The difference between natural skincare and commercial skincare treatments
You'd be forgiven for thinking that one skin cream or treatment is pretty much the same as the next, but the truth is there's a huge difference between a product made using natural ingredients, and a mass-produced commercial product.
Natural skincare products are generally based around botanical ingredients such as oils, butters and other natural active ingredients known to be beneficial to skin health. On the other hand commercially produced products tend to contain synthetic petro-chemical based ingredients, with a much harsher approach: strong soap cleansers strip the skin of its natural oils, which then requires moisturisers to artificially replace the moisture that the soap has removed, resulting in a cycle of consumerism to continually repair the skin, instead of it sitting in a healthy state of balance on its own. Once your skin or hair is dependent on the products, it's almost impossible to stop using them.
As an example, let's look at soap. Most people wouldn't think of body soap as being part of a skincare regime as it's so harsh on the skin - but not all soaps are the same. Glycerin is an ingredient that is created during the soap making process - it's a natural humectant, meaning it draws moisture towards itself and can be used as a moisturiser to help maintain hydration. When commercial soaps are manufactured, the glycerin component is usually removed from the soap, resulting in a harsh soap product - often with excessive foaming agents. We've been trained over the years to equate lots of foam with being 'squeaky clean', as though that's a good thing. However excessive foaming usually removes not only the dirt and grime, but also strips your skin of its natural oils. This dries out your skin so that you are then required to purchase moisturisers to remedy the effect - which ironically can contain the glycerin that was removed from the soap. But the interesting thing is that if it was LEFT in the soap in the first place, then it would mean the soap wouldn't strip your skin so dry, and you wouldn't need the added moisturiser so much.
Natural vegetable soap on the other hand differs from this type of commercial soap, in that it's made with simple natural ingredients that are beneficial to the skin, and the large volume of glycerine that's created during the saponification process is left in the soap instead of skimmed for use in other products. During use, instead of stripping the skin it actually helps moisturise it, and as the skin isn't put through the rigours of losing its oil and then artificially having it replaced again by another product, your skin learns to balance itself - producing just the right amount of sebum (oil) that you need for skin health. Your skin can be encouraged to look after itself and learn to maintain a healthy balance on its own, with a minimum of extra attention (or expensive products).
Botanical shampoo, as another example, does not contain excessive foaming agents which strip the hair and scalp of its own oils, so while it will still leave the hair clean and soft it won't feel dried out - you may even find that you don't need to use conditioner any more. In the same way your skin can be encouraged to look after itself, your scalp can learn to produce the correct amount of sebum (oil) to protect your hair from the elements, instead of over-producing the oil to compensate for what the shampoo took out, which then of course would require additional shampooing and conditioning.
Natural moisturisers or toners, and carrier oils such as Jojoba oil, can be used to lock moisture into your skin and act to protect it from the elements of the day, but unlike mineral (petro-chemical) oils they're also wonderful for skin health, assisting in maintaining elasticity and condition, while encouraging the skin to maintain a healthy oil balance to avoid producing too much sebum (oily skin) or too little (dry skin).
Natural skincare treatments don't promise overnight changes. Instead, over a period of use your skin becomes 'trained' to look after itself better, to maintain its elasticity and general tone. After a week or a few days you should start to feel the difference, and you should notice that your skin isn't requiring nearly as much attention as it had when it was being bombarded with harsh cleansers or soaps, or greasy creams. As such, natural skincare products also often last much longer than you're used to.
Team natural skincare with beneficial essential oils (rather than synthetic and potentially toxic synthetic fragrances) and you can replace your entire commercial skincare regime with the most wonderful natural ingredients, for a fraction of the cost.
Can I make my own natural skincare products?
Absolutely - and once you start reading up on it you'll realise that it can be very simple and a lot of fun. Many ingredients, such as carrier oils and essential oils, are commonly available and you may even already have them in your own collection. Alternately you can get unscented natural skincare products, or bases, and add essential oils to suit your skin type or condition. We've listed many suitable oils towards the bottom of this page, if you'd like to try making a few simple creations. There's also instructions on how to make your own moisturising spritzers and serums - more recipes can be found on our FACEBOOK NOTES page on our Facebook page, where we regularly publish information, recipes and other useful reference material. Visit our NOTES page at: http://www.facebook.com/AromaQueen/notes.
