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Face Cleansing, the Natural Way

While it may be OK once in a while to turn the house into a day spa, that just won’t work everyday. So, if you want a quick and an Oh-So-Natural cleansing routine that won’t break the bank or the environment, try these.

Soap Nuts

I was told about a soap leaf by my friend, the surfactant seller from the Philippines four years ago.

Apparently, he used to wash himself with leaf pulp when he was a kid. Not needing a soapy leaf at that point, I put that conversation to the back of my mind. Roll on another three years, and everyone that I talk to seems to want to make his or her own natural shampoo and can’t find anything good enough.

Soap nuts come from the botanical “sapindus” shrub family. These little berries (they aren’t really nuts) are hand-picked and sun-dried to make them wrinkly little shells, which smell a little like a gluey honey. This botanical species grows all over the world with abundant supplies coming from the Himalayan region of India and Pakistan as well as the southern states of the USA, South America, and South East Asia.

There are a few things that make soap nuts so good for daily cleansing:

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1- Their Acidity

A soap nut solution has a pH of between 4–6, which is close to the natural pH of our skin and hair. Bar soap and liquid soap are usually more alkaline — around pH 8–9, which can strip too much oil from the body and leave the hair dull and the face tense. The pH of soap nuts can be a bit too acidic for some, and you may need to reduce the pH with a little bicarbonate of soda to avoid stinging the eyes.

2- Their Eco-Footprint

It is easy to purchase environmentally friendly soap nuts from around the world, and some are even “fair-trade” certified. The sapindus species of shrub are hardy and produce fruit for over 80 years of their life. Harvesting the fruit is easy by either hand-picking or by mechanical collection, and the fruit only requires sun-drying before it is ready to use. This makes for a simple and effective personal care ingredient.

3- Their Flexibility

Soap nuts can be used to wash dishes, clothes, skin, and hair, making them an attractive alternative to mainstream cleaning products. They also come as dry berries and are therefore easy to pack, store, and move around. All of this means that you can reduce the number of products in your cupboards, and the amount of packaging that you buy and carry back home. Good for the environment and good for you.

So, How Do You Use Them?

To make a concentrate, you will need 100 gram of soap nuts to be added to approximately 3 liter of water, and boil them. Once boiled, let it simmer for around an hour to extract all of the saponin from the nuts. Cool before bottling.

You can use this concentrate as it is, or dress it up to make a variety of cleansing products.

To 80 milliliter of soap nut concentrate, add 100 milliliters of warm water. Sprinkle in 2.5 milliliter of xanthan gum, and whisk with a hand mixer until it becomes thick. Add 2 drops of a skin-safe essential oil and around 30 milliliters of luffa or chamomile powder for a luxurious body scrub.

Soap nuts can be purchased from a number of on-line suppliers or can be found at some health food shops or community cooperatives. Xanthan gum can be found at health stores as it is used as a natural thickener in sauces (it is a sugar-based product).

Soap nuts are all well and good if you want to use a soap-based product, but for those with sensitive skin, something a little more soothing may be in order. That is where clay comes in.


Face Cleansing, the Natural WayClay differs depending on the rock, soil, and atmospheric conditions found at the collection site, with some of the most commonly used cosmetic clays being kaolin and smectites.

Kaolin is an unreactive, naturally occurring clay that is found all over the earth. It can be rich in the minerals: aluminum, calcium, boron, potassium, and sulphur, which facilitate its action as a skin soothing and antibacterial agent. Kaolin may be found in one of many guises in your “off-the-shelf” cosmetic products, including aluminum silicate, magnesium aluminum silicate, bentonite, fuller’s earth, hectorite, and zeolite. Each type has a slightly different chemistry and set of properties.

At home, kaolin clay can be very useful for your cleansing routine. It is great at absorbing sweat and can therefore be incorporated into natural deodorants alongside sodium bicarbonate. It is also naturally abrasive and so could be added to a face mask or wash to give a gentle scrubbing action.

Blend these two ingredients together and store in a dry, airtight container. Mix a little on your hand with a drop of water to make a paste before applying it as a deodorant. The kaolin helps to bring down the pH of the bicarbonate of soda, making for a quick and easy natural deodorant. It will leave white marks on clothing, so take care.

Many different colored clays are available and can be blended together at home to make a variety of face packs. Try blending three teaspoons of any of the following clays with half a tea-spoon of vegetable oil to make a nourishing and highly effective face pack.

Australia is famous for its red soil, and the soil is red due to its high iron content, which is reported to be great for sensitive and dry skin.

There is also the French Green “Sea” Clay, which is rich in both iron oxides and decomposed plant matter (that’s what makes it green). Being full of mineral oxides, this clay is a great tonic for stressed, dry, and mature skin.

Another type of French clay is the French Yellow Clay, which is rich in iron oxides. It is commonly used to create face packs, which are mild and gentle for sensitive skin as it is a gentle detoxifier and cleanser.

Extracted from ancient salt lakes in Siberia, Russian Blue Clay is rich in minerals. As such it has been used in Russia to treat a variety of skin conditions, including eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

From a cleansing point of view, this clay offers the home formulator — something a little different from the usual and its blue color is certainly appealing!

Nature provides us with so many ways to stay clean and beautiful. We hope that you enjoy trying out a few of our ideas.

This article is from Science’s archive, originally published on an earlier date.


About Amanda Foxon-Hill
Amanda Foxon-Hill is a cosmetic chemist who's formulating, marketing and sales experience spans over ten years and three continents. Since leaving the corporate world Amanda has been consulting and teaching with the Institute of Personal Care Science, facilitating workshops with sustainability hub The Watershed in Sydney and bringing cosmetic science to the masses via her Realize Beauty blog, lectures and workshops.