Skin Deep

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Growing up in Florida, I spent many summer days lying on the beach or by the pool working on my tan. But since my early 20s, I’ve been zealous about avoiding the midday sun, and I wear wide-brimmed hats and use sunscreen year round — even though I now live in Oregon.

I’m convinced that protecting my skin from excessive sun exposure will help to prevent skin cancer, wrinkling and age spots. But recently, I’ve become concerned about the potential toxic effects of many of the most commonly used sunscreen ingredients, some of which are found even in natural sunscreens. In several laboratory studies, benzophenone-3, homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate, 4 methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) and octyl-dimethyl-PABA have been shown to be endocrine disrupters — which means they potentially can cause reproductive problems and cancer.

As a result, I now use only the sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both of which are natural substances that are safe, non-irritating and block virtually the entire spectrum of the sun’s damaging rays. Additional beneficial ingredients in some sunscreens include green tea, vitamin C and vitamin E, all of which help to reduce the free radical damage caused by excessive sun exposure.

To protect your skin from sun damage, apply a full-spectrum sunscreen to any parts of your body that are exposed to the sun and wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and protective clothing when you are outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you do get sunburned, you can help mitigate the damage with some easy homemade herbal remedies.


The quickest way to relieve the heat of sunburn is to take a cool bath. Cool water helps to lower the surface temperature of the skin, and baking soda and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil soothe tender skin.

1 cup baking soda
10 drops lavender essential oil

Add baking soda and lavender essential oil to a tub of comfortably cool water and stir well to dissolve the baking soda. Soak for 15 minutes or more.


Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains antioxidants that help to neutralize the cell damage caused by excessive sun exposure. Adding chamomile (Matricaria recutita) to the bath provides additional skin-soothing and healing compounds.

2 quarts water
1/3 cup dried green tea
1/3 cup dried chamomile blossoms

Bring water and herbs to a simmer in a covered pot. Remove from heat and steep until cool. Strain out herbs, and add tea to a cool bath.


If you’re suffering from sunburn, drink three cups of green tea daily for an extra boost of skin-rejuvenating antioxidants. To make a refreshing summer beverage, steep equal parts green tea and mint for three to five minutes. Add fresh-squeezed lime and sweetener to taste, and serve chilled.


To help cool sunburn and encourage skin healing, mist your skin with a mixture of green tea, aloe (Aloe vera) juice and lavender essential oil.

1/4 cup brewed green tea
1/4 cup aloe vera juice
1/4 teaspoon lavender essential oil

Mix together cool green tea, aloe and lavender essential oil in a spray bottle. Shake well. Spray liberally onto skin as often as desired. Refrigerate, and use within two weeks.


To relieve the heat and redness of a sunburned face, apply a thick paste of cold yogurt and chamomile essential oil. Because yogurt is a good source of lactic acid (a natural alpha-hydroxy acid), it gently smoothes rough skin. Yogurt also has mild bleaching action, and if applied often (three or more times a week) can help lighten discoloration caused by excessive sun exposure.

2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 drops chamomile essential oil

Mix together yogurt and chamomile essential oil. Smooth the mixture over your face and neck. Leave the mask in place for 15 minutes, and then gently rinse your skin with tepid water.


Honey has natural moisturizing and healing properties — it’s even used in some hospitals as a wound dressing for severely burned patients.

1 tablespoon raw honey
1 drop lavender essential oil

Mix honey and lavender essential oil. Dampen your face with cool water and gently smooth the mask onto your skin. After 15 minutes, gently rinse off the mask with tepid water.

Eye-Soothing Treatment

To soothe the pain and swelling of sunburned eyelids, soak black tea bags in cold water for 5 minutes and then apply tea bags to closed eyes. The tannins in black tea help shrink swelling and calm inflammation.

Summer Coolers: Body Mists

To stay cool on hot summer days and nights, try an herbal body mist. Use your favorite herbs and essential oils, or try these refreshing summer combinations.

Pink Grapefruit-Lavender Body Mist

Lavender and pink grapefruit make one of my favorite body mists — it’s a slightly sweet, refreshing combination. Choose a lavender oil with a sweet, floral fragrance.

1 tablespoon distilled witch hazel
10 drops pink grapefruit essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
Spring or filtered water

Mix witch hazel with grapefruit and lavender essential oils in a 4-ounce spray bottle. Shake well, and fill the bottle with spring or filtered water. Shake again before using.

Peppermint-Lemon Balm Body Mist

1 tablespoon fresh chopped peppermint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chopped lemon balm leaves
1 cup distilled witch hazel

Steep peppermint and lemon balm in the witch hazel in a covered jar for one week. Strain out the herbs, and pour the liquid into an 8-ounce spray bottle.

Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1001 Natural Remedies (DK, 2003) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).

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