Home Spa Treatment #1 – Treat those eyes

March 4, 2010
Cucumber

thanks to iChaz on flickr

"Aloe" thanks to Herb Companion

"Aloe" thanks to Herb Companion

I’ve been offering you some Herbal Remedies quick tips, but I’d like to start a new series of Home Spa tips focusing on different treatments you can do at home for your own private spa experience.  Let’s start with those alluring eyes of ours that communicate so very much.

We all know by now why there are eye serums & creams on the market. First, we live insane lives here in the United States, where the response “Busy” has replaced “Fine” when we are asked how we are doing. Second, we don’t get enough sleep. Third, sun damage. Finally, despite our greatest efforts, we are aging, and here in America, we don’t tend to like that. Despite the truth that many skin care product claims might be a bunch of B.S., there is actually some truth to ingredients that attest to reduce puffiness, smooth out wrinkles, and brighten our peepers (or at least the skin around them).

These ingredients, when present in your eye care product, can do a lot to remedy your eye area issues: Retinol (increases collagen production), forms of zinc (may increase elastin production), cucumber extract (anti-inflammatory), chamomile extract (anti-inflammatory), caffeine (diuretic – so it reduces puffiness & seems to “lift” eye tissue), Vit C (decreases melanin production, treating dark circles), and Vit K (helps break down pigment particles in blood, decreasing dark circles).  Extra-emollient oils can also help keep that fragile skin elastic and supple, reducing wrinkles in the long-term and helping repair sun damage. That sun damage part can also be mitigated by anti-oxidants by reducing the ravage caused by free radicals.

Weren’t you wondering why I include green tea (antioxidant, vt C, and caffeine), Vit C, and chamomile in my popular Eye Potion? Don’t worry – I’m making a fresh batch next week. But I’m here to tell you about home remedies you can do yourself! Fortunately, there is a lot you can do yourself at home to do something for your poor tired eyes.

Eye cream

Lilith's eye potion

Tea Bag eye packs
— seriously! That concentrated tea contains caffeine that is proven to reduce puffiness. Leave teabags on eyes for 10 minutes and make sure to use cool water as hot water may burn and can help dry out eyes. Use a caffeinated tea with rosehips and you have a good amount of Vit C in there too. One with green tea, chamomile, and rosehips and you have an eye tea powerhouse!  Hey…maybe I should make these.

Cucumber eye packs. Yeah cucumber! We all know that Cool as a Cucumber says it all. And cucumber truly does reduce puffiness and inflammation, calming the eye area (and the rest of the skin too!). You can use cucumber distillates, mists, or slices of the vegetable placed over your eyes for 5-10 minutes.

Eye Serum. You can create a special oil of emollient oils such as avocado, coconut, shea, meadowfoam seed, hemp seed , evening primrose, and rosehip seed oil. Extra powerhouse ingredients include carrot oil, blueberry seed oil, seabuckthorne berry oil, and essential oils or CO2 extracts of Calendula, blue chamomile, and helicrysium.

Eye Potion. This is a simple Cocoa Butter & Coconut Oil recipe from Herb Companion. You need only two ingredients and you don’t need to use preservatives because there is no hydrous, or water, component. Super rich and long-lasting.

Cooling Cucumber Eye Gel.  I love this recipe from Herb Companion and remember when I first noted it when it appeared in print last year. This is a once & done spa treatment, meaning that it won’t preserve longer than a few days if kept in the fridge. But considering the ingredients, including fresh cucumber juice and aloe vera, it sounds like a great treatment!

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CALM your skin: what the ingredients actually do

February 12, 2010
Red Tea

Red Tea, courtesy of Mountain Rose Herbs

 

In product descriptions in my Etsy shop, I often write about ingredients that act to “calm” the skin. What does that mean, exactly? For one thing, someone might turn to ingredients that calm the skin because she experiences redness, puffiness, dark circles, potentially inflammatory conditions such as rosacea or acne, and needs the harmonizing power of doubly calming & regenerative ingredients for more mature skin. 

Some of the ingredients used in the skin care industry include those that contain ANTI-OXIDANTSESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (ESFs), and ANTI-INFLAMMATORY compounds.  In fact, many of these ingredients contain all three qualities, as anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids both work to reduce inflammation, and certain extracts or oils contain both anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon

 

We can get these compounds in our diets, and certainly that is the best way to bring these nutrients to your skin, that great filtering organ that can benefit –or suffer from–whatever we put into our bodies. Antioxidants are found in colored fruits, leafy greens, and colorful vegetables, as well as green, white, and black tea, red (rooibos) tea, cinnamon, coffee, and black pepper. Essential Fatty Acids include Omega 3,6, & 9’s are found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, among other sources. Dietwise, we get plenty of Omega 6 & 9’s regardless, so what you want to focus on are getting those Omega 3’s from good, fresh sources (i.e. keep your walnuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity). Anti-inflammatory qualities are found in superfruits like blueberry, mangosteen, goji berry (or chinese wolf berry/lyciium fruit), acai, and powerhouse herbs such as turmeric, lavender and chamomile.  You can get a great solid blueberry extract at Herbalist & Alchemist. The benefit of these superfruits is that they contain both antioxidants AND anti-inflammatory compounds, as these qualities often come from the same source. 

