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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Natural and Do-It-Yourself Skincare for Healthy Melanated Skin

Jul 01, 2024 06:00AM ● By Trish Ahjel Roberts
This is the third of three articles in our series entitled Care of Melanated Skin. See below for links to the other two articles and a Resource Guide. – Editor

With a long history of toxicity in products marketed to the Black community, it may be beneficial for people of color to learn about natural skincare. But what is the definition of “natural?” Like many terms used in the beauty industry, “natural” can have ambiguous or misleading definitions since there is no formal or legal definition of the term. However, one way to ensure quality is to commit to food-grade ingredients. 

Why food-grade? When food-grade products are used, there is no question that the product is safe. When a product is applied to the skin topically, it can potentially be absorbed through the skin’s surface and enter the bloodstream. Since food-grade products are generally considered nontoxic and safe for human consumption, there is virtually no health risk. However, even when products are edible, it’s possible to consume too much of a good thing, so moderation may be necessary. For example, when using essential oils, more isn’t always better. Many essential oils have a limit on daily consumption for internal use and come with a recommendation that they be blended with a carrier oil to prevent skin irritation when used topically. Always check the label when using essential oils. 

Also, while most products on the market won’t be able to meet the strict guidelines of being food-grade, products made at home offer transparency around ingredients and can be a fun and educational way to meet the special needs of richly pigmented skin. 

Why DIY? There are seven widely accepted learning styles: visual, auditory, written, kinesthetic, verbal, interpersonal, and solitary. When people engage in DIY projects, they have the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways but mostly kinesthetic, that is, through doing. This can also be a way to interact with family, build community, or enjoy time for individual self-care. No matter the number of people involved, learning to create and understand the ingredients in skincare products can be an empowering experience.

Getting Down to Basics

The basics of skincare come down to five major activities:

Cleansing—Removing makeup, dirt and excess oils from the skin. Gentle cleansing is recommended so that the skin is not irritated by harsh treatment.

Toning—Using a liquid product for additional skin benefits. These might include deeper cleansing, hydration, priming, balancing pH, reducing the appearance of pores, calming the skin, providing skin nutrients like antioxidants and reducing the propensity to acne.

Moisturizing—Using a lotion, salve, oil or balm to lock in skin hydration.

Sun protection—Blocking or minimizing the damaging effects of the sun. Moisturizers sometimes contain sun protection, but an extra product is often needed to get the job done. It’s important to note that quality sun protection isn’t food-grade, but it can still be made available for DIY enthusiasts.

Exfoliation—Removing the skin’s top layer of dead cells to allow new skin cells to emerge. This process enhances skin brightness and helps to unclog pores. Because of Black skin’s vulnerability to hyperpigmentation, exfoliants used on skin of color should be gentle. There are two main types of exfoliants: physical and chemical. 

  • Physical exfoliants use gently textured substances like brown sugar or oatmeal to physically remove dead skin cells. Coarser substances like white sugar or ground seeds can be too abrasive for facial skin. 
  • Chemical exfoliants use enzymes or acids like those found in papaya and pineapple to dissolve dead skin cells.

The Recipes

While there are countless recipes to treat a variety of skin issues, these simple recipes are vegan, cruelty-free and appropriate for gentle care for skin of color. For skin that is acne-prone, coconut or avocado oil can be replaced with noncomedogenic oils such as grapeseed, sweet almond, hempseed or sunflower seed oils. 

Dr. Breana Davis, a naturopathic doctor at Progressive Medical Center in Dunwoody, shares DIY skincare recipes on Instagram. “When it comes down to certain products, I feel like the simpler, the better,” she explains.

While these recipes were created with melanated skin tones in mind, they can be used by anyone who wants to take care of their skin. Also, ingredients can be mixed and matched for an unlimited number of options tailored to a particular skin type.

Cleansing: Coconut and Lemon Facewash

This is an easy, coconut-based facewash that provides gentle cleansing for most skin types. It can be mixed fresh daily or stored in advance. Widely available at supermarkets and health food stores, organic coconut oil is antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory and can help clear acne and blemishes. Surprisingly, the fatty acids in coconut oil can dissolve excess oil that clogs pores.

Coconut oil can also assist in healing troublesome dark spots and scars. Lemon essential oil is antibacterial, antifungal, astringent, conditioning and improves hyperpigmentation. Its fragrance is uplifting and rejuvenating. If lemon essential oil is not available, organic lemon juice can be substituted. Optional tea tree essential oil and apple cider vinegar enhance acne-fighting ability. Be sure to look for high-quality essential oils and apple cider vinegar.

1 Tbsp organic coconut oil
1 drop lemon essential oil
¼ tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 drop tea tree essential oil (optional)

To use fresh daily, mix a tablespoon of coconut oil with a few drops of apple cider vinegar and essential oils. Apply it to your face and massage gently. Let it set on the skin for a few minutes, and then rinse with warm water. Cleanse the face in the morning and before bed.

