Herbal Skincare: Inner Wellbeing & Outer Beauty
Photograph by Julia Lehman Photography
When we choose to invite herbs into our lives to help restore and maintain balance, health, and wellbeing, we allow Mother Nature herself soothe and nurture our minds, bodies, and spirit.
It’s not a treatment, it’s a relationship—and one of life’s most meaningful ones at that. It’s a very different approach from isolating a single part or symptom, and treating it directly (and often aggressively) with a specific constituent of a plant, without regard for what else might be going in the body, or for how the symptom arrived in the first place.
Like any other friendship, the ones we form with the plants require regular communication and attention. You get to know the plants, the plants get to know you, and before long, you begin finishing each other’s sentences.
We take herbs regularly so that they become us: their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and other phytochemicals literally become the cells that make up every tissue, organ, and system of our bodies. Their energetic frequencies merge with those of our own thoughts and emotions so that the herbs truly help us from a scientific and spiritual perspective.
However, in order to experience this magic, and grow this friendship, we have to take the herbs on a regular basis.
And let’s face it: not every herb is pleasing to taste. Sure, we can add honey, or glycerine, or blend in more flavorful herbs to help make them more palatable—but for some people, that might seem like a lot of effort.
As a wellness coach and educator myself, I can tell you for sure that the best chance a new remedy has to be effective for someone is for it to be in a form that’s easy for them to prepare, pleasurable to use, and that it smells or tastes delicious. The remedy also has to be for something that people are aware of enough, and will deliver results that are so visible or tangible that they’re willing to follow whatever the dosage and usage instructions are, and stick with the regimen.
In my practice, my area of focus is skin. I’m not going to lie—I get a lot of flack from other holistic practitioners who think that focusing on skin is superficial or frivolous, and that there are more important organs that need attention—especially since most skin issues start inside (with the gut, liver, lymph, etc.).
That may very well be true, but I start with the skin, because unlike the gut, liver, or lymphatic system, it is visible— and we see whatever’s ailing us reflected back multiple times a day.
Its changes are immediately noticeable, and if there are blemishes, scars, flare-ups, spots, lines, and wrinkles, then often these affect how people feel about themselves.
Eastern philosophies such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda often start with the skin during diagnosis, as the location and other physical characteristics of lesions, pigmentations, or features of the skin correlate directly to an internal organ or system that may need to be attended to.
This is well and good, but in this day and age, constant stress and chronic illness is the norm; and people are used to living with symptoms such as digestive issues, chronic fatigue, mood swings, constant colds, painful menstrual cycles, and disturbed sleep. Because of that, those symptoms often go unnoticed, or are dismissed as stress or just getting old. But when the skin shows us something? A new wrinkle, spot, dilated blood vessel, or pimple? We pay attention.
While it’s important to identify the root cause of the symptom—internal or topical—it can take time for the internal organs to come back into balance for topical symptoms to calm. Internal herbal remedies are important—teas, tinctures, and glycerites galore—but it’s equally important to work from the outside in, to support the skin, and also to promote visible results. So many herbs ease topical symptoms as others work their magic on the inside.
But what’s best about using herbs topically is that it offers an easy way to get the plants into the body every single day.
For many people, just the act of washing one’s face and applying an oil or salve is something easy that they already do every morning and evening. Further, the skin absorbs a great deal of what’s applied topically (we know this is true, otherwise the pharmaceutical and dietary supplement industries would not have developed transdermal patches to deliver drugs and micronutrients). This is especially true of oil-based products. It’s a great way to deliver oil soluble nutrients into the body in a way that’s simple, hassle-free, and often quite pleasurable.
Even the simplest of skincare routines can be transformed into a ritual of self-care. Herbal skincare preparations engage the senses, particularly those of scent and touch.
Touch is especially something that humans crave so much these days, and is a powerful way to self-soothe. Just like a mother would massage oil onto a baby to soothe her to sleep, we can do this for ourselves after a bath or shower, or even after washing our faces, to physically soothe the nerves, and engage positive thoughts and emotions through scent.
These are all herbs that I find bring soothing and beauty into any moment—and isn't that what we look for when we practice skincare or self-care? They are also incredibly versatile, as they can be taken internally as a tea, glycerite, or tincture, or you can infuse them into an oil, butter or salve.
Start with equal parts of each, and then adjust as the plants guide you.
Red rose petals (my favorite is Rosa damascena): Rose tea is known for its physical benefits to the body, for women especially. It's great for digestion, known to help create beautiful skin from the inside out because of its astringent properties and Vitamin C content (helps to promote collagen and elastin production), and is also a powerful ally to our hormones. However, it's also known to uplift the mood, and balance emotions both aromatically and energetically. Red roses are also the flower most often associated with love, and self-love is an important sister practice to self-care.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): Known to aid both sleep and digestion, this one's also known to soothe fried nerves, and adds a bright, sunny feeling and apple-like flavor to your blend. Fresh and newly dried chamomile flowers often bring a smile even to the crankiest of faces. It’s also great for irritated, sensitive skin.
Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis): Marshmallow root is a demulcent herb, meaning it brings soothing moisture into the skin and body. It also has gentle cooling properties (though I wouldn't describe it at all as cold), which is excellent for when you feel stressed or angry, or have breakouts or skin redness, because those symptoms are often accompanied by heat.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Few herbs are known for their relaxing properties more than lavender. I never used to think to drink it, because I always appreciated it first for its aromatic benefits. But when I first tried it in a tea, I've got to tell you, I felt fancy and elegant. And I like feeling that way when I'm practicing self-care. For the skin, lavender is known to help improve just about any skin condition, and is known to be well-tolerated.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): This powerful adaptogen is an excellent way to connect you with the Divine within yourself. It's a plant that's prayed to, in its native India, and adding it to a tea is a lovely way to bring whatever your prayer is, into yourself. It also helps your body adjust energetically, as adaptogens do—meaning if you need more energy, it gently energizes you, and if you need to rest, it helps you do that, too. I love the flavor too (the fresh leaves taste like bubble gum with a kick of black pepper, and the dried leaves still retain that mild sweet spiciness), and love how it rounds out this particular blend. It’s excellent for blood or circulation-related skin ailments, and to help flush out toxins from clogged pores.
My favorite ways to use the infusion of this blend are to drink, cleanse with, steam, or use as a compress or toner. I also love infusing these herbs in jojoba oil (absorbs easily into the skin, without contributing to clogging or leaving a greasy feeling), and then using that either as a cleansing oil, massage oil, stand-alone moisturizer, or mixing it with shea butter or beeswax to make a salve.
I hope you’re inspired to expand your relationship with Mother Nature by inviting her into your daily skincare regimen.
And if you’re new to herbs, or have had trouble sticking with herbal regimens in the past, let herbal skincare be your gateway into all of the wonders our bounteous Earth provides.