One thing that stood out to me while reading the text Medical Herbalism (Hoffman, 2003) is the discussion of how we take in various drugs and medicine. Most often, we think of drugs being administered orally (swallowed and moving through the digestive tract) or intravenously. These, however, are not the only ways chemicals enter our bodies and bloodstreams. We can inhale (such as smoking), or put something under the tongue (a very quick absorption route), but the biggest organ for drug absorption in a sense is the skin.
Men generally don’t take as much time to think about their skincare as women do, because we women mostly think about it for cosmetic purposes. I argue we need to think about the skin the same way we think about our muscles, immune system, digestive system, or any other organ of bodily system we care for. It doesn’t make sense to have perfect nutrition but neglect the care of your skin. The skin is a primary defense against pathogens, and a major absorption route for some chemicals. Using high quality moisturizers, lotions, and shave products is just as important as sourcing good food.
Just as we have moved away from corporate food, seed oils, and other such poisons, so too must we move away from corporate skincare and cosmetics. The FDA allows quite a lot of suspicious additive to sneak into your bath products under the name fragrance (not that we should blindly trust the FDA for, well, anything anymore), and some of the ingredients used for preservatives are downright toxic. Some ingredients found in lotions and body products (particularly cheap ones):
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): a stabilizer and food additive meant as a preservative. This is also found in a lot of commercial lard. It’s been linked to endocrine disruption.
- Phthalates: esters of phthalic acid, and used across industries, from coatings of pills to shower curtains, upholstery, and as emulsifiers in body products. These are quite toxic endocrine disruptors, and can be transmitted epigenetically to offspring.
- Parabens: used as antibacterial preservatives. These are also chemicals linked to hormone disruption. (Vitamin E has the exact same preservative and microbial effect without the toxicity.)
- Retinyl Palmitate: found mostly in sunscreens and “anti-aging” products. It’s a Vitamin A derivative that has been linked to photocarcinogenesis (tumor growth upon exposure to sunlight).
Other reasons to avoid commercial cosmetics and skincare products are moral ones. An obvious one is the prevalence of animal testing on cosmetics. Another moral reason is perhaps a bit darker. Cosmetic companies that market “cruelty free” products don’t test on animals, but they do test on neonatal fibroblasts. In more common language, they use the foreskin from circumcised male infants, or cells derived from these tissues. This institute offers such cells for sale. Personally, I find this entire practice abhorrent and sickening. The reader is welcome to dig more into that, provided he has a strong stomach.
At any rate, this means we have plenty of reasons to look to more natural products, and to making our own skincare products. Thankfully you need nothing more than a kitchen to do so. For this week’s recipe, I’ll give you the shaving cream recipe I make for my household. You’ll find the cream to be far more moisturizing and gentle on the skin during and post-shave than any commercial brand you’ll find. It’s completely adaptable to your favorite scent profiles, and it’s almost foolproof to make.
DIY Shave Cream
I use Wholesale Supplies Plus (a great, reliable American company) for my household chemical supplier. They carry everything you’ll need for soap-making, cosmetics, and even cleaning. They have a good selection of essential oils as well, though if you like some scent they lack, check Starwest Botanicals or Mountain Rose Herbs, both out of Oregon. I can vouch for their quality and service.
Whipped Shaving Cream
Since there are no real “preservatives” in this, it’s important to keep this from getting too wet. I recommend storing in a hermetically sealed jar, and keeping it under your vanity counter rather than in the shower. A little goes a long way here, so one batch of this will last you quite a while.
- 2/3 c. coconut oil (cold pressed, unrefined…basically the best you can find)
- 2/3 c. shea butter
- 2 tbsp. olive or cold-pressed grapeseed oil (It’s fine, guys. Just make sure it’s cold-pressed.)
- 2 tbsp. liquid Castile soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s brand.)
- 10-20 drops total of essential oils (See note at the bottom for options.)
- regular pot
- mixer with whisk attachment (either stand mixer or handheld)
- Melt the shea butter and coconut oil over very low heat, stirring until fully melted.
- Add the olive or grapeseed oil and stir to blend. Remove from heat.
- Move the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until cooled and solid. This may only take an hour or two.
- Remove the mixture from the fridge. Using a mixer with whisk attachments, whip the mixture until fluffy. This may take a few minutes, and you may have to use a rubber spatula to keep scraping down the bowl to work all the solids in. Be patient here. It’ll whip eventually.
- Add the castile soap and whip again until blended in.
- Add your essential oils and whip again until very fluffy.
- Scoop into your storage container. If you keep this away from water, you shouldn’t really have an issue with bacteria or mold. I haven’t personally tested how long it’ll last “dry”, since it gets used up. Unless you’re making a batch for your entire fraternity, I don’t see a need to double this recipe. This will make enough for a household of several men for a couple months, minimum.
- Use a small amount (perhaps pea-sized to almond sized) depending on how much shaving you’re doing.
Notes and Variations
The essential oils you pick aren’t just for a nice aroma; they also can have different effects on your skin. Peppermint essential oil is soothing. Tea tree essential oil is antibacterial (great for acne-prone skin).
The blend I use to make a nice, masculine scent is equal parts of the following essential oils:
Other scents that you may enjoy are pine or spruce, peppermint, chamomile, and lavender. Vetiver tends to be rare and pricey; I find it mostly enhances other “musky” or “woodsy” scents. Feel free to let your own nose guide you here. You’ll be putting 10-20 drops total into the shave cream, so play with scents and ratios that give you a unique scent.