Herbal skin care is an ancient way of tending the largest organ of the body- the skin! It involves the use of plants for daily maintenance of the skin, treating particular skin conditions and beautifying the body.
Divine Daily Maintenance with Herbs
On a daily basis, we use products to care for our skin: cleansing, moisturizing, protecting and otherwise pampering or beautifying. Herbs can be incorporated into the homemade products that you make, you can purchase already made herbal skin care products or use the plants in their whole form.
Herbs as Cleansers
I love to make a batch of cleansing grains and use this to wash my face. Cleansing grains are a mixture of grains or grasses (like oatmeal, amaranth or corn meal), clay, beans or seeds and you guessed it: herbs.
Everything is blended to a fine meal texture (or the texture you prefer) and mixed together. This final product is then stored dry and used one teaspoon at a time mixed with a bit of water. The paste is used as a cleansing mix, to exfoliate and draw out dirt and residue.
Just put a teaspoon of cleansing grains into your palm, add just enough water to moisten it and massage into the skin in a circular motion for about 30 seconds. It can also be left on to make a mask or rinsed with fresh water. This gentle cleanser is not drying and it can be crafted for your particular skin type or based on seasonally fresh herbs and grains.
Herbs as Emollients
An emollient (moisturizer) generally has a mucilaginous texture and will soften and soothe the skin. Juicy herbs like marshmallow, violet and comfrey are lubricating on their own. You can use them freshly macerated and applied straight, as a poultice or infused into herbal oils. They could also be blended and the resulting liquid used externally. This is a blend to use up right way and stored in the refrigerator as it will have a shelf life similar to ripe fruit.
Which Herbs Protect the Skin?
Many herbs possess antioxidants and other plant chemicals which protect the skin from stress and damage. Stress for the skin comes from pollution, lots of sun exposure, poor diet and being exposed to synthetics. Of course, removing the external stressors as much as possible is ideal. Alas, we’ve created a very stressful world and so in addition to adjusting external circumstances, using herbs for skin care can also be helpful.
Here is a small sampling of herbs with protective factors:
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is a powerful antioxidant and prevents the harmful effects of UV light. It is high in a plant flavonoid called quercetin. It also decreases the number of UVB-induced sunburn cells.
Green and black tea (Camellia sinensis) are able to prevent UVA/B-induced skin cancers, are anti-inflammatory and protect against UVB-induced edema and damage.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Sage (Salvia officinalis) are both powerful antioxidants and are chemoprotective against cancer-causing substances.
Milk thistle (Silymarin marianum) is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory used traditionally in Europe for 2000 years. It has skin cancer chemoprotective action and topical use can significantly inhibit UVB-induced skin edema, formation of sunburn and apoptotic cells.
Many herbs are high in tannins, as they protect plants through a chemical defense from predators and UV light. Tannins are potent antioxidants that protect against free radical damage caused by UV exposure and reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.
Pine bark (Pinus spp.) is a free radical scavenger and works by producing antioxidant enzymes.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a strong anti-inflammatory.
And the list goes on!
Plants are powerful allies; herbal skin care can help with all sorts of stressors by protecting the skin. Herbs can be made into creams, toners, salves, oils, and many other creations and used liberally and safely on the skin.
Working with Herbal Energetics for Skin Care
Gaining knowledge of the energetics, or properties, of herbs is very helpful to incorporating them into skin care formulas. See the list below for some beneficial skin care herbs and their actions:
Addressing Particular Conditions with Herbal Skin Care
Herbal skin care is utilizing the benefits of plants to help heal the skin in a myriad of ways.
For example, calendula salve is used to quicken healing of wounds. Witch hazel astringent can help decrease large pore size, acne and hemorrhoids. Rose oil is a wonderful balancer, meaning it helps increase oil production in dry skin and decrease it in oily skin.
Beautifying with Herbs, Roots, Flowers
Humans and plants have evolved together; we have always used herbs to fulfill basic needs and for many other purposes. Herbal skin care has a long history in obtaining or preserving beauty, from the ancient beauty secrets of China and Egypt to using herbs that decrease wrinkles and other signs of aging.
My take on beauty is this- it is an innate quality that everybody has; it is relative to each person; and each person has their own unique beauty so it is best not to compare. Herbal skin care can help each one of us to be as beautiful as we are: vibrant, with twinkling eyes and healthy skin.
Natural phenolics in the prevention of UV-induced skin damage, a Review. Institute of Medical Chemistry and Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Palacký University, Hněvotínská 3. Biomed. Papers 147(2), 137–145 (2003), A. Svobodová, J. Psotová, D. Walterová.