Herbs For Health & Beauty

by Rebecca Huber

The cosmetic use of plant material runs through all ancient cultures.The Native American culture as well as many others have used plant-based dyes to adorn the body. Seven thousand years ago, the early tribes of the Nile Valley painted and anointed their dead, both to preserve the body and to make it more attractive for the world beyond. The Egyptians who followed assimilated their practices and developed them into an elaborate routine of beauty preparations for religious rituals and ceremonial occasions. But the ancient Greeks, who worshiped youth and beauty were responsible for changing the focus of cosmetics from ceremonial to personal­­ developing a philosophy of all-round health and beauty akin to modern concepts.

Hippocrates formulated the study of dermatology and recommended diet, exercise, bath and massage for improving physical health and beauty. The indulgent Romans furthered the art using aromatic rituals and body pampering. The famous Roman writer Citro wrote four books on the subject during the first century A.D. including recipes for bleaching, tinting and greasing the hair, avoiding wrinkles and dealing with body odors­­ something other than drowning body odor with perfume which was the standard of the day.

By the time of the Renaissance there was an awareness of skin care as separate from medicinal disorders. Recipes for soaps, creams and herbal waters were collected and recorded in herbals and still-room books which were handed down from mother to daughter for generations.

As Americans became more and more obsessed with youth and beauty, we led the way with organized industry in the production of costly cosmetics. Theron T. Ponds offered his "Pond's Extract" to the public and other manufacturers soon fell in line. The innovative use of preservatives and mass production created an unprecedented choice, and the rest is well, history.

Today's commercial products are often expensive, having vast amounts of money spent on advertising, packaging, distribution and testing (which can involve cruelty to animals.) As we, the consumer, become more aware of our world, including our skin, The demand has risen for more natural ingredients and alternatives to the chemically laden potions on the shelves.

Most of us are not into making our own cosmetics as it can be time consuming (although rewarding), so here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you're looking for cosmetics and other beauty preparations.

Cosmetics containing petroleum jelly are not good for any kind of skin type, they may seal the skin against dirt or grime but they also attract it. They also seal the skin against moisture that is naturally absorbed from moistened air or from the ingredients that were combined with it to moisturize.

The kind of oil used is important; almond, avocado, wheat germ, carrot, coconut and nut kernel oils are particularly skin-enriching. Castor oil disperses in water, making it a good vehicle for scented bath oils. Lanolin, a thick, sticky fat obtained from sheep's wool softens and nourishes the skin.

Other common ingredients seen in cosmetics that are good for the skin are: honey which softens, heals and binds other ingredients together; vinegar softens, cleanses and soothe the skin.; natural astringents such as rose, nettle or witch hazel can give the skin a clean smooth feeling; lemon, chamomile, cucumber and lavender all have soothing properties that heal and soothe the skin.

Working with more natural potions for your skin care can be fun and healing. The skin not only has the ability to excrete­­ but to absorb, so remember that whatever you put on your skin can be absorbed into the body. Skin health and beauty will come more naturally if the body is fed a steady diet of healthy whole foods, pure water and air. Till next time, Rebecca

Last Modified: September 11, 1996
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