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I've always hated all those suggestions that people eschew store-bought hair products and, say, pour a giant jar of mayo on their heads. You can get Pantene at the drugstore for a couple dozen coins...why go to the trouble and mess?

Quite frankly, if you can't afford drugstore hair products, you've got bigger problems than dull, lifeless hair or skin. Yet, there's always this notion that it's just wunnnderful -- almost holy -- when people come up with these homemade innovations in beauty. I just read a posting on Consumerist linking to some girl who suggests using baking soda as an exfoliant "instead of paying extra money," blah blah blah. Here's the quote from the blogger, twopenniesearned:

Instead of paying extra money for a facial exfoliant that is probably too harsh for the delicate skin on your face (despite what the manufacturer would have you believe), just add a little bit of baking soda to some Cetaphil (an excellent mild face wash that I use twice a day), mix with your fingertips, massage in circles all over your face, and rinse. For a gentler exfoliant, simply use more Cetaphil and less baking soda in your mixture.

Here's the comment I left on Consumerist:

Oh, please. St. Ives apricot scrub is $2.99 a tube. Isn't your time worth something? How many years of your life do you spend gathering ingredients, mixing baking soda in a little bowl, then washing the bowl, blah blah blah? It's 2007, no need to live like we're all starring in a remake of "Little House On The Prairie."

In the time you'll save, over a lifetime, if you avoid mixing up your own face potions, I recommend reading "Passionate Minds," by David Bodanis, about the love affaire of Emilie du Chatelet and Voltaire.

And P.S. As I believe I've posted here before, the only face potions you really need are: Cetaphil (about $12 for a Costco vat of the stuff that lasts at least six months, St. Ives, and sunblock that actually blocks sun). No moisturizer made from sheep feces that requires a second mortgage to purchase, none of that.

And let's move on from the Laura Ingalls Wilder days, shall we?

Posted by aalkon at January 13, 2007 11:29 AM

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But I'm looking forward to next week when Consumerist posts its recipe for homemade Viagra.

Posted by: qdpsteve at January 13, 2007 12:13 AM

Unfortunately, it's unlikely the medical kind will be sold over the counter, as was rumored. Here's a story on that:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 12:26 AM

Hm, thanks for the link Amy. Talk about feeling crestfallen. ;-)

Posted by: qdpsteve at January 13, 2007 1:22 AM

Amy, you probably drink quarts of water a day, too. Washing the LA air off your face is just a bonus. Or am I wrong?

Posted by: Mimi at January 13, 2007 7:56 AM

I love Pellegrino and order 9 cases at a time from Costco, and drink tons of it (because I love it), but the eight glasses of water a day thing is a myth:

And I live at the beach where the air is nice.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 8:02 AM

Did I sound snarky? Didn't mean to. I used to live on the beach in California and there's not a day goes by that I don't remember it with pleasure. Thanks for the Snopes link. I'd heard the water thing for 50+ years now and never thought to question it or research it as I do with anything brought to us via an "expert."

Posted by: Mimi at January 13, 2007 8:23 AM

I'm not exactly anti-snark! Snarky is always fine.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 8:28 AM

I quite agree about many of these "make it yourself" products. A familiarity with chemistry or economics will dispel most of them - but not all. Here's two I'll share with you.

Hair products like shampoo and conditioner are, as far as I can tell, unnecessary, unless you have a medical condition. You don't need a home-made product to replace them: just regular brushing. Buy a stiff brush and it will last you for years. (The time and money you save not buying shampoo, spend having fun.) Shampoo washes out the natural oils in your hair. Your scalp or folicles or whatever produce extra to compensate. Then your hair gets greasy and you feel the need to shampoo again. Conditioner helps immediately after a wash, but basically you are hooked into an unnecessary dependency. If you stop this and start brushing, it takes about 6 weeks before you recover natural hair condition. You need a stiff brush to reach the scalp - you'll feel it! I haven't used shampoo for about 25 years, and tried various experiments before I discovered brushing. (Why? I couldn't believe that we had evolved into creatures that needed shampoo.) Now, at 57, I don't have much hair left - but neither did my dad, so I don't think it's relevant. Not sure how well it works for longer than shoulder length hair, and I can't experiment! What hair I have isn't going grey, however. Same argument goes for soaping your body. It was necessary in the middle ages but nowadays you can take a shower once or twice a day. If you smell, it's a fresh, clean, human smell, with the added benefit of pheromones.

