of all the products that we slather on ourselves day in and day out, those geared toward defying age, gravity, wrinklage, sundamage, and basically time in general are the ones that seem to be loaded with the most unidentifiable chemical ingredients. have an age-defying cosmetic product? turn it over and read the label. does it contain propylparaben (a known endocrine disruptor and environmental pollutant)? how about triethanolamine (a known respiratory and immune system toxicant that’s also damaging to the eyes and other sensory organs)? and butylparaben (a neurotoxin that influences gene expression)? or what about my particular favorite, “fragrance” (a common component that is not required by law to disclose its ingredients at all)?
one of my favorite authors/journalists, michael pollan, said the following about food: avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients, avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader can’t pronounce, eat foods that will eventually rot, and eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature. although the products that we use to groom and beautify ourselves are not incorporated quite as intimately into our bodies as is the food we eat, the fact that we’re constantly coating ourselves with them (filling our pores, and occasionally, despite package warnings, getting them in our eyes and mouths) should make us stop and think about the quality of the ingredients in our lotions and potions.
take vitamin c for instance. vitamin c sounds wonderfully innocuous. it’s an antioxidant, and it’s a vitamin that we (along with bats and guinea pigs, oddly enough) have lost the ability to make for ourselves and must therefore get from our food supply. we get it from oranges, green veggies, and potatoes, in addition to a whole slew of other sources. most folks identify vitamin c with products like emergen-c, the fizzy little packets that you take when you get a cold. recently, the cosmetics industry has jumped on the c bandwagon, adding the sunny little ingredient to it’s anti-aging formulas—and for good reason. vitamin c is an antioxidant; that is, it inhibits the production of free radicals that cause things like cell damage and aging.
in theory, vitamin c is a happy thing.
we all know the difference, however, between theory and practice. cosmetic companies don’t hire giggling nature goddesses clad in flowing orange robes to visit citrus orchards every full moon to tickle the vitamin c out of lovingly-attended fruits. vitamin c (or l-ascorbic acid) is manufactured in chemical facilities, and the majority of the world’s supply is manufactured in china. now, i applaud the recent efforts by the chinese government to improve their products, but here are some of the facts on the table:
in 2007, 1.5 million thomas the tank engine toys were recalled because they contained lead paint. that’s right—those of you who went the extra mile to buy quality wooden toys for your kids were rewarded with poisoned paint.
recently, mcdonalds recalled 12 million cadmium-tainted glasses of chinese origin that were being given away in their happy meals (most of their other toys also come from china).
in 2006, 11 people were killed by chinese antibiotics that contained diethylene glycol, an industrial toxin.
in 2005, two boys in Guangdong province died from rabies after receiving bogus vaccinations (two years later, the former head of china’s version of the FDA Zheng Xiaoyu, was sentenced to death for accepting 6.5 million yuan in bribes from pharmaceutical companies to expedite the approval of new (and sometimes shoddy) drugs.
the year before that, at least 50 babies in Anhui province died and more than 100 were malnourished after being fed fake milk formula, some of which had only 6% of the vitamins, minerals and protein needed for a growing infant
…and this is where the world gets most of it’s l-ascorbic acid.
as an astute article from the uk’s the guardian points out, this is what happens when you have a greed-based trade war between the world’s biggest consumer and the world’s biggest producer. yes this unsafe crap is coming from china, but without the united state’s insatiable appetite for ever-more and ever-cheaper crap, the atmosphere would not exist in which such a cutting of corners could go unnoticed. shame on all of us.
but off of my soap box and on to the reason that most of you are here :) the truth is, if your l-ascorbic acid is indeed coming from a reliable source, it is a fantastic ally to have in your face-care regimen. so where in the heck do you get it? well you have two really good choices here. first, you can go to a health food store and get l-ascorbic acid capsules BUT you have to make sure that the company specifies that their product is not from corn and that it’s non-gmo (genetically modified organism). this is pretty tough to do—even in a health food store. source naturals is one brand that i’ve found that offers a corn-free non-gmo product made from tapioca.
your other option is to use powdered myrciaria dubia, better known as camu-camu. camu-camu is a berry fruit from a south american tree, and it has been popularized recently by raw foodists who add it as a tangy-tasty nutritional supplement to their shakes and smoothies. fresh camu-camu is 2-3% pure ascorbic acid by weight (that’s an enormous amount folks!) and it comes in powdered form for use in food (or in this case, face care!) because camu-camu is really only of interest to folks who really care about food quality, it’s fairly easy to find it certified organic. also, if you get “certified raw” camu-camu (or certified raw anything for that matter) you know that it wasn’t exposed to temperatures over 115 degrees fahrenheit, which is important for something as heat-volatile as vitamin c. here are some sources of organic camu-camu:
because of it’s high concentration of vitamin c, camu-camu is astringent, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and emollient (softening), and because it’s easy to get certified organic, you know it won’t have things in it like, i don’t know, say cadmium or lead!
so here it goes:
2 tsp camu-camu powder, powder from a non-gmo ascorbic acid capsule, or a mixture of both
2 tsp organic vegetable glycerin
2 tsp distilled water
step 1. stir camu-camu powder or ascobic acid into water until dissolved/mixed thoroughly
step 3. add vegetable glycerin
step 4. pour mixture into a small container with lid (old lip gloss pots work great)
step 5. after washing your face at night, apply the serum liberally to your face and neck, avoiding your eyes and lips
*note–after it’s added to liquid, the vitamin c in any powder is very volatile, meaning it will lose its potency quickly. you don’t want to make more than 2-3 days worth of serum at a time, and you’ll want to store it in the fridge.
so there you have it folks! when it comes to cosmetics, especially those targeted at aging skin, remember to check your ingredients. like michael pollan warns with food, cosmetics shouldn’t contain everything under the sun, they shouldn’t last for ever and ever, they shouldn’t contain unpronounceable ingredients, and, ideally, the ingredients used should come from easily identified natural sources. out with the parabens; in with the berries!
also, whether you turn to natural or industrial products, remember that each wrinkle comes from years of smiling at the good and mourning the bad, from furrowing your brow deep with thought, and from laughing ’til you cry. wrinkles and lines are markers of wisdom and signs of all that you’ve accomplished, all that you’ve enjoyed, and and all that you’ve overcome.