The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 20, 2011

How to Make Your Own Mint Julep Masque without Plastic or Toxic Chemicals

Queen Helene mint julep masqueQueen Helene’s hugely popular mint julep masque is widely considered to be a safe product. I mean, it’s found in all the health food stores, so it must be okay, right? Or is it? And is there any actual mint in it?

I’ve had this same plastic tube of the stuff sitting in my bathroom cabinet for years and had pretty much forgotten about it until a few weeks ago when I noticed my face was getting dirty from all the work in the garden. (For those who don’t know, mud masks are used to suck out the oil and dirt clogging your pores and leave your face baby soft.) Following my resolution to use up the plastic-packaged stuff I already have before looking for alternatives, I dug out the Queen Helene and got ready to slather it on my face… until I read the ingredients.

Queen Helene mint julep masque ingredients

Not only does this “natural” product come packaged in plastic, but it contains enough questionable ingredients to rate a 5 on Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. Maybe I didn’t want to use this stuff up after all. I decided to see if I could make it myself, analyzing the ingredients to figure out which ones were actually therapeutic, which ones were unnecessary or even toxic, and which ones I could find without plastic packaging. I thought it would be a neat exercise to go through on this blog. So here we go:

1) Distilled Water. I’m fine with using plain tap water.

2) Kaolin and Bentonite. These are types of clay — the main ingredient in a clay mask. (Duh.) I found bentonite clay powder in bulk at Whole Foods Market and at various smaller health food and herb shops in my neighborhood and bought some in my own jar. I have not found kaolin or any other kind of clay around here in bulk, so I just used one kind.

bentonite clay

3) Glycerin. Glycerin is an emollient and humectant. It’s valuable in a mask because it softens and helps attract moisture to the skin. Glycerin is a component of various fats and can be produced as a byproduct of saponification, i.e. soap-making. As such, it can have either animal or plant origins. What’s more, glycerin can also be synthesized from fossil sources. If you want to avoid animal or petroleum-derived glycerin, you have to make sure the label specifies “vegetable glycerin.” Queen Helene’s label says there are no animal ingredients, but it doesn’t indicate whether the glycerin is from plant or fossil sources.  I found pure vegetable glycerin in a glass bottle at Lhasa Karnak Herb Company down the street from me in Berkeley. The bottle does have a tiny plastic cap.

vegetable glycerin in glass bottle

4) Zinc Oxide. According to Skin Deep, zinc oxide is a bulking agent, colorant, skin protectant, and sunscreen agent. It’s definitely a safe ingredient, but for my purposes, I didn’t think it was necessary, and I didn’t want to go to the trouble of looking for it without plastic, so I left it out.

5) Propylene Glycol. Propylene glycol is a petrochemical derived from natural gas. Skin Deep gives it a hazard rating of 3. Leave it out.

6) Sulfur. Sulfur is a naturally-occurring element, and according to Skin Deep, it’s used in skin care products for anti-acne and skin conditioning purposes. It’s also a natural fungicide in the garden, as I recently learned. But I don’t have acne and didn’t feel this ingredient was necessary for my purposes, especially since I have no clue how I’d find it without plastic.  So I left it out.

7) Chromium Oxide Greens. This is a mineral pigment used to give the masque its green color. Oh, you thought that green color came from the clay or maybe the mint leaves? Nope. This stuff might be safe, but in my book it’s wholly unnecessary.  Leave it out.

8) Methylparaben. Parabens are preservatives used in foods and cosmetics. They are estrogen mimics and may disrupt the endocrine system. There is debate as to whether they are linked to breast cancer. Skin Deep gives methylparaben a hazard rating of 5. Without being a scientist, my feeling is that if we don’t need to use these chemicals, we should play it safe and NOT use them. Why experiment on ourselves?  Just say no.

9) Fragrance. This is a bad one. Or not. We don’t know. Because the term “fragrance” on a label indicates a secret mix of chemicals that can include anything from allergens to phthalates, another type of hormone-disrupting chemical used to help fragrances “stick.” And if these chemicals are not spelled out, we as consumers have no way to know what they are or whether we should avoid them. These days, I don’t buy any product that lists “fragrance” on the label.