My second discovery is less than an hour old. You know how cooking oil turns into a sticky gunk? Nothing seems to dissolve it. I've tried detergent, paint remover, white spirit, caustic soda, washing soda, meths - nothing works. Today I found the answer: dishwasher powder. I found this by putting the cooker hood through a dishwasher cycle. It came out totally clean! I made up a solution - about a tablespoon in half a pint of hot water - and found this worked well with a scrubber. (Wear gloves - it's an irritant.) The particular kind I used has these ingredients: phosphates more than 30%, oxygen based 5 to 15%, non-ionic surfactants less than 5%, enzymes, perfume. I've no idea what these actually mean.

Phew. Feels like I'm coming out the closet.

Posted by: Norman at January 13, 2007 9:20 AM

Oh Amy where is your sense of adventure? Mixing your own home remedy is always good for a laugh! This from a lady who knits her own socks.

Posted by: Ana at January 13, 2007 9:21 AM

Norman, sounds like a good tip on cleaning cooking oil deposits; however, I'll keep my soap and shampoo. Didn't we become civilized to get away from "natural" methods of keeping clean?

Posted by: justin case at January 13, 2007 10:13 AM


We got civilized because we invented agriculture, and it was better than hunting and gathering at providing food. Nothing to do with keeping clean. Anyway, hot showers aren't natural. They're just less money, less time, less chemicals on your skin, down the drain, and in the environment, than hot showers plus soap and shampoo.

But I don't expect many people to be willing to even try the alternative. I don't quite know why this should be, but I've seen this response before. The cosmetics industry is founded on fear, uncertainty and doubt. No hard feelings!

Posted by: Norman at January 13, 2007 10:32 AM

Norman, whether humans even have an active vomeronasal organ to process hormones is debated. Can't look up stuff on that right now, though.

A man with short hair and a woman with long hair who doesn't wash it are two very different things. In short, ick.

Ana, sock knitting is quite another matter. If I were as talented as you, and had the time, I'd knit my own socks, and exactly to fit my feet, too.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 10:38 AM

Norman, no hard feelings here, either. I was really just having a little fun with the civilization comment... if what you do keeps your body from being funky and works for you, then keep on doing it.

Posted by: justin case at January 13, 2007 10:50 AM

Years ago I was in Papua New Guinea to scuba dive and the boat's cook told about how she tried to get along with the local hires (illiterate villagers, people who didn't know how old they were) who occasionally performed chores for them. She was always complaining to them, "You reek like campfires!", Even after they'd been offshore for a week. One day one of them kinda figured it out and asked, "Hannah, do we smell bad?" And a monster had been unleashed.

I'm with Amy re: civilization, but still. (I buy the cheapest available shampoo in the biggest possible bottles.)

Posted by: Crid at January 13, 2007 11:10 AM

How much time can it really take to mix something into face wash? I would think not more than a few seconds. She mentions that drugstore products are too harsh, so it seems economy is not the only goal here. Really, if it works, costs you pennies and seconds, and is better for your skin (perhaps), what's the problem?

Posted by: christina at January 13, 2007 11:17 AM

I once lived in a commune-y sort of place, and smelled of woodsmoke, because a wood fire was the only way to keep warm. My girlfriend liked it. (So did another girlfriend who I told, "I ate a clove of raw garlic to see what happened." "I know." Ah, happy days.)

I read somewhere recently about people who can't wash for various reasons - eg soldiers roughing it - and they really do stink. But they also don't smell it (or each other) after a few days.

Posted by: Norman at January 13, 2007 11:45 AM

"Really, if it works, costs you pennies and seconds, and is better for your skin (perhaps), what's the problem?"

That's my thinking. A lot of the chemical cleansers in drugstore products (and claning products) are harsh on skin and some are even carcinogenic. I buy a lot of baking soda, and it's really very underrated as a product- it takes smell out of clothes, makes a decent deodorant, and is the cheapest tooth-whitening toothpaste around.

BTW, Amy, I left you some links over at consumerist on the net-filtering thread, don't know if you saw them due to the age of the post...

Posted by: Jennifer Emick at January 13, 2007 12:18 PM

Thanks...didn't see them.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 12:21 PM

Has anyone done any research on what effect baking soda has on skin or teeth? Just because it has a friendly name doesn't mean much.

