Homemade Beauty Tips, Debunked

Using foodstuffs as beautifiers became a fad in the late '60s. In an era that permitted such weirdness as raspberry and champagne douches and the shampoo-cum-psychedelic-experience (judging from its ads) that was Clairol's Herbal Essence Shampoo, it's hardly surprising that people were enthusiastic about putting avocado and oatmeal on their faces. Food is fun, cheap, and interesting to play with. But does it work to smooth skin, soften hair, and lighten up your unsightly dark places? We dug up a few of the most common Internet recipes for natural face and body treatments and put them to the test.

HONEY AS BIORE STRIP—NOT
According to some loon on Squidoo, honey is like a primitive form of the Biore strip. I put about a quarter cup of honey in my microwave-safe Pyrex measuring cup and zapped it for 15 seconds. I then spread the lukewarm honey on my nose, forehead, and chin and waited 10 minutes. After that, I was supposed to be able to peel it off, like a mask, and the blackheads would peel off too. Um, no. After getting several washcloths all sticky from washing off honey, my blackheads looked exactly the same. The only change was that some of my hair got into the honey and I had to go take a shower.

COMPOST ELBOWS
Women's magazines have been claiming you can lighten up your elephant-skin elbows by plopping them in two halves of a lemon. I tried it out after dinner. "Um, do you want me to put those in the compost for you?" my husband asked. "No. I'm lightening my dark elbows," I informed him. He looked puzzled and walked away. It is difficult to do the dishes, read, or do much of anything with one's elbows in lemon halves. After a good half-hour lemon lean, I washed off my elbows and took a look. No change. But I had a fresh lemony scent!

ANTI-AGING MASK FAIL
Most people over 30 would love their skin to look fresh and dewy like a teenager's again. Good luck with that. Face mask recipes abound online; most mix some type of emollient ingredient (yogurt, mayonnaise, oil) with some creamy fruit matter (banana, avocado) and something scrubby (oatmeal, salt, sugar). But I thought this face mask for aging skin on eHow sounded particularly exacting, so I mixed it up: 2 tablespoons of kelp powder (I crumbled up some kelp sprinkles I'd gotten for sushi rice), an egg white, 1 tablespoon of honey, and a teaspoon of fresh orange juice. It looked disgusting. I applied it to my face, let it sit for 15 minutes, then rinsed. Brothers and sisters, after about an hour of work, I'm here to tell you, the mask made my face clean. Clean. Not less wrinkly. Not soothed. Not any more elastic. Clean. Sigh.

AVOCADO ZOMBIE HAIR PASTE
Cosmopolitan magazine would have you believe that avocado will give you shiny hair. As directed, I blended 1 ripe avocado, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 banana, and an egg in my blender, which choked. After stirring, and stirring, and stirring by hand, the blender finally spat out a greasy, gray-green, chunky paste. I dutifully worked a quarter of it through my dry hair and let it sit for 10 minutes. Afterward, I washed and conditioned my hair as usual.

The result: meh. My hair was maybe a bit softer than usual, not really any shinier than when I use my normal conditioner. Plus, I now had a large Tupperware full of zombie makeup, and weird chunks caught in the shower drain cover that I had to pick out, along with a kind of gross quantity of soapy hair belonging to all the members of my family.

TURMERIC-INDUCED JAUNDICE ARM
Many sources online (including this Livestrong article) claim that you can cure acne and fade dark spots on the skin with turmeric. You know, the yellow stuff that makes curry that bright color. Eschewing more complicated recipes that asked for chickpea flour and other esoteric ingredients, I went for a simple paste of turmeric and straight lime juice. Since I'd done a little research before trying this, I was savvy enough not to apply this mixture to my face. Good thing, because after the prescribed half-hour of sitting with the paste on my arm, I was dyed as yellow as an Easter chick. Were my freckles/age spots faded? Who can tell against the bright yellow background? Two days later, I am still faintly jaundiced on one arm, despite plenty of scrubbing.

Mask image source: Flickr member Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) under Creative Commons