Making your own natural skincare products can be simple. This isn’t a statement you’ll frequently hear in the mainstream media because most cosmetics companies want you to think that it’s so incredibly complicated that you won’t attempt it in the first place.
Before the huge booming cosmetic sector found its feet, people used to make their own beauty products from natural ingredients. Everyone has heard the story of Cleopatra bathing in milk and the tale of her beautifully radiant skin. Legend has it that she required 700 lactating donkeys in order to supply the milk for her daily bathing regime. It was said that in milk “lurked a magic which would dispel all diseases and blights from your beauty”.
Nowadays we know that milk contains lactic acid, an Alpha-Hydroxy Acid which will gently slough off dead skin cells. History books are full of little snippets about beauty through the ages which give us an insight into the birth of today’s cosmetics industry.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our kitchens are full of interesting ingredients which you can use on your skin. Before cosmetics adverts blinded us with techno-babble about products containing ‘Synchronized Recovery Complex II’ or ‘Pro-Retinol A + Elasti-Flex’, people used honey, oatmeal, rice and herbs, to name but a few of the ingredients upon which today’s beauty products are based.
Because that’s the irony of modern cosmetics – companies are desperate to tell you that their skincare product is fundamentally different and will halt the ageing process due to their secret recipe, while still assuring you that they contain lots of botanical extracts and are really very natural. In reality, many of the skincare products you buy in the shops today contain almost identical ingredients with a few added tweaks.
Maybe our ancestors were on to something. After all, much of our contemporary knowledge of plants and medicine has been built up over thousands of years so why should natural beauty habits be any different? Let’s take a look at 5 easy-to-find natural beauty ingredients and find out a bit more about how they work.
1. Cocoa powder
Cocoa powder contains lots of minerals including calcium, potassium and zinc as well as high levels of caffeine and theobromine. Caffeine and theobromine are brilliant in skincare. These compounds are able to break down fats and can have draining properties on fatty cells, which allows them to be used for skin firming. Caffeine and theobromine are often used to tighten the skin and reduce puffiness. All of these skincare properties mean that cocoa solids can be used to target cellulite when applied to your skin.
Cocoa is also fabulous to eat and drink! One scientific study found that women who drank cocoa which was high in flavonoids had thicker, denser and better hydrated skin at the end of the study. Their skin was also more tolerant to UV sunlight exposure. This doesn’t mean you need to eat or drink buckets of chocolate (tempting as that may seem…) given how much sugar is added to confectionery in the shops, but just be safe in the knowledge that one of your favourite foods can have beneficial effects on your skin.
2. Green and White tea
Anti-ageing skincare frequently contains green or white tea extracts. These two types of tea are made from the same plant where white tea is hardly processed at all and green tea is allowed to oxidise a bit longer. Both green and white tea are packed with antioxidants which are not only good for you in your daily cuppa, but also help repair skin cells and slow down ageing when applied to the skin.
Collagen and elastin keep our skin moist, smooth, flexible and elastic and break down with ageing which is why skin elasticity gradually decreases with age.However, isolated green and white tea compounds such as catechin have been found to inhibit the breakdown of collagen and elastin. Research has shown that these compounds are protective for the skin, providing UV protection and improving the appearance and hydration of skin. Tea is used to soothe sunburn, reduce baggy eyelids, and encourage wound healing.
The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks viewed honey as a healing medicine. The use of honey in skincare has a long history. Nefertiti (1370 BC), the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, regularly used honey in her beauty regime. Her name, Nefertiti, was originally pronounced ‘Nafteta’ which means “the beauty has come”. In Ming Dynasty China, women in the Emperor’s Court used a blend of honey and ground orange seeds to keep their skin fresh and blemish-free. In more recent history, Queen Anne (1665) was believed to have used a secret honey and oil recipe to keep her hair thick and shiny.
Honey is a great humectant, which means that it attracts and traps moisture on the skin. It is also strongly antibacterial. The potent activity of honey against antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been explored by a number of recent scientific studies. Not only can honey treat bacterial infections, it can also seal a wound from further infection, giving the skin a chance to regenerate. Studies suggest scarring can be minimised by using honey to dress a wound. Recently, honey has even been used to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA.
Cleopatra wasn’t alone in her love of milk baths. Historians record that Poppaea Sabina, Emperor Nero’s second wife, washed her face with donkey’s milk seven times a day in order to erase wrinkles in the face and preserve the whiteness of her skin. Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Bonaparte, apparently had servants drill a hole in the ceiling above her bath so they could pour the donkey’s milk through it. The history books are full of references to milk baths for beauty and healing.
As we now know lactic acid is an Alpha-Hydroxy Acid which will penetrate the top layers of the skin to slough off dead skin cells, stimulating exfoliating and regeneration of healthy cells. But is it really a good thing to wash your face seven times a day with milk? It takes the body four weeks to go from creating a new skin cell to shedding it as a dead skin cell. Research shows that prolonged use of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids actually worsens the signs of ageing over time. So as with all other things, moderation is key.
For centuries Japan was closed to the outside world by the fierce ruling shoguns, but stories persisted about this intriguing land where the native women had the smoothest beautiful skin and lustrous flowing silky hair. They were said to possess some secret knowledge of how to enhance beauty. One of their beauty staples was rice.The women of the imperial court in Heian Japan grew their hair as long as possible. Their beautiful long hair, called suberakashi, reached to the floor and was worn straight down their backs in a shining sheet of black tresses (called kurokami). These court ladies were said to have combed their hair each day using Yu-Su-Ru, which is the rinse water obtained from the washing of rice.
It turns out that they were on to something as recent research has shown that Yu-Su-Ru extracts exhibit hair care effects, such as reducing surface friction and increasing hair elasticity.Active compounds in rice bran have been widely used as antioxidants in skin care products. Rice bran contains phytic acid which exfoliates and increases blood flow to your skin. Rice can be used externally in the form of powder or poultice. Rice flour, dusted thickly over your skin’s surface, has a very cooling and soothing effect on inflammatory conditions of the skin as well as burns.
This article was first published in the November 2013 edition of Amia Online, the online magazine for positive, forward-thinking women.
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What’s your favourite DIY beauty ingredient? Leave a comment below!