Easy herbal treatments to protect, preserve
Skin Care Treatments:
These formulas are suitable for both men and women, and they can be made using supplies from your kitchen. On one shelf devoted to skin care, I keep several 1/2-cup to 1-quart, temperature-resistant glass bowls; small and large whisks and spoons; wooden ice cream sticks; and sanitized empty jars with lids. A small food processor or chopper and plastic bags also come in handy.
Some days, it doesn’t seem like your skin stands a chance. Smog, polluted water, overexposure to the sun, and other environmental factors conspire against a rosy glow, as do poor diet, lack of rest, and stress. Faced with such obstacles, how can you create, maintain, and protect healthy skin?
Herbal treatments may offer a safe, effective route to a wholesome complexion. Each herb contains different chemical constituents, meaning that, with a little study, you can create a treatment that’s not only easy and inexpensive to make, but also fits your individual skin-care needs.
Whether a person’s skin is oily or dry depends to some extent on heredity and age. A teenager, whose oil glands are especially active, normally has much oilier skin than an elderly person. However, a person’s skin also can become oily or dry as a result of environmental factors or stress, or even from a poorly designed skin-care regimen. Fortunately, skin imbalances can be corrected. We know, for example, that our skin needs a balance of oil and water to provide a smooth surface; requires proteins such as collagen for support; and depends on a slightly acidic skin surface to keep harmful fungi and viruses in check. By recognizing your skin’s needs, you can select the appropriate herbal treatment to keep the skin in balance.
When evaluating potential treatments, avoid substances that may harm your skin. Treatments that disrupt the skin’s acid mantle (a film the body creates to protect the skin) make the body work overtime to restore it. It’s a good idea to follow up any vigorous application—an abrasive scrub, for instance—with a treatment to soothe the skin. Here’s how to get started in tailoring a treatment to suit your skin’s changing needs.
After you have selected one of the formulas here or invented one of your own, simply walk out to your garden, pick fresh herbs, and prepare them for use. Condominium and apartment dwellers may wish to grow herbs in pots and window boxes. If you don’t have the time, space, or interest in growing your own herbs, you’ll find freshly cut herbs in many grocery stores and dried herbs in bulk in natural food stores.
It is important to use organic herbs when possible so that you know what you’re putting on your skin. Ask the retailer whether the herbs you are buying are pesticide-free and be aware that some herbs, such as yucca, are unavailable as organically grown.
• Use warm water; never put extremely hot or cold water on the face. Extreme temperatures can dilate or constrict capillaries so quickly that they break, resulting in spider veins.
• Avoid petroleum products such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or microcrystalline waxes as they can clog the pores and cause them to become enlarged.
• Avoid using products that you know you are sensitive to, inside or out; if you can’t eat honey, for example, don’t use it on your face.
• Use clean fingers to apply formulas to your skin. Cotton balls and face brushes may absorb important constituents of the mixture or may cause an allergic reaction. I once had a client who, we discovered, was allergic to her horsehair makeup brushes.
• Always test any new formula on the inner fold of your elbow before using it on your face. Check the site after twenty-four hours, and don’t use the formula if redness, swelling, or itching is present.
Infusions—The weakest of preparations, infusions are useful for hydrating the skin. Steep 1 ounce of herb leaves or flowers in 1 pint of simmering (200°F) water for about 5 minutes. Do not boil. Let cool to room temperature. Soak a washcloth in some of the liquid, then apply it to the skin. You may also use an infusion as a toner, soother, or astringent.
Decoctions—A decoction is used the same way as an infusion, but is more potent. Boil 1 ounce of the chopped, dried bark, chopped roots, and/or seeds of an herb in 1 pint of boiling water for at least 15 minutes and as long as 24 hours (bark, roots, and seeds require a longer boiling time to release their active constituents).
Macerations—Like decoctions, macerations are concentrated, potent herbal preparations. Fill a sterilized jar with crushed herbs, dried or fresh, using 1 ounce of herb for every pint of liquid. Cover with vegetable oil, cider vinegar, and rubbing alcohol or grain alcohol such as vodka. Cover the jar and let the mixture stand for two weeks; shake the jar daily.
Strain the liquid into a sterilized bottle, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Warm to room temperature before using. Oil macerations may be used as massage treatments; vinegars as toners, hair rinses, or in foot soaks; and alcohols, as toners, astringents, antiseptics, or cleansers. Macerations will keep in the refrigerator for as long as two months.
Poultices—These draw out impurities from the pores. Place a handful of herbs in a cup and moisten them with water heated to about 200°F. Allow them to cool enough so they won’t burn your skin, then wrap them in cheesecloth or muslin. Apply the poultice to the skin; remove it when cool.
Adapted from The Skin Care Book: Simple Herbal Recipes by Kathlyn Quatrochi (Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1997). Kathlyn is a naturopathic doctor who lives in California, where she teaches herbal skin care, maintains a skin treatment practice, and makes Bio Balance Skin Care Products.
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