By Randi Ragan
Plants are healing gifts that the Earth has given us – not only for nourishment, but to cure health problems and provide ingredients for a bounty of natural beauty recipes. People all over the world have known this since the beginning of time. Modern science has effectively learned how to synthesize those properties artificially in a lab for medical and economic benefits, but in the process, has short-circuited our culture’s interaction with plants on a level other than for food. We’ve come to believe that unless we buy our beauty products in a box that’s been made commercially, then it isn’t going to be as effective. Some people even believe that the more expensive the product and exotic the ingredients, the better the results will be. By following this line of thinking, we’ve also bought ourselves a boatload of chemical components we’ve discovered are unnecessary and, in fact, doing more harm than good.
Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, chronic allergies, and a host of other problems. For example, there are common beauty products that contain the same ingredients as found in car wash de-greasers and oven cleaners, a large percentage of which are extracted from petroleum (mineral oil, paraffin waxes). The average American woman who wears conventional lipstick on a regular basis, will swallow about 10 pounds of petroleum by-product in her lifetime! All personal care products (defined by anything we put onto our face, hair, body) are absorbed by our skin into our blood stream, and end up in the same places as the food we eat.
Additionally, the majority of what we pay for in a beauty product is advertising, marketing, packaging and shelf display positioning of that product, rather than the actual ingredients that are in it. From a cost/benefit ratio, this isn’t too smart!
What is smart, is look to our fridge and kitchen pantry for effective, inexpensive, and nourishing ingredients to work into our beauty routines. Just as we combine our meal sources from home cooked and restaurant choices, so can we with beauty products: some we buy, some we make.
Knowing the qualities and properties of what foods and substances do, and how to combine them for desired effect is also like cooking – it’s basic kitchen chemistry. The phytochemical properties of yogurt and strawberries are remarkable when it’s learned how and why they are good for certain skin issues. And as with our meals made from scratch, whole food is infinitely better for you than processed and packaged food. With your beauty “food”, you’re getting the unadulterated essence of the egg white or tea leaf directly onto your skin with no fillers, fragrances or emulsifiers (the chemicals to help ingredients bind together, and thus present better, when a consumer looks at them on the shelf).
Finally, and most importantly, for just the same reasons that it’s truly nourishing and wonderful to learn how to cook for ourselves and our loved ones, homemade beauty products become part of a nourishing self care ritual that can’t be bought in a box. The beauty products we “cook up” have the power to not only address whatever issues we’re needing them for, but they can also feed the spirit in ways that mass produced drugstore or department store products, can never do. Beauty is a combination of “ingredients”. Besides genetics, time and attention, our complexions glow from a love of life and a connection to our authentic selves.
Here are a few of my favorite “skin food” recipes (use organic ingredients whenever possible):
Herbal Face Cleanser and Tonic
Fennel has been used throughout history as an aid to digestion or as a slight diuretic. As an infusion, fennel seeds can be gently cleansing and toning for the skin, and they can help reduce puffiness and superficial irritation. Thyme has astringent and antiseptic qualities. Because this cleanser is very gentle, it can be used each morning and evening. Dab it on your face and neck with a cotton ball, and rinse with warm water.
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, crumbled (or 1/2 T dried Thyme)
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- Juice of half a lemon
Mix the thyme and fennel seed in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Add lemon juice and steep for 15 minutes. Strain the infusion and store the liquid in a glass jar, in the fridge for up to a week.
Cucumber Face Mask
Cucumber and egg whites are excellent for tightening pores; the cucumber also reduces puffiness and the egg whites draw out impurities. Mint has a soothing, cooling and cleansing effect on the skin.
- Peel and de-seed 1 cucumber. Puree in a blender with 4 -5 leaves of fresh mint.
- Beat 1 egg white and keep it separate, then add the egg white to the cucumber mixture.
- Blend again for 10 or 15 seconds.
- Apply this evenly on your face, let it set for 20 minutes and then rinse it with warm water and pat it dry.
Avocado Carrot Mask
This mask combines avocados, which are rich in Vitamin E, with carrots, which are high in beta-carotene and antioxidants, and cream, which is high in calcium and protein. These ingredients will rebuild skin collagen, improve tone and texture, and fade age spots. The honey is anti-microbial.
- 1 avocado, mashed
- 1 carrot, cooked and mashed
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (vegans substitute coconut milk)
- 1 egg (vegans use omit)
- 3 tablespoons honey (vegans substitute another sticky syrup product such as agave or rice)
Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Spread gently over your face and neck, and leave in place up to 30 minutes. Rinse with cool water and follow with your favorite toner.
Vitamin C – Sugar Body Scrub
This exfoliating scrub will eliminate dull, flaky, dead skin while the vitamin C from the orange boost skin repair and the olive oil moisturizes and creates a smooth, silky skin texture (like “buttah”). TIP: make ahead and store in fridge for a cool body treat on a hot day; conversely, heat the oil and orange juice for 15-20 seconds in the microwave before combining with the sugar for a warm scrub on a cold winter’s day.
Mix a ½ to ¾ cup of course cane sugar with the juice of half an orange and enough EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to make a consistency similar to damp sand for sensitive skin or a drier consistency for thicker, less sensitive skin. Massage all over body in gentle, circular motions, then rinse off with warm water in the shower or bath.
Milk: dab a cotton ball with whole milk and use as an excellent face cleanser.
Chamomile Tea: brew 2 tea bags then chill before placing over the eyes to reduce redness and puffiness.
Baking Soda/Salt: Use as a tooth powder to scrub off food and coffee stains and protect gums.
Cucumber Juice: effective for itchy bug bites
Aspirin: dissolve 4 or 5 in a capful of apple cider vinegar and dab onto blemishes to dry them up
Black Tea: Drop 3 or 4 family-sized bags into warm bathwater for sunburn relief
Green Living and Holistic Lifestyle expert Randi Ragan is the founder and owner of the award-winning GreenBliss EcoSpa, Los Angeles’ only eco-friendly mobile spa & lifestyle service.
Photo Credit: viZZZual.com via flickr