In every culture, in every part of the world, people have sought ways to look and feel better. Ancient peoples applied color to the hair and face. The ancient Egyptians and early Romans used cosmetics. Even the fierce Celtic warriors are said to have painted their bodies blue with woad (Isatis tinctoria), and used cosmetics to their advantage.
We are experiencing a revival today of older, more organic and sustainable practices and that includes healthier cosmetics and body care preparations. For women and men who want to look their best but prefer avoiding the worrisome list of chemicals and questionable ingredients found in many over-the-counter cosmetic products, making homemade face and body products is welcoming and attractive.
Using herbs and plants you’ve grown in your own garden, you can create an admirable assortment of body care products, not simply for looks, but for better health, as well. Keep in mind that since there are no preservatives in homemade cosmetics, their shelf life may be shorter than commercial products.
Beeswax: Pure beeswax is a natural skin softener and is used in balms, salves, creams and conditioners to thicken a preparation.
Shea butter: Shea butter is an ivory-colored fat that is extracted from the nut of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) and is used in cosmetics as a moisturizer; it is edible and used in foods and has natural antibacterial properties.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Coconut oil is used to soften and nourish skin, for use in fighting infections, eczema, acne and other skin conditions.
Herb Tincture: Herbal plant parts that are steeped in alcohol to extract the plants’ healing essential oils.
Infusions and Decoctions: An infusion is made with soft plant materials such as leaves or flowers. Think of mint tea as an example. To make an infusion you pour boiling water over the herb leaves or flowers and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes to extract the herbal essence. Decoctions are generally made from roots, seeds or bark and are left to simmer over heat for a longer length of time. Both can be used to add the benefits of an herb to a body product.
Essential oils: Oils extracted by steam distillation from healing herbs. An essential oil is the pure, unadulterated oil from the plant without any carrier oils. Fragrance oils, on the other hand, may smell like the plant they are imitating, but are generally made from petroleum products with imitation fragrances added. Only pure essential oils should be used for body preparations.
Carrier oils: These are used as base oil, or used to dilute essential oils before they are applied to the skin. An example would be an herbal salve, the herbs are the active ingredient, but salve is simply the carrier. Good choices of carrier oils for the skin are apricot kernal, almond, avocado, grapeseed, pecan and olive oils.
Herbal Oils: Herbal oil is prepared by chopping or macerating the herb and putting it in oil to infuse in a sunny location for 2 weeks. Almond oil, apricot kernel oil, and many other oils can be used to prepare herbal infusions. After infusing the herb into the oil for 2 weeks, strain the herb and discard it. This is a good way of preserving the healing properties of herbs, for use in beauty products.
In addition to the basic ingredients described, there are many items in your pantry that can be used to make your own health and beauty products. I'm including a selection of simple recipes and formulas.
With a few basic ingredients and the herbs and flowers you grow in your own garden, you can make a wide array of body care products. Not only does it save money and is fun, but you have control over what you use on your body.
Jim Long is the author of Making Herbal Cosmetics, a book that includes many more recipes and formulas for making your own herbal body products—Available through www.LongCreekHerbs.com.