Herbs for health and 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 the practice and developed elaborate routines and preparations to beautify the skin for religious rituals and ceremony. The ancient Greeks too worshiped youth and beauty and 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 AD including recipes for bleaching, tinting and greasing the hair, avoiding wrinkles, and dealing with body odors- rather than drowning body odor with perfume.

The Renaissance years brought an awareness of skin care as separate from medicinal disorders. Recipes for soaps, creams, and herbal waters were collected and recorded in herbals and were handed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Today the American cosmetic industry leads the way in the production of costly cosmetics. Pioneers like Theron T. Ponds offered his "Ponds Extract" to the public and soon other manufacturers followed suit. The innovative use of preservatives and mass production creates an unprecedented choice.

As the American consumer becomes more aware of their health, including their skin, the demand for more natural ingredients and alternatives to the chemically laden potions are appearing on the shelves. The more natural cosmetics are not tested on animals.

Rewarding as it might be most of us are not into making our own cosmetics. So here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you’re looking for cosmetics and beauty preparations.

Cosmetics containing petroleum jelly are not good for any 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 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.

Naturally beautiful skin is healthy skin. It will come more naturally if you choose a diet of healthy whole foods, pure water and air.

Till next time, Rebecca.