I don’t know about you, but I have sensitive skin. But it’s not where you’d think. It’s not on my face—it’s on my arms and legs. Go figure. It’s been that way since I was a kid; now my daughters have those dry little white bumps on the backs of their arms and legs, too.
It’s a harmless condition called keratosis pilaris, little white bumps that can resemble acne, caused by keratin deposits clogging the pores. About 40 percent of adults are affected by the condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. The effects of this chicken-skin-looking condition can appear more exaggerated in African Americans because we tend to have dry skin to begin with, making the contrast between the white bumps and darker skin more visible.
But never fear! Fat is the answer! I switched my family to natural soaps that are loaded with essential fatty acids. If you have sensitive skin—or even if you just want your healthy skin to stay that way by avoiding toxins—here’s a guide on how to choose a good natural soap.
Look for soaps high in alpha hydroxy acids and that are not formulated with water. Goat’s milk, shea butter, wheat germ and hempseed oil are some of the most moisturizing fats used in formulating natural soaps.
AHAs are particularly high in unprocessed goat’s milk and raw shea butters, as well as more expensive oils, like the wheat and hempseed oils mentioned above (which also have a shorter shelf life). The lactic acid contained in these ingredients helps to slough off dead skin cells by breaking down the chemical bonds that hold dead skin cells together. It also increases cellular turnover. Water-based soaps remove dead skin, too, but the ingredients are often chemical and can do more harm than good by causing irritation, resulting in even drier and more sensitive skin.
Hempseed oil contains vitamin A, which a lot of us know as retinol, the hero ingredient in expensive face creams that fights everything from fine lines to acne—and is also good for the mild relief of psoriasis. Besides that, hempseed oil is one of the most quickly absorbed and least sticky of all the vegetable oils, so it’s great for soaps and cosmetics. Water-based and chemically formulated soaps can be artificially fortified with vitamins, but most aren’t. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my vitamins added to chemical crap. I want the real thing.
Let’s get to the good stuff: These are my two favorite all-natural soaps, full of fatty goodness: Goat’s Milk Stuff is a farm in Vermont that makes all of its products from raw, unprocessed goat’s milk—from cheese to soap. The soaps are chemical- and packaging-free—a nice nod to keeping it green and clean straight down the line—and the lather is divine. That’s the kind of bubbly that’s just right for a toast on New Year’s Day.
Nubian Heritage Indian Hemp Soap is one of the coolest brands out there. Started by sidewalk vendors in Harlem in 1991, it draws inspiration from the ancient cultural and trading capital of Nubia. Cruelty-free as well as paraben- and salt-free, it’s a modern solution to dry winter skin.