Mother Earth Living

Keep Skin Healthy for Winter

Cleanser & Toner for Dry Complexion
Cleanser & Toner for Oily Complexion
Blemish Remover
Aromatic Bath Salts
Natural Sunscreen
Honey Lip Balm
Antifungal Vinegar & Powder
Nail Soak Oil

Skiing, ice skating, snowboarding or simply
gazing at gently falling snow make winter the ­favorite season of
many. But winter has its pitfalls, particularly for the skin. Not only
does the natural climate change, but the interior environment does
too. We shut windows tight and turn up the thermostat. We wrap our
bodies in layers of cloth and encase our feet in wool socks and
winter-hardy shoes. When it’s really cold, we dash from heated cars
to heated buildings and homes, letting our faces take the brunt of
momentary exposure to icy air and freezing winds.

Fret not, though, because simple herbal protections can help
your skin stay the course during the winter months. Here, herbalist
Kathi Keville, director of the American Herb Association, offers
some advice. Feel free to share her remedies with your
friends–package them in pretty bottles, add a bow and offer them
as special holiday gifts.

Dry skin

If you have a dry complexion, the skin on your face probably has
a fine texture with no visible pores. This type of skin tends to be
thin and sensitive and may often feel tight and dry, especially
after you wash it. It can eventually become sallow and develop a
coarse texture. Skin constantly loses water through sweat and evaporation, but
tiny glands secrete oil to coat skin and stop this loss. If your
skin is dry, chances are that it’s because of underactive oil
glands, which are a result of both heredity and low hormone
production. Lacking oil, dry skin is particularly vulnerable to
winter’s wind and chapping cold, which further suppress oil glands’

Herbs can help dry skin moisturize ­itself. Cosmetics experts
and aromatherapists suggest that small amounts of rosemary and
peppermint increase the skin’s oil production and improve
circulation, while chamomile, lavender, jasmine, elderflowers, and
calendula soothe and heal the irritation that so easily develops as
outer layers of dry skin flake off. If you have dry skin, use as little soap as possible because
most soaps dry out the skin. Also avoid foaming cleansers, which
are far too drying. When you do wash with soap, choose one designed
for delicate skin. Otherwise, wash with a water-soluble cleansing
cream for dry skin such as the recipe below, which is designed to
maintain the skin’s natural oil. Then pat your face dry very

Remove makeup with a face cream instead of soap, and always use
makeup that contains moisturizers. Avoid facial toners that contain
alcohol, which will dry your skin. Instead, use an herbal toner
with a vinegar base–this will soften your skin, help
maintain its natural acidity, and relieve the itch­iness and
flakiness that often accompany dryness. Dry skin is sometimes accompanied by blemishes. Scientific
studies on cham­omile, lavender, rosemary, and St.-John’s-wort show
that these herbs reduce such inflammations. In the early 1990s, H.
W. Kreysel, M.D., director of the Dermatologic Clinic at the
University of Bonn in Germany, conducted three separate clin­ical
studies on chamomile with dozens of men and women. He found that a
chamomile cream restored a smooth, healthy appearance to rough and
red skin faster and more thoroughly than other creams. It also
improved “peak and valley” patterns, known more commonly as

Oily skin

People with oily complexions tend to bemoan their genetic fate,
at least through their early years. Only later do they start to
feel fortunate. There is a positive side to oily skin–it protects
and lubricates, so you can expect fewer wrinkles as your skin
matures. An oily complexion tends to be shiny and have large pores and a
thick, coarse texture. In the winter, oil buildup increases when we
bundle up with scarves and hats. All that excess oil attracts dirt,
which can breed bacteria, cause infection, and clog pores with dead

Nothing you use on your skin should completely stop your skin
from producing oil, but some herbs can slow the production. Basil,
eucalyptus, cedarwood, cypress, lemon, sage, lemongrass, yarrow
and ylang-ylang (sold only as ­essential oil) help normalize
overactive oil glands. Clean your oily face at least twice a day with a neutral-pH
(7.0) soap or cleanser. Wipe away excess oil with cotton pads
soaked in witch hazel or a cleanser for oily skin. Avoid scrubbing
because it stimulates oil production. A slight amount of grain
alcohol in toner is okay, but don’t use it often. Alcohol is
drying, but if you dry out oily skin too much, it will produce even
more oil to compensate.

Other Problems

Sun damage

Enjoy a day of skiing or a
leisurely hike in the snow, but don’t forget that the sun can still
do you harm, even in winter. The sun’s ultraviolet rays, which are present all day long, are
particularly ­destructive and can cause premature aging and skin
cancer. Nicknamed “aging rays,” they penetrate into the skin’s
lower layers, harming collagen, elastin and DNA.

When it comes to sun damage, prevention is key, so do your best
to limit your sun exposure and wear protective clothing and
sunscreen when you go outside. No natural ingredient fully protects
against the sun’s rays, but some defense can be found in sesame
oil, which skin specialists say can decrease the impact of the sun
by about 30 percent; aloe vera and olive, coconut and peanut oils
block out about 20 percent of the ultraviolet rays.

Chapped lips

Rough, cracked lips not only feel uncomfortable, they also look unattractive. You can protect your lips from winter’s wind and cold with a soothing herbal lip balm. The balm I recommend is a good alternative to petroleum oil-based ointment sticks that can dry out your lips more than moisturize them. Herbal lip balms come in a tasty selection of flavors, including orange, tangerine, and vanilla. If your lips are very chapped, avoid essential oils that can sting, such as peppermint.

Athlete’s foot and other fungal infections

the wintertime, we tend to keep our feet bundled up–a good way to
stay warm, but a bad way to fight fungal infections. They thrive in
the moist, closed comfort of woolen socks and tightly bound
shoes.Fungal skin and nail infections can be unsightly, uncomfortable,
and difficult to eliminate. But many herbs that are high in
essential oils also are antifungal, especially tea tree, oregano,
lavender, eucalyptus and myrrh. Pau d´arco contains three
compounds that fight common fungi.

An herbal salve can be used to fight fungal skin infections, but
I prefer an herbal vinegar and/or a bentonite clay dusting powder
to dry out the moist environment in which fungus thrives. Although
dabbing a gourmet vinegar on your skin may seem odd, oregano and
garlic vinegars make excellent remedies. Vinegar itself directly
destroys fungal infections, and its effectiveness is increased by
adding eight drops of tea tree essential oil per ounce of


The cold, dry air can take its toll on nails and cuticles, but you can help them with a nightly application of Nail Soak Oil. If your nails are under fungal attack, soak them in the Antifungal Vinegar before rubbing in the oil.

Excerpted with permission from Herbs for Health and Healing by
Kathi Keville, with Peter Korn (Rodale Press, 1996).

  • Published on Nov 1, 1998
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