Posted by: Norman at January 13, 2007 12:34 PM

Good point. Furthermore, if you go to the site of "The Beauty Brains" you'll see that a lot of the stuff people believe is carcinogenic is hooey. Like Vaseline, as I posted last week when some guy said he'd "advice" me not to use it. I "adviced" him not to believe everything he believes. Here are the BB girls on it (same link I posted last week):

The truth is, if baking soda were so great, somebody would've packaged it with some scent and a couple other products. I think people just like to think they've discovered some great thing that's been right in front of everyone else's eyes all along.

Life is short. With all the cheap, readymade products out there, the last thing I need is to put time into is the the alchemy of beauty.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 1:16 PM

Posted by: Jennifer Emick at January 13, 2007 3:04 PM

My favorite dumbass quote from the article:

The hair dye debate has been raging for decades. When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in 1994, many scientists suspected her cancer came from her hair colouring.

Here, from the NYTimes, by Natasha Singer (from August 2006), a little perspective:

Set off by news of the study that was recently published in The American Journal of Epidemiology, the nationwide alarm over a possible link between hair dye and cancer underscores the disparity between medical research and its often-breathless press coverage. Television hosts like Matt Lauer of “Today” stoked fears by telling viewers that 10 percent of lymphoma cases in women may be caused by hair dye use. But, pointing to decades of research on hair dye, many epidemiologists say the new study is not cause for worry.

“If the results are true, and that’s a big if, it would mean that, in the grand scheme of life, using hair dye may present a remote risk to your health, but it would still be less risky than crossing the street, driving a car, not wearing a seat belt or drunk driving,” said Dr. Joseph K. McLaughlin, president of the International Epidemiology Institute, a biomedical research center in Rockville, Md. “But that’s a big if because no one has demonstrated that hair dye is causal for lymphoma.”

So, the big question is...are you going to let your hair grow ratty and gray...AND stop crossing the street?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 8:54 PM

P.S. Read the whole story. There's more good stuff at the end:

An analysis of 79 hair dye studies that was published last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that hair dye use has “no effect” on the risk of breast and bladder cancers. It did find a “borderline effect” of hair dye on the risk of lymphoma and concluded that, although dye has not been shown to cause these cancers, the link merits further investigation. The paper’s authors called for further studies on hair stylists, who have more intense and frequent exposure to hair dye than consumers.

“The overall weight of scientific evidence is very convincing that hair dye is safe,” said John Bailey, executive vice president for science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, an industry trade group based in Washington. “The industry would never use ingredients having any cloud of remote concern over their safety.”

The study that came out last month, however, stoked fears all over again.

For the study, researchers in Europe interviewed about 2,300 patients with lymphoma and about 2,400 people without lymphoma. The study found that those who had ever used hair dye were 1.19 times more likely to get lymphoma than those who never used it. Those who colored their hair before 1980 were 1.37 times more likely to get lymphoma.

“These are scary numbers,” Ann Curry, the “Today” show co-host, warned viewers.

But many epidemiologists consider such rates of increase to be negligible.

“Compared to risk factors for other diseases, those numbers are very small,” said Dr. Barnett Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. By comparison, he said, smoking makes people 10 to 60 times more likely to get lung cancer.

Because the study relies on people’s long-term memories of their grooming habits, which could be faulty, the conclusion that hair dye is linked to lymphoma might turn out to be wrong altogether, Dr. Kramer added.

Dr. Silvia de Sanjosé, a senior researcher at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona and the lead author of the study, said in a telephone interview that people should be relieved rather than worried by her research.

“If our data is correct, we are assured that hair dye is not a major risk factor for lymphoma,” said Dr. de Sanjosé. She has been coloring her hair for five years and plans to continue, she said. “People should be happy and comforted that the observed effect is minor.”

Dr. Michael J. Thun, director of epidemiological research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, said that if the study proves to be correct, the results would mean that American women who start dyeing their hair might increase the risk of getting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from about 13.6 out of every 100,000 women per year to about 17 out of every 100,000 women per year.

“There is substantial uncertainty as to whether there is any hazard at all from hair dye,” Dr. Thun said.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 8:57 PM

It is entirely possible that the poster in question really does have an issue with drugstore products harming her skin. However...I have skin sensitivity from hell. My skin reacts to almost everything, including most sunscreens/sunblocks, and I can use St. Ives (as long as it's the *medicated* scrub). Unless the girl in question has some sort of ailment, I'm betting that she can too. She just feels more virtuous about going the baking soda route. No problem with that, but she does sound rather silly. And how does she know that baking soda is better for her skin than the OTC cleaning products? She doesn't. She just wants to be Different and Natural. Me, I'm all for Man-Made and Effective, but YMMV.

