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The stars of the show are my natural, simple food ingredients. Here I’ll talk you through my favourites explaining how they work without all the science jargon.
There’s a rumour going around that oils are bad for your skin. Not true! All skin types benefit from good quality natural oils. They enhance our skin’s own protective function and literally feed our skin. My moisturisers contain top class oils that quickly penetrate the skin so you’re not left feeling greasy.
This is the classic skin care oil and I’d be lost without it! It’s a thin runny oil consisting mostly of oleic acid which is more commonly known as omega 9. Omega 9 is a great moisturising agent and skin softener and is very readily absorbed by the skin. Sweet almond oil is mild and soft and spreads easily leaving the skin feeling soft, supple and smooth.
It’s good for all skin types and blends well with other oils and so I use it as a base for all my moisturisers and lip balms.
But don’t just take my word for it, a 2009 study *reports that it has “emollient properties” and “therefore is used to improve the complexion and skin tone” Emollient means that it makes the external layers of the skin softer, it does this by increasing the skin’s hydration by reducing loss of water.
*Ahmad, Zeeshan (2009) The Uses and Properties of Almond Oil, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 16 1 10-12
Thistle oil is an excellent source of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. By essential fatty acids we mean that our bodies can’t produce them so we must take them in via our diet or even skin care routine. Some research studies have shown that the essential fatty acids we put on our skin can also be effectively absorbed and used by the body. Thistle oil is therefore very nourishing for the skin and also helps reduce pore size, great news for those with oily skin.
Because Castor oil is absorbed very slowly by the skin and attracts dirt to itself, it makes it perfect as a cleanser. In my Orange and Grapefruit exfoliator it draws dirt and grime from your face and then you just wash it off. But not only is it good for cleansing it also exerts an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin.
I use the fractionated version, this just means that certain fats have been removed making it more heat stable and giving it a longer shelf life and a lighter texture. This simple process also leaves it odourless and not so oily. Coconut oil gives a beautiful softness to the skin and the hair.
This oil is cold pressed from the seeds of the evening primrose flower and contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid which is a very rare fatty acid. In clinical trials evening primrose oil has been proven to cause improvements in skin softness.(*1) Another study in children with atopic eczema showed significant improvement.(*2) Evening primrose oil penetrates down into the skin causing it to become softer, it has a moisture- retaining effect.
*1 Janossy IM, Raguz JM, Rippke F et al. H&GJ 1995
*2 Bardoni A, Biagi PL, Masi M et al Drugs Exp Clin Res 1988
As a qualified Herbal Scientist I’ve used my training and experience to select the most effective herbs for skin care and to use them in a manner that extracts the most benefits from them.
Calendula is to skin care as strawberries are to cream! It’s also known as the common or pot marigold and it’s a beautiful plant with sun coloured flowers. The flowers contain high quantities of carotene. Carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A and is considered an antioxidant. Antioxidants prevent free radical reactions in our skin which can cause the skin to age.
Calendula is suitable for most minor skin problems. It promotes tissue repair, minimises scar formation and is anti-inflammatory.
A study found that it contains hyaluronan which is responsible for its angiogenic activity; this means that it causes the growth of new blood vessels, thus explaining its skin healing properties.
Patrick, K.F.M. et al, Pytomedicine, 1996
Because Arnica is known as the anti-bruising herb I always thought it would be great in an eye gel for that under eye area where our capillaries and skin are so delicate. It’s also one of the best known herbs for dispersing trapped fluids, it does this by stimulating the activity of white blood cells to relieve congestion and thereby reducing under eye bags.
Also known as boneknit, comfrey was used since very early times to heal wounds and mend broken bones. Comfrey contains a substance called allantoin, a cell proliferant. This means that it speeds the growth of tissue, both its own plant tissue and human tissue. For this reason comfrey should not be used on fresh deep wounds or new puncture wounds as it can cause the outer layers of the skin to heal and close over before the deeper layers have drained and regenerated. I use it in my skin superfood to help sensitive skin become more resilient, to counteract dryness and to rejuvenate the skin.
Mallow contains a lot of mucilage, a jelly-like substance that’s rich in protein and carbohydrates which makes it really suitable for skin care. Its also anti-inflammatory and soothing. An extract of Mallow has been shown to boost hydration of the skin and protect the surface of the skin.
Heartsease is the wild pansy. An infusion, which is just like making a herbal tea, of heatsease can help with skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as for rough skin. Like mallow it has a soothing salve-like effect.
In my skin care products the vitamins have a dual purpose. Firstly they prevent fats and oils from going rancid either in the product or on the skin. Secondly, they have an anti-aging effect on the skin.
