3184.

    Try these at home

    Lip balm
    Ingredients: 45ml sweet almond oil (or vegetable oil); 5g beeswax (or cocoa butter); five drops essential oil (peppermint or lavender recommended).

    Equipment: Saucepan for boiling water; mixing bowl; 15ml jars.

    Method: Once the water is boiling, place the bowl into the pan and heat the oil and solid beeswax together. Pour into 15ml jars and allow to cool for a few minutes before adding five drops of essential oils.

    Ingredients: One or two essential oils; 10ml jojoba oil.

    Equipment: 10ml roller-ball bottles.

    Method: Choose your essential oil(s) and add 15-20 drops (in total) into the roller-ball bottles. Shake the bottles before filling to the top with jojoba oil, then shake again. Easy.

    Fizzy bath sprinkles
    Ingredients: 1/2 cup citric acid, 11/2 cups sodium bicarbonate (both common baking products), essential oil of choice, dried flowers and herbs including rose (relaxing), rosemary (stimulating) and marigold (anti-inflammatory).

    Equipment: Bowl, airtight container.

    Method: Add 10 drops of essential oil to the sodium bicarbonate, mix well and leave to dry. Once the powder is dry, mix the sodium bicarbonate and citric acid together and sieve. Add dried flowers or herbs. Store in the airtight container. To use, sprinkle a tablespoon of powder into the bath.

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