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The Problem with DIY Skin Care That No One Is Talking About

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Hannah, a 24-year-old self-described "beauty obsessive," loves scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram for beauty hacks. She's tried dozens of them at home with no problem. So when a friend invited her to a DIY beauty party she was all over it. An excuse to spend a fun evening with her friends and come home with a few all-natural lotions, balms, and bath bombs seemed like a no-brainer. What she didn't expect to come home with, however, was a skin infection. (Psst...We found The Best DIY Beauty Tricks.)

"My favorite thing was a face mask because it smelled like coconut and lemon, and it made my skin feel so soft, not to mention it was all natural so I felt like it was better for me than the store-bought stuff," she says. At first, the product seemed to work just fine, but after using it for a couple weeks, one morning Hannah woke up expecting smooth, soft skin and was instead greeted by a painful red rash.

"I freaked and called my doctor," she says. A quick check-up showed that she had a bacterial infection along with an allergic reaction. The allergy caused tiny cracks in her skin which allowed bacteria to enter causing an infection. Her doctor said her homemade face cream was the most likely cause. See, while many people think preservatives are a bad thing, they do serve an important purpose—to keep bacteria from growing.

This is particularly a problem with food-based products, like the one Hannah made at the party, as they provide the perfect breeding ground for bugs. (As long as you're careful, lemon makes a great addition to DIY products for glowing skin.) Worse, if you store a product like this in a pot and then dip your fingers into it, you add more bacteria from your hands. Store in a warm, wet bathroom and you have bacteria central.

Just because something is natural doesn't automatically mean it's safe; this issue is a lot more common than you'd think says Marina Peredo, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist. "The number one allergy-causing agent in cosmetics is fragrance," she says, and natural scents from plant extracts can be just as problematic as artificial scents.

The base used to make skin care products is another source of skin woes. Olive oil, vitamin E, coconut oil, and beeswax—some of the most commonly used ingredients in DIY cosmetics—are also some of the most prevalent allergens and irritants, explains Peredo. What's more, it's possible that your skin reacts fine to these products at first, but that doesn't stop you from developing an intolerance to them over time.

None of this means that you need to unfollow your favorite DIY beauty YouTuber, but it does remind you that you should be taking the same precautions with natural products as you do with any others, says Peredo. A few simple tips can keep you safe, happy, and smelling of coconut-lemon.

  • Make sure you always wash your hands with soap before applying anything to your face with your fingers
  • Use a small, disposable spatula to get the product out of the jar to avoid contamination
  • Consider storing your product in the refrigerator
  • Toss anything that's been sitting out for more than a month or smells rancid
  • Of course, if you start to feel a burning or itching sensation or see a rash, stop using the product immediately

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