DIY Beauty: An Interview With Skin Care Expert Deborah Burnes


Are your skincare products toxic? If you live in the U.S. and buy commercial personal-care products, the answer is most likely “yes.”

Unlike the European Union, which has banned more than 1,300 chemicals from cosmetics that may be linked to endocrine disruption, cancer, and reproductive problems, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only banned 11 ingredients. As The New York Times editorial board noted last week, “that shocking discrepancy makes clear how far behind the United States is in this area.”

That’s the bad news. The good news? You can create all-natural skin care products at home without looking too far past your pantry. In her new book, Natural Beauty Skin Care: 110 Organic Formulas for a Radiant You!, skincare expert Deborah Burnes, founder of Sumbody Skin Care, creates eco-friendly recipes for everything from shampoo to face masks to moisturizer. I decided to ask her a few questions about how — and why — we should make our own personal-care products, and here’s what she had to say:

Why should someone choose natural skin care products over the products offered at both drugstores and high-end cosmetics counters?

You can control the quality and make sure you are not being exposed to toxic ingredients. Also, you will have a product that is at its peak — as opposed to most store-bought items, which can sit on shelves for months before being purchased.

You’ll also save money. For example, you can make almost all of the scrubs you find in stores at home, using easily accessible ingredients like avocado oil and used coffee grounds.

Lastly, you’ll be helping the environment. Mass-produced body products can contain toxic chemicals that contribute to pollution problems, and they are often manufactured in containers that don’t break down over time. By making your own, you can control the ingredients — and use reusable, earth-friendly containers.

What are some essential tools to have on hand when making your skin care products?

One of the best things about homemade skin care? You probably already have all of the tools you need in your kitchen! Here’s what you need:

  • Bowls (metal or glass bowls are recommended; wood can hold bacteria)
  • Cheesecloth
  • Grater
  • Measuring cups
  • Pots
  • Spatulas
  • Spoons
  • Funnels
  • Whisk
  • Hand mixer
  • Ice tray
  • Coffee grinder
  • Mini chopper or food processor

A mini slow cooker, too, will make your life easier, and cut down considerably on the time it takes to create these products. It’s best to have one devoted especially to your DIY products.

Is there a particular recipe from Natural Beauty Skin Care that’s good for all skin types?

The majority of the recipes work on all skin types, but the activated charcoal cleanser, in particular, is a great choice. It goes deep into your pores and pulls out all the old oils and dirt, allowing skin to breathe again. Congested pores worsen all skin issues and accelerate skin aging. For deep-pore cleansing and detoxing, this is my go-to cleanser:

  • 1⁄2 tsp. activated charcoal
  • 3⁄4 tsp. jojoba oil
  • 1 tbs. French green clay
  • 2 tbs. finely ground sunflower seeds

Add all ingredients to a mini chopper or blender, and blend well. Transfer to a small airtight container.

The cleanser will be powdery or what I call a “cleansing paste,” and you will need to activate it with water at the time of use. For dry masks, it takes just about 1⁄8–1⁄2 of a teaspoon of water added to a dime-size amount for the right consistency. After washing, rinse completely. Use twice daily as needed. This formula will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, and from 4 to 8 months in the freezer.

Is there a recipe in the book that can be used as a foundation for others?

Many of the recipes in this chapter call for this basic body oil. This is an easy-to-make blend of some of my favorite oils. You can apply it right to your body for a dose of moisture or mix it into the recipes as called for.

  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil
  • 1⁄2 cup safflower oil
  • 1⁄8 cup avocado oil
  • 1⁄8 cup apricot oil
  • 2 teaspoons rosehip oil
  • 2 teaspoons carrot oil

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Transfer to an airtight container. (A bottle with a pump or flip top works well for all the body oils.)

If you had to recommend one hair product from the book, which one would it be?

I’d have to go with the “Hair Tea.” It’s a nutrient-filled blend of herbs, which can strengthen and repair hair, and it’s the building block of many of the recipes in the chapter on hair care.

For more on chemicals in commercial personal care products, see the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.