Sarah Powell, an herbalist, medical anthropologist and proprietor of the natural bath & body business, Lilith’s Apothecary. Find her shop at www.lilithsapothecary.etsy.com and her blog at www.lilithsapothecary.wordpress.com for more natural body care tips and recipes.
Naturally healthy skin need not be a daunting, complex task. It can be a delightful ritual using natural ingredients found in your own home. The important first step is to simplify your routine. We will address the five most important skin care steps in this post.
If it’s one thing we do here in the U.S., at least, it’s to over-complicate our skincare routine. We have such diversity of skin care products available to us, and so many compelling advertising campaigns, that it is difficult for individuals to discern what they need and what they do not need. Fortunately, most of the most beneficial skin care products can be made by you in your own home. The Herb Companion has numerous, excellent do-it-yourself skincare recipes in their archives and there are endless examples on the web, including my own blog.
Skincare shouldn’t be a chore. It should be enjoyable and even contemplative. This is ‘time out’ from the regular, frantic nature of many of our lives, and at long last—some peace and quiet in the restroom—can be a special time in our day to take part in humankind's age-old beautifying treatments. Why not make your own home spa rituals? Start with your basic skin care routine and extend into the delightful realm of facial masks and steams, which we will get to later.
For the moment, put aside the lip plumpers and neck serums. With all the products out there, what are the most critical choices to make?
1.Cleanser: Washes away dirt, make-up, pollutants
2. Toner (or astringent): Removes residual cleanser, oil, returns skin to its natural pH, temporarily refines pores
3. Moisturizer: Replenishes the skin, keeps skin supple and soft, and minimizes wear.
4. Exfoliant: Smoothes the complexion and revitalizes skin; can be a gentle facial scrub OR Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and/or Beta Hydroxy Acid (ABA) creams. AHA’s and BHA’s are micro-exfoliants that are natural botanical acids.
5. Sunscreen: Find one that works for you and your skin type. Wear to prevent sun damage, particularly in the summer months.
Simply put, cleansing is the first and most critical step. If your skin is dry, you need to cleanse once. If it is oily, you need to cleanse twice. Don’t cleanse more than twice a day, however, in order to avoid stripping the skin and adversely causing excess oil production to compensate. Use a mild, natural cleanser that suites your skin type. Most of us know to cleanse before bed because we may wear make-up or have exercised during the day, but it is notable that cleansing is especially important to do before bedtime because your body excretes toxins through your skin while you sleep. If you do not cleanse, you risk clogged pores and break-outs, no matter what your skin type. It is worth noting that if you wear make-up, you should really cleanse your skin two times during your evening ritual. The first wash removes the make-up. The second wash removes excess sebum, dead skin, and deep cleanses pores. Always wash with tepid (not hot!) water so you prevent drying out the skin.
Natural cleansers, toners and moisturizers can help your skin
maintain a healthy balance of oils and pH levels.
Photo by Sarah Powell
Tonifying the skin after you cleanse protects the skins natural acid mantel. Normal skin has a pH of between 4.5 and 6 (usually around 5.5), which is slightly acid. Keep in mind that 7 is completely neutral. Most soaps and shampoos have a pH of between 8 and 11, while toners have a pH of between 4.5 and 6, and thus help restore facial skin to a more natural, “skin-loving” pH. This also acts to help prevent bacterial penetration, flaking due to moisture loss, and skin simply out of balance.
Moisturize. This is probably the most difficult to ascertain, so paying careful attention to your skin is important. Many people with oilier skin types do not need a moisturizer at all, as their skin already does a good job of lubricating itself. If oil production is out of balance, however, using gently astringent facial oils such as hazelnut can actually act to re-balance facial oils. Facial oils are wonderful moisturizers, and you can customize them based on your skin type. Some are perfect for ultra dry skin (evening primrose, rosehip seed, meadowfoam seed), while others are more neutral and non-clogging (sunflower, safflower). Severely acne-prone skin, or cystic acne, however, is better served by completely non-clogging moisturizers that contain a gel base. In this case it is good to consult a skin care expert.
Almond meal, rice bran meal and oatmeal provide gentle and rejuvenating
natural exfoliation to the delicate skin of your face.
Photo by Sarah Powell
Exfoliation with gentle, natural exfoliants or Alpha or Beta Hydroxy Acids is another essential step. This is not a step to be taken daily, as you do not want to make the skin dependent on exfoliants to rid itself of dead skin cells, but a weekly or bi-weekly exfoliation treatment goes a long way to revitalize and smooth the skin. Those with acne-prone skin should lean towards gentler AHA/BHA treatments and clay-based facial masks, while other skin types benefit greatly from facial cleansing grains made from ingredients such as almond meal, rice bran meal, and colloidal oatmeal. Soothing herbs such as lavender, chamomile, and calendula help to keep the skin calm and smooth.
Sunscreen is important, we must acknowledge. Skin cancer is on the rise, and all skin types are vulnerable to our changing atmosphere and the inherent problems associated with gaps in the ozone. We also need Vitamin D, which we get from the sun! So do make a habit of using sunscreen when you are going to be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, particularly when the sun is at its most intense. A more difficult task is finding a sunscreen that will work with your skin type. Some powders and foundations contain sunscreens. Mineral make-ups made with zinc may offer some protection. Powdered and/or gel sunscreens are usually best for acne-prone skin and well-made sunscreens may provide the perfect moisturizer for drier skin types. If this product is successfully combined with the critical steps above, all the better!
My previous post on Natural Skin Care focused on the needs of your skin internally. In my next post, I will help you ascertain your skin type, ascertain your needs, and discuss the difficulties of acne.
Read More: Tourles, Stephanie (1999). Naturally Healthy Skin: Tips and Techniques for a Lifetime of Radiant Skin. MA: Publishing.