Where’s the mint??

Did you notice the ingredient “mint” on that list anywhere? No? Neither did I. Queen Helene’s mint julep masque doesn’t contain any actual mint — unless it’s included in the word “fragrance,” and if that’s the case, why wouldn’t they simply list it on the label? Because it’s not there.  So I made my mint julep masque with mint leaves from my own garden.

garden mint

I steeped the mint in boiling water and then mixed together the tea, bentonite clay, and vegetable glycerin into a paste. It felt cool on my face, just like the commercial version, except I had the satisfaction of knowing exactly what was in it. Maybe my concoction is lumpier than Queen Helene’s, but it worked really well. My skin felt clean and soft afterwards.

mint julep clay masque

I like using as few ingredients as possible. And I enjoyed going through the list on the Queen Helene tube and trying to figure out what each one was used for and which ones I actually needed. It took some work to find the clay and glycerin without plastic packaging. But I looked at it as a fun exercise. Clay facial masks are obviously not a necessity of life. And as for other natural recipes for skincare, there are a ton of recipes on the Internet. I just wanted to find out if I could get the same experience without all the extra packaging and ingredients. And I did.

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8 years ago

ummm, sulfur is like the key ingredient in the mask, and it’s kind of a shame to leave out the zinc oxide, it’s so easy to find (and cheap). but i like the idea of leaving out the methylparaben and artificial color. I saw “mentha viridis (spearmint)” in the ingredients on my QH mint julep mask, so mine does have mint in it, but yeah yours didn’t list it… that’s weird. They probably did lump it in with “fragrance”.

8 years ago

What measurements did you use??

9 years ago

what measurements did you use?

9 years ago

I love that you did this! I’ve been using the Queen Helene Mint Julep masque for 10 years (gasp!). It’s my go-to but in the past few years, I kept wondering how ‘safe’ it is. Now I have the answers. Can’t wait to try and collect these ingredients and try it out on my own! xx

11 years ago

Hi There Beth,

Just a note to let you know I shared your awesome recipe on my monthly recipe round-up: Mother’s Day Edition. If you get a chance, come on over and check out the other inspiring recipes from sweet indulgence to homemade gifts.

Be Well,–Amber

12 years ago

Hey Beth,
A short update on using ascorbic acid as a sunscreen.
Since we are having an abysmal summer here in The Netherlands, I succumbed to my desire for sunshine: I took a trip to a sunbed/tanning salon, for some fake sunshine. I used none of the fancy sunscreens on sale there, but only the ascorbic acid mixture as a sunscreen. And I must say, that went pretty well. No irritation, no dark sunspots, just soft skin.

Now, this was 22 minutes, not a full day at the beach. So it might be different then. But I am going to try this at the first opportunity of all-day-in-the-sun!

12 years ago

Yes, that was my thought at first too. I haven’t had the time yet to research this sun-screen thing, but Beth Greer quotes clinical nutritionist Krispin Sullivan from his book “Naked at Noon: Understanding Sunlight and Vitamin D”:

‘… research shows that a topical application of a 10 percent solution of ascorbic acid can prevent sundamage to skin. If applied one or more times per day, no sunscreen is necessary. The Vitamin C is incorporated into the skin’s cells to prevent ultraviolet damage to DNA.’ Greer (2009) page 99.

Worth researching, especially since studies showed that every year, 4000-6000 metric tons of chemical sunscreen washes of swimmers. Greer (2009) page 101. You can imagine what that does to our oceans! :-/

Good luck!

Ruth F
12 years ago

Try bruising your mint and soaking it in cold water. It seems to bring out the best in mint. I can get heartburn from mint tea, but not from mint water. It will keep (and get stronger) for a few days in the fridge.

12 years ago

Something for the more vain people around here (yup, that’s me!): PURE ASCORBIC ACID POWDER. Makes a fantastic all natural Vitamin C face serum without the a) nasty stuff b) nasty containers c) nasty expensive consumerism. Only trick is to find a natural drugstore that sells it in (small) bulk or an e-store that sells it in glass containers.

What you do: dilute a little of the powder in some lukewarm (tap)water, apply to face with a washcloth. Just dab your face with the washcloth until all of the mixture is on your face. If the mixture is a bit strong, splash your face after a minute or five (as if it were a mask), if not leave on for however long you want (I got great results overnight).

