You probably don't open the refrigerator in search of beauty aids, but you might want to start. Turns out, some common kitchen staples are chock full of oils and potent phytochemicals (including antioxidants) that give your skin and hair a healthy boost. Here, we've put together a list of body-pampering pantry basics, along with expert tips on how to apply them. No time to make beauty recipes from scratch? No problem. We've also listed some ready-made natural products that feature these ingredients, too.
Rich and buttery, avocados are perfect for hydrating dry skin and hair, says Janice Cox, author of Natural Beauty at Home (Owl, 2002). Avocados contain skin-nourishing vitamin E and phytosterols, which, similar to the skin's own lipids, provide a barrier to environmental elements and lock in moisture.
- Make it: Donna Maria Coles Johnson, who wrote Making Aromatherapy Creams and Lotions (Storey, 2000), likes to mix a couple of tablespoons of avocado with a tablespoon or so of banana and egg yolk for a moisturizing face mask. For a hair pack, Cox suggests mashing avocado into a smooth paste and spreading it on clean, damp hair for 20 minutes.
- Buy it: Derma E's Avocado and E 1,000 IU Dry Skin Relief Crème is fortified with avocado oil and vitamin E to hydrate face and neck without a heavy cream.
The antioxidant powers of this distinctive bean promote healthy skin. Preliminary research shows that topically applied cocoa reduces skin irritation and combats cellular damage, and eating chocolate—contrary to popular belief— may even improve the skin's appearance (Journal of Nutrition, 2006, vol. 136, no. 5).
- Make it: For a soothing mask, mix cocoa powder with a little water or buttermilk—an excellent source of lactic acid that stimulates the cocoa's antioxidant function and softens the skin, says Audrey Kunin, MD, author of The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual (Simon & Schuster, 2005).
- Buy it: Soothe your skin with Ecco Bella's Organic Dark Chocolate Mask with chamomile and marshmallow extracts.
Green tea's plentiful antioxidants help fight free radical damage. And its active ingredient, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), is a powerful anti-inflammatory, according to Kunin. When applied topically, the tea reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles and can even help prevent skin cancer and signs of aging resulting from sun damage (Current Drug Targets, 2003, vol. 3, no. 3).
- Make it: Apply a compress soaked in chilled green tea to irritated skin or puffy eyes. Caffeine and EGCG help reduce swelling and calm skin, Kunin says. Cox likes to use green tea as a toner: Brew strong tea (one or two tea bags per 1 cup water) and apply to face after cleansing.
- Buy it: Aubrey Organics Green Tea & Ginkgo Facial Toner combines green tea with other skin-nourishing botanicals such as soothing cucumber and calendula.
Honey can be used head to toe, Cox says. Its strong antimicrobial properties help clean and clear away bacteria, making it ideal for oily or acne-prone skin, she says. According to Kunin, honey is also a humectant, meaning it draws moisture to the skin.
- Make it: To help clear up blemishes, Cox suggests dabbing honey on pimples. Kunin likes honey for a hydrating and exfoliating mask: Apply a thin layer of honey over face and neck for 10 minutes. If the honey is hard to spread, gently warm it first and/or dilute it with a small amount of water.
- Buy it: Burt's Bees Thoroughly Therap-eutic Honey & Orange Wax Body Lotion harnesses honey's humectant properties. Or try honey-infused Modern Organic Products Glisten Conditioner to hydrate and tame frizzy hair.
For centuries, olive oil, rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, has been the beauty ingredient of choice for dry skin and hair.
- Make it: Apply olive oil to damp skin before bed, put on your pajamas, and wake up to smoother, hydrated skin, Coles Johnson says. For a fresh, uplifting scent, she suggests adding a few drops of citrus essential oil to the olive oil.
- Buy it: Jason Olive Oil Hand & Nail Therapy keeps hands and nail beds soft and hydrated. It can also be used on dry elbows and other problem areas.
SUGAR AND SALT
When used as natural exfoliating particles, sugar and salt help loosen lifeless epidermal cells that need to be physically removed, Kunin says. But they can also cause irritation, so use a gentle touch, especially with salt.
- Make it: Simply mix a tablespoon or two of salt (sea salt contains skin-nourishing minerals) with any light vegetable oil for an easy body scrub, suggests Cox. For a gentle facial scrub, mix a teaspoon of sugar with your favorite cleanser and apply in small, circular motions, she says.
- Buy it: Kiss My Face Sugar Reef Organic Sugar Body Scrub exfoliates gently and moisturizes with a blend of botanical oils. Giovanni's Cool Mint Lemonade Salt Scrub enlivens dull skin with organic sea salt and peppermint leaf extract.
Colorado-based freelance writer Anna Soref now not only eats chocolate, but also uses it on her face.