woman using skincare productsBy Aaron Moskowitz

We are all on the hunt for healthier skin. And hey, saving a few bucks by using things we already have in our kitchen sounds very appealing. Plus, as the theory goes: if it’s been around for years, it can’t be bad for you…right?

Pop culture, it seems, can even inspire some strange DIY skincare hacks (and not good ones). Case in point: In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, narrator Toula Portokalos explains that her dad believed “…every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex.”

No. Just … no. The primary ingredient in Windex is ammonia. Do not ever put anything containing ammonia on your skin. Ammonia may make your windows sparkly, but it will do anything but for your face!

And here are six more DIY skincare ingredients that you should avoid.


The Dangers of Lemon

Remember that pH refresher we had about baking soda? Great, because you’re going to need it as we talk about why you should never, ever, use lemon on your skin (or hair) to lighten it.

Lemon is on the opposite side of the pH scale. It’s highly acidic, with a pH of 2. We tend to encounter acids more in everyday life and are more familiar with their effects. And you know if something is highly acidic it’s going to burn, burn, burn!

Having a pH that is too different from your skin – in either direction – can seriously mess with your skin’s acid mantle. This is the layer on top of your actual skin cells that keeps your skin protected and feeling nice and hydrated. Sound bad? It gets worse. The citric acid in lemons varies from fruit to fruit, so you never know exactly how much you’re getting.

Keep lemon away from your teeth, too. That acidic content can and will strip the enamel away.

A Better Solution 

Look for a product with hydroxy acids. This is a broad category, including alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), and poly hydroxy acids.2 These ingredients will exfoliate the skin, helping to remove old, dead skin, unevenness, and blotchiness. They will also help to stimulate the growth of smooth, evenly pigmented skin.


The Sour Side of This Sweet Ingredient

Sugar is delicious, but it’s not good for you. Ditto for sugar as a part of your skincare routine. It may feel really satisfying when you’re scrubbing, but it’s anything but a sweet treat for facial skin.

Sugar granules are large and uneven, which means that when you think you’re sloughing off dead skin, you’re tearing up your face. The skin on the body is thicker and can handle this tougher exfoliant, but be sure to steer clear of it on your face.

A Better Way to Exfoliate 

Similar to the swap out for lemons, hydroxy acids are great for exfoliating the skin (as an ingredient in many cleansers and moisturizers, they work to gradually exfoliate over time). Another great way to exfoliate is to use a facial cleansing brush with your facial cleanser. The gentle exfoliation works to evenly remove dead skin, leaving your skin light and bright.


The Perils of Using Toothpaste as a Spot Treatment 

This was probably the first DIY beauty hack you ever learned. The tyranny of teen acne prompts some to look for secret solutions to eradicate blemishes. As soon as you got your first pimple, no doubt someone suggested that you reach for the medicine cabinet for some acne-eradicating toothpaste.

In a world where many facial treatments are simply way too intense, toothpaste can seem like a legitimate alternative. When you are used to your face going from breakout to flaking, dry skin, this spot treatment can seem really appealing.

The truth is that toothpaste is still way too strong for your skin. Again, the pH of toothpaste comes into play. Store-bought toothpaste has a pH of about 8.22, which means that it is a base that will seriously screw up your skin.

A blemish is more or less a small infection on your face. When you use toothpaste, you’re stripping the skin and making it even more vulnerable to infections down the road. When you use toothpaste, you can look forward to irritated skin and recurring blemishes.

What You Can Use Instead 

A DIY treatment that doesn’t get enough love is tea tree oil.3 This multi-purpose product should become your new home staple. Similar to baking soda, tea tree oil has a lot of purposes (It can clean! It deodorizes! It disinfects!). To use, add a drop to your favorite clay mask.

Hydrogen Peroxide

The Peroxide Paradox 

Hydrogen peroxide is another one of those products that can do so many things. It’s great on wounds and works wonders in removing stains from clothing. Where do the benefits stop? When you use it (undiluted) on your face regularly.

Hydrogen peroxide is great at lightening dark spots, that’s what makes it so clutch when you’re trying to remove a stubborn spot in the laundry. The trouble is that it’s difficult to control, particularly where facial skin use is concerned. Because you can’t control which melanin pigment cells are targeted, it’s really easy to overdo. The risk is that you could end up with permanent damage, the worst case being hypo-pigmentation (lack of pigment) or vitiligo in some areas.

What to Do Instead 

Serums that are high in Vitamin C will give you the same brightening effects without the added risks.

When someone recommends a DIY product, or when you discover something during a six-hour Pinterest wormhole, be sure to investigate before you put it on your face. Many of these seemingly benign products have hidden side effects, but worry not, there is always a safe alternative.

Elmer’s Glue

The Sticky Truth About Elmer’s Glue 

If you’re not already using Elmer’s Glue as a DIY Biore Strip, then you might not believe that some use it to clean their pores. Buckle up, because this is a real thing. If you are someone who does this, you’re gonna wanna stop, drop, and never put glue near your face again.

The myth about glue is that you can pour it on your face, let it harden, and then pull it off like a pore strip. This DIY pore cleanser is said to remove blackheads.

As a DIY pore strip, Elmer’s Glue does more or less what it’s supposed to do, which is not to say you should start using it. Pore strips are notoriously painful, and while seeing all that little face gunk on the strip can feel satisfying, they don’t actually improve your skin because when you yank the blackheads out in one go, it leaves the pores open to fill back up immediately. Plus, in the act of removing the strip, you’re tugging at the skin in a way that can cause premature signs of aging.

A Healthy Way to Clean the Pores 

In order to reduce the number of blackheads for good, you want to make sure that your pores are closing as you remove the dirt. Clay masks are great for that. Of all the clays, white clay has the smallest molecules, so it will work the most thoroughly, but any clay will attract the dirt and bacteria that has built up in your pores without leaving your skin vulnerable to bigger, badder blackheads.

Baking Soda

How Baking Soda is Messing Up Your Complexion 

Baking soda is a nightmare for your skin. What may seem like a DIY skincare dream is actually a terrible match for your skin, and not in a star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet kind of way.

In order to explain what makes baking soda a bad match for your skin, let’s start with a quick chemistry brush up about the pH scale. pH is measured between 0 to 14. Anything below 7 is considered acidic. Anything above 7 is considered alkaline/basic. Your skin is slightly acidic (with a pH of 4 or 5). Baking soda, on the other hand, is a slight base (with a pH of about 8.3).1

Okay, cool. Opposites attract, right? Not when it comes to your skin. What happens is that the baking soda is going to seriously screw up the pH of your skin, leaving it feeling stripped, raw, and sensitive. Yuck.

What to Do Instead 

Gentle exfoliants and cleansers will leave your skin with the nourished, clean feeling that you’re looking for. When you’re looking for the right facial cleanser, choose something without harsh surfactants (the cleansing agent that makes your face wash foam up). Many skincare products use sulfates and other harsh ingredients that can equally strip the skin.


Elmer’s Glue is great for crafts. Lemon is great for adding flavor to a salad. Baking soda will de-stink your fridge and clean your house. All of these products are great for their intended uses, but when you put them into your skincare routine, these “natural” and DIY ingredients can wreak havoc on your skin. For more DIY beauty tricks to absolutely avoid, keep reading here.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8573921
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wrinkles/in-depth/wrinkle-creams/art-20047463
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/tea-tree-oil/background/hrb-20060086
  4. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3514159/The-DIY-beauty-tips-making-skin-WORSE.html


Aaron Moskowitz
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