Result: clear and spotless, glowing, wrinkleless skin!

A word of caution: keep the mixture more diluted when you start, some skins can be sensitive to the acsorbic acid in the beginning. ALWAYS try on a little patch of skin first, to be on the safe side! See also the rating that asc.acid gets on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.

I came up with the idea when receiving a sample of a very expensive vitamin C serum from my facialist and discussing the ingredients with her. I had just read about ascorbic acid in Beth Greer’s “Super Natural Home” (2009, page 99-100). She states that ascorbic acid can be used for an all-natural sun screen and is ‘skin food’.

I connected the dots in my mind and have been trying it for a few weeks now with great results! :-)

Hope to have been of service to any of you. :-)

12 years ago

I’m with Ecocatlady too. I used to have the most awful breakouts pretty much all the time and tried so many products marketed to people with bad skin, with no success. One day I got fed up and stopped using them altogether. For a few weeks my skin was pretty bad, and then miraculously cleared and has stayed clear since. Your skin knows how to look after itself if it is allowed to do so.

Sarah "Angry Butterfly" Schumm
12 years ago

@ EcoCatLady I can’t believe I forgot about that! The plain tap water trick is one I learned in… get ready for it: Modeling School. When I was really good about it I would rinse my face 20 times a day, the best way to do it is re use the water until the last rinses and then use fresh water.

Eve Stavros
12 years ago

LOVE this!!! Going to try it when I run out of the clay masque I have (in a yuk plastic tube). My secret face cleanser? 50/50 mix of powdered milk and oat flour (oats ground up in my spice mill), a little water to make a paste, gently massage in and rinse off. Works as a mild exfolliant and feels super soft. My facialist keeps telling me my skin is much less dry than it used to be. Could that be because I’ve stopped using all those nasty commercial cleansers & moisturizers that contain ingredients which dry out our skin???

Concerning kaolin (white) clay, I found it in bulk at my local co-op, because I wanted to try a new homemade toothpaste recipe. Gentler than 50/50 baking soda & salt, this one feels clean, tastes good, and whitens: equal parts of kaolin clay, baking soda, salt and powdered sage. Add a few drops of any mint essential oil and mix – it’ll still be dry. A bit in your palm, dip your wet toothbrush, and brush away!!! Keeps a long time, too!

12 years ago

Ooops the e-mail should be

12 years ago

Here’s the sulfur link…

There is also a new article about sulfur in this month’s Wise Traditions magazine from the Weston A Price foundation.


12 years ago

I love sulfur!!! We get Organic Sulfur for about $22 a pound from Patrick McGean at The Cellular Matrix Study. He’s at (801) 290-2013 or We also take it internally, this stuff is truly miraculous. The theory is by using pesticides on our food the sulfur in the soil gets trapped within the petrochemicals and does t make it into our food. He actually cured his son’s cancer with this sulfur. We started taking it for my autistic daughter and after four days she began talking again!!!!

I’m using the iPod right now, but when I turn on the PC later I’ll post a link with more information.


Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
12 years ago

To bad you don’t live closer, I could have gotten you sulfur water to make your mask with. Though you may end up smelling like rotten eggs after. But the bugs would stay away.

The people around here that work outside often drink the sulfur water of the near by town (Named Sulphur) and it keeps the bugs off of them. Tastes pretty gross though.

12 years ago

Regarding the homemade aloe vera gel inquiry:
I have one indoor aloe plant and use it for all of our family’s aloe needs. We break off a “leaf”, cut or break off a section for our immediate purpose, slit it open lengthwise (usually with my fingernail), open it up so the inside is accessible, and slather it on the skin (or scrape it into a bowl or glass jar when I am mixing up something). Super easy, fast, and effective. I tend to keep the rest of the leaf near wherever I am using it for follow-up uses.

When I travel, I break off a leaf and tuck it in somewhere to take along with us (usually alongside a water bottle).

