Well, we have nearly made it through winter here in the Midwest, but it has left behind a vast wasteland of dry, itchy skin. Winter can be so hard on our skin, especially if we have forced air heating and use crappy soap.
Here are a few ways to give your skin some love, minus the chemicals and synthetic fragrances that just seem to make me itch even more.
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS MOISTURIZED, put DOWN the Ivory Soap. If you haven’t tried natural handmade soap, seriously, now is the time. Many commercial “soaps” are actually detergents, and will strip your skin faster than a kid peeling the paper off crayons. (One of my son’s favorite pastimes.) Natural soaps leave some moisturizers in the soap itself, as well as glycerin, which is a natural byproduct of the soapmaking process. (Commercial companies that actually make soap and not detergents have in the past extracted this glycerin and soldl it to the explosives industry--seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.) So, the end result is that you do NOT get out of the shower feeling like a tick that is about to pop because your skin is so dry and tight. I make a soap especially for dry skin, but seriously, any natural soap made with nourishing oils like olive and coconut will feel like a revelation. Why do you think I haven’t been able to stop doing this for 20 years?
Scrub away the dry stuff. A sugar scrub is a great way to exfoliate all those dry itchy layers AND moisturize at the same time. Sugar scrubs are packed with moisturizing oils and butters. If you do your scrub in the shower and leave some water on your skin, the oils in the scrub will seal some of that moisture into your skin, while at the same time scrubbing away the dead stuff. Magical! And our sugar scrubs contain an emulsifier, which means that when it hits the water it will change to a lotion-like consistency, instead of leaving an oil slick on your skin and shower floor.
Take a nice long soak. But not with chemical-filled bubble baths made with sulfates and synthetic fragrances, in a plastic bottle that goes into a landfill...instead, try bath salts or a nice bath bomb or melt with moisturizing oils and fragrant essential oils. Add some epsom salts to your bath, which adds magnesium and helps draw out impurities. Not only is a bath a great excuse for locking the bathroom door and ignoring the kids for a while with a nice glass of wine, your skin comes out feeling amazing.
Slather on the moisturizer. Some people prefer lotion, but it’s really mostly water, and because of the water (which you’re paying for, by the way), it requires pretty strong preservatives to keep mold and bacteria at bay. But hard lotions & body butters don’t have water, so they can be simple and natural. They are “moisturizers,” which in the industry means they lay down a protective layer on the skin to stop it from losing moisture. But you can use them to “hydrate” the skin too, which means to ADD water back into the skin. (This is why lotions have water in them.) All you have to do is leave a little water on your skin, and apply the hard lotion or body butter over it. Presto! Hydrated AND moisturized.
Which to pick, hard lotion or body butter? They are similar, they just use different oil and butter combinations, and body butter is whipped to airy fluffiness, like your favorite buttercream frosting. And who doesn’t love buttercream frosting? Nobody, that’s who. (Please don’t eat it.)
But body butter WILL MELT if it gets too hot, and it does contain a small amount of liquid oils. It’s not good to, say, carry around in your car in the summer. And it’s difficult to ship once the weather gets warm. Hard lotions, on the other hand, can melt at high temperatures, but if you let it sit in its handy-dandy tin at room temperature, it will re-form, no problem. And they contain a little beeswax, so they melt at a higher temperature and hold their shape better.
And hey! Don’t forget bath & massage oils, they work too.
Don’t forget your lips. They need a little extra TLC in this weather too. Lip scrubs might sound like a silly thing--when I first encountered them, I thought, lip scrubs?! Isn’t that a bit frou-frou? And then I tried it, and holy cow, the difference. It works the same as the body scrubs above, getting all that dry skin off your sensitive lips, but it’s made with edible moisturizing oils and natural flavor oils and, best of all, lots of sugar. You can even just lick it off when you’re done scrubbing.
Follow the lip scrub with some all-natural lip balm, which is a heavenly mix of so many good oils plus beeswax, NOT the petroleum-derived weirdness that is chapstick.
And hey, here’s an important one: Drink lots of water. No, even more. MORE. There you go. If you don’t love water, squeeze a lemon into it, or drink some nice warm herbal tea. Don’t make your skin suffer needlessly!
It can be hard to feel good in your skin in the winter, but a little love will go a long way. We can help you with that.
I can’t have lotions in my house.
Well, unscented and mild lotions are allowed. But anything from Bath & Body Works can’t cross my doorway. I am just that sensitive to some synthetic fragrances. I can’t even walk by that type of store without coughing, and those Yankee Candle kiosks in malls feel like an assault.
As you can imagine, this was a problem when we had a teenage daughter. The fruitier and pinker the better, that was her motto. Many skirmishes were fought over my request (repeated a million times) that she only apply lotion OUTSIDE.
