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Now, That's 'Natural' : Homemade beauty remedies--like toothpaste for acne, and bird droppings as a mudpack (no lie)--are finding a niche. But dermatologists urge caution.


Bird droppings--yes, you read that correctly--have now surpassed Play-Doh as the oddest ingredient in the sometimes wacky, ever-growing assortment of homespun beauty treatments.

According to "The Japanese Way of Beauty," a new book by Michelle Dominique Leigh, the excrement of the bush warbler, a species native to Japan, makes for an excellent mudpack that cleans and tightens pores.

OK, so maybe the appeal of the bush warbler facial is lost on most people, but the notion of saving money via do-it-yourself remedies is not, beauty watchers say.

Debra McKellar, assistant manager of L'Herbier de Provence, a seller of natural beauty products in South Coast Plaza, believes high-tech potions are too expensive for most women. "Homemade products are more affordable," she says. "A woman paying $55 for a beauty cream can mix a moisturizer using essential oils and herbal extracts for a quarter of the price."

And even women of means may prefer to abstain from artificial ingredients.

"Consumers find natural products so appealing, and when they make their own concoctions, they know exactly what is in them," says Susan Babinsky, director of the consumer consulting group for the New Jersey-based Kline and Co., a market research company.

When tinkering with ingredients and over-the-counter products not specifically formulated for or tested on skin, dermatologists urge caution.

Says Dr. Rhonda Rand, who practices in Beverly Hills: "Some things are OK, such as aloe for burns and tea bags for puffy eyes." But other offbeat treatments, like the increasingly common practice of using creams containing hydrocortisone to reduce under-eye swelling, may cause burning or irritation. And the bird-dropping facial might result in infection. "It's worth it (to consult a doctor) if you want to avoid doing more harm than good," Rand says.

Despite the potential risks, many self-made beauties remain loyal to their concoctions. Like Marianna Grudyan of West Hollywood, who has been using her friend Neely Ghafouri's potato and sour cream treatment weekly for seven years. "Anyone who has never tried it should," she insists.

Here is a sampling of recipes for that and other unconventional beauty treatments using common and exotic ingredients:

* Raw potatoes and sour cream, to treat sunburn and tone down ruddy complexions. Users say these ingredients combine to cool and moisturize the skin. First, apply a puree of peeled, uncooked potatoes to a clean face for 20 minutes; remove with a tissue. Then slather on one tablespoon of yogurt or sour cream, leave on for 10 minutes and rinse with warm water.

Neely Ghafouri, director KAYLA Beverly Hills, a skincare and cosmetics company

* Plant oils, to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. American Indian women once rubbed the cut end of a boiled rubber plant leaf on their bellies and backs; Nepalese women do the same with mustard oil; Malaysians, coconut oil; Samoans, cocoa butter.

Carroll Dunham and Barbara Aria authors of "Mamatoto," a collection of folklore about motherhood

* Roots, to treat dermatitis or eczema. A mixture of rhubarb root, sophora root, huang quin root, scutellaria root, philodendron bark, kochia seed, dictamnus root and honeysuckle flowers is steeped in boiling water and applied to the skin to decrease inflammation and increase circulation.

Drew Francis, owner Golden Cabinet Herbal Store and Rejuvenation Center, West Los Angeles

* Phillips' Milk of Magnesia, as a facial mask. The product, a laxative containing magnesium, can be applied with a cotton ball. Users claim it cleans the skin and absorbs oils. "I love the way it feels, and it isn't as harsh or drying as some of the other facial products I've used," says Amy Dahl of San Dimas.

* Bag Balm, to soften the appearance of wrinkles. The product, an udder moisturizer sold in rural feed stores, is applied like a cream to the face.

* Play-Doh, to reduce eye puffiness. The neon toddler's "clay" is chilled, then placed over the eyes.

* Toothpaste, any brand will do, to treat zits. Dab it on, let it dry, then rinse and towel off any remaining paste.

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