Slicking on a sour-cream facial mask was as familiar to Lauren Cox at age 5 as dolls and dress-up. Her birthday parties were spa-themed, and custom-made lip gloss or bath salts often numbered among the gifts.
"It was always fun," Cox says. "I'd never get tired of it.
Cox was an enthusiastic participant in her mother's passion for home beauty treatments, which led Janice Cox to publish three how-to books over the past 15 years. Once Lauren, 20, was old enough to create new versions of her mother's concoctions, her own book wasn't far behind. Combining Lauren's love of cooking and cosmetics, "EcoBeauty," contains 100 recipes for body gels, scrubs, butters and myriad other products homemade from all-natural ingredients.
"It's cooking for your skin, basically," Lauren says. "I was trying to come up with creative names and fun flavors."
Pumpkin, coffee, chocolate, carrots, milk, sugar and spices make up the foundation of Lauren's favorite formulas. All are easily assembled in a home kitchen — even a college dorm room — and can easily be decorated as gifts. Lauren and Janice both favor recycled containers for storing homemade beauty aids and for gift-giving, a major selling point of "EcoBeauty," published in August by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.
With more than 40 color photographs, the 152-page book brings home beauty to a younger audience interested in natural living and do-it-yourself projects. While Janice's books appealed to a generation of penny-pinchers, Lauren's is no less relevant to teens and young adults hard up for cash, the Medford family says.
"You can easily make these for pennies of what you're spending dollars on in the store," Janice says.
"If there's something I need, I can just whip it up really fast," says Janice's 17-year-old daughter, Marie Cox, who contributed the recipe for Marie's Basic Hand Cream to her sister's book.
Born of Lauren's need for a senior project, the book took on a life of its own. Months of work with Janice's agent culminated in Lauren's book contract just after she graduated in 2008 from South Medford High School.
"I never thought I've got an 'in' because of my mom at all," Lauren says. "It's a dream come true."
Following her teacher's suggestion to choose a more manageable project that included community service, Lauren contented herself with hosting a day of beauty-themed crafts for local Girl Scouts. But defying educators' expectations, she went on to write "EcoBeauty" in just three months before leaving Medford for her freshman year at UCLA.
"I had to do all the basic writing before I left for college," Lauren says.
Lauren furnished anecdotes and explanations in the vibrant voice publishers craved, while Janice provided technical assistance with recipes and information about the health benefits of ingredients. After her daughter's top billing, Janice is listed as a collaborating author.
"Her book is kind of the next generation," Janice says. "Women have done it for years, centuries; it's not a new idea."
Yet it's rare to publish such a young author of nonfiction, says Ten Speed editor Lisa Westmoreland, herself a fan of homemade beauty products. The widely recognized authority of Janice lent credibility and confidence to Lauren's perspective of "saving the world one natural face mask at a time," Westmoreland says.
"It had that young, fresh voice that I had personally found missing," the 27-year-old editor says. "What I got was the best of both worlds."
Producing 15,000 copies of "EcoBeauty" in its initial press run, Ten Speed also made good on the book's "green" angle by printing with soy-based inks on paper recycled entirely from post-consumer waste, Westmoreland says. Such environmentally-conscious publishing isn't cost-effective for most projects, but Ten Speed put its money where its mouth is, the editor adds. Priced at $19.95, "EcoBeauty" was shipped to Amazon.com, major chain bookstores, small independent bookstores and specialty venues like craft-supply and health-food stores, Westmoreland says.
"This book has a lot of cross-over appeal."
Effortlessly crossing the line between food and beauty aid, Lauren's recipes reflect her experience in the kitchen and her favorite flavors. Sushi Body Scrub, combining pulverized rice, powdered kelp and wasabi, is presented with Lauren's enthusiasm for Japanese cuisine, shared by Marie. Lauren's stint as a barista inspired her Espresso Yourself Facial Mask, which contains ground coffee, cocoa powder and milk.
"I wanted to look into bringing in new ingredients," Lauren says, adding that Marie furnished a number of recipe titles, such as Maui Pineapple Body Scrub.
"Their take on it — I have to admit — is better," Janice says.
Ingredients for home beauty, Janice says, have only become more available in the decades since she started dabbling in the pastime. Clay, beeswax and essential oils are stocked in any health-food store, she says, while containers like tubes for lip gloss can be purchased online.
"I always say if we can make the stuff living in Medford, you can make'em anywhere," Janice says.
Many items, however, can be used straight from the refrigerator, Janice says, adding that her most essential beauty treatment is sour cream as a soothing facial mask. Following in her mother's frugal footsteps, Lauren saves sugar packets from coffee shops and mixes the contents with her favorite cleanser for extra exfoliation. Mayonnaise packets grabbed from the school cafeteria have deep-conditioned the sorority sister's hair.
"My roommates thought I was crazy," Lauren says.
Friends do occasionally solicit beauty advice, although Lauren prefers to keeps a low profile about her status as a published author. Her sophomore year as an economics major commenced with interviews for nationwide publications that reviewed "EcoBeauty," including Teen Vogue, Country Living, Body & Soul and Every Day with Rachael Ray magazines.
"It was such a learning curve," Lauren says.
Keen to learn more, Lauren is keeping in touch with her agent and working on more proposals, either for a follow-up beauty book or a bona fide cookbook.
"I want to keep writing."