Minimalist Beauty: 11 Ways to Look Gorgeous without Chemicals

Last week’s post on The Story of Cosmetics inspired a lively discussion on natural beauty alternatives. Many thanks to everyone who commented! I’ve decided to gather up the information that was shared, plus a few extras, and consolidate it into a Minimalist Beauty post.

So here you have it: eleven ways to minimize the chemicals in your beauty routine (and still look gorgeous!).

1. Wash your face with honey. Used as a facial wash, honey tightens pores, moisturizes skin, and is believed to help treat and control acne. Simply wet your face with warm water, massage with a tablespoon of raw, unprocessed honey, and rinse well. Or, apply it as a mask, and let it sit 15-20 minutes before washing it off. I’ve been doing this for some time, and have been quite pleased with the results.

2. Use witch hazel as a toner. It’s natural, gentle, and alcohol-free, and won’t dry out skin like chemical-based formulas. Witch hazel refreshes your skin, and removes excess oils and impurities. I tried this a while back, and was perfectly happy with it — just too lazy to keep it up. Although I don’t currently feel the need for this extra step in my beauty routine, I would use witch hazel if I did.

3. Moisturize with olive oil. Other suggestions from the Comments included coconut oil, almond oil, and jojoba oil. I’m a little nervous to try this, as I’m afraid to break out or look greasy; when I work up the courage to give this a whirl, I’ll let you know.

4. Shampoo with baking soda, and rinse with apple cider vinegar. This natural combo is a popular alternative to shampoo. First, dilute a tablespoon of baking soda with enough water to make a loose paste, then massage it into your scalp. After rinsing it out, pour an apple cider vinegar and water solution over the ends. (See Nature Moms No ‘Poo post for complete instructions.)

5. Make a facial with oatmeal. I’m not really a facial kind of gal, but if I ever fancy one, I like the idea of oatmeal. The simplicity of it appeals to me: just mix dry oatmeal and water into a paste and spread it on your face. Let it dry, then rinse with warm water. It’s supposed to have a wonderful calming effect on the skin, reducing irritation and inflammation.

6. Use tea tree oil for blemishes. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that kills bacteria without chemicals – simply dab a bit on the inflamed spot morning and night. It’s a great way to avoid the harsh ingredients in acne creams (which can further irritate skin).

7. Use one natural bar soap for body, hair, and teeth. This tip was mentioned a few times in the Comments; and while I was aware that one could use the same bar soap for hair and body, I would have never considered brushing my teeth with it! Cool idea!

8. DIY. Search the internet, and you’ll find plenty of recipes for making your own soap, lotions, shampoos, facials, and cosmetics from natural (and edible) ingredients. Check out Tammy’s (Rowdy Kittens) recent post on How to Make Your Own Cosmetics.

9. Choose products with natural ingredients. If you don’t want to cook up your own potions, start reading labels more carefully. Dawn Michelle lists chemicals to avoid in this post on her Minimalist Beauty blog, and the Skin Deep cosmetics database provides safety ratings for thousands of personal care products. “Natural” brands recommended in the Comments include Dr. Bronner’s, Fresh Line, Giovanni, Dr. Hauschka, Suki, and Aubrey’s Organics.

10. Drink plenty of water. Drinking eight to ten glasses of water per day hydrates your skin, helps it maintain its elasticity, and gives it a healthy, natural glow. An added bonus: it’s also good for the rest of your body, helping to lubricate joints and flush out toxins and impurities.

11. Get your beauty sleep. Sounds simple, but this can be a tough one for night owls like me (I do my best work at night!). Lately, however, I’ve been making a real effort to get the recommended eight hours of sleep. I’ve noticed that when I do, my skin looks smoother and more radiant. It’s also a great way to avoid dark, under-eye circles (and the concealer or makeup needed to cover them up!).

Keep the tips coming! I’d love to hear more about your natural (and minimal) beauty routines.

The Story of Cosmetics

My main reason for pursuing a minimalist lifestyle is that I enjoy an uncluttered environment. Nothing makes me happier than a sparse, open space with little visual distraction. I also love the freedom that results when you don’t have a lot of stuff to worry about, care for, and move around.