Posted by: marion at January 13, 2007 9:52 PM

I like you, Marion. Good, clean common sense!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 13, 2007 10:55 PM

Statistics showing an extra risk (eg from using hair dye) are the kind that give statistics a bad name. You need to know the absolute incidence, not just the percentage. I don't know the incidence of lymphoma and can't be bothered looking for it. Suppose it is 1 person in 100,000, which goes up to 2 people in 100,000 with hair dye - wow, that's a 100% increase.

Also, people who coloured their hair before 1980 ... could that indicate that they were older?

And, even if there is a correlation, it does not mean causation. Perhaps people who dye their hair also go out more, to polluted clubs and nightspots, or to hairdressers, or to high UV exposure locations, or they also use other hair products. It's even possible that the gene which predisposes a person to dye their hair is also predisposes them to lymphoma.

When a reporter uses incomplete statistics and words like "scary", your bullshit detector should sound. They're just trying to sell more newspapers. And I've never read a research paper yet that didn't end by calling for more research. Duh.

Posted by: Norman at January 14, 2007 1:04 AM

Thank you, Norman.

The problem is, many people have no idea of the stuff you're talking about -- like correlation not meaning causation -- and just nod at whatever they read in the paper.

I try to debunk as much as I can here.

I really do see the lazy thinking that allows people to be religious leading to all sorts of nonthink. Once you commit to living with an engaged mind, and using logic and reason, it's really hard to believe in really dumb, unproven crap...which is, perhaps, why religion promotes having "faith" (ie, not engaging your capacity for rational thought).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 14, 2007 1:21 AM

I'm actually curious to know what happened to the rather long post with links (inc. several baking soda products) I made before that link, which also had a link to a detailed article on cosmetic carcinogens?

Folks can poo-poo the notion all day long, but the truth is that most cosmetic ingredients areen't well-tested and many have caused harm- unlike foods anbd supplements, cosmetics are not tested by the FDA before release, and only a very few ingredients (like lead) are actully banned from use.

Other cosmetic nasties include:

phthalates- proven carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens-abundant in cosmetics. Banned from baby toys but still in the bubble bath.
Toluene-highly toxic- just go to the hardware store and read the abundant warnings on the can

Also, I'll reiterate what I said in the previous post- a penny's worth of soda is gentler than the ground shells in products like St Ives, it's cheaper, and one can create twenty empty plastic tubes (and just as many trips to the store) before getting to the bottom of the soda box.

Everyone makes their choices based on their preferences, so let's not pretend either choice here involves more common sense. Some people prefer convenient, nice-smelling potions, some people like to be cautious, or save money- I see no need to insult people over any of these choices.

I used to use all of these things, but after contracting cancer at 27 (!) I decided to take fewer chances.

Best skincare advice? Forget all the potions- it's the SUN you have to worry about!

Posted by: Jennifer Emick at January 14, 2007 1:51 AM

Uh-oh. If you post more than one link in a post it goes to spam. I'll see if it's retrievable, but my boyfriend's been working on my spam problem and the junk folder contents were deleted a few hours ago (it's an hour-long process). Sorry if your post did get deleted (again, I'll check now), but in the future, please just post one link per posting. If you have a few, wait and make multiple postings (wait between postings a bit so the software doesn't think you're a spam bot).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 14, 2007 1:56 AM

And yes, I've posted that many times about the sun:

Anthelios 60. 15 is useless.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 14, 2007 1:57 AM

Okay, not useless, but I go for the best protection I can get.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 14, 2007 8:13 AM

"a penny's worth of soda is gentler than the ground shells in products like St Ives"

I use St. Ives because I need something that takes off dead skin cells and reduces the number of bumps I tend to get. Products that are too gentle don't work for that purpose. I'm glad that soda works for you, but I'm looking for something that exfoliates effectively and that has salicylic acid to control my acne, and I suspect other St. Ives buyers are too. But YMMV.

Amy, does Anthelios have PABA in it? I'd love to try it out sometimes via the Internet, but my skin and PABA do not get along.

"I really do see the lazy thinking that allows people to be religious leading to all sorts of nonthink."
Quite possibly true. I am religious and I think I've avoided nonthink, but I tend to live by the "give under Caesar that which is Caesar" approach to life - I discuss science with a scientific mindset and save my meditations for faith and the like for discussions of, y'know, faith. Does my religion affect my view of the universe and my definition of right and wrong when it comes to certain major human issues? Sure, but so has my discovery of Robert A. Heinlein when I was 14.

