Summer poses a lot of challenges to our largest organ, the skin. From biting insects to UV exposure to windburn, we’re usually having too much fun to think about the finer points of skin care. Fortunately, natural remedies really hold their own when it comes to skin health. The cosmetics industry would have us believe that more ingredients make a more elegant or effective product. But some of the loveliest and most effective skin care remedies are simple, inexpensive, and easily made at home. While you can certainly craft a complex skin care potion (and I know lots of folks who do), don’t be fooled. It rarely takes more than 3 to 5 ingredients to make a superb home product. I’ve shared some of the most basic, and most effective, summertime skin recipes in the hope that you’ll try them and not just admire them. Look at the bottom of this blog post to find them.
I had the best intentions for posting this at the beginning of the season, but summer fun got in my way. In the midst of our summer adventures, my daughters and I have experienced all of the skin hazards talked about here. Sunburn, bug bites, many boo boos and a case of poison ivy after a barefoot fishing expedition. We even had a broken leg in our family resulting from a gardening mishap. Think of an antique garden urn and an inquisitive 2 year old and you’ll get the picture. I still have a bottle of honeysuckle hydrosol from the flowers we gathered that day, as a reminder that the most innocent activities can sometimes lead to injury. In other words, gather ye honeysuckle while ye may!
Even though this summer is drawing to a close, the health of your skin is a 365 day-a-year mission. Keep these tips in mind for your many summers and tropical vacations yet to come:
1. Drink to your skin
The beauty of your skin starts from the inside. Drinking plenty of water is the surest way to keep your skin hydrated. Much of what we drink in the summer works against our skin: alcoholic drinks and caffeinated beverages like iced tea and colas deplete and diminish. I like to brew hibiscus tea, chill it, cut it with seltzer and add fresh lime juice for an alternative to sugary sodas or sweet tea. If hibiscus is too tart for you, you might substitute pomegranate or blueberry juice. Coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes that will keep you feeling cool and refreshed. As much as I hate to endorse a fad, the coconut water bandwagon may be worth jumping on.
2. Selecting a sunscreen
Choose a mineral-based sunscreen that creates a physical barrier to reflect the sun. Look for products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Chemical-based sunscreens are absorbed through the skin and may cause irritation. Many sunscreen chemicals disrupt hormonal systems in the body. Check the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org for more information on these chemicals, and to check up on the safety of the skin care products you already own. Avoid oxybenzone and vitamin A/retinol-containing sunscreens. Spray and powder sunscreens haven’t been proven safe or effective, so skip them. Reapply your sunscreen frequently (every two hours for most products), and after swimming or sweating. Select an SPF rating of 15 to 50. Higher SPF ratings may be misleading and cause more dangerous exposures. If you are entirely opposed to sunscreen, avoid the sun during peak mid-day hours and keep all skin surfaces covered. Remember, today’s sun damage manifests many years later.
3. After-sun care
Aloe vera gel is hard to beat for soothing a burn. But it’s sticky and a bit messy when you’re still out enjoying the day. Make a soothing skin spritzer with aloe vera juice to take with you on your summer travels. Add a few drops of lavender or German chamomile essential oil for extra relief. Or make your own “After-Glow” oil by adding these same essential oils to a base of jojoba or sesame oil, which have a low SPF of their own. A little coconut oil will make it smell heavenly. Hydrosols or distilled flower waters are nice sun soothers as well, extremely gentle and safe even for babies (avoid the eyes of course). Select lavender, chamomile, or peppermint. Avoid citrus oils on the skin, as they cause enhanced sun sensitivity.
4. Bites and boo-boos
If you try just one plant remedy, lavender it should be. Lavender may be the most versatile single herb, used for headaches, burns, restful sleep, and many other indications. The essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia is one of the very few that can be used neat (undiluted) in small quantities on the skin. I prefer to use lavender in a salve, though, in combination with other healing herbs. Plenty of commercial products featuring lavender are available. My favorite homemade combo consists of St. John’s Wort-infused oil or Calendula-infused oil, thickened with beeswax and then spiked with lavender. Other antiseptic essential oils can be added if you wish. Skin-safe choices include geranium and tea tree. A product rarely needs to contain more than 3% essential oil to be effective, and most products work well at a 1% concentration.