For detailed information about natural skincare, there are plenty of books available which will help you understand the uses of different natural ingredients, with suggestions on how to create your own products that are tailor-made for your skin type and condition. Our RECOMMENDED READING guide (on our LEARN MORE page) also lists several suggestions for further reading, but even the most basic aromatherapy handbook usually has a section on skincare that will give you some ideas on where to start.
What does each botanical skincare treatment do?
Cleansing products are the first stop in your skincare regime. They remove dirt, make-up, oils and bacteria that have accumulated throughout the day, and leave your skin feeling clean, smooth and non-greasy. Many vegetable soaps contain glycerin (a natural 'humectant' that draws moisture from the atmosphere towards the skin) and natural ingredients such as goatsmilk, honey and essential oils, that are all excellent as cleansers: don't be afraid to use natural vegetable or goatsmilk soaps on your face, or even your hair - as they contain a large amount of glycerin, they won't dry your skin like commercial soaps will. Castille soap (liquid or solid) is a centuries-old recipe using simple organic ingredients, and can be used for anything from skincare to general cleaning or even as a shampoo - you can often find Castile soap in health food shops (AQ stocks a range of natural vegetable soaps).
To cleanse, splash your face with warm water and squeeze a small amount of liquid cleanser onto your palm, a soft cotton washcloth or sponge, or work some vegetable soap into a lather. Apply to your face using a circular motion, ensuring you cover all the areas - forehead, chin, nose, cheeks and neck. Massage your face for about a minute, then allow the cleanser to penetrate the skin for a minute or two. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water, making sure you have removed all traces of the cleanser, then finally rinse with cold water to shrink the enlarged pores and improve blood circulation. Pat dry and follow with toner.
Toners deep cleanse your skin after your cleanser has removed the superficial make-up, oil and dirt on the surface. They also reduce pores, eliminate bacteria and refine the skin, and importantly restore the protective acid mantle of your skin that can be removed by some cleansers, by balancing the pH level. If your skin is left to re-balance itself after cleansing, it can pump out too much sebum (resulting in oily skin), or not enough (resulting in dry skin) to compensate for what your cleanser has taken out. A good toner also hydrates facial tissue, providing nourishing moisture to the skin that will then be locked in with your moisturiser.
Many natural toners are WITCH HAZEL based, which is an excellent natural astringent. You can use pure Witch Hazel straight on the skin as it is (avoid if you have dry skin as it contains natural alcohol) or make your own blend by adding ingredients such as water or hydrosols (floral waters - see below), glycerin or added essential oils. Natural preparations don't have to be complicated to work!
Use a cotton pad to apply toner after cleansing and exfoliating the skin. Saturate the pad and pat the toner gently over your face and neck - never rub the skin while applying toner, and avoid the eye area. While oily skin will benefit from using pure Witch Hazel as a toner, normal skin may prefer a water-based Witch Hazel toner; dry skin will love the humectant properties of pure Rosewater - avoid toners containing alcohol which can dry out your skin. AQ stocks all of these options.
Moisturisers or emollients are usually creams or oils specially designed to make the external layers of the skin softer and more pliable. They increase the skin's hydration (water content) by reducing evaporation. Moisturisers can be used to prevent and treat dry skin, protect sensitive skin, improve skin tone and texture, mask imperfections and keep your skin supple and soft. As a general rule, think of your moisturiser as what you'll use to replenish the natural oils in the skin that are removed as a natural consequence of cleansing and toning.
A moisturising cream or lotion is basically a mixture of oils and water, bound together with ingredients that stop them from separating. The water component nourishes your skin, and the oil component forms a gentle barrier to hold it there and stop the water from evaporating. Natural vegetable oils (known as CARRIER OILS) such as Jojoba, Almond, Apricot Kernel and Rosehip to name a few, differ from synthetic mineral oils in that while they create a protective barrier, they are also easily absorbed by the skin, penetrating deep into the epidermis to assist in promoting elasticity and skin health.
