Herb-y Skin Solvers

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Having once been on a Beauty Bible roadshow with my co-author Sarah Stacey – one of those so-glamorous ‘If-it’s-Tuesday-it-must-be-Crawley’ whistle-stop tours around the high street chemists of Britain – I’ve acquired some real insights into problem skins, and how much they trouble teenagers, in particular.

Trouble is, many of the products targeted at spots, acne and oiliness are the exact opposite of what’s needed. At times, I found myself standing sentinel over the shelves selling these skin-stripping lotions and potions – so skin-stripping that I swear you could remove paint/nail polish with them, actually – and pointing spot-stricken teens in the direction of gentler options. Because simply removing the oil won’t do the trick: all that happens is that oil glands simply go into overdrive, and produce more. And more. Clogging pores with sebum, and triggering spots.

The botanical world, however, has some time-honoured, wise-woman solutions. So as well as recommending a gentle cleanser, a lightweight non-comedogenic (i.e. non-pore-clogging) moisturiser – and a concealer, which can go a long way to boosting self-esteem – I’d like to make the following botanically-based, D-I-Y recommendations for the troubled skins in your household. Generally (although not exclusively), teens are the ones who really suffer – and these at-home solutions can also be fun to make, engaging them in the spot-zapping, skin-balancing process, while they’re at it.

Peppermint and Thyme Facial Steam

Lots of problem-skin sufferers feel the need to steam skin occasionally – and if so, mint and thyme are the perfect herbs to use, because they are very effective anti-bacterials, helping to purify the complexion. Facial steaming is the best way to super-clean skin pore-deep to get rid of city grime or dirt, encouraging pores to expel toxins. However, it should be avoided by anyone who has a tendency to broken veins.

Two handfuls of fresh mint leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried mint)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves)
2 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
600 ml. (1 pint) water (preferably purified tap water or mineral water, or allow tap water to sit in an open bottle for 24 hours until the chlorine dissipates)

Place the herbs in a pan and add the water, then bring to the boil. Remove from the stove and add the essential oil. Allow to cool slightly, then pour into a bowl on a low table and cover your head with a thick towel, making sure the sides are closed. Lean over the bowl. The stem will open the pores and cause you to perspire, helping to release the trapped toxins and debris from the skin; the mint will have an antiseptic effect. Do this once or twice a week, whichever you prefer. (It’s good to do before you use a mask, to increase the mask’s effectiveness.)

Apple Zit-Blaster

For anyone who feels a pimple coming on: pour boiling water over a thin slice of apple and wait a few minutes till the apple’s soft. Remove from the water and wait until it’s just-warm, then place on the pimple as a poultice. Leave in place for 20 minutes, then peel off and swipe skin lightly with a moistened cotton wool pad.

Apple Toning Treatment

This couldn’t be simpler: put an apple in a blender and whirr into a pulpy juice. Lie down, put a towelling band over your hair-line and smooth the apple pulp over your face. Leave for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and apply a light moisturiser everywhere except the T-zone. The apple is packed with enzymes that help the skin shed dead cells, as well as being powerfully anti-bacterial. The fruit acids in the apple have a re-balancing action on the skin’s pH level, helping prevent infection. Use this treatment regularly – at least once a week – and skins should see an improvement in acne, breakouts and even boils.

Willow Blemish Buster

10 g. (1/2 oz.) fresh willow leaves
50 ml. (2 fl. oz.) apple cider vinegar

Chop the willow leaves and pour the vinegar over them. Pour into a bottle and shake well, then refrigerate. Shake every day for a week, then apply with a cotton wool ball to pimples. The salicylic acid in the willow leaves will dry out the spots effectively.

• TIP: Spot-sufferers often have a habit of touching their face. Try to encourage breaking this habit. And if they can’t? Encourage them to become a bit obsessive about washing your hands, as it’s so easy to transfer germs to the complexion, which in turn can cause spots to become infected.

Comfrey Acne Mask

50 g. (2 oz.) fresh comfrey leaves and flowers (if plant is in flower); alternatively
use 25 g./1 oz. dried comfrey
225 ml./ 8 fl. oz./1 cup mineral or filtered tap water
50 g. (2 oz.) Fuller’s earth
1 egg white

Put the herbs in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cover and allow to cool totally, then strain through a metal strainer. In a second bowl, mix the egg white and the Fuller’s earth and moisten with 2 tablespoons of the comfrey liquid. Apply the mask all over the face and leave for 20-25 minutes. To remove, soak cotton pads in the rest of the comfrey infusion and swipe over face until it’s clean. Allow the skin to dry naturally. (NB It makes a wonderful ‘back pack’ for spotty shoulders and back, too – you could offer to apply the mixture.)

Comfrey makes skin go ‘aaaaah’: it’s fantastically soothing and healing, with elements that bind tissues and stimulate new cell growth. And not just skin: comfrey’s been known for centuries as ‘knitbone’, because it can help repair fractures. (The Romans called it conferva – join together – hence ‘comfrey’.) Herbalists even use comfrey for eczema and psoriasis. The magic skin-calming ingredient is allantoin (which you’ll often find listed on ingredients labels, although the cosmetic industry often relies on a synthetic ‘copy’ of this beauty wonder-plant). The leaves and root (which can be used fresh or dried) are the useful bits of the plant (although the short-lived flowers are very pretty). Comfrey’s an amazingly balanced herb – both astringent and emollient, seeming to adapt to what individual skin needs; use it in lotions, creams or balms for oily, problem and dry complexions (while hands just adore it). Be aware that Russian comfrey – a close relation – is considered by some to be a skin irritant, however.

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