Over the past few months, I’ve been taking to social media to share more about my experience with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). I received an overwhelmingly positive response from folks who follow me and feel seen, heard, and understood now that they know someone who’s going through similar experiences. So I’ve decided to delve deeper into it here on the blog.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is rooted in the endocrine system and affects hormone levels. 1 in 10 women have PCOS, but many are never clinically diagnosed. Symptoms include unexplained weight gain, insulin resistance, infertility, hormonal acne, hair loss on the scalp, painful and irregular periods, and unnatural body hair growth. Luckily, I was diagnosed as a teen and was able to start researching and understanding my health before it became debilitating.
In the past year or so, I began learning about how to heal my PCOS symptoms holistically. Through that process, I became super interested in clean/non-toxic skincare, haircare, and beauty. I found out that hoards of products are formulated with endocrine-disrupting ingredients that can put my hormones even more out of whack than they already are. Sad.
Here are some common endocrine disruptors in cosmetics, haircare, and skincare: Parabens, phthalates, oxybenzone, sulfates (especially SLS and SLES)
Other ingredients to avoid: formaldehyde (known human carcinogen), mercury, carbon black (known human carcinogen), triclosan
The easiest way to test your ingredients? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database. Just pop in a product name or a specific ingredient you’re curious about, and it tells you on a scale from 1 (not toxic) to 8 (highly toxic) how toxic they are to human health.
Even if you don’t have PCOS or another hormone-related health issue, it’s integral that you start paying attention to the ingredients in your self-care products, as there is still so much research to be done on the long-term health effects of some ingredients. Plus, chemicals and microplastics that might not necessarily harm humans can still be drained into oceans, rivers, and other ecosystems and hurt the wildlife.
Okay, *breathes* *steps off soapbox*, let’s get to the good stuff. Below I’ve outlined some of my favorite non-toxic self-care and beauty essentials, with links to shop. (None of these brands are paying me, promise.)
I have naturally wavy, fine hair and I always air-dry. This texturizing shampoo has transformed my hair from flat to full! I don’t use conditioner with it for more beachy waves, without heat or styling, which I’ve been trying to replicate from those mommy blog Pinterest photos since high school.
Honorable mention: R+Co Television Perfect Hair Shampoo & Conditioner ($64 for both)
I condition my hair a few times per week –– usually when I’m not using the texturizing shampoo. I have very sensitive skin, and this brand was specifically created by derms to not irritate skin on the chest, back, and scalp. It’s super lightweight and doesn’t feel slimy –– even with the hard water in my apartment.
On the (rare) days I want to style my hair, this is my go-to. It really does feel like sand, just, more expensive. You rub a lil bit in your fingers, tousle it through your hair, and boom! Beachy waves that even smell like the beach and won’t weigh down your hair.
This stuff really is a magic elixir for folks with PCOS who are dealing with hair loss. But even if you’re not, the oil blend is a luxurious treatment to use before you shower a few times per week. Rosemary oil is invigorating and avocado oil has nourishing properties. Plus, the smell is v aromatherapeutic. Squeeze a bit into your hands, massage it into your scalp, let it sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse. Self-care ritual: upgraded.
I suck at wearing gloves in the winter and I hand-wash all my dishes, so that makes for cracked, dry hands. This hand cream is a miracle worker; it’s richer than Jeff Bezos and it smells glorious from the almond oil. I carry it everywhere. Slather it on right before bed for optimal absorption. Bonus points for the recyclable glass packaging!
I have gross feet. File that under: Things You Didn’t Need to Know But Now You Do. This stuff is sticky and gooey and honestly gross, but it puts in WORK. A little goes a long way, so after you soak your feeties, squeeze a bit on your hands and rub it on the rough spots, or your whole foot if you’re like me. Throw some socks on (the ones you’ve had since middle school but are still in your drawer will do just fine) and let this stuff work its magic for at least an hour.
I grew up watching my mom use this stuff all the time, and I finally got my own a few years back. It smells like a fresh lemon and it’s fast absorbing. I have pretty big cuticles, but I refuse to cut them, so I put some of this cream on ’em to soften them and then use a wooden cuticle stick to push them back.
My favorite household cleaning brand just entered the body care scene and I’m SO here for it. Although it’s not entirely free from chemicals (found in the fragrance), this body wash is still one of the best I’ve seen on the market for a great price. It’s packed with essential oils and will have your shower smelling like an aromatherapy spa.
Baths are dope and you’re immature if you say otherwise. This epsom salt soaking solution is formulated with eucalyptus and spearmint for muscle recovery and relaxation, which is exactly what I need after working out every day and being stressed 24/7. Grab a magazine and a big ‘ole glass of water (baths can be dehydrating) and get soaking.
I used to be loofa-adverse, because, well, they’re kinda gross. But alas, regular exfoliation is good for the epidermis and it feels nice. Natural loofas are 100% derived from the luffa acutangula plant, which is a squash-like vegetable, so you don’t have to worry about harmful (and wasteful) plastics in your shower.
Though not aluminum-free, this is a budget-friendly natural deodorant that smells amazing! Their aluminum is sustainably sourced and they have a whole webpage about it as an explainer. I sweat a lot, so to really maximize the antiperspirant properties of this stuff, I prep my ‘pits with facial toner (I like Thayer’s), and then swipe it on.
This AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) treatment packs a powerful punch. I use an exfoliant once per week to combat enlarged poors, premature signs of aging, and dark spots from my hormonal acne days. Lactic acid hydrates while it exfoliates, so it’s a great option for dry skin. First, I cleanse my face and then let this serve as my bedtime serum and moisturizer, and wake up with smooth, vastly improved skin.
This stuff really is a facial in a container. With 25% AHA and 2% BHA (beta hydroxy acid), this resurfacing potion tackles fine lines and wrinkles, acne, and large pores by sloughing dead skin cells away. This baby burns, so I only keep it on for 15-20 minutes, then wash it off gently with warm water and a washcloth. Follow with a facial oil for your face to feel extra plump.
This fun pink jelly exfoliator is a new purchase of mine, and I already love it. The fruit enzymes are so gentle, but they leave your skin baby soft after using it. A great exfoliator if you’re just getting into them! Plus, $12 for a clean product? Can’t beat it.
Think of micellar water. Now think about micellar water on acid. That’s the Blue Aura Cleansing Water. It’s made with ayurvedic herbs and other ingredients like neem, basil, aloe, witch hazel, grapefruit and more. Just get some of this on a (reusable) cotton round to remove dirt, makeup, and pollution. This stuff is amazing if you’re in a rush!
Up-and-coming skincare brand Good Science Beauty knew what they were doing with this one. The 001-Pu line is specifically for skin aggravated by city living. This face cream is un-fragranced, which is a dream if you have sensitive skin. I’ve found it keeps my oil production *mostly* balanced throughout the day, though I still do get shiny around 3pm.
A lot of people are scared of facial and cleansing oils because the word “oils” is scary. I am an oily person with blemish-prone skin and I love this stuff. Don’t be scared. Marula oil is super luxe, and it really does the job during fall and winter when your skin needs more moisture. I use this right after DE’s Sukari babyfacial and it doesn’t leave me feeling irritated post-exfoliation. The price, however, sucks.
Here, a clean sunscreen that’s actually CLEAR. So take your excuses for not wearing SPF and shove them where the sun don’t even shine. I use this after my AM moisturizer. It’s light, sheer, and it touts 40 SPF, which is pretty huge for protection you can’t even see. Only thing: it makes me noticeably more oily. I’ll try the matte version when this runs out.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me post about this serum more than once. It legitimately saved my skin. I owe my life to this sh*t. It refines and smooths pores and uneven texture and seemingly dissolves pimples overnight. I can’t even explain the science and I won’t try. Buy this. Run, don’t walk. Go. Now.
If you like piña coladas, stop drinking them and use this pineapple serum instead. This stuff is chock full of naturally-derived vitamin C and AHA from the pineapple, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid. It’s a little thicker than I’d like, but it smells so divine and it clears up dark spots, fine lines, and dullness in a pinch.
Inject hyaluronic acid into my veins, please. Glossier came through with a mostly-clean serum at a great price point. It saves the day for dull skin, which is often caused by blasting A/C, hangovers, travel, etc. Super Bounce has a super thin formula, so it absorbs right away without leaving any sticky residue.
GSB’s creamy face mask comes from the same line of the moisturizer I use. I pop it in the fridge before I slather it on for a cool skin treat before bed. It’s formulated to calm redness and clear up pimples caused by stressors in urban environments. Highly recommend if you live in a city!
If this looks like one of those peeling masks that’s painful and frustrating to take off, that’s because it is. But it’s on this list because it’s worth it. The agony of ripping off a charcoal face Band-Aid in 76 small pieces and tearing out peach fuzz as a result is worth the luminous skin it reveals. Blackheads? Who are they? Pores? We don’t know her.
I love sheet masks. They remind me of Dwight Schrute in the CPR episode and they make me feel like a wet sea lion. This one from Dr. Jart is extra hydrating for dry and dull skin. I cleanse beforehand, put the mask on for 20ish minutes, and after I remove it I let the remaining serum soak into my skin. Put this one in the fridge too!
This sheet mask is specifically formulated to combat breakouts and acne scarring. Especially beneficial if you have oily/combination skin. This is my go-to during PMS. Best paired with a pint of Non-Dairy Ben & Jerry’s.
Gel sheet masks feel so good. I like this one for long plane rides (don’t judge) and mornings after late nights. Active ingredients include purple broccoli and plant-based collagen for a visible glow and plumpness.
Last, but not least, is the clay mask that almost broke the internet. I hate Amazon, but that’s where you can find it. One jar will last more than a year. Mix it with water or ACV and you’ve got yourself a clay mask that detoxifies and dries up breakouts. I used this once in a while, as I usually opt for more hydrating masks, but it does the trick.
There you have it! All of my non-toxic faves in a list. That was long, huh?
If you’re dealing with PCOS-like symptoms or have been diagnosed with PCOS and aren’t sure where to go for help, I recommend talking to your primary doctor about seeing an endocrinologist. These specialists are trained to deal with endocrine-related issues and exist to help you with your PCOS journey. They can also refer you to holistic hormone specialists and hormone-specific nutritionists and registered dietitians.