Are DIY Skin Care Treatments a Do or a Don't?


Do you have clients coming into your spa after a disasterous DIY at-home skin care treatment? DIY treatments like the "burning face mask," can leave clients with a skin burn or breakouts, according to dermatologist Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D. Her advice—proceed with caution with any DIY treatment.

Although many ingredients in the kitchen cabinet might be safe to use with cooking, oils like olive oil and coconut oil can be comedogenic, lemon can burn the skin and cinnamon can cause irritation.

"It’s a fad and some people do it," Draelos told Skin Inc. "if you want to do it, that’s fine but I think the take home message is be sure you do it in a safe way."

Here are some warnings and recommendations that you can share with your clients about beauty DIY.

Cooking Oils

"For example, olive oil is comedogenic and causes blackheads and whiteheads," said Draelos. 

So if a client has acne-prone skin, a lot of the skin care DIY "natural" recipes that people make in their kitchen could trigger a reaction.

"They’ll put in vegetable-type oils [in the recipe] and a lot of those vegetable-type oils can cause acne. So you really need to stay away from those [oils]," added Draelos. 

Coconut Oil

Although everyone is going crazy for coconut oil lately, Draelos said this ingredient can be comedogenic too.

"You’d want to stay away from that one as well," she said. 

Baking Soda and Peroxide

Peroxide can sting and burn and damage the tissue of a wound, according to Draelos. "That’s the reason why dermatology doesn’t use peroxide on wounds anymore because it actually cauterizes the healing tissue. So if a client has an acne lesion, a peroxide-baking soda preparation can re-injure the skin and create a brown spot or an acne lesion or at worse, it could create a scar." 

Baking soda can be very irritating to the skin as well. It’s a bicarbonate of soda, and when you mix it with water, it foams.

"So if you have very, very sensitive skin, you can end up with an irritant contact dermatitis," said Draelos. "People use baking soda to brush their teeth because it is an abrasive. I’m not sure you can do that to your face. You have to be very gentle. Even if you’re using it for exfoliant purposes, you have to be very careful." 

Lemon Juice

"Well, lemon juice has a very high concentration of vitamin C, which is ascorbic acid," said Draelos. "And it has a very low pH, and it can produce burns on the skin if you’re not careful." 

Cinnamon and Nutmeg 

Cinnamon can also can be very irritating to skin, according to Draelos. Although it and nutmeg are antioxidant spices, "on top of the skin, they don’t perform an antioxidant function," she added. 

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a potent allergen and you can get a rip roaring contact dermatitis from it according to Draelos.

"So you really want  to be careful. You don’t want to put it on your face," she said. "And tea tree oil is also toxic so you really want to be careful not to put it around your mouth. The toxicity is concentration dependent, but it’s not something that you want to put around your lip."


A lot of the natural ingredients that people mix together in DIY skin treatment recipes are foods, and so when you mix together a combination of foodstuffs, bacteria can grow. Draelos said after a client mixes up the concoction, she should use it and toss it or refrigerate it because natural products made in a kitchen don’t contain preservatives like commercially made products.

"Contamination is a real problem and they can get contaminated with staph and strep bacteria and those bacteria will cause a horrible facial cellulitus," Draelos warned. "So even though people think preservatives are bad, preservatives do play a very important role in product to remain stable and non-contaminated for a period of time until it is completely used up. "

Burning Face Mask

There's a DIY acne scar facial treatment recipe circulating on the web that lists cinnamon, nutmeg, honey and lemon in its ingredients mix. The recipe instructs you to rinse the concoction off after 10 minutes if you feel a burn. 

“See that’s a problem. If your skin is burning, you’re not benefiting it, you’re damaging it and that’s why there’s pain. People say, well with exercise if it doesn’t burn, you aren’t [building] any muscles. But that’s not the way it is with the skin."

If you’re feeling a burning sensation, you need to wash the concoction off your face as soon as possible because the pain is the warning that your skin is giving you that it is being damaged.

"The external layer of skin has no feeling to it ... but once you have pain, you know you’re down to the dermis. So when you’re down to the dermis that’s where the nerve endings are and the lower part of the epidermis — then you know that the product is injuring living tissue and creating a wound," Draelos added. 

Safe and Effective Ingredients

Probably one of the most valuable ingredients that can go into homemade concoctions is glycerin because glycerin helps hold water, according to Draelos. In fact, the ingredient that adds softness to cookies is the main ingredient in Corn Husker's lotion. 

"One of the oldest, simplest moisturizers that was marketed for years is glycerin and rose water," said Draelos. "You can make a moisturizer out of glycerin and rose water to make it smell nice. Then you can add some mineral oil to it or something like that. But again, you have to be careful."

Honey can also make a nice mask since it’s thick and stops water loss.

"It’s very messy, but there’s nothing that honey could really damage on the skin surface," said Draelos.

You can also use fine granulated sugar mixed with honey over the face for a mild exfoliation.

"But you know, the manufactured products are so carefully thought out, and they’re really much better," said Draelos. "You can mash up bananas and make a mask out of that because the bananas can retard moisture loss, but really it’s much better to apply a facial moisturizer." 

The End Goal

Before trying skin care DIY using kitchen ingredients, Draelos said to have clients ask themselves, what benefit am I going to get from this particular preparation?

"Sometimes recipes from bloggers say mix this together and put it on your skin because it’s good for you. And you have to ask, good for what?" Draelos said. 

Share these thoughts with your clients to educate them and hopefully you won't have to treat someone after a DIY skin care treatment has gone wrong. 

Zoe Headshot1

Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, is a research and clinical board-certified dermatologist and a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She is in solo private practice in High Point, North Carolina, and a Consulting Professor of Dermatology at Duke University. In 1988, she founded Dermatology Consulting Services, PLLC, to initiate and perform research in aging skin, acne, rosacea, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, actinic keratoses, eczema, and aesthetic procedures in the cosmetic, OTC drug, and pharmaceutical arenas. Draelos received a lifetime achievement award from Health Beauty America for her research and the 2008 DermArts award for her contributions to dermatology. In 2010, she received the Albert Kligman Innovation Award and in 2016 she was awarded a Presidential Citation from the American Academy of Dermatology for her research contributions to advance the specialty.


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