Hey, if fruity and pink is your jam, go for it. But please don’t stand too close to me.
And have you looked at the back of a lotion bottle lately? It’s a very long list of unpronounceable chemicals. Lotion has water in it to hydrate the skin, and therefore it must have some of those chemicals as preservatives. Water opens the door for all kinds of bad stuff: bacteria and mold are the main culprits. Without preservatives, lotions would be a fuzzy, bacteria-laden mess within days.
Chemicals are hugely important in preservation, and can help keep us healthier and safer in many ways. I don’t think it’s wise to always be anti-chemical and think natural is always pure and safe. Arsenic is natural. Lead is natural. And conversely, many chemicals created in labs are based on natural substances.
But we are so bombarded with chemicals in modern life, and we don’t really and truly know how they’re affecting us. So I try to stick to natural when I can; besides, pink and fruity makes me cough.
That’s why I love my Hard Lotion bars so much.
Well, one of the reasons. I also love that I smell wonderful all day, since the hard lotion has essential oils and doubles as a solid perfume. And I love that I don’t have to use plastic bottles (and the tins are so adorable).
So what the heck is Hard Lotion, and how is it different? Also known as lotion bars, hard lotion is anhydrous, meaning it contains no water. Since there is no water, it does not require a preservative. Mold and bacteria must have moisture present to grow. (Salves are also anhydrous, just a bit softer.)
What this means is that hard lotion can be very pure and simple: just natural nourishing oils and butters, beeswax, and essential oils. That’s it. Some people might add an antioxidant to keep the oils from going rancid, but it’s not really necessary as long as the oils are fresh and have a pretty good shelf life.
Hard lotion, like salve, melts onto the skin as you rub it on. It feels different than lotion; some find it more, well, oily feeling, since it is simply oils. But I’ve always found many lotions to have a bit of a slimy feel that personally does not appeal to me.
However, lotion has that one ingredient that makes it very different: water. Anything that claims to hydrate the skin must contain water; this means it adds moisture back into the skin. A moisturizer is different in that it lays a protective barrier over the skin so no moisture will escape, but it does not add additional moisture.
But there’s a trick for that.
You can still hydrate the skin without all the chemicals, which can be irritating to sensitive skin. Just leave some water on your skin, and apply the hard lotion over. It seals in the extra moisture. So simple!
And no irritating synthetic fragrance oils or chemical preservatives. Pure, natural, simple, nourishing. And no fruity pink in sight.
I was sitting on my patio this morning, savoring my precious moments of early morning silence and beauty, when I heard a little voice:
“Mom. Will you come in? I want to cuddle.”
There was my 6 year old, in his underwear, standing at the upstairs window.
I had spent a few minutes just soaking in the peace and loveliness with my coffee, and then I had checked messages and facebook posts and was just starting to look at my to do list for the day. So many boxes left unchecked. But I stopped.
“Yes sweetie. Of course I will come in and cuddle with you.”
At 6, I know he’s not going to ask for this much longer. We won’t be able to fit in the “cuddle chair” together forever. His legs are still short enough right now that they stick nearly straight out, and his knees are that dark brown that is the combination of end-of-summer pool tan and dirt from intense outdoor play. We fit perfectly with my arm around him, rubbing his head occasionally, while the other hand holds my (still desperately needed) coffee.
Our days together like this are numbered.
As a home-based business owner, one of the biggest challenges for me is that my kids will always come first. That’s as it should be, and true for most parents. But it’s harder for me to separate it out, because at home I can’t easily put aside the role of “mom” to shift completely into “business owner.”
But in a culture that worships productivity above all else, this is a struggle that all of us caretakers face. The many hours we spend caring for our kids (or parents, or spouses) are not really valued by society. And so it’s easy to feel like we’re not doing anything of value, not getting anything accomplished, not worthy, failing.
But I’ve come to see this as part of hyper-capitalism. Our lives are not here to serve our businesses; it’s the other way around. When we worship profits and growth above all else, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re doing it all in the first place. Profits are supposed to make our lives better.
We love the idea of family businesses in this country. Of women-owned small businesses, of “mompreneurs.” But if we really want to support these kinds of businesses, we also have to make space for the owners being actual people, not faceless corporations.
And so that means if my kid is sick, well, I’m not going to get all of those products made today, I’m going to snuggle with him and bring him juice. I’ll squeeze in what work I can when Dad gets home to take over. And during summer vacation, I won’t get nearly as much done as I want to, since I’m endlessly driving him from one camp to the next or trying to convince him to entertain himself. And I might wrap those soaps in the morning instead of tonight (while I count down the days till school starts).
I want my business to be an extension of my desire to do good in the world, to leave it a bit better than I found it. And sometimes that means paying a little more attention to my kid than my business. But it means lots of other things too:
I want to support other local small businesses as much as I possibly can.