However, I also have a second reason for practicing minimalism: I’m worried about the impact of all that stuff on the world and its people. I’m concerned about how the manufacture and disposal of material goods affect the environment, and how the chemicals contained in them affect our health.

With the latter point in mind, I was thrilled to discover Annie Leonard’s latest addition to her Story of Stuff series: The Story of Cosmetics.

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The video was just released yesterday, and is well worth the 5-10 minutes it takes to view it. In a nutshell: it explains that many of the personal care products (creams, lotions, shampoos, cosmetics) we use each day contain toxic ingredients, which are in large part unregulated by the FDA. The chemicals are present in small amounts, but the long term effects of smearing them on our heads, faces, and bodies every day are unknown.

Since I first read about such issues a few years ago, I’ve drastically cut back on the products I use – eliminating things like perfume, nail polish, mascara, and fancy skin creams. I generally stick to a sunscreen/moisturizer combo, lip balm, and minimal makeup (light powder, lipstick, and occasional eyeshadow) when I need to look professional. I’ve also been seeking less-toxic alternatives to my favorite shampoo, body wash, and deodorant, with the help of the Skin Deep cosmetic database.

In the process, I’ve found that being mindful of the products I use has made me even more of a minimalist. Questioning the ingredients in my lotions and potions has not only decreased the chemicals I put on my skin — it’s cleared my bathroom shelves, streamlined my morning routine, and made it that much easier to travel light. :-)

I encourage all of you to take a look at Annie’s illuminating video; and if you’d like to see more regulation of the chemicals in our personal care products, please ask your local representative to support the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Car Sharing 2.0

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Most of you are familiar with the car share programs run by Zipcar, City CarShare, and the like: when you need a set of wheels, you go online, make a reservation, and pick up the car at its designated location.

Car2Go, a subsidiary of German automaker Daimler, has taken this concept one step further. They’re pioneering a program similar to bike sharing: members have access to any car in the network, without a reservation. Furthermore, the cars can be used for one-way trips, and left in any parking space free of charge (no need to return it to its original location).

In other words: if you walk out of the grocery store with too many bags to handle, you can jump in the nearest Car2Go, drive back to your home, and leave it in a public parking space out on your street (as long as it’s within the operating area).

My first thought: if you drove to the store, a restaurant, your friend’s house, etc., what would keep another member from taking the car while you’re inside and leaving you stranded? I found the answer on Car2Go’s website: you can use the key fob to indicate that you’re making an intermediate stop. This blocks the vehicle from being accessed by another party, and shows its “in use” status by a red blinking signal on the card reader.

The program is currently being tested in Austin, Texas, with a fleet of 200 Smart ForTwo cars. You can read more about it in this article from the Texas Tribune.

I think it’s a great way to practice minsumerism, and would love to see it rolled out to other cities in the near future!

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Inspiration: The Story of Stuff

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In the spirit of Minsumerism, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite internet videos: The Story of Stuff, by writer and activist Annie Leonard. It’s a brilliant, 20-minute, stick-figure documentary about the life cycle of material goods.

The video explores the environmental and social issues of our current model of consumption, and calls on us to create a more sustainable economy.

While walking us through the five steps of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal, Annie provides many thought-provoking statistics, such as:

  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
  • 40% of waterways in the United States have become undrinkable.
  • People in the United States are targeted with more than 3,000 advertisements a day.
  • People in the United States makes 4.5 pounds of garbage a day.

If you’re not a minimalist already, you may very well become one after watching this!

Want to learn more? Annie has recently released a book version of The Story of Stuff, with more details of the materials economy — including her travels to factories and dumps around the world, to see exactly how the stuff we buy is made and disposed of.

And if that’s not enough, two new videos have been added to the site: The Story of Bottled Water, and The Story of Cap & Trade. I’m looking forward to The Story of Electronics, which is coming in May.

So what inspires your minimalism? Is it a concern for the environment or human rights, or simply a desire for clean closets and a spacious home?

The Minsumer Movement: A Quiet Revolution

Hand with mini bagSomething wonderful happens when you start living a minimalist lifestyle: you begin to really think about what you consume, and question the necessity of every purchase.

