By Tom Wolfe, RH
I am often asked the question, “What are the best plants and botanical products for herbal skin care?” Summertime puts us out in the sun, which is a big change for the skin. In this article I will share the plants and botanical products I would choose in order to learn from listening to your body’s wisdom and listening to the plants in order to have the best knowledge of herbal skin care.
Let’s explore the three main categories of herbs and herbal products that guarantee a healthy, happy complexion all throughout the summer. These categories are Base oils and Infused oils, Essential oils, and Water Infusions.
Jojoba oil is the most similar to our own natural skin oils. It absorbs quickly and deeply for non-greasy moisturizing. While not one I usually use for extracting herbs, I do blend it into skin oils and ointments to improve absorption. It’s also a great after-bath oil, especially after a long day in the garden! You can use Jojoba oil (or other favorites such as Sweet Almond oil) as a base oil in which to blend bug-repellent essential oils, which we will discuss later in the article. Olive oil is slightly heavier and is the oil of choice for making medicinal oils. By allowing the medicines to stay on the surface of the skin slightly longer, olive oil focuses the herbs where they are most needed.
Shea butter offers UV protection and deep moisturizing. The pure unrefined Shea butters are best. This is an all-around wonder as a skin-and hair-care oil. It promotes the growth of healthy skin and hair, is healing to dry, rough, cracked skin, helps reduce scar tissue, and is deeply healing to sun-damaged skin. It can be used in its pure, raw form, or blended with other oils and essential oils to make an all-around skin oil blend.
Infused oil of St. John’s Wort offers sun protection, and can also relieve the pain of sunburn. Some texts will warn you that this oil will make your sun more sensitive to sun, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Susun Weed recommends it for sun protection and she suggests that it takes the skin a few applications to get used to it. With that in mind I would suggest your first few uses be in gentler conditions, say early morning or evening sun rather than midday. This lovely red oil is also used to ease the discomfort of sore muscles and minor bruises, say, from overly enthusiastic hiking or volleyball, a common summer complaint. I consider it a must for the herbal first aid kit.
Infused oil of Calendula is another essential part of the herbal first aid kit and an ally for summer skin care. It is very safe and soothing, and is especially helpful for dry, itchy patches, insect bites and stings, and abrasions. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a first choice for skin irritations, wound healing, and painful acne. It is a powerful healer, and yet is so gentle it is safe for infants and pets.
2. Essential Oils
In general, all essential oils repel mosquitoes and other insects! Some oils are more repellent than others, which we will discuss. But remember that you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a base oil such as Jojoba, Sweet Almond, or shea butter; not only will this repel mosquitoes, it will nourish and protect your skin as well. One summer, I mixed all the essential oils I had into a base of Sweet Almond oil just for fun, and the result was a glowing complexion and no bugs!
Tulsi, or Holy Basil essential oil, is a general insect repellent. Mostly used against mosquitoes, it also appears helpful against fleas, gnats, and other biting flies. In India, Tulsi plants are often planted around doors and windows to prevent mosquitoes from coming inside.
Geranium and Rose Geranium oils are true favorites for the skin, used to repel mosquitoes and other biting flies. Rose geranium in particular is the best essential oil that I know of for reliably repelling deer ticks. Both of these lovely-smelling oils are also soothing and moisturizing for sun-challenged and exposed skin.
Patchouli essential oil is also extremely effective in repelling fleas and ticks, as well as other biting insects. The scent isn’t for everyone, but it can be diluted and mixed with other oils for a more general appeal.
3. Water Infusions
For minor cuts, scrapes, and itchy bug bites, Plantain, Comfrey, Calendula, Chickweed, Cleavers and dried or cooked (not fresh!) Nettles are all extremely helpful. Any of these common, easy-to-find herbs can be infused in oil and applied generously to irritated skin or brewed into a strong infusion and used as a skin wash. Regular use, particularly of Nettles and Cleavers, as a skin wash improves the overall health and vitality of the skin and can clear up blemishes, red spots, overlarge pores and often, minor patches of eczema. Chamomile, Calendula, Rosemary, and Lavender are often used along with Nettles or Cleavers for a skin tonic or steam.
So now that we’ve gotten to know some herbal Friends to help us through the summer, skin care should be a cinch! Not to mention nourishing and chemical-free. For more information on how to best utilize this knowledge for your own needs, please come and visit one of our professional or student herbalists for assistance. Every herbalist has their own favorite blend or mixture to share when it comes to skin care. Happy Summer!