5. Leaves of three I didn’t see
It was a mellow afternoon at the river, wading through the shallows and helping my daughter reel in her first fish. As we climbed the bank to pack up, I looked down and realized that the leaves brushing our bare ankles were poison ivy. I washed everyone carefully (except for myself) and hoped for the best. As it turned out, I was the one who got a small patch of dermatitis a few days later. Here’s what to do if you’re exposed to poison ivy, oak, or sumac: thoroughly rinse off all skin areas with cool, clean water. Remove and wash all clothes. Cover the skin areas that were exposed and don’t allow direct sunlight or heat on these areas for a few days. And here’s a little herbal secret: find some jewelweed and use it! Jewelweed is a lovely summer plant with orange or yellow blossoms and succulent stems. It likes cool, shaded, and damp areas….the very same areas that poison ivy prefers. I have plenty of jewelweed close to my home, and it’s likely that you do too. Break up the stems and rub the juice on the exposed areas of your skin. It’s a true natural antidote.
Jewelweed (Impatiens species)
6. Anti-fungal remedies
Summer is prime time for fungal skin infections like athlete’s foot, jock itch, and vaginal yeast. A diaper rash in the summer is more likely to be caused by fungus than at other times of the year, especially if you live in a warm, moist climate. Leaving wet swimsuits or sweaty sneakers on will increase the odds of fungal growth. Prevention is key, because fungus is remarkably persistent. It may take weeks to months to eradicate if it causes full-blown infection. Remove damp clothing quickly and allow the skin to air dry. Better yet, use a blowdryer on the low setting to rapidly dry damp skin and discourage fungal growth. For athlete’s foot prevention, make a simple foot powder by whisking together corn starch with tea tree or myrrh essential oil. At night, you can separate your toes with a soft piece of lambswool moistened with neem oil and a few drops of tea tree oil. A vaginal yeast infection will respond best to an antifungal medication, one of the many “-azoles” that are available over the counter. For prevention, however, you can make your own cocoa butter suppositories with tea tree oil added for antifungal action and German chamomile or Helichysrum oils added for anti-inflammatory action. If you are pregnant, don’t use any vaginal remedy without consulting your health care provider.
Enjoy the rest of your summer and the recipes below!
Hibiscus Lime Cooler4 tsp dried hibiscus flower or 4 hibiscus sachets 4 cups water 4 cups seltzer 1/3 cup fresh lime juice Sweetener of your choice
Boil 4 cups of water, add hibiscus, and turn off heat. Cover and steep 10 minutes. Cool. Add seltzer, fresh lime juice, and sweetener as desired. Chill and enjoy.
After-Glow Oil1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil 1/4 cup jojoba oil 30 drops lavender (L. angustifolia) essential oil 15 drops German chamomile essential oil
Warm the coconut and jojoba oils gently in a saucepan or double boiler until the coconut oil just melts. Turn off heat and stir in the essential oils. The German chamomile essential oil is optional, but it’s a nice skin soother and turns your oil a pretty shade of blue. Store the oil in a dark bottle.
Funky Feet Foot Powder1/2 cup cornstarch 20 drops tea tree or myrrh essential oil 5 drops peppermint essential oil
Use a wire whisk to whip the oils into the cornstarch until evenly distributed. Sprinkle on feet and in shoes as needed. Keep powder in an airtight container until gone.
3 B’s Healing Salve1 cup extra virgin olive oil, infused with Calendula or St John’s Wort flowers 1/4 cup grated beeswax 20 drops lavender (L. angustifolia) essential oil
If you can’t make your own infused oil with fresh flowers, these oils can be purchased ready-made. Calendula oil is easier to find. Heat the oil gently over low heat in a saucepan or double boiler. Stir in the beeswax until smooth. Turn off the heat. Add the essential oil and mix well. Test the thickness of your salve by dipping a spoon in the warm mixture and placing it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. To thicken the salve, add more beeswax. To thin the salve, add more oil. When you are satisfied, pour into small glass jars or cosmetic containers and allow the salve to harden.