The Best Skin Ever: It Starts on the Inside

Back in the early days of computers, way back when a computer was roughly the same size as a washing machine, a phrase was coined: “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (also known as GIGO.)   If bad data was entered, how could anyone expect a good outcome?  Of course, computers are much more efficient (and smaller!) now, and have functions like autocorrect to help us avoid “garbage” input.

But the premise of GIGO also applies for the skin, which we all learned in school is the largest organ of the body.  When we feed our bodies “garbage” foods, highly processed, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks, we can expect our skin to suffer.  Drinking plenty of clean water is the number one, most important thing you can do to have healthier skin.  Supplying your body with enough water not only plumps up skin cells at several layers deep, it delivers nutrients to your cells and removes toxins.  You can also “eat” some of your water intake by eating fruits and veggies that have a high water content (a well as being loaded with vitamins, fiber and other nutrients), such as:

  • Cucumbers – 96% water

  • Lettuce – 96% water

  • Zucchini – 95% water

  • Celery – 95% water

  • Tomato – 94% water

  • Green cabbage – 94% water

  • Watermelon – 92% water

  • Strawberries – 92% water

  • Grapefruit – 91% water

  • Cantaloupe – 90% water

If water is your skin’s best friend, then your skin’s #1 enemy is refined sugar.  Consuming a steady supply of sugar causes highs and lows, over and over in a single day’s time, which causes inflammation to build up in the body.  Those dermatologists who used to tell us that soft drinks, potato chips, and chocolate caused our break outs were partially right, at least about the sugary soft drinks.

Acne and break outs are caused by the inflammation in the body, which can also create redness and irritation in our skin.  Eating excessive amounts of sugar leads to dehydration as well, which makes your skin dry, dull, and puffy, and can even cause dark circles under the eyes. 

Sugar will age our skin prematurely. It is quickly converted to blood glucose in our bodies and those glucose molecules will bind themselves to protein molecules, including collagen cells.  This results in skin cells becoming less elastic, leading to sagging and wrinkling.

Sugar is delicious and highly addictive – some say it’s more addictive than cocaine.  The more sugar you eat, the more you want; it fills you up with empty calories, so much that food without sugar begins to seem bland and lacking taste.  Removing sugar from your diet, on the other hand, will revive your taste buds and activate natural hunger and thirst, so that instead of salivating over a piece of chocolate cake, you’ll be salivating over a salad bar.

The bottom line is this: we can buy the most luxurious, expensive, and trendy beauty products, go to the spa for facials and exotic treatments, and even get rid of products with harsh, synthetic ingredients – but healthy, beautiful skin begins from the inside with the building blocks of plenty of clean water and nutrient-packed food. 

Natural Skincare Wonder #7: Jojoba Oil

If my blog posts from earlier this week haven’t convinced you to use pure olive oil, coconut oil, or castor oil to replace the lotions on your vanity or sink, perhaps you’ll consider jojoba oil – because it isn’t really an oil at all.  Although it’s commonly referred to as an oil, the liquid that is pressed from jojoba seeds is a mixture of long chain monounsaturated liquid wax esters.  Other botanical oils that come from seeds, nuts, or fruit are mainly comprised of triglycerides, which have a completely different structure.

Jojoba oil is slow to oxidize, so it has an extremely long shelf life, especially when compared to oils such as sunflower oil, avocado oil, or hemp seed oil.   Rich in vitamin E, it also has antibacterial and antioxidant properties.  Its unique chemical structure is very similar to human sebum, the oil that our bodies produce.  Jojoba is quickly absorbed by the skin and makes a wonderfully light conditioner that helps protect from moisture loss.

For many years, jojoba was used in a plethora of beauty products, but the demand began to exceed the supply, as it takes up to three years for a plant to start producing seeds.  The price of jojoba has skyrocketed, with producers struggling to keep up with the high demand.  Even though priced higher than other botanical oils, the cost is still a bargain when the benefits and purity are weighed against most mass-produced lotions that are mostly water, and often contain low quality ingredients such as mineral oil (a petroleum derivative.)   Pure jojoba oil makes a perfect alternative to lotions for those who wants to avoid synthetic ingredients such as fragrance, perfumes, dyes, and preservatives.

Here are some ways to use jojoba oil in your beauty regimen:

  • Carrier Oil for Essential Oils – because of its long shelf life, jojoba makes a perfect carrier oil for diluting essential oils;

  • Skin Softener and Conditioner – use jojoba alone, or add a few drops of essential oils to make your own luxurious custom body oil;

  • Makeup Remover – use a few drops on a cloth or cosmetic square and wipe off eye makeup easily, then rinse with warm water;

  • Acne Treatment – jojoba decreases excessive sebum production and bacteria, helping to reduce acne; apply jojoba to the entire face right after cleansing;

  • Bath Oil – add a tablespoon or two in your bath and soak for at least 20 minutes; your skin will be extra soft and smooth (be careful getting out of the tub, it may be slippery);

  • Shaving Conditioner – apply a dime-size amount of jojoba oil to the skin before shaving for a closer, smoother shave and also to prevent razor burn; use jojoba alone to shave with or underneath a conventional shave cream.

This wraps up my series for this week on my favorite Top 7 natural beauty ingredients.  I hope you learned a few tricks and will want to put them to good use!  Next week I’m going to write about how to give yourself a spa-quality facial at home, using all natural (no synthetics) ingredients.