  

Blueberries

Blueberries

 

Anti-oxidants reduce free-radical damage and help repair the skin and protect it from long-term damage. In your skincare products, when you see extracts or oils from fruits & vegetables such as blueberry, carrot, or kelp, you know you’re getting something that is high in anti-oxidants. Extracts are usually alcohol “tinctures” which act to chemical extract these active compounds. You might see CO2 extracts, which can closely resemble the original plant, or alcohol extracts. It is preferable to have extracts made from grain alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol. Another type of extract can be created from glycerin, which adds additional moisture content to the product.  Oils used in bath & beauty products can also be high in antioxidants, including carrot, coconut, and meadowfoam seed oil. These high anti-oxidant oils not only protect your skin but they prevent further damage. There are many herbs that are rich in anti-oxidants as well, including Tea leaf (black, white and green), Rooibos, Cinnamon, and Rosehips. 

Essential Fatty Acids (ESFs) are usually found in oils that are rich in Omega 3, 6 & 9’s. Some of these oils include sunflower seed, safflower seed, rosehip seed, borage, evening primrose, camellia seed, sweet almond, and walnut oils among others. Borage oil is a fabulous source of the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and as the GLA of borage oil is 24% , it  is actually the richest known source in the world. Amazingly, GLA is needed by the body to produce the anti-inflammatory protaglandins believed to strengthen cell membranes & combat diseases such as eczema, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions.  Essential Fatty Acids are superior moisture-grabbers. Research suggests that some of those with eczema or severely dry skin may have an ESF deficiency and would benefit from ESF-rich diet and skin care attention. Therefore, it is important for anyone with dry skin issues, especially dry, flaky and reddened skin to make sure they use products rich in ESFs both externally and internally. 

lavender

Lavender

 

Some favorite anti-inflammatory herbs are Turmeric and Chamomile. Turmeric is the anti-inflammatory herb of choice in Ayurvedic medicine and is also high in anti-oxidants. Chamomile is another favorite anti-inflammatory that I often use in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema, as it seems to have clinically proven benefits as great as that of topical steroids. Holy Basil, or Tulsi, my ‘herb of choice’ for 2010, also has mild anti-inflammatory qualities. Essential oils and distillates/ hydrosols, the by-product of steam distillation, can also contain potent anti-inflammatory qualities in skin care products. Helichrysum hydrosol and essential oil, for example, is a strong anti-inflammatory often called ‘Imortelle’ or ‘Everlasting’ because of its wonderful anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties. Lavender is another herb that is wonderful to use as an essential oil, distillate, or extract for its anti-inflammatory compounds, and its calming activity on the skin has been seen in individuals with rosacea and acne. 

I hope that helps clear up a few questions! Are there ingredients that you’ve noted lately and have wondered about? If so, let me know!


Herbal Remedies Tip#7 – Turmeric for Inflammation

November 9, 2009
turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is the Indian spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color, but this commonly used spice contains potent therapeutic activity. Indeed, it is a key ingredient in Kicharee, a therapeutic food from Ayurvedic medicine made up of mung beans, rice, ghee and spices turmeric, cumin, and coriander.

Probably considered one of the ‘favorite’  herbs by nearly all practicing herbalists, turmeric is a powerhouse from Ayurvedic (east Indian) medicine, and part of a 3-5,000 year old tradition. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can be used for internal inflammation,  as well as topically for muscle strain. Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a fabulous remedy for arthritis and chronic health issues rooted in excess inflammation. Because turmeric is antibacterial, it may be used topically in powder or paste form by applying it directly to a wound or sore.

Apply the powdered herb paste or extract of the fresh turmeric rhizome externally, but be warned that it may turn the skin yellow (temporarily), or take  300 mg of turmeric internally twice daily as a capsule, or 40-60 drops twice daily of the alcohol extract of the fresh rhizome.  Add liberally to food, as it is a perfect ingredient for soups, curries, egg, and vegetable dishes. 

As part of my work as an herbalist, I  make liver tonic tinctures that include turmeric for supporting liver function and livers under strain from diseases like Hepatitis.  I also use turmeric in my Botanical Assist Pain Relief cream for arthritis and/or menstrual relief. Check out my etsy shop for other Therapeutic offerings.