I find it goes a long way…

Regarding face care:
I joined CrunchyBetty’s Honey Challenge and have been VERY PLEASED with the results!!! You simply wash your face with honey. Rub on a 1/2 teaspoon (or thereabouts, I need less); then splash it off. You can let it stay on for awhile for a mask, too. One of the many pleasant surprises is it only takes two splashes and the sticky honey is GONE! It’s like magic! Loads of great benefits and my skin has never looked better. It is soooo easy, I have actually been washing my face day AND night. I never bothered at night unless I had worn makeup that day. I don’t even need toner or moisturizer or anything else. Talk about simplifying and reducing waste! I can buy raw honey in large glass jars in lots of places. The price varies, but comparing it to “nice” face washes honey is a lot cheaper…even the really good raw honey…and it works BETTER!

12 years ago

Love it!!! I’m definitely inspired to try this out. I love mud masks. I think Berkeley Bowl may have kaolin and a few other clays. They are on the left corner of the weigh station.

12 years ago

well done!!

12 years ago

To Sunny who asked about propagating peppermint: just find a friend who grows mint, take some cuttings (usually with at least 3 or 4 leaf pairs, and put them in a vase of water. I do this indoors because it is so hot here in Virginia that the water evaporates too quickly outside. Leave it, changing the water every few days, and they will start to root. I usually put the mint stalks in as greenery with flowers from my garden. Let the roots develop in the water and then transfer to a small pot in potting mixture.

Or, go on freecycle or craigslist and ask if any gardeners will dig you up some mint- I am always trying to give some away because I like having it in a bed, not just containers, and I need to keep it under control.

I bring my mint containers into the garage for the winter and they start growing again before I can even get them outside in about March.

I love having lots of mint because I’m addicted to adding the leaves to salads.

12 years ago

I love me some aloe vera gel…someday I will get around to skinning some of my own aloes and making my own gel. In the meantime I purchased a bulk bottle of aloe vera gel thinking it was a smart thing to do, until I read the label-lots of lovely aloe vera gel, yes, but some nasties too….lesson learned. Just because the label is green and the stuff is green doesn’t mean it is 100% safe or natural. Back to my usual trusted brand which does not come in a bulk bottle, but has no preservatives or “parfum”. Okay I’m off to plant some more aloes in my garden-so far I have two thriving aloe vera plants, but I am going to need lots more…..Anyone know anything about homemade aloe vera gel?

knutty knitter
12 years ago

I’m with ecocatlady and have been for years :) I only use a little soap where I’m using a razor.

I used kaolin in my pottery glazes too. It is fine as long as you don’t breathe the dust.

viv in nz

12 years ago

Beth, just a thought on the gypsum — just because it is a salt of sulphur doesn’t mean it will behave like sulphur! How example: water behaves like neither oxygen, nor hydrogen, and you couldn’t very well breathe it. Similarly, sodium in its pure state is a fairly explosive mush of a metal, and chlorine is a poisonous gas — but combined into sodium chloride, the salt is relatively harmless and even edible. (Of course, that said homeopathy recommends calcium sulphate for acne — but the idea there is the dilution has ionised it, making the sulphur separately accessible.)

12 years ago

Ha! I was half way through the post before I figured out what you were talking about. My mind was going… aren’t mint juleps something they drink at the Kentucky Derby?

Anyhow – just thought I’d take this moment to share my miracle skin care routine. Drum roll please…

Tap water. And NOTHING else.

No soaps, cleansers, tonics, astringents, moisturizers, masques, makeup or anything else.

I actually started it about three years ago when I was having terrible skin problems, and it’s been nothing short of miraculous. No more breakouts, no dry/oily patches, no more rosacea, eczema or hives. My skin feels soft and wonderful… no more “tight” feeling after my skin care routine, and people keep telling me how great my skin looks. I’m totally sold. (Can you say you’re “sold” on something that doesn’t cost you anything?)

12 years ago

Love reading your blog. If you are interested in making your own concoctions, there is a blog by “Crunchy Betty” she is also very good.

12 years ago

Yeah! Yay! *happy sounds* You’ve wandered into my queendom!

If anyone would like me to email them my Self Spa workshop notes I’d be happy to. There’s tons of info on clays and how they work and how to make petroleum-free masks.

