Natural Ways To Brighter Eyes

close up pink flower

You’ve probably noticed that D.I.Y beauty – whizzing up ingredients to make your own cosmetics – has become a bit of a trend. Well, with all respect to the millennials who are all over #Instagram with their home-made beauty treats, we’ve been doing it since we were teenagers ourselves. Here’s what we’ve always known: making your own beauty treats is fun. (Especially if you do it with a friend/child/goddaughter.) It’s easy. And because these little beauty treats are packed with lashings of botanical ingredients, they can  can be super-effective.

With hay fever a particular challenge right now (Sarah suffers terribly), puffy eyes are a particular problem. So this month, we thought we’d share with VH readers our top treatments for dealing with under-eye baggage and the eye zone generally. And, we thought we’d also share a little ‘beauty craft project’: making your own eye bags. Easy to do, even if your expertise generally doesn’t extend beyond sewing on a shirt button.

Chamomile Eye Bag Blitzer

  • 10g. (1/2  oz) dried chamomile flowers
  • Mineral, purified tap or rainwater

Chamomile has a near-miraculous effect on tired and puffy eyes. If you know you’re heading for a morning-after-the-night-before, make this chamomile infusion before you go out and it’ll be ice-cold and ready for bag-blitzing the next day. (It keeps for just a few days in the fridge.)

Place the flowers in the bottom of a mug and fill with boiling water; allow to cool and strain into a sterilised jar, which you should pop in the fridge. Soak cotton wool pads in the cold tea and place over the eyes. (Pads are better than cotton balls because they cover more of the eye zone.)

Relax for 15-20 minutes (we always love being told to do that!). During this time, use the pads of your fingers to tap outwards along the ‘orbital bone’ above and below the eye, to help the de-puffing action. (At a pinch, you can also use a cold chamomile tea bag as an eye compress; stew and cool in the fridge before use.)

Potato De-Bagger

  • 1/4 potato

Slice the potato in 5-to-10 very thin slices that can easily be moulded to the skin, rather than a couple of thick slices (which is the traditional advice).  I’ve found the thin slices are much more effective because they’re in contact with the skin. Simply spritz the eye area with plain water and arrange the potato around the eyes; leave in place for 10-15 minutes – and see that puffiness disappear, thanks to the potato’s decongesting action.

TIP: If eyes are puffy in the morning, take a leaf out of supermodel Linda Evangelista’s book and reach for a cube of ice. Wrap it in Clingfilm and use it to ‘massage away’ eye bags, working in an outward direction. The cold will reduce the swelling.

Eyebright Eye Brightener

  • 10g (1/2  oz) dried eyebright flowers
  • 225ml. water

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is the eye-friendly herb; it grows in natural grassland. You might be able to introduce seeds of this dainty, blueish-white flower into a wild, grassy corner of the garden, if you don’t pamper it too much – but if not, the dried herb just as effective.

Eyebright’s power was first recorded in the 14th century, when it was deemed useful for ‘all evils of the eye’. It’s rich in the mineral zinc, which helps repair skin tissues – probably explaining why it’s good at caring for the fragile skin around the eyes. Eyebright’s also a good skin disinfectant. (But be super-aware that natural cosmetics – made without synthetic preservatives – can become contaminated; immediately ditch any eye preparation that you make using eyebright if it starts to smell different or if you get any kind of eye infection – and always ensure your hands are clean when you use any kind of home-made eye treat. Never use a homemade infusion of eyebright directly in the eyes; it may not be sufficiently sterile.)

So: the how-to. Put the flowers in the bottom of a saucepan and add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Cool and strain, then pour into a sterile jar. Store the eyebright infusion in the fridge, where it will keep for three or four days. (Don’t keep it longer than that.) When your eyes feel tired, soak a cotton pad in the mixture, squeeze to remove almost all the liquid and place the damp pad on the eyelids for 5-to-10 minutes.

Herbal Eye Pillows

  • 25cm/ 1/yard of silky or natural fabric (cotton or linen)
  • 150g (5 oz) dried lavender flowers
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil (optional)

Cut two rectangles of fabric, around 22 cm. by 13 cm. With right sides together stitch a 11/4cm/ 1/2inch seam around the two long sides and one end of the pillow, either by hand or using a sewing machine. Turn the right side out. Put the flaxseed and the lavender flowers in a bowl, add the lavender essential oil, drop-by-drop, swirl to mix – and (using using a funnel) pour the mixture into the bag. With a hand stitch, neatly sew the remaining side closed.

These eye bags are wonderfully relaxing – helpful for getting to sleep, during an at-home spa treatment or any time you need to relax;  the weight of the grains seems to quiet the eyes – and in turn, the mind.  These make wonderful gifts, too. Your herb pillow should last for about a year;  when the next lavender harvest is in, renew it. The herbal eye pillows page can be made of almost any natural material, but silk is particularly soothing and gentle on the skin.

Why Your Diet Could Be Affecting Your Sleep

grated beetroot

As we lie awake at night with a million thoughts running round in our heads, it’s easy to blame our busy minds for stopping us sleeping. On the surface that might be the case, but of course many things influence how we sleep from the natural such as daylight – to what time we switched off our screens that evening. In truth, there is still much mystery surrounding the science of good sleep and the brain, but one of the most interesting areas of research at the moment is how the gut biome (the vast community of bacteria, fungi and yeasts which populate our digestive tract) could be a big influencer on quality and quantity of shut eye.