Natural moisturising creams and lotions generally combine carrier oils, vegetable butters and simple natural ingredients such as beeswax and glycerin, plus a water-based component. You can easily make your own moisturising creams, which is also a lot of fun, or alternately you can purchase an unscented moisturiser (base cream) and add essential oils or other natural active ingredients to personalise your product.
Or instead of creating an oil and water based cream, split the process into two steps for a really simple moisturiser: spritz your face with Rosewater or other hydrosol/floral water, and then apply a thin layer of pure carrier oil over the top (see bottom of page for instructions on how to personalise this). Don't shy away from the idea because you think it will leave your skin feeling greasy - natural oils absorb into the skin very easily. Jojoba oil is in fact a liquid wax, not an oil at all, and it closely resembles the oil (sebum) in your skin: once you apply it, the skin absorbs the oil as easily as it absorbs the oil your skin creates itself. By using natural vegetable oils like these you'll be training the pores to create a natural balance instead of over - or under - producing sebum, which of course results in oily or dry skin. So while you may think that putting oil on oily skin is a silly idea, it may very well be the one thing that will work for you and assist in training your skin to create less of its own oil.
Moisturisers should always be lightly applied to clean, toned skin around the face and neck. Use a purpose made DAY CREAM to protect your skin from the elements it encounters during the day - weather, heat, wind, pollutants and everything else that is thrown at you as you go about your day to day life. NIGHT CREAMS are rich creams designed to replenish your skin with everything that is taken out during the daytime - your skin is very good at absorbing what it needs as you drift into healing sleep, so it's a great time to treat your skin, and it doesn't matter so much if the cream is a little heavier as you don't need to apply makeup over the top.
If you have youthful skin you may feel that you don't need to use anything so rich as Night Cream, but as you get older your skin loses the ability to produce the same youthful skin that it used to create, resulting in the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Replenishing your skin with good quality moisturisers and creams will assist in keeping your skin hydrated and revitalised, which is the first step to combating the signs of aging.
The skin around the eye contains no fatty tissue and is therefore very thin and susceptible to wrinkles - this is why one of the first places you'll spot them is around the eye area. There are a number of ingredients that are renowned for treating the thin skin around your eyes - and cucumber is one of them. A big slice of cucumber on each eye isn't just an old wives tale - it really works: cucumbers have an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces puffiness. The vegetable not only has a high water content, but as it's often stored in the refrigerator and comes out cold, a cool slice of cucumber on your eye will hydrate your skin, while the cool temperature decreases the flow of blood to the area around your eyes. Smoother, more hydrated skin means less stretching and fewer lines and wrinkles in the future.
HAND & NAIL TREATMENTS
We all tend to focus on looking after our faces to stop the visible march of time, but one tell tale sign of age is weathered hands. We all know that our hands get pretty tough treatment, so using a good hand cream will keep the hands supple and stop the formation of calluses or dry skin, which will of course also assist in warding off wrinkles. A good quality hand cream will be rich in natural ingredients and butters to penetrate deep into the skin, and it will also help create a barrier against the elements as you go about your day.
Treatments containing natural KERATIN, a key structural element found in skin and nails, is also beneficial for the hands. Be sensible with your hands, one of your most important assets: wear gloves instead of plunging them into hot water or doing the gardening, and apply good quality hand cream on a regular basis - if your hands are dry and callused you'll notice the difference almost immediately.
FACE POLISH / EXFOLIATION
Exfoliants remove make-up, dislodge embedded dirt and eliminate dead skin cells by scrubbing them away with a gentle abrasive ingredient, usually in a cream or oil base. The skin is left looking more youthful as the dead cells are sloughed away to reveal the younger skin below. You can make your own simple polishes and scrubs just by adding an exfoliant (ground botanicals such as nuts, herbs, jojoba beads, pumice or even salt or sugar!) to a base cream or carrier oil - there are plenty of recipes available on the internet using very simple easy-to-find ingredients.