How amazing would it be if such mindful consumption became the norm? Not only would we all have more time, more money, and more space in our homes; we’d also have a healthier planet, and more resources for future generations.

In order to promote such an idea, however, we have to define it and give it a name. We have to let others know it’s a viable lifestyle alternative, and provide support to those pursuing it.

To this end, I’ve written the following manifesto to introduce the Minsumer Movement.


“Don’t buy it!” may be an unusual call to arms, but it has the potential to transform our lives, our society and our planet.

Like all revolutions, ours is bred by discontent. We’re sick of being slaves to debt and keeping up with the Joneses. We’re tired of working long hours at jobs we don’t like, to pay for things we don’t need. We’re unhappy with the clutter in our homes, and the commercialization of our holidays. We’re angry that human rights are violated to fill our stores with cheap clothes and plastic gizmos. We’re worried that our children and grandchildren won’t have the clean air and water that should be their birthright.

We are not necessarily anti-consumption. We don’t forage or dumpster dive, and we don’t expect to get anything for free. We like the fact that we can buy things when we need them. We appreciate the ease with which we can obtain basic necessities; unlike our ancestors, we need not devote our days to securing food, clothing, or shelter. However, we believe that once these needs are met, consumption can be put on the backburner. Our time would then be free for friends, family, and community; and for spiritual, philosophical and cultural pursuits. Imagine what we could do with all that newfound time, energy, and capital!

The consumption instinct is rooted in survival, though, and difficult to curb. Savvy marketers exploit this fact and continually manufacture new “needs” to suppress our sense of fulfillment. They try to convince us that our lives are incomplete without the latest electronic gadget; that our houses are outdated and must be “improved;” that our cars should be new, and our clothing should be fashionable.

Well, we declare “Enough!” We refuse to spend the better part of our lives desiring, acquiring and paying for things. We are neither Consumers, nor Anti-Consumers, but Minsumers: we seek to minimize the role of consumption in our lives. Our strategy is simple:

  • To minimize our consumption to what meets our needs
  • To minimize the impact of our consumption on the environment
  • To minimize the effect of our consumption on other people’s lives

To this end, we won’t waste our money, or the resources of our planet, on frivolous goods. We’ll reuse and repurpose what we can, and favor used goods over new. We’ll avoid items made with exploited labor or violations of human rights. We’ll support our local economies, and work to create sustainable communities.

We are not your typical revolutionaries. You won’t see us protesting, boycotting, or blocking the doors to megastores; we’re simply not buying. Our battles are personal, made up of a million little acts of consumer disobedience. We leave convenience foods on the shelf and breeze by impulse items without a glance. We cut up our credit cards, borrow books from the library, and mend our clothes instead of buying new ones. We shop on Craigslist and Freecycle, rather than at the mall.

We are an invisible army, and our offense is our absence: the empty spaces in the parking lot, the shorter checkout lines, the silence at the cash registers. The only bloodshed in our revolution is the red ink on a retailer’s profit statement.

We are under constant bombardment by advertisers, but our defenses are well-honed. We regard with a critical eye their attempts to make us feel unattractive, unsafe, and unsatisfied. We turn off the television, cancel our magazine subscriptions, and use ad-blocker in our web browsers. They develop new weapons to weaken our resistance — greenwashing, viral marketing, zero percent financing — but their arsenal is no match for our resolve.

Our ranks are diverse, and spread out among spiritual, environmental, simple living, and human rights groups, as well as the population at large. But under the banner of Minsumerism, our individual efforts have far-reaching potential. By not buying, we regain our freedom: from debt, from clutter, and from the rat race. By not buying, we have the time and energy to rebuild our communities. By not buying, we reclaim the resources of our planet, and deliver them from the hands of corporations into those of our children.

Most importantly, by not buying, we redefine ourselves: by what we do, what we think, and who we love, rather than what we have. And in the process, we rediscover the meaning in our lives.


Please show your support for the Minsumer Movement by leaving a comment, and spreading the word through Digg, Twitter, or email.

How do you minimize the role of consumption in your life? I’d love to hear your ideas and techniques!