Chamomile (matricaria recutita) ~ gentle giant

January 29, 2009

Soothing Skin Bath Soak

Soothing Skin Bath Soak

Chamomile is a common name for an herb that usual includes both the Roman and German varieties. Once called ‘maythe’ or ‘mayweed’, the name is based on an old English word for ‘maide’ or ‘woman’ and is probably due to the plant’s calming, relaxant effects which have been used to soothe menstrual pains (Pollington2000). While both varieties have similar action, German chamomile is purported to be better tasting and milder in action that Roman Chamomile, which makes the former a better choice for pregnant women and children.

Chamomile is a commonly known herb that has amazingly wonderful, diverse qualities. It is traditionally used as a remedy for teething or cranky babies, to relieve and upset stomach, to ease menstrual cramps, and to reduce tension and induce sleep (K&W2001). Though individuals who have ragweed allergies may find that they are allergic to topical application of chamomile poulstices or salves, an allergic reaction is fairly unusual. In addition, in treating eczema, chamomile has been found to be as effective as hydrocortisone (steroidal cream) and superior to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (Aertgeertsetal1985). My own daughter has had eczema since she was an infant, and I have been delighted to find that a lotion created with chamomile & calendula infusions in both distilled water and natural vegetable oils has provided wonderful eczema relief. I now offer this lotion in my shop, primarily targeted for use for individuals with eczema, for children & infants, and for those with sensitive skin, though this lotion is fine for anyone and has a light scent of chamomile tea without the use of any fragrance or essential oils.

Chamomile

Chamomile

Chamomile is a wonderfully calming herb, both calming to the skin (as above) and calming to the tummy, the mind, the body, and the spirit. It gently brings someone into a state of restful sleep, and soothes even an irritated baby or newborn struggling with colic. German Chamomile has a long history of use during pregnancy and breast-feeding and is a common tea in Europe, Central America, & South America. (That said, it is important to note that Roman Chamomile has been found to have aborficent effects in studies on animals, and so it is important to choose German Chamomile over the Roman variety.) Part of chamomile’s calming effect on the nervous system is the large amount of easily assimilable calcium, making it a great herb to treat insomnia, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, and nighmares, along with connected conditions such as hypertension and cramps, spasms, and stomach distress. Menstrual cramps can be eased with the combination of chamomile & ginger (Tierra2003).

Conditions for which chamomile is beneficial are myriad, and include irritable bowl syndrome, indigestion, infant colic, gastric reflux disease, dysmenorrhea (cessation of menstrual cycle), gastritis, stress-related insomnia, peptic ulcer disease, spastic colon, cramping w/ diarrhea, oral ulcers, topical wound healing, eczema, and anogenital irritation. Chamomile can be taken in many forms: dried flowers, capsules, cream, salve, tea, tincture, bath tea or salt blend, but in this case we are fortunate because chamomile both smells and tastes lovely! I use chamomile in several different bath tea blends, including my Dream Journey bath tea

Chamomile & Calendula body lotion

Chamomile & Calendula body lotion

Dried flowers can be added to the tub or in a muslin bag and in combination with epsom salts, this remedy can be very beneficial for hemorrohoids or irritated skin. Add a handful of oatmeal to the bag and you have a soothing emollient, combined with chamomile’s anti-inflammatory powers to aid allergic skin rashes, eczema, or just as a wonderfully soothing bath for baby. Topical poulstices made from the dried flower (clean cloth dipped into a water infusion) is useful for treating mastitis or other inflammatory issues

I find that the smell of the essential oil is a bit cloying and not always reflective, in my mind, of the light sweetness of the dried flowers, but the essential oil also has therapeutic action and is a welcome (though sometimes expensive!) addition to facial creams that require some ‘calming’ action to facial tissue. It is also good to use in balms and salves for children, as it is both therapeutic and very safe for all ages. For insect bites, the essential oil can be mixed with some aloe vera gel and applied directly to the bite.

Contraindications are few, though it may potentiate anticoagulants such as warfarin so use should be cautious and monitored if an individual is taking such a pharmaceutical. Again, though chamomile has a long, empirical track record of use for pregnant & breast-feeding mothers, it’s probably a good idea that Roman Chamomile be avoided throughout pregnancy (breastfeeding would be okay) and perhaps even in the first trimester because of chamomile’s mild emmenogogic effect (brings on menstruation). Chamomile overall represents one of the safest possible herbs for use with infants, childrens, and nursing mothers, who deliver the benefit of the tea through their breastmilk, and therefore is one of my herbs of choice in bath teas and products for babies, though it’s light, sweet fragrance and flavor certainly add to the strengths of this gentle giant. I say ‘giant’ because its gifts to us are so great.

REFS:
Aertgeerts, P. et al (1985) Z Hautkr. 60(3):270-277
Kuhn, Merrily and David Winston (2001) Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach
Pollington, Stephen (2000) Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing
Tierra, Leslie (2003) Healing with the Herbs of Life