Face polish and similar exfoliating products should be used no more than two or three times per week; rougher exfoliants should only be used once or twice a fortnight. Use finer ground exfoliants for the delicate skin on your face, coarser grains for the body.
Some of the other alternatives that natural skincare offers (to name just a few):
Australian Organic or French Argiletz Clay can be used as a facial mask with great results, particularly for oily or problem skin. The clay acts to draw toxins out of the skin, and is available in a range of colours to suit each skin type. Our AQ Australian Organic Clay range comes in powdered form, to which you just add a little water or hydrosol (floral water) and apply to a clean damp face. You can also add a drop of essential oil to suit your skin, and give a luscious scent while your mask does its work - it's incredibly simple and inexpensive to create your own home spa experience.
Best used no more than once a week, or less for dry skin. With troubled skin initially you may experience a slight skin outbreak, but this is just the toxins that are being drawn from deep within the skin coming to the surface. After a week or two the skin should visibly start to clear and from this point should show outward signs of improvement, with a noticeable glow to your complexion.
Use these colours to match your skin type:
* BLUE CLAY
for acne or troubled skin
* GREEN CLAY, or KAOLIN CLAY
for oily skin
* YELLOW CLAY
is a mid-range clay for normal skin
* PINK CLAY
for dry or mature skin
* WHITE CLAY
the gentlest of the clays, for sensitive or dry skin
Add RED CLAY or BLACK CLAY
to the above colours in small amounts as additives to give your mask an extra boost.
Visit our LEARN MORE page for a thorough look at Australian Organic Clay Masks.
WATER BASED INGREDIENTS - Hydrosols and Aloe Vera
Rosewater is a HYDROSOL, or floral water - a by-product of the steam distillation process when making Rose essential oil. Like Glycerin, Rosewater is a humectant which means it draws moisture to itself and so assists in keeping your skin hydrated. Rose water and other hydrosols can be applied to the skin undiluted, and so you can use them as a toner, cleanser, clay mask additive, or water-based ingredient for other DIY products. They also make an excellent spritzer in hot weather, keeping your skin cool and hydrated (keep a bottle in the fridge!). When choosing a hydrosol, bear in mind that a proper hydrosol is collected from the steam in the distillation process; a cheaper 'floral water' is often just a few drops of essential oil added to distilled water, and has different qualities from a true hydrosol.
Another natural non-greasy moisturising water-based ingredient is ALOE VERA gel, great for applying all over the body, especially when it's dry or sunburned. Pure aloe vera gel can be squeezed from the leaves of the plant and applied directly to the skin, or you can buy it in bottled form which is usually a combination of aloe vera powder, juice and other natural ingredients - carry a jar with you in Summer to apply the moment you get a bit too much sun or wind. You can even add a little essential oil such as PEPPERMINT for a cooling effect (use only around 1% essential oil as Peppermint Oil can be quite strong).
Carrier oils are one of the most important elements of natural skincare as many of these natural cold-pressed carrier oils (which is just another name for vegetable oils that are often used to 'carry' essential oils for application to the skin) are very beneficial for different skin types. For eg, Jojoba oil very closely resembles the natural sebum in your skin, and so is absorbed very easily. While you’d assume that adding oil to oily skin would only make it more oily, oils such as Jojoba or Apricot Kernel oil can act to BALANCE the sebum production in your skin, rather than making it more greasy. Carrier oils can be used to ‘carry’ small amounts of beneficial ESSENTIAL OILS into the deeper layers of your skin, or use them on their own as a form of moisturisers/skin treatment (see below for instructions on how to make your own simple moisturising serum).
Here’s a rough list of which oils are good for each skin type, though any decent book on aromatherapy will cover common carrier oils:
* DRY SKIN
– Apricot Kernel or Jojoba Oil. You can also add small amounts of Avocado, Rosehip or Wheatgerm (a good preservative). Rosehip can be a little sticky, though many people swear by it and are happy to apply it straight to the skin, undiluted.
* NORMAL SKIN
– Apricot Kernel, Jojoba or Sweet Almond. A small amount of additional Wheatgerm or Rosehip is also useful.
