8 natural solutions to healthy skin while travelling
We’ve all been there: you land in the back of beyond (which is what my family called it when I went to Madagascar) and often, there isn’t even milk in the grocery store, forget the local equivalent of eau micellaire that you’re so used to dabbing on your dark circles every night.
Working in a foreign country can be stressful, and is often compounded by pollution, frequent travel to project sites, and just trying to find your bearings. How do you find time to look after your skin? And where do you begin to look for products that are similar to what you used back home? You run out of the preciously-conserved supply you brought with you, with months to go before your next trip back, and you’re left scrambling.
Last year, travelling through Latin America, I searched desperately for a sugar-free brand of toothpaste, but all of them had some variation of saccharin. When I worked in Madagascar, I couldn’t find anywhere the Neutrogena anti-blemish facewash I was so used to buying and using on my face every night back in New York. And in Germany, I was stumped for how live on my NGO salary and to look after my skin with chemical-free solutions; all of the organic skincare products cost upwards of $10 per 25ml tube !
Over time, through reading every skin care blog on the internet and trying everything they recommended on my face and those of willing friends with different skin colours and sensitivities, I found a few solutions that work no matter where in the world you go, which you can always find even if you’re in a rush, and will cure most solutions immediately, whether it’s a pimple disaster or a severe burn. They are not scientifically-proven solutions and would probably not pass muster by a clinically-trained physician, but are versatile, easy, and cheap solutions to problems that we regularly face, problems that distract us from the real work of delivering impact on the ground.
Here are a few things you can buy in almost every country, for under $5, which will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year, and give you healthy, happy skin.
Look for ‘raw’ honey or buy it straight from the beekeeper. Can be used as a disinfectant for wounds big and small (including that pimple you just popped), a great face scrub when mixed with oatmeal and a little bit of water,
2. Coconut/ olive oil.
Easily available in many tropical countries if you’re near the ocean, and now found in many health stores and specialty groceries if you’re in a rich country. Look for organic extra-virgin coconut oil since it’s not going to be cooked before you consume it. Can be used as toothpaste (yes, really!) in combination with a pinch of baking soda, and on its own, as floss (see oil pulling) when you can’t find actual floss. Spit into the toilet or the garden when you’re done, as it tends to leave oil marks all over the skin. Works extremely well for removing makeup of all kinds. You can also dab a fingernail’s worth onto your face before bed (and on and around your eyelids) for that morning glow. In tropical countries, look for coconut oil. In North Africa and the southern part of South America, look for olive oil. In North America and Europe, you can find both.
3. Cinnamon powder.
Another super disinfectant when used in combination with honey, and has anti-bacterial properties. Go slow, as cinnamon is powerful; use just a pinch in combination with one teaspoon of honey for your face.
4. Coffee grounds.
Available anywhere anyone drinks coffee, even if you don’t drink it; simply go to the lobby of your hotel or any cafe in town and ask for the remains of the last coffee they made. Mix 1 teaspoon coffee grounds with 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil and use as a face scrub. It also works well as an anti-acne solution. Make sure to dry the coffee grounds in the sun before use, otherwise they tend to get a bit rancid and/or grow fungus.
5. Egg whites.
Another miracle product since it’s so versatile. Dunk your finger into an eggshell after you’ve used the contents for your omelette, and dab the egg whites under your eyes. It might leave a slight white mark, but will prevent wrinkles, and saves you $50+ on anti-wrinkles creams with dubious guarantees. Can also be used to make a scar close more quickly, or heal scarred skin (e.g., from popped pimples) so you don’t have to keep buying foundation.
6. Lemon juice.
Can be used by itself to cleanse the skin and heal scars, or rubbed all over your fingers, then wash with hot water to clean your hands after you’ve been out all day and touching different kinds of surfaces or shaking a lot of hands.
7. Garlic cloves
Back in college, my roommate often had severe and frequent yeast infections. Years later, I learnt that they affect nearly every single woman at one point or another, and are like toothaches: you sometimes need prescription medicine and/or treatment, and until you see the doctor, cannot think about anything else. You can gently prick a small clove of garlic and insert it into the vagina if you end up with a yeast infection. Do not forget to remove it. For toothaches, you can slice a clove of garlic and keep it in your mouth next to the gumline of the infected tooth until you can have the tooth removed or the cavity addressed.
Last but not least, the best solution in many cases. Water, and more water. Can be combined with honey, and grated ginger. Especially applicable for diarrhoea, skin flare-ups, sunburn, oily skin, coughs and colds, and stomach parasites, especially while you’re waiting to see a doctor.
All of these products can be used every day (and I have used them on my often-sensitive skin every day) but always test them against your own body and see how your skin reacts. None of these substitute for a good night’s sleep. All of these products also need to be used fresh; unlike make-up and skin creams, they cannot be stored in the bottom of your bag for three months and still work perfectly after all that time.
What natural solutions have you found that work for healthy skin?
*Top photo by Jasmine Halki in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.