Toning: Green Tea Toner

Green tea is calming, anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants. Tea tree essential oil is antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and can help heal itchy or oily skin. It is widely regarded for its healing properties, particularly for acne-prone skin. 

½ cup organic green tea (cooled)
4 drops tea tree essential oil

Brew and steep green tea. Once it has completely cooled, add high-quality tea tree essential oil. Store in a glass bottle. Apply with cotton balls or spritz on.

Moisturizing: Avocado and Lavender Moisturizer

This is a simple moisturizer that works well for most skin of color. Avocado oil can be easily purchased at your local supermarket. Organic is best if it is accessible. Avocado oil is an excellent source of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fatty acids that promote healthy, balanced skin. It also helps to even out skin tone, soften wrinkles and treat psoriasis. Lavender essential oil is antifungal and anti-inflammatory. It can reduce acne, even skin tone and reduce wrinkles. Its aroma also has a pleasant, calming effect. Food-grade lavender essential oil is ideal. 

1/2 cup organic avocado oil
2 drops of food-grade lavender essential oil

Combine ingredients and store in a glass bottle, spray bottle or roll-on. Massage sparingly into skin.

Sun Protection: Shea Butter and Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

While carrot and myrrh essential oils have some sunscreen abilities, they have not been determined to provide sufficient protection against the sun. For that reason, this homemade sunscreen includes a non-edible ingredient, zinc oxide powder. Because it is difficult to determine the SPF of homemade products, use this with caution and in addition to a traditional SPF product.

½ cup shea butter
⅓ cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp zinc oxide powder
Up to 15 drops carrot seed essential oil (optional)
Up to 10 drops Myrrh essential oil (optional)

Blend coconut oil and shea butter over low heat. Add zinc oxide and optional essential oils. Pour mixture into a glass container and allow to cool before using.

Exfoliating: Lavender and Rosemary Body Scrub

This scrub recipe is courtesy of iwi fresh, an Atlanta-based holistic skincare products and services company located in Lakewood Heights. It can be made and stored in a glass container. Brown sugar and oatmeal are used as a gentle scrub; the brown sugar shouldn’t be substituted with any other kind of sugar since other types of sugar—and salt—are too harsh for use on the face. Grapeseed oil is a noncomedogenic oil that is an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamin E and linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid.

¼ cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp lime zest
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tsp oatmeal
1 tsp lavender
1 pinch turmeric, 1 tsp rose petals, 2 drops essential oil (optional)

Add brown sugar to a 4-oz mason jar. Slowly add the grapeseed oil while stirring. Sprinkle in the dry ingredients and add essential oil. Massage gently into skin. Rinse off.

Non-DIY Options

Not everyone has the time or available ingredients to make do-it-yourself skincare products. Following are a few popular options for simple skincare:

African Black Soap 

Black soap has been shown to have both antibacterial and antifungal properties. It’s known to improve acne, clear razor bumps and rashes and slow down the signs of aging. Traditionally from West Africa, the ingredients of this product can vary, but it typically includes palm kernel oil and ash from either burnt cocoa pods or roasted plantain skins. It may also include honey, aloe vera and other skin-nourishing ingredients, including camwood, a tree native to West Africa. RA Cosmetics is a local Atlanta-based company that offers black soap. ❧
This article is part of series of articles on Care of Melanated Skin. 

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Natural Castile Soap

Made only from plant ingredients, castile soap is considered more environmentally friendly and natural than many other soap products. Named after the Mediterranean region of Castile, Spain, castile soap was originally made with olive oil. Nowadays, it can be made with a variety of plant-based oils combined with lye (potassium hydroxide), a high-alkaline, plant-based substance used in the soap-making process and traditionally made from the combination of wood ash and water. Essential oils or other ingredients are often added. Dr. Bronner’s is one of the most popular brands, and local Atlanta black-owned retailer Herb’N Eden offers a variety of natural soaps as well.

Small-Batch Skincare Retailers

If you can’t or don’t want to make homemade products yourself, there are a few retailers that offer the next best thing—small-batch products. Atlanta is home to many black-owned retailers. Glo Melanin focuses on using turmeric in many of its products for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. IWI Fresh offers a variety of natural skincare products as well as spa services. Herb’N Eden offers facial products in addition to their extensive line of soaps. UK-based retailer Lush offers a small-batch feel with shops located in Lenox Square, Perimeter Mall and Mall of Georgia. 

In addition to gathering for Sunday dinners, carving out time for do-it-yourself recipes with family and friends is a great way to connect and build community. Learning the benefits of natural ingredients can save time and money and improve your mental and physical health. ❧
Trish Ahjel Roberts is our consulting editor of African American issues. She is also a book coach, transformational leader, international speaker and author of the new book, The Anger Myth: Understanding and Overcoming the Mental Habits That Steal Your Joy. Learn more at


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