My husband and I just returned from a dream vacation in Tahiti and French Polynesia. What attracted us to this spot was the fact that it is relatively untouched and off the grid. We wanted to really unwind in a place where the land, water and people were as natural and clean as possible. We certainly found the right place! Unfortunately, our first five days there were marred by torrential downpours and high winds due to cyclone Gita, which hit nearby Tonga. When the weather is not sunny, there’s not much to do in paradise, so we spent a lot of time driving around the islands, exploring and really getting to know the local culture and customs.

Each day we took a tender from our small cruise ship to the island port. During these 10-minute rides I did some people watching and noticed a few things. First of all, there was a nice diversity in ethnicity among the passengers on our cruise. Some people were from the US and Canada, but more were from Japan and New Zealand. It was very cool meeting so many different types of people, all here with one common goal: experiencing this gorgeous place. In terms of physical attributes, most of the female passengers wore makeup, and some of them wore A LOT of makeup—heavy foundation, eye liner, mascara, lipstick…the whole nine yards. There were also some fashionista-types with fancy hats, shoes, dresses and jewelry to match each outfit. (I think they call this “cruise wear.”)

Being summer in the Pacific Islands right now, the weather was hot and humid and, as I mentioned before, it rained a lot. When we reached the dock, we were greeted by locals singing and playing the ukulele. The men were shirtless and the women wore floral-print skirts and bikini tops with lovely flower crowns on their heads. As you stepped off the boat, you were handed a tiare flower, also known as the Tahitian gardenia, which is the national flower. The tiare flower is a small, white flower with an amazing sweet scent. As per tradition, both men and women wear it tucked behind the ear, and you can smell its fragrance throughout the day. 

Another thing I noticed about the native population was their skin. They had the most beautiful tanned skin, which was so pretty with their dark hair and eyes. The women did not wear a drop of makeup, and their skin radiated a natural glow. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s not that these people were free of imperfections. It was just that they didn’t try to hide them. I observed how they were so comfortable in their own skin. The men sang passionately and danced with a very masculine, almost warrior-like manner. The women sang too and danced with beautiful grace. I could see that some women had born children and their bellies were loose and a little flabby, yet they danced with pride and complete comfort, swinging their hips to the beat and making fluid arm gestures. How different the Polynesians are from the norm in our society, with our focus on perfection and fear of what others think.

On the islands there were not any big retail shopping areas, but rather small outdoor markets where tourists could buy goods made from local commodities such as sea shells, wood, pearls, coconut and flowers. I came across a woman selling Monoi oil for the skin and hair and asked if I could try it. The base was made from coconuts and the scent derived from the tiare flower. It was packaged in a recycled single-serving glass San Pellegrino bottle, without an ingredient label or any other markings aside from some handwriting on the bottle that read Monoi. Typically, I would not buy a product that was packaged like this, yet coming from this place and these lovely people, I trusted it was clean and safe to use. I paid $6 for my bottle, which I am using back at home as my after-shower moisturizer and sparingly in my hair as an anti-frizz treatment. I figure I can use it for just about anything you would use coconut oil for in your beauty regimen. Of course, these types of manufacturing practices would never fly here in the US, but I truly appreciate the simplicity of the product and the fact that I can use one product for several purposes.

This experience of being among a group of people who live so simply and are in touch with nature and their own natural essence made me ponder my life and choices back at home. After this trip, I feel even more committed to using and manufacturing products that are as clean and close to nature as possible. I have developed a greater appreciation for the beauty of one’s natural skin, be it freckled, pink, dark, light, whatever it may be. Skin is beautiful! I noticed that my own skin looks best clean and well moisturized, but not coated with makeup. I’m working on feeling comfortable in my own skin and body, even though it is far from perfect and showing signs of age these days. What greater beauty is there than the kind that radiates from a person who is confident and comfortable in his or her own skin? After my time with the Polynesian women, I tend to think there’s none.

How can you simplify and bring your own beauty regimen back to nature?

I suggest that you take a fresh look at yourself in the mirror after your next shower. How does your skin look? Can you see the beauty in your own perfect, yet imperfect, skin? Perhaps you need to exfoliate to uncover your glow, add some moisture to your parched skin, or maybe your pores are clogged from all that makeup you put on every day. Take an honest look, and make some changes if needed. Consider using products with natural oils like jojoba, squalane, argan and shea butter to moisturize. For anti-aging, tap nature and look for ingredients like green tea, resveratrol, grape seed extract and aloe. Try to connect with your own natural beauty and feel confident and beautiful in the amazing skin you are in.

I do hope you all get to experience the untouched beauty of the Polynesian Islands one day, but even if you can’t get there in person, take a look at the beauty around and in you, and unmask anything that is preventing you from being in touch with your most natural self.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

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