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On the Spa Beat

Getting By

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Let’s face it: It’s possible to spend beaucoup bucks on beauty products. Still, regular self-care is key to keeping stress levels low under duress — and belt-tightening times don’t have to signal an end to periodic pampering. Long before the advent of mass-produced soaps, creams and gels — even before sooty oil lamps produced kohl to ink Cleopatra’s peepers — people were making their own materials to smell and feel pretty.

Think of DIY face care as a recessional opportunity: Visits to a spa or beautician are nice, but there’s no need to wait till you’ve got the dough to splurge on a formal facial. Homemade, once-weekly exfoliations can enhance your purchasing power — and personal empowerment.

Read the labels on high-end beauty balms and you’ll find that many effective, off-the-shelf exfoliating masks use food-grade components. If you mix up your own treatments on the spot, you’ll get a bonus: bypassing the preservatives that keep many commercial face goos shelf-stable. So take the time to do something nice for yourself, and take a look in your cupboard or fridge. Despite the economic pinch, stuff you have already lying around your kitchen could help you look and feel like a million bucks.

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How to do a home facial:

Research and create the concoction of your choice. Tie back your hair and cover your chest with a towel to minimize mess. Put a nice, hot washcloth over your face first to open the pores, and apply the mask at room temperature. Facemasks should stay on for 15 to 30 minutes, max; a warm washcloth aids removal. Splash your skin with ice-cold water “toner” to close the pores, and you’re good to go. Add a light moisturizer if you like.

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Sample masks:

Oatmeal: Take two tablespoons cooked oats and put them on your face. Simple and heart-healthy, no? Some recipes add a teaspoon of baking soda, but I went without. Make sure the oatmeal has some liquid, for easy application. If the lumps are distracting or make the mask dry unevenly, blend the bits first with a mortar and pestle — or just use an immersion blender on the whole pot, before you have your breakfast. Leaves you feeling clean and wholesome. (Guys, you may think this “spa” stuff is for girls, but chances are your mug could use a scrub, too — and there’s nothing unmanly about this treatment, especially when temporary side effects include looking like a flaky-faced zombie. Score!)

Honey: Warm two tablespoons of honey on the stove, just to body temperature. (Your jarful may have crystallized in the cold.) Honey is naturally antibacterial, and this mask is particularly moisturizing.

Egg white: Egg on your face? Not always a bad thing. Separate an egg yolk from the white and save the yolk for an omellete. Beat the white with the strained juice of half a lemon. A friend avers this made her face feel “smooth and soft,” and I liked it, too.

Banana: Mash a quarter of a banana and apply. After one go, I can’t verify that it aids oily skin and remedies wrinkles, but the accessible fruit does make my skin feel nice. Here are some other treatments that may require a trip to the store for ingredients, but, by volume, they’re still far more frugal than most over-the-counter counterparts.

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No-frills moisturizer:

For a lightweight hydrating lotion, add one part vegetable glycerin to three parts rosewater. Straight cocoa butter offers heavy-duty protection against wind and cold.

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Whole-body sugar scrub:

Mix two cups brown sugar with a half-cup sweet almond oil, 1 teaspoon vitamin E (the contents of two liquid gel caps), and a half-teaspoon vanilla extract. In a hot shower, turn off the water and exfoliate away! You’ll smell delightfully like a sugar cookie — or, if you prefer florals, swap out the vanilla for lavender oil (or any essential oil).

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Foot care:

Whether or not you ski, winter weather can do a number on your trotters. To recoup after a cold day, soak them in a large bucket or pan of warm water containing half a cup of Epsom salts. Sprinkle in a few drops of essential oil — this time of year, I like cinnamon or ginger, which both enhance circulation. In summer, substitute cold water and peppermint oil.

The Internet abounds in recipes for homemade facials and other skin-care supplies. They range from the obvious to the unexpected: About.com notes a clay-based formula calling for — I kid you not — cat litter. (Apparently, the stuff marked “100 Percent Natural Clay” is formed from the same soft white kaolin found in $100 spa facials. Mix a few tablespoons of clean litter with a bit of water and a few drops of essential oil, if you’re feeling adventurous.)

Whether you use Google or browse eHow.com for a directory, you should know whose advice you’re taking, and note that some sites categorize masks by skin type. Word to the wise: I’ve tried these versions myself at four-day intervals, and they were easy to make and easy on my skin. If you want to head into unknown territory, test portions of a new facial on your inner arm for 15 minutes to check for any sensitivity. For example, the enzymes in a straight papaya mixture could be too harsh for delicate dermi.

Got a money-saving tip for Getting By? Email Cathy Resmer at cathy@sevendaysvt.com.

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