Chemicals? Additives? Preservatives? The women who are turning their backs on High Street beauty products
Kerry McKittrick meets the make-up mavericks who are saving their own skins the natural way
Have a quick Google about the chemicals found in beauty products nowadays and you'll find dozens of articles about the Great Beauty Con. Thousands of products on the market have dangerous levels of chemicals, additives and preservatives; organic and “100% natural” don't necessarily mean what they say.
It’s been claimed that deodorant has cancer-causing chemicals, while lipstick contains enough to slowly poison you. Thankfully, many — if not most — of these claims have been debunked by worthy organisations, such as Cancer Research UK. However, that hasn't stopped many people turning their back on conventional beauty products.
Many people are shunning the traditional ranges available in their local supermaket and making their own from essential oils, natural products and even plants from their own gardens. Natural products used to be the preserve of those dedicated to the New Age (and with a not-so frangrant reputation). In recent years, though, more and more people are jumping on the natural bandwagon.
It was revealed recently that Hollywood A-lister Cameron Diaz hasn't used deodorant in years, preferring to take regular showers.
And she's not the only one. Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper and Matthew McConaughey have all admitted they prefer to hit the shower instead of using anti-perspirant. There is a growing argument that certain products — deodorant being a prime example — just aren't necessary. People shower more than enough these days to keep nasty whiffs away.
'Nature gives us all we need to be healthy'
Kathryn Ker (22) is a student and lives in Newtownabbey. She says:
I wash my hair with a tablespoon of baking soda diluted in warm water, followed by a rinse of diluted apple cider vinegar.
I've been doing it for a couple of months now and my hair is so much better since I started. I haven't used shampoo at all. My hair is quite curly and, since starting this, my hair is less frizzy; it feels cleaner and it needs washed less often.
I'm quite interested in natural alternatives, so this all started when I began researching alternatives to shampoo.
I discovered that shampoo can strip your hair of its natural oils, causing your hair to overcompensate with oil production, which is why so many people feel the need to wash their hair every day.
I found using a natural option, rather than shampoo, which cleans your hair, but also allows it to maintain its own oils, means that hair learns not to overcompensate by producing more oil and, therefore, is less greasy. I feel that nature has provided us with all the things for a healthy and happy life – we just need to figure out how to use all these things.
I buy my toothpaste from a company in Scotland called Nurturing Soul.
It's made from baking soda, which is a good natural cleanser, and this stuff isn't too alkaline, so it's not too harsh on your skin.
I also buy a lot of products from Lush, as they use natural ingredients. For me, this is a gradual process. It's about making the most of the Earth's gifts and I'm in a gradual process of learning how to do that."
'It started in the hope of treating my son's eczema'
Karen Eakin (40) runs Beginnings Soaps. She lives in Magherafelt with her husband Bruce and their three children, Lydia (13), Anna (9) and Thomas (6). She says:
It all started with my son, Thomas. As a baby, he had very bad eczema, so I started buying creams from health stores and chemists.
The prescription remedies would only ever keep the eczema at bay, never completely clear it up. They also stung like mad. I used to have to chase Thomas around the house to put them on him.
I started using natural products on him instead and the condition cleared up very quickly. These were products I found in health shops made with all-natural ingredients.
I have a background in biology and I started to do lots of research into natural remedies and soap-making.
I make my own deodorant using virgin coconut oil, arrowroot powder, baking soda and a small amount of tea tree and peppermint essential oils. They allow you to keep sweating, but kill the bacteria that causes the odour.
I rarely use shop-bought anti-perspirant now – only if I have dry clean-only dress that I would wear to a wedding, say.
We don't have anything in our shop now except solid, natural soap. They're used on everything – the face, body and hair. You would never need conditioner after using them.
After my son's experience, I became more and more aware of the chemicals used in products and realised that I didn't want to use these anymore.
I started off by just making these things for my family. I was at home with Thomas and it was something for me to do and I started ordering oils and powders.
Now I've had the full safety assessments from a chartered chemist, so I've been able to sell what I make for about a year now.
The most popular thing I make is a whipped beauty butter, which is more than 50% organic shea butter, avocado oil, jojoba and essential oil.
These are very concentrated products – shop-bought creams can be more than half water – so they last forever.
Thomas only gets eczema now at Easter and Christmas, because that's when he eats chocolate, which is full of histamines, which are also found in the likes of red berries and tomatoes."
'Plants and oils blew me away'
Mayella Almazan (45) is a lecturer in social media and marketing at Queen's University, Belfast. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband, Jeff, and their children, Alex (17) and Georgia (11). She says:
I studied linguistics in Mexico and, while I was studying there, I got into aromatherapy. The culture in Mexico is much more about natural health and I come from a line of herbalists – not people who have studied herbs, but people who have handed down recipes over the generations.
I went to England to study for my Masters and PhD and coming to the UK made me walk away from all natural remedies for a while. When you arrive somewhere new, you want to try new things you haven't seen before.
Studying for my PhD, I had to do a lot of reading on chemistry and biology and I started noticing the labels of the products I was buying. I was horrified.
As I was growing up, I made very simple body balms and face balms from homegrown plants and essential oils. I went back to these and I was blown away by their power.
Now I make everything from essential oils and plant extracts – nothing I do has more than six or seven ingredients.
I started doing this just for myself and now I make everything, from body lotion to skin creams.
I use a lot of cocoa butter and shea butter. I make my own deodorant, based on arrowroot powder and coconut oil.
I'm a private practitioner, so I can make a specific balm, or cream, for someone who comes to me, but I can't sell it.
I make everything, from balms for sore muscles, to chest rubs for coughs and colds, and a cleanser."
'I've been told how good my skin looks'
Gemma McCorry (25) is a student and model and lives in Belfast. She says:
For most of my life, I noticed that normal deodorant didn't do anything for me. I actually thought that, depending on the clothes I wore, it sometimes contributed to a worse smell.
It wasn't until I started looking into natural products – I'm a vegan, so I always look for vegan, or natural, products. I started noticing that shampoos and spray would make me cough.
Now all the products I use are made from natural sources. I use a rock crystal as deodorant.
It's a little more expensive than a normal deodorant – they can cost anything between £4 and £6 – but, as long as you take care of it, it lasts forever.
You wet the surface of it, apply it under your arms then dry it properly to ensure that bacteria doesn't form.
I had my last one for six months and it would have been longer if I hadn't smashed it.
I have made my own deodorant before, using coconut oil, baking soda and a little lavender essential oil. It worked well, but I realised I prefer non-scented products, so I went back to using the crystal.
I use coconut oil as a moisturiser on my face, too.
People have been telling me how good my skin looks since I started doing that.
I also use the oil as a moisturising treatment on my hair once a month. Otherwise, I use a vegan shampoo.
I really prefer using natural remedies and being a vegan, it's amazing how much better you feel. I do miss cheese, but once you stop eating it you realise you can live without it.
It's really important to me that I don't use chemicals and the things I've used aren't tested on animals. I think the crystal deodorant is much more effective than a normal deodorant – I've even used it in Turkey in 35 degree heat.
It doesn't do any damage to the ozone layer and it's much kinder to your skin. It also works out much cheaper."