Natural Skincare Wonder #6: Castor Oil

For those of you who are old enough to remember being given castor oil as a “spring tonic” or to relieve constipation, I’ll spare you the horrors: this is a practice that has been pretty much abandoned these days.  Not only was the taste of castor oil pretty horrid, but attempts to cover it up were unsuccessful, and the severe stomach cramps were enough to make most people want to run and hide when the bottle of castor oil came out of the medicine cabinet.

Castor oil used to be promoted as a way to start labor when pregnant women were past their due dates, or even when they just wanted to induce labor.  Thankfully, that practice has also been discredited as unsafe, because castor oil not only stimulates uterine contractions but also stimulates the bowels, which can lead to severe cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration – not exactly what a woman in labor needs to complicate matters.

So even though castor oil has had a bad reputation for internal use, it can do amazing things for the skin and hair when used externally.  Castor oil comes from the castor bean, which is pressed to extract the oil.  Cold pressed castor oil is preferred to oil which was processed with chemical solvents, usually hexane.  Castor plants are native to India and Africa, where castor oil is used in many ways, as the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are well known.  Castor oil is a viscous, thick oil that can be combined with other oils that are thinner (such as jojoba or olive oil) and will help to allow the oils to spread more easily. 

These are a few of the wonderful things that castor oil can do for you:

  • Softens and Conditions the Skin – due to its highly concentrated fatty acids, castor oil deeply penetrates the skin and helps prevent moisture loss; its anti-inflammatory properties help soothe inflamed skin from sunburn and other irritations.

  • Fades Scars, Uneven Skin Tone, and Slows Aging – over time, castor oil will reduce hyperpigmentation or dark spots/age spots by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, which helps keep skin smooth, plump, and elastic.

  • Massage Oil – castor oil’s anti-inflammatory properties help to relieve muscle pain and soreness, which makes a massage even more effective.

  • Hair Regrowth Treatment – castor oil is an effective treatment for hair loss and also promotes faster hair growth; ricinoleic acid, found only in castor oil, helps to balance the pH of the scalp and increases circulation; it also supports keratin in the hair to make it stronger, smoother, and less frizzy.  When hair is damp, use a dropper to apply small amounts of castor oil to the scalp and massage it in; cover with a towel or shower cap and leave in for several hours, or overnight.  Most, if not all, of the oil will absorb, especially if left overnight.  Wash as usual.

  • Grow Thicker, Longer Eyelashes – apply a tiny drop of castor oil to each eyelid before bed to condition and promote eyelash growth.

Castor oil is yet another truly amazing natural beauty aid – tomorrow’s blog post will be the last in this series for the week, and I’m going to tell you about what a wonder jojoba is.  (Did you know that jojoba isn’t an oil at all? Even though it acts more like an oil, jojoba is really a wax.)

Natural Skincare Wonder #5: Lavender Essential Oil

Of all essential oils, lavender has to be the singular most popular one, both for its glorious aroma and for its versatility of usefulness.  In all the years I’ve been a soap maker, I’ve only had one person tell me that they didn’t like the scent of lavender; usually, it’s the top requested scent.

The name lavender is thought to be a version of the Old French word, lavandre, which was derived from the Latin “lavare” – the meaning of that word is “to wash.”  A fitting name for this fresh, clean, and herbaceous plant that has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties as well.  Although there are several varieties of lavender, the most common one is English lavender, lavendula angustiflolia.  Curiously, it’s not native to England, but is native to Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, and Spain.

Lavender is one of only two essential oils that are reputed to be safe to use without dilution (also called “neat”) on the skin.  However, I have always exercised caution in this practice, for two reasons: first, all essential oils are extremely concentrated, and to get the full benefits from lavender oil it can be diluted in a carrier oil at 3 - 5%.  (That’s 97% carrier oil + 3% lavender oil, or 95% carrier oil + 5% lavender oil.)  Secondly, any substance that is highly concentrated, as essential oils are, can result in dermal sensitization.  This is a type of allergic reaction which causes the skin to respond to a particular substance, in this case, an essential oil, with an inflammatory reaction.  Typically, dermal sensitization occurs at the first exposure but little to no reaction is noticed.  After the initial exposure, a severe inflammatory reaction may result – and the affected person will likely be sensitized to this particular essential oil for many years, possibly the rest of his or her life.  The best way to avoid dermal sensitization is to avoid putting the same essential oils on the skin on a daily basis, over a long period of time.

Finally, caution is also needed in using any essential oils (even lavender) on infants and small children.  Always dilute with a carrier oil for topical use on children; lavender essential oil should not be used on infants under three months old.  Ingesting essential oils is never recommended – in European countries, a medical doctor is the only professional allowed to prescribe essential oils for ingestion.  Considering that at least 50% of all prescription medications are plant based, wouldn’t it make sense that highly concentrated botanical oils should only be consumed when advised by a medical professional – not your friend or next door neighbor?

Here are just a few of the many uses for lavender essential oil:

  • Calming and mood balancing aromatherapy – rub a few drops of diluted lavender oils between your hands, then cup your hands over your nose and breathe deeply;

  • Insect bites – use a drop or two to relieve pain and itching;

  • Dry, itchy skin – soothes and softens skin;

  • Minor burns, including sunburns – relieves pain and itchiness, promotes healing;

  • Acne – best diluted with a carrier such as fractionated coconut oil or jojoba oil, it inhibits bacterial growth and helps prevent scarring;

  • Pain relief – gentle massage, combined with diluted lavender oil, helps to relieve muscle pain, sprains, and joint pain.

Lavender essential oil has so many uses – you can carry a small bottle in your purse or travel bag for an instant first aid kit.  Tomorrow’s blog post will be about castor oil (and no, I won’t tell you to take a big spoonful of it for a spring tonic.)