face masks
Making your own face masks is both a fun, creative project and a way to show yourself some love during stressful times. (Illustration by James O’Toole, Grand Valley State University)
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face masks

Why buy damaging, synthetic cleansers when you can make your own?

The positive effects of intentional self-care and mental-health awareness are slowly but surely working their way into mainstream culture. While leisurely scrolling on your phone, you’ve probably seen dozens of pastel-colored advertisements for yoga classes, mindfulness workshops, building good habits for mental well-being and DIY home spa products. One of my favorite ways to treat myself after a long week, or at the beginning of what I know will be a busy week ahead, is making homemade face masks.

Not only are they fun to make, homemade face masks are simple, cheap and kind to your skin. Instead of exposing your body to the thousands of harmful, synthetic chemicals that abound in mass-produced beauty products, the best long-term solution that benefits the health of your skin (and your beautiful face) can be found on your grocery store shelves.

To kick things off with a little scaremongering, here are just a few ingredients commonly found in popular name-brand skin care products: parabens (used for preservation and have been linked with hormonal imbalances); synthetic colors (derived from petroleum or coal tar sources); fragrance (often associated with allergies and respiratory distress); mineral oil (seals skin to prevent it from breathing); and sodium lauryl sulfate (used to create a foamy lather and is also an irritant with the potential to interact with other chemicals to form carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines).

This only scratches the surface of potential chemical possibilities in your skin-care products. I dare you to pull out your bottle of cleanser and try to pronounce all the ingredients on the back of the bottle. If you can, you’re probably a chemistry major.

But fret not! Even though a lot of the cleansers and skin-care products available to you might not be what is best for your body, you can easily make your own face masks and scrubs using fruits, veggies, condiments and other household ingredients that you can ingest without fear of getting sick.

One of the best ingredients for your skin is raw honey. It is full of antioxidants — common compounds that help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals — as well as powerful antibacterial properties. It moisturizes the skin, soothes inflammation and opens up pores, making them easier to unclog. Yes, it can create a sticky mess that you probably don’t want to get in your hair, but it is a sticky mess that your future self will thank you for in all of your glowing Instagram pics.

Bananas are also a face mask essential. They are amazing natural moisturizers, as well as a veritable treasure chest of vitamin A, which helps restore moisture and repairs damaged, dry skin while also reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Another fruit to add to your face mask is the grape. A bit unconventional, grapes have weak acids in them that work as mild exfoliators to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores, making room for fresh new cells to grow.

A lot of face mask recipes also call for yogurt thanks to its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. The lactic acid in yogurt dissolves dead skin cells while also reducing existing lines and wrinkles on your face. It also helps fight acne and combat sunburn, which is why it is recommended that you apply a yogurt face mask after extended exposure to the sun to calm the skin.

Shea butter and coconut oil combined work to hydrate, soften and even out skin tone and are staple ingredients for any hydrating face mask routine. (It is worth noting that you should wash your face after using masks with coconut oil especially, as the oil will clog pores.)

Your favorite toast topper, avocado, has healthy fatty acids that nourish the skin while also helping protect it from future damage. Cucumber is another tasty ingredient you can use, as its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce inflammation from acne and soothe the skin.

Are you feeling hungry yet? The various foods listed above can all be combined in different ways to form the face mask that works for you. If the acid from the grapes stings your skin, switch to the gentler banana option. If you can’t stand the smell of avocado, use a plain Greek yogurt instead. Ultimately, my personal motto is this: If you can’t eat it, you probably should not put it on your skin!

There are gendered stereotypes surrounding ideas of mental and emotional self-care and face masks in modern American culture. Care for the face and constant maintenance of the skin’s “imperfections” lie heavily on women and girls, but good self-care is for everyone.

Making your own face masks is just one way to tell yourself that you deserve a break and that your body deserves to be treated well. It can be difficult to do work or concentrate on an assignment if you are trying to prevent cucumber goo from dripping off your face. I say this with my tongue in my cheek, of course; in stepping out of the work environment, even if just for 15 minutes, you create an opportunity to do something rejuvenating for yourself.

Surrounded by the constant, frantic culture that abounds on university campuses, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. But in order to take care of and support your friends and classmates, you have to take care of and support your own body and mind first. Homemade face masks not only force you to go to the grocery store and buy healthy, natural foods, they allow you to have a space to create with your hands, share time with others (who are also making face masks, of course) and take some much-deserved quiet time for you and your face.

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