* OILY SKIN
– Jojoba or Sweet Almond oil. Jojoba is also ideal for combination skin.
* SENSITIVE SKIN
– Sweet Almond oil. Apricot Kernel and Avocado oils are also useful.
* MATURE SKIN
- Avocado or Jojoba oil. Rosehip and Wheatgerm are also useful in small additional amounts.
In addition you can add ESSENTIAL OILS to carrier oil, creating an oil-based serum designed for your specific skin type (see below for instructions).
Essential oils are extremely strong plant-based oils, many of which are beneficial to the skin (among other therapeutic properties). For any therapeutic benefits, ensure you are using NATURAL / PURE ESSENTIAL OIL, and not a synthetic perfume / fragrant oil copy, as fragrant oils are just chemicals designed to smell like the natural original – they don’t have any benefits for skin, mind or health.
Many precious essential oils such as Jasmine, Sandalwood or Rose are extremely difficult to produce, and so do cost more to purchase. However they’re very strong oils that only require a few drops at a time. If you find these kind of oils cheaply, they’re generally synthetic fakes or already diluted in a carrier. Take a look at our AROMATHERAPY LEARN MORE PAGE for more information about essential oils and how to use them.
As essential oils are very strong, they must always be diluted first in a CARRIER OIL (see above) before application to the skin, at a ratio of no more than 1% for the face, or up to 3% for the body. Think in terms of 20 drops = approx 1ml, so for example in 100ml of carrier oil you could add up to 1ml (20 drops) total essential oils, for application to the face.
Essential oils can also be added to water-based liquids such as hydrosols by using an inexpensive natural ingredient called SOLUBILISER, which enables the water and oils to blend rather than the oil sitting as a slick on top. This way you can create a hydrosol or water based spritzer or toner, and add beneficial essential oils at the same time (see below for instructions).
When creating products containing essential oils, always use a glass or aluminium container for pure oils (rather than plastic - though plastic is fine if you're diluting the oils in a carrier oil or water), and use either opaque or coloured (amber or cobalt) glass, as essential oils are susceptible to exposure to sunlight. Aluminium bottles are great for putting your water or oil based blends in (serums and spritzers), as they also keep your product cool.
Bear in mind that some oils (mainly citrus) cause ‘PHOTO-SENSITIVITY’, meaning that if you apply them to the skin before exposure to UV light, they’ll encourage your skin to burn. Only use these oils if there’s no likelihood of exposure to the sun in the following 24 hours. Oils that cause photo-sensitivity include: Angelica, Bergamot (unless 'Bergaptene Free'), Cumin, Lemon, Lime (unless 'Distilled' rather than 'Cold Pressed'), Orange & Verbena. Citrus oils ok to use diluted on the skin include Mandarin and Grapefruit.
Essential oils beneficial for each skin type include:
* DRY SKIN
– Carrot seed, chamomile, clary sage, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, neroli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, ylang ylang
* NORMAL SKIN
– Bergamot, carrot seed, chamomile, clary sage, geranium, jasmine, lavender, lemon, patchouli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, ylang ylang
* OILY SKIN
– Bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, cypress, frankincense, geranium, juniper, lavender, lemon, mandarin, melissa, palmarosa, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, vetiver, ylang ylang
* SENSITIVE SKIN
– chamomile, jasmine, lavender, neroli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood
* MATURE SKIN
– carrot seed, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, myrrh, neroli, palmarosa, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, ylang ylang
Make your own personalised natural moisturising regimen using hydrosols and oils
If moisturising creams and lotions are basically just a mix of waters and oils, you can actually create the same effect by spritzing hydrosol (water based) onto the skin, and then locking it in with a carrier oil serum that suits your skin type, applied over the top as the oil part of the process (see below for recipes). The end result is similar to using a cream, where the two types of ingredients are pre-blended instead of separate. You can also add essential oils or other ingredients to enhance the products.