We already know that the gut biome affects the hormones which control our appetite, and now a recent study by scientists at University of Colorado suggests that prebiotics (a particular type of fibre which encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut) can promote Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, which is restful and restorative as well as helping to increase Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep after being exposed to a stressor. While the researchers say more studies are needed, this seems to indicate that regular intake of prebiotics could be helpful in supporting sleep patterns after periods of stress.

Gut biome aside, most of us are aware that what we eat affects how we sleep through experience – think of that old saying about cheese and nightmares. There’s some truth in that since heavy, fatty foods are more difficult for the body to process, therefore eating them late at night is not a good idea. Makes sense when we consider that good sleep relies on the release of a complex cascade of chemicals and hormones, and that eating well and allowing the body to absorb proper nutrients provides the brain with what it needs for this to happen.

Various studies suggest eating at a time when we’d naturally be sleeping could have adverse effects on weight and metabolic health and it’s all inter-connected via our circadian rhythm.  Our circadian rhythms are what keep our body clock running on time, which in turn keeps all of our bodily functions running on schedule — such as falling asleep at night, waking up in the morning, feeling hungry when we need energy and metabolising the food we eat. What, when and how we eat can help regulate this roughly 24-hour cycle our body follows each day.

Looking at things from a wider perspective often brings us back to ancient holistic wisdom. For example, in the yogic system of Ayurveda it’s believed that digestive fire – known as Agni – is at its most powerful when the sun is highest in the sky, therefore the best time to eat your biggest meal is around midday. And yet how many of us eat our main meal in the evening? This was always my habit – after all, going out for dinner is one of the most enjoyable ways we socialise these days. But, coming in late at night from eating a large meal would inevitably keep me awake, and even if I hadn’t drunk anything, I’d feel like I had a hangover next morning.

Having swapped timings in favour of main meal at lunch or more often brunch, I’ve found eating light in the evening to be a catalyst for better digestion and sleep. That’s not to say I never go out for a big dinner in the evening – it’s just I make it the exception rather than the rule. As always, it comes down to balance, and here are some suggestions for subtly adjusting eating habits in favour of good sleep.

  • Introduce prebiotic foods into your diet. These include lentils, chickpeas and hummus, butter beans, globe artichoke, leeks – all of which are a source of the particular type of fibre which encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
  • Re-think meal timings considering dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) which is when the body winds down in preparation for sleep and starts producing the sleep hormone melatonin. For most of us, our DLMO usually begins around 8pm so it would be good to time eating before then. Or, allow two hours between eating and bedtime to allow time to unwind and digest.
  • Ayurvedic thinking suggests warm, liquid foods are the most easily digested in the evening. So for example, lentil dahl, which tastes great when made with leek; root vegetable soups or stews including lentils or chick peas; sweet basmati rice pudding made with dairy or non dairy milk with cardamom, grated ginger and dates.
  • Keep in mind it’s not great to go to bed hungry, considering that our bodies use energy at night when it goes into repair mode. Rather than reaching for typical midnight snacks (crisps, chocolate etc) try hot milk. At one of the best retreats I’ve stayed in in India they brought a pre-bed small cup of locally sourced organic milk, heated with a little saffron. To my surprise, it was the most satiating, satisfying sleep-inducing thing – not to mention delicious.

Why You Should Press The Snooze Button

Snooze

For years we’ve been told that the key to a healthy sleep pattern is to stick to a routine. If you’re a 6.30am riser during the week, you should stick to the same clock at the weekend. New research this week suggests that using the extra time on your days off to catch up on lost sleep could be more beneficial in the long run. Read More…

Why Dreaming Could Be Key To Your Mental Health

Dreaming

With Mental Health Awareness Week in full swing, there has been an influx of stories surrounding stress, anxiety and sleep. When it comes to the latter, the focus is often on the struggle to fall asleep and the knock-on-effect of not getting enough. We rarely talk about our quality of sleep, let alone whether we dreamt or not. Can you even remember the last time you had a really truly vivid dream? If you struggle to get eight hours sleep a night, the thought of dreaming can feel like more of an indulgent luxury. But, more and more research is highlighting the importance of dreams. Read More…

Are You Sleep Deprived?

alarm clock in bed

Most of us know and understand that restful sleep is the cornerstone of health. Lack of sleep causes far more problems than simply feeling sluggish in the morning. Not getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis results in a lack of focus and difficulty to carry out everyday tasks. This may be fine for the odd day or two, however constantly losing focus results in a significant decrease in work efficiency and an inability to respond to everyday stressors.

Sleep studies seem to indicate that most people nowadays seem to get six hours of sleep every day whereas the recommended duration is between seven and eight hours. This difference between two equates to almost one night’s less sleep in a week! More of us than ever are sleep deprived. Read More…

How To Improve Your Focus

sd-focus

If you had to guess, how long do you think you can focus on one task without getting distracted? With emails and Facebook notifications popping up on your screen, not to mention the temptation of checking What’s App messages or news alerts on your phone, it’s much harder than you think to stay focused.

Most of us check our phone at least 28 times a day and spend well over 60 minutes on it. Don’t believe me? Download Moment, a phone app that tracks your daily phone usage and highlights just how much you use it. Aside from avoiding your phone though, how else can we stay focused and boost our productivity levels? Read More…