I want to have good relationships with other local business owners, helping to foster a sense of connectedness and community.
I want to have as little impact on the environment as possible.
I want to donate extra products to local non-profits, like the women’s shelter.
I want to connect in a real human way with my customers.
I want to help women--especially overtired, underappreciated moms--feel that they are valuable and worthy just as they are, and they deserve to take care of themselves.
I want to make quality, beautiful products that deeply nourish the skin and the spirit.
I want to avoid harsh chemicals that can be harmful to our bodies and our world.
I want to put some of my heart into all of my creations and share them with the world, along with my gratitude.
I want to build something I can be proud of, and do it with sincerity and integrity.
And yes, I want to make some profit. Not to be a slave to that profit, but as a medium for my larger goal of connecting, contributing, and leaving the world a bit better.
Those are lofty goals, I know; and I am not naive. But I strongly believe that these strange times of upheaval we are living in are calling us toward a new path. A path that leads us back to the connection and community that so many of us seem to have lost; a path to our better selves. But it’s up to us to create that path, even when we don’t know where it will take us.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend some time in the cuddle chair with my favorite six year old, while we can still fit.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love a nice hot bath. Especially with my bath bombs: the scents calm my mind and my skin feels silky-smooth after.
But so often these days, our talk of self-care for women is limited to bubble baths and spa days. And sometimes that might be exactly what you need. 20 minutes of escape into peace and silence in a hot bath is like gold to moms everywhere (though we’ll probably get at least one knock on the door, or tiny hand UNDER the door). And we feel more calm and rejuvenated after.
But real self-care goes much deeper than that.
Real self-care is having the courage to look at yourself and your life truthfully, and ask, what needs do you have that are not being met?
As women, we are socialized to put others’ needs before ourselves. Even more so for mothers. We are taught that being a good mom means putting our kids’ needs before ours, always.
Real self-care is remembering that we are people too, and that our needs matter. And then finding a way to fulfill those needs.
Besides, our kids’ greatest need is for us to be present, able to connect to them, alive and whole. And we are setting the example for them to do the same in their lives. Don’t we want them to care about their own needs as adults? Then we need to model that for them.
Sometimes we have to get creative, especially moms. If we are introverts and have a need for silence and alone time, the baby and toddler years can be brutal. It is just very difficult to have that need met in that particular season of our lives.
Here are a few deep needs that can often be ignored by women, in my experience:
The need for boundaries. This is a huge topic, but I think boundaries are our most important form of self-care, and also perhaps our most overlooked. It’s NOT YOUR JOB to make sure everyone else is happy. You don’t have to get sucked into drama. If you have a relationship where you are always getting sucked into drama and guilt, the best thing you can do to care for yourself is to set a strong boundary. And value yourself enough to stick to it.
The need for achievement. This is particularly a tough one for stay at home moms with small kids. You might need to find another avenue to fulfill this need, even if it’s small things like completing a knitting project or writing a thoughtful facebook post that touches others.
The need to feel seen and heard. Never underestimate the power of this. Sometimes we have to bring different people into our lives to fulfill this need in different ways. Good friends can often help, or even people with similar interests, like a book club.
The need to connect. Our society breeds disconnection, and it’s slowly killing us. Taking time to connect deeply with others is critical, whether it’s your husband (WITHOUT the kids around!), good friends, or even online communities. It’s important. It matters. Humans are wired for it.
The need to be nurtured. Women are so often the nurturers--but who will nurture us? This is a need that can be difficult to articulate, and I’ve found that men can have a hard time understanding and knowing how to help. Women tend to be natural nurturers; we need to lead the way. Think about what you need, specifically. Then ask for it. Don’t expect anyone to read your mind.
The need to escape. Even just for 30 minutes, to recharge our batteries. (Though a weekend away is amazingly rejuvenating.) This is where that hot bath comes in. Also a good book, your favorite Netflix show--whatever hits the reset button for you. It is NOT wasting time to charge your own batteries.
The need for wildness. The need to connect to something untamed within ourselves, when one utterly mundane day just blurs into the next and the next. The need to escape over-domestication, to feel that great potential and unknown, whether it’s the garden or the wilderness or making music or a night on the town. To remind us that our souls are big and the universe is expansive and anything can happen, and life is not just sippy cups and bus schedules. We are more than our circumstances.
If we continually fail to honor our own needs, we find ourselves with a huge deficit, and that is so often when we turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. So many of our problems are actually deeply unmet needs. If we can commit to getting down to our own truth (which takes some time and effort itself!), we can start figuring out what our unmet needs are. And then we must, we MUST honor ourselves enough to find a way to fulfill them.
And if that need at the moment is a divinely scented hot bath, well hey, I’ve got you covered.