*the secret is to make dry mixes and only add water or flower water before use. Then there is no excuse for preservatives!!!*

I’m at

Sarah "Angry Butterfly" Schumm
12 years ago

Beth, I love this post because you had FUN and got the same experience with the homemade stuff as you got from the plastic tube.

The more I’m learning about learning to live with less waste is that its not about giving things up, its about making better choices. And so often its been my experience that the better choice for the planet is the better choice for me, is more luxurious. is better for my waistline and my wallet in the long run. Too many people think that environmental activism (zero waste in particular) is about sacrifice, but its just about choices.

12 years ago

Great blog!

12 years ago

Beth, I have kaolin up to my elbows some days, LOL, and I’m not worried about it contacting my skin. But I just did some quick googling around since I wanted to make sure I wasn’t telling you to use something unsafe. I had no idea what Prop 65 was either so I googled that too. I found the MSDS for EPK (Edgar Plastic Kaolin) which is the most readily available and what I use for pots and glazes.

The hazard from it comes from its silica content – the dust is very bad for you if inhaled. When the clay powder is mixed with liquid, this hazard is gone. (I use a Niosh mask when mixing glazes until all the powders are dissolved). Mixing a small quantity for a face mask once in a while is a small hazard, silica accumulates in the lungs leading to silicosis eventually.

I already knew chrome oxide was bad and I avoid it. Its MSDS is much more disturbing:

Hope this helps :)

Benne' Rockett
12 years ago

Love this! What a great post with loads of information. I especially like the reference to Skin Deep.
On acne – I dab a wet styptic pencil (sulfer) on the offender and poof, it is dried up and gone.

12 years ago

I don’t have any reference to back this up, but I recall reading somewhere that bentonite clay (which is also used in cat litter- one more reason to use another type of litter) is mined in a manner that is very detrimental to the local environment. I don’t know if kaolin is similar, or if I’m even correct about this at alI- I can’t recall where I read it so I may be mistaken. Maybe something to follow up on?

12 years ago

Good job!!

Now I am inspired to go and try to find some clay and glycerin in bulk or in a glass jar. I have a feeling this won’t be an easy task where I live. I make my own soap. I wonder if it’s easy enough to separate glycerin during the process. hmmm…

12 years ago

Love it! I make up my own natural body care recipes, too, and it IS fun! :)

I am so bummed my peppermint plant died and hasn’t come back like it usually does. :( Anyone know how to propagate peppermint? I probably have friends or neighbors growing it….

12 years ago

Beth – your mask would be even better if you did include kaolin. Bentonite is good for keeping ingredients suspended instead of settling, but it is very slimey. Kaolin is pure white porcelain clay and probably the main ingredient to put into a clay mask, it would make the mask more paste-like, and do a great job of drawing out impurities from the skin. Just my 2 cents from my years as a potter :) Also, pottery suppliers are great sources for the ingredients, likely much cheaper than health food stores or Whole Foods. One kilogram (2.5 lbs) of kaolin from my supplier here in Canada costs less than $3 – a 50lb paper bag is under $20. Bentonite costs slightly more but is still only $5 for 500g (approx 1 pound). That would make many many masks. And definitely do not put chrome oxide on your face! There should be a pottery supplier or a local potter in your area where you could get these ingredients. Many times small quantities are put in plastic to keep out humidity and keep dust out of the air but you could specify paper bags. (Normally the 50lb bags are paper). Good for you to make your own facial mask and thank you for sharing your experience!

12 years ago

I have a tube of that stuff in my bathroom too. I use it so infrequently that I’m still using up an old container. I use it as a spot treatment for nasty pimples, and it is the most effective product I’ve ever found for my skin for that purpose, if I have the time to smear green goo on my face and wait for it to dry. Comparing the sulfur-containing masks to natural masks without the sulfur in my own experiences, the sulfur helps a lot with my intermittent acne. For others who want their mask to be acne-fighting, I highly recommend looking for a product with sulfur in it.

I’m going to keep using up my ugly plastic container slowly. I don’t mind a dab of chemicals here and there, so long as I’m not using it every day. Maybe they’ll have come to their senses and made the formula more natural by the time I use up my package of the stuff.

12 years ago

AWESOME! I hope I can find some local stores to make my own too!