For some reason, I'm now reminded of what Heinlein wrote about astrology (he was NOT a fan). I think that large swaths of humanity just have a need to believe something mystical and objectively "silly," whether that be astrology, religion, vaccines causing cancer, whatever. I notice plenty of religious overtones in the way people discuss the environment. Maybe we're really divided into those with a need for the mystical, and those without, with the former predominating throughout human history but the latter growing in size and influence in recent decades...

Posted by: marion at January 14, 2007 8:26 PM

My training is in chem/toxicology, and more 'natural' products contain carcinogens and toxins than the stuff in the store. Pine oil contains cancer-causing terpenes. Look up stuff by Bruce Ames, the inventer of the Ames test for mutagens. Plants evolved these toxins to keep alive. Many plants make chemicals that kill bugs. Potatoes exposed to fungi make antifungals that can sicken you. Natural is not always safe. (But I use oatmeal for skin rashes-it contains furans that sooth the skin.)

Posted by: Ruth at January 15, 2007 8:10 AM

Thank you. I believe it's called the "naturalistic fallacy," the notion that because something is "natural," it's good for you. Poison mushrooms are natural. I'll eat a bowl of Lucky Charms topped with a pint of fluorescent green Gatorade over a bowl of poison mushrooms anyday.

Don't know about the PABA thing.

As for astrology, I tell people I do not have an astrological sign. It's a ridiculous belief, and I've read that the sky chart astrologers have been using since forever is wrong, and has never been corrected.

Feeling that the world around us, ie, nature, is amazing is different from attributing its existence, without proof, to god. That's just silly. Belief in anything without evidence (politely called faith, but what I simply call stupid) is not the mark of rational thought.

I have no idea how the world came to be, but until there's evidence of how it did, I just say "I don't know."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 15, 2007 8:21 AM

Actually, Amy, I use baking soda for a lot of things, but not on my face. I don't like the smell or the taste. I use a fruit acid product and occasional microdermabrasion- I also have stubborn skin.

And Ruth is right about 'natural.' Arsenic and lead are narural, as are probably half the products people drop dead over.

My point in all of this is that a lot of what we allow ourselves to come in contact with is not good for us, and we should know what we're using and what the risks are- and not take manufacturer's word for it. And that we should think twice before criticizing anyone who wants to skip all of this and use what's in the pantry already.

It's also silly to spend premium prices for these 'natural' products, because many contain the same simple, inexpensive ingredients we already have available to us- and they're still packaged in environmentally unfriendly, wasteful plastic bottles, most of which are even smaller and more wasteful than a giant bottle of suave.

Posted by: Jennifer Emick at January 15, 2007 1:22 PM

OK, so we are off the relative benefits of bicarb and onto why people believe nonsense. It's because we have evolved to believe things. Other animals don't believe things. Whether it's what our parents tell us, or whether it's noticing that the lion ate your pal but not you when you were carrying that rabbit's foot, we are creatures who have ideas.

Unfortunately, gossip, hearsay, superstition, faith, etc are what we have evolved to believe. Anyone can do it, and for most people, it's all they can do. Fewer people can manage rational thought and scientific method, which is much harder to do, though it has better results. Scientific method didn't come naturally; it had to be invented.

I wonder if the popularity of stories like Harry Potter is related to this. The key seems to be that without any effort, Harry is different and special. People like to think of themselves as different and special, and if you can't achieve it by your own efforts, then being born different and special is something that anyone can believe, or fantasize, about themselves. I guess we all need that to some extent.

Posted by: Norman at January 16, 2007 1:41 AM

Personally, I love Laura Ingalls Wilder, but not enough to give up indoor plumbing. I actually love Cetaphil, St. Ives scrub and Aveeno moisturizer with sunblock, these are my primary beauty things, a daily regimen, and very affordable and effective. Just like I won't "skimp pennies" by driving to LA, as I see that my time is more precious to me than say paying the same amount of money for a plane ticket as I would in gas and wear and tear on my car. It is very amusing to me to see what lengths ppl will go to to try and save money (see washing out ziplocs and reusing each day) when really my time is better spent playing with my cat.

Posted by: SunnySideUp at January 23, 2007 11:28 AM

When I look at my credit card it's the little things added up that kill me. This can cut back on getting nickel and dimed.

Posted by: francesca at March 21, 2007 11:27 PM

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