Vitamin E is a classic antioxidant that protects against the destruction of the connective tissue caused by free radicals. So what are these pesky free radicals we all hear so much about? Well very simply put they are caused by a process called oxidation and too many of them can accelerate aging. They are molecules with an electron missing and so they seek out electrons from other structures in our body and steal them leaving the structure damaged. Antioxidants then help prevent oxidation and these free radicals.
According to a study Vitamin E acts as a “penetration enhancer” and “possesses antioxidant and emollient properties”
Vitamin A is great for dry and mature skin. According to an article in Science Daily, applying vitamin A to the skin appears to improve the wrinkles associated with natural aging and may help to promote the production of skin-building compounds, according to a new report.
The Essential oils
Essential oils are aromatic extracts from plants which have a long tradition of use in natural medicine and skin care. To me an essential oil is nature in one of its most powerful forms. And there are many ways in which they can benefit our skin from stimulating our skin cells to produce at a quicker rate, to preventing congestion and improving circulation.
Mandarin is the baby of the essential oils! It’s completely suitable for young babies, pregnant women and those with sensitive skin. But it also smells sweet and gentle and uplifting just like a little baby! The scent is fresh and citrusy too without being overpowering. The soothing effect of mandarins is attributed to their bromine content. Bromine is a nervous system sedative.
It is also used to increase circulation to the skin, reducing fluid retention and to help prevent stretch marks. It also balances sebum production making it good for combination skin.
This essential oil has a sweet, fresh and tangy smell. When used in a moisturiser it can assist the lymphatic system, helping to detoxify a congested skin. It’s a good skin tonic and is also good for mature skin as it supports collagen formation and blood circulation in the skin.
The queen of essential oils, I wouldn’t dream of a skincare routine without rose. It has a divine scent, rich and intoxicating and aphrodisiac. I use rose otto which is made from the petals of the Bulgarian damask rose. And although the rose is renowned for its scent, the flower actually contains very little aromatic oil by weight. In fact it takes about 60 roses to make one drop of essential oil! But it is so worth it. Rose is great for dry skin, mature skin, wrinkles and broken capillaries. It improves poor circulation and installs a sense of love and self pampering.
This fragrant oil comes from the bitter orange flower or neroli blossom. It has a light sweet floral fragrance and is one of the ultimate skin care oils. It’s very suited to more mature skin as it tones the skin and helps to reduce wrinkles; it also helps with scars and stretch marks. And it can help balance sebum which makes it great for both oily and dry skin. It also improves elasticity and circulation.
The cream of the crop for skin care! This truly remarkable plant is also known as “life everlasting flower”. Traditionally it has been used for its anti-inflammatory, cell-regenerating and soothing effects on sensitive and inflamed skin.
This beautiful musky oil helps to maintain firm skin by preventing tissue degeneration. It cools, soothes and heals and is especially useful for chapped, cracked and infected skin.
The butters I use provide softening and nourishing properties to the skin. They feel amazing as they literally melt on skin contact and soak in.
Shea Butter is made from the stones of the fruit of the Shea Butter tree that grows wild in West Africa. The Shea Butter I buy comes from a women’s community project in northern Ghana.
Shea Butter from its long use in Africa is said to be anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, soothing, healing and moisturising. It also has excellent softening properties and protects the skin against dehydration and actually has a sun protection factor of 2-3. It also contains phytosterols which stimulate the formation and growth of new cells.
Mmm chocolate! The cocoa butter I use is the same one used to make chocolate. It gives softness, nourishment and protection to the skin as well as consistency to the products.
Avocado oil is mild and nourishing and great to use when the skin is dry, tired or lacks lustre. It spreads very well on the skin and is very quickly and thoroughly absorbed making it excellent massage oil, this is why I put so much of it in my body butter!
The Floral Waters
It is the clear, perfumed distillation of fresh bitter-orange or neroli blossoms. Traditionally it is used to flavour cooking, e.g. Madeleines in France and Baklava in the Middle East. But it also has amazing properties for the skin. It refines the pores and restores suppleness and vitality. It’s mildly astringent and so refreshes oily skin but is also soothing. It also lightly hydrates and is calming, both to the body and mind. It helps stimulate the circulation of lymphatic fluid which helps reduce puffiness.
This ingredient is heaven; I wish I could bathe in rose water. It smells so amazing, delicate and floral yet heady and sweet, all at the same time!! In skin care it adds and helps maintain moisture and is suitable for normal, dry, mature and sensitive skin. It’s mildly astringent and cooling.