On my WhatsApp group chat, there’s a friend who is so evangelical about apple cider vinegar that I call her Aunty ACV. She's always sharing wisdom about how it's changed her life (or skin) — and how it could change mine, too. Whether it’s a spoonful of the acrid concoction in hot water or mixed with Aztec healing clay for a mask, I now can’t live without it.
Tales of the benefits of natural beauty concoctions aren’t limited to one-off posts on a group chat. This movement in the beauty world has been bubbling for some time and, logically speaking, it makes perfect sense that we’d react against our polluted urban centers and lust for a return to nature. The trend toward ‘natural’ or ‘raw’ skin care has taken off in what seem like a natural extension of veganism, entering the mainstream in a huge way. The last year has seen an opportunity to merge ancient techniques with current skin-care routines. If coconut oil was the trend of 2015, then products like Aztec healing clay, turmeric, manuka honey masks, charcoal, and apple cider vinegar are becoming the new staples.
There's a reason for this back-to-basics approach. “Charcoal, due to its association with detox/absorbing toxins, has seen a massive spike in sales over the last two years,” says Lucy Pottinger, head of category beauty and aromatherapy at U.K. brand Holland & Barrett. “All our products have seen a 50% increase and to help with this demand in popularity, we have listed an additional 16 products. We have seen a 90% increase in turmeric product sales over the past few months and apple cider vinegar tablets have increased by 40%.”
YouTubers like Farah Dhukai, SunKissAlba, and Cali Curls showcase everything from egg and mayo hair masks to rosehip oil moisturizers. New platforms are springing up to cater to the growing interest in – and market for – this kind of beauty advice. Mahtab Laghaei is one of them. She started her U.K. beauty website Sabzi & Saffron last year to share tips on homemade remedies after she felt disillusioned with current beauty offerings: "I had invested a lot in store-bought face masks, some claiming to be all natural and organic, and others pioneering the power of chemicals," she says. "However, no matter how expensive they were, I would never get the desired effect promised."
Natural products have since been rebranded, coming a long way from the tree-hugging stigma of the '90s. Much of this might be a reaction to the unrelenting demands of the beauty industry. Now, we have more accessible information about the benefits of rosehip oil on skin before bed and cold-pressed coconut oil on eyelashes to stimulate growth by trusted sources. For many, reclaiming our faces is as much about education as it is about the ritual of self-care – sending a simple message that we are self-sustainable.
Pottinger says: "I think it’s true that natural has taken on a new life. Now natural beauty products are much more effective than their first generation versions. That’s a combination of brands getting better with formulations, and also customers learning about ingredients and what they’re really putting on their skin. We’ve seen a trend towards ‘cleaner beauty’, which is about empowering customers to know more about what’s really in their products."
Of course, much of this is a realization of what communities across the world have known for millennia; turmeric and its inflammatory properties have always been part of Indian Ayurvedic techniques, and raw shea butter and black soap have been staples in many African communities. If anything, mainstream beauty influencers are only now catching up.
The trend isn’t just about affordable skin care, though. It feels representative of a sea change in our relationship with chemicals (just as many women have been turning off hormonal contraceptives) and how we've changed since Naomi Wolf wrote about the beauty myth of corporate industry promises back in the '90s. Now, brands recognize the business case for including labeling terms such as ‘plant extracts’ and ‘natural’ for incredibly large city-dwelling markets, desperately trying to reap the benefits of living off the earth without actually living anywhere near grass, fields and, well, the earth.
Beauty writer Tolani Shoneye makes the case for individuals taking control. "Beauty is not for an elite bunch of people who can afford dermatologists or fancy products," she says. "You can now mix things you have at home, and tailor it to your skin type." She has also noticed a shift in where our trusted sources are. "Younger consumers don't look to magazines alone for beauty tips. They are watching YouTube videos, they are seeing Instagram videos, and they are sharing tips online. As a teenager, I was not clued up about beauty and skin care. I used soap and was seen as fancy because I moisturized. I put toothpaste on my spots. Younger people are more clued up now."
It might also be true that creating mini trial-and-error rituals in our bathrooms is a response to the rise in affordable spas. ACV-spiked face masks, self-whipped shea butter moisturizers, and avocado oil hair treatments all rely on the ritual of self-care, taking time to have agency over what goes on your face by doing it yourself.
Concoctions of rosehip oil and almond paste using ancient remedies are tried, tested, and shared online. Potions, intergenerational beauty myths, and wisdoms are taken from the global diaspora. The desire to be connected with our old stories and nature, while creating something for ourselves, is all part of the quest for self-care. Take a deep breath, and listen to ancient wisdom. ACV at the ready.