Herbs for health & beauty

The desire to appear beautiful is nothing new. The cosmetic use of plant materials to enhance beauty is found in all ancient cultures. The Native Americans, as well as other cultures, 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 it was the ancient Greeks who worshiped youth and beauty that 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 ''Ponds 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 many times includes cruelty to animals. As we consumers become more aware of our health, 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. It also seals 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, wheatgerm, 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.

Another common ingredient seen in cosmetics that is good for the skin is honey. It softens, heals and binds ingredients together. Vinegar is used to soften, cleanse and soothe the skin. Natural astringents such as rose, nettle, and witch hazel can give the skin a clean smooth feeling. Lemon, chamomile, cucumber and lavender all have soothing properties that heal and soothe.

Working with more natural potions for your skin care can be fun and very healing. The skin not only has the ability to excrete, but to absorb, so whatever you put on our skin can be absorbed into the body. Remember, too, that skin health and beauty will come more naturally if you choose a diet of healthy whole foods, pure water and air.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online October 31, 2000

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