How to make a water based spritzer/toner
Start by choosing a hydrosol to suit your skin (see HYDROSOLS above) - you can use it directly as-is, or you can add essential oils to suit your skin type (see ESSENTIAL OILS above). You can also just use plain distilled water (or tap water if you haven't got anything else).
You'll need a bottle with an atomiser (spray) attachment - just cut the tubing to fit the bottle. Make sure it's clean and dry, as water based products are prone to bacterial contamination. If using hydrosol on its own, just pop it in the atomiser bottle and you're ready to go. If you'd like to add essential oils to any water-based product such as Rose Water, you can either add 1% oils directly to the water and remember to shake every time before use, or add a few drops of SOLUBILISER, an inexpensive castor oil based ingredient that helps the oils and water blend together. Just add your oils and solubiliser to the bottle and give a bit of a shake, then top up with your water or hydrosol. For a cooling effect in Summer try keeping your spritzer in the fridge in an aluminium bottle!
When calculating how much essential oil to use in a blend for any natural product (water or oil), use no more than 1% total essential oils for use on your face, or 3% for your body. So for 100ml of water, use 1ml essential oils for use on the face: 1ml = approx 20 drops.
These spritzers can be used any time of the day for cooling or refreshing, or use before an oil based serum (below) to lock in the moisture for moisturising results.
REQUIREMENTS FOR DIY AROMATHERAPY SKIN SPRITZER
* Bottle (with atomiser for a spritzer, or without for a face splash)
* Essential oil / oil blend to suit your skin type & condition - around 1ml (20 drops) total per 100ml carrier oil
* Optional - Solubiliser to help EO's blend into water - use 50 - 100% of the amount of EO's you're using, blend with oils before filling bottle with water. If not using Solubiliser, shake before every use.
* Water or hydrosol to suit your skin type & condition
How to make an oil based moisturising serum
Carrier (vegetable oils) are safe to use on your skin as they are, so for the simplest solution just choose a single oil to suit your skin type or condition (see CARRIER OILS above) and apply it to your damp face to lock in the moisture as well as reap the benefits of the carrier oil on your skin. You can use it straight out of the bottle, or use a SERUM PUMP fitting which will dispense a perfect amount of oil each time, while also keeping your hands out of the mixture (and so avoiding contamination). Alternately you can use a blend of carrier oils - add some of the thicker oils such as Rosehip or Evening Primrose to lighter oils such as Jojoba or Apricot Kernel, which will give them better slip and make application easier than if using some of the stickier oils alone.
You can also add ESSENTIAL OILS that suit your skin type and condition (see above), to personalise your serum and get the added benefits of the oils. Many essential oils are great for the skin and they mix in to carrier oil as easily as adding the correct number of drops to the bottle. While some of the more expensive oils have great skin benefits, many of the common oils can also do wonders. When calculating how much essential oil to use in a blend for any natural product (water or oil), use no more than 1% total essential oils for use on your face, or 3% for your body. So for 100ml of carrier oil, use 1ml essential oils for use on the face: 1ml = approx 20 drops. Add the essential oil (or oil blend) to your bottle of carrier oil, and gently upend it a few times to blend them together.
Apply your serum to damp skin after cleansing and toning, to lock in the moisture and give the added benefits of the carrier and essential oils. Only use a small amount at a time (a little goes a long way), and wipe off any excess after gently rubbing in to your skin.
REQUIREMENTS FOR DIY SKIN SERUM
* Bottle (with or without serum pump)
* Carrier oil / oil blend to suit your skin type & condition
* Optional - Essential oil / oil blend to suit your skin type & condition - around 1ml (20 drops) per 100ml carrier oil
A final thought on natural skincare - while all the ingredients mentioned above are known to be beneficial to the skin, never forget the value of choosing oils whose scents you love! Essential oils can be great for the skin, but they can also relax you, make you feel good, or even energise you. Personalising your skincare not only means you're treating your skin: you're also treating yourself.
For more recipes on skincare and oil blends to suit your skin type, please visit our FACEBOOK NOTES page on our Facebook fan page, where we regularly publish information, recipes and other useful reference material. Visit our NOTES page at: http://www.facebook.com/AromaQueen/notes.
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