One of the biggest skincare myths of all time is that chocolate causes breakouts. Luckily, that myth has been busted many times! The truth is that not only does chocolate itself NOT cause breakouts (the culprits are actually the milk, sugar, and processed ingredients IN commercial chocolate), but it’s also extremely beneficial for the skin and uplifting to the mood. High quality organic chocolate (70% cacao or higher) is packed full of skin-healthy nutrition including essential fatty acids, vitamins like Vitamin C, minerals like magnesium, and flavonoid antioxidants. For nourished, resilient skin, I recommend incorporating chocolate into your diet AND topical skincare regimen. The great news is that you treat yourself to a decadent chocolate spa experience right into your own home! It’s a perfect theme for your next Love Your Skin Date.
I wholeheartedly recommend scheduling what I call “Love Your Skin Date” into your schedule at least once a month.
I feel so strongly about this that it’s actually part of my curriculum in my Create Your Skincare online courses. These are essentially self-care days where you unplug, send the kids to Grandma’s or out with friends (if they’re older), and devote the day to your own enjoyment–whatever that means for you. For me, I like to geek out with my crystals, read, drink coffee, watch romantic comedies from the ’80s and ’90s, give myself a long bath and organic skin care treatment, and eat yummy treats. Sometimes I take myself out, but more often than not, I stay in.
As I wrote in my book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself, self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity. It is not selfish, and it is nothing to feel guilty for wanting or needing. I hear so many stories these days where women (moms in particular) feel like they need to go to a hotel room just for a day or night of undisturbed peace and quiet. And look–if that’s something that is accessible and enjoyable to you, then go for it. But if it’s not, then take out your calendar and block out an entire day within the next 30 days for yourself. Do it right now. Don’t worry, I’ll be right here when you get back.
OK now that your first Love Your Skin Date is on the calendar, here’s a simple recipe for your at-home chocolate spa day:
Whipped Chocolate Mousse Body Butter
This recipe is a take on one of the base formulae I give in my free Boutique Skincare Basics class. It doesn’t need a preservative since it doesn’t contain any water–just be sure it doesn’t come into contact with water or steam to avoid contamination!
30g cocoa butter
66g jojoba oil
1g Vitamin E oil
1g organic raw cacao powder
2g essential oils or CO2 extracts (I like a blend of chocolate/cacao CO2 extract from Nature’s Gift and Phytoscents Vanilla from Formulator Sample Shop)–this is approximately 40 drops total
You will also need:
Double boiler setup and stove or heating element
Scale and prep bowls/small containers
Single hand mixer
Mixing bowl with ice water (for the cooling phase)
Container for product—2 oz/60 g dark glass jar is best with plastic spatula
Melt butters in your simmering double boiler
Turn off the heat and whisk in the oils until your consistency is uniform
Place your double boiler insert into your bowl of cool water to quickly cool the mixture, stirring consistently.
As it starts to solidify, fold in your antioxidant and essential oils
Once your mixture reaches room temperature, whip your mixture until it gets a lighter, airier texture, using your milk frother or hand mixer (on low setting)—but don’t overdo it or it will cause the butter to solidify more than you might want! The texture should be like chocolate mousse.
Use your spatula to spoon into jar (making sure your mixture doesn’t come into contact with any water)
Close and tighten lid
Makes approximately 100 g of product. Store in a cool, dry place away from heat, light, and moisture.
If your skin is on the drier side, or if the weather is cold and dry, you may be able to use this as a facial moisturizer as well. If your skin is on the oilier side, it’s probably best to use this as a body moisturizer.
Here are some delicious chocolate-based recipes to add to your chocolate spa-themed Love Your Skin Date:
Holistically Haute Chocolate Mousse. Chocolate mousse is hands down my favorite dessert. Not only does it remind me of Paris (where it’s “mousse au chocolate”), but it’s actually one of the healthier dessert choices out there because it’s so rich, you don’t need much to feel satisfied. This recipe can be made dairy-free, and contains no added sugar.
Holistically Haute Apothecary Lip Balm. To make this basic lip balm recipe chocolatey, all you need to do is change out the essential oil recommendation. Again, I recommend a blend of chocolate CO2 extract and Phytoscents Vanilla.
What’s your favorite chocolate-based skincare product or chocolate spa treatment?
If you’ve ever tried a skin brightening skin care product or home remedy to improve the appearance of melasma, dark circles, or other forms of hyperpigmentation and got no results, you are NOT alone. The truth is that a LOT of people are struggling with this. In fact, the majority of the emails and Facebook inquiries I get are from people who ask what skin brightening herbs they can use to lighten dark spots.
To put things into perspective, hyperpigmentation in general is the second most common skin complaint in the United States (acne is the first). Roughly 6 million Americans struggle with some form of hyperpigmentation (whether it is melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, chloasma, sun damage, etc); the majority of them being women. While hyperpigmentation can affect all skin tones, they are more common in Fitzpatrick III and higher (medium to darker tones than light).
Conventional hyperpigmentation treatments may have limited efficacy, but have safety concerns.
Hydroquinone, retinoids, and corticosteroids are still the “gold standard” topical medication for hyperpigmentation both in conventional OTC products and prescription topicals. As I stated in this article (which is one of the most-read articles on this blog of all time, AND on a daily basis), while these drugs may appear to alleviate symptoms during use, they present very real risks to long-term skin and overall health.
Many more holistically-minded dermatologists and aestheticians have begun to recommend more natural ingredients such as kojic acid, and other specific phytochemicals like ellagic acid, and alpha arbutin. While these are shown to be safer than the pharmaceutical options, there is still a risk of long-term skin damage from applying highly concentrated doses of isolated phytochemicals to an area. The skin’s receptors can be overwhelmed and eventually shut down, which could then, in defense, produce a melanin reaction, which defeats the purpose of using them in the first place.
The safer, but still effective approach, is to use skin brightening herbs in a properly formulated, balanced skin care regimen.
As I mention in this article, though certain components of plants may show more benefit than others, those “others” may in fact be important nutrients which serve co-factors for the vitamin or phytochemical desired in the formulation. As my friend and colleague, Dr. Trevor Cates teaches in the Herbal Skincare Summit, “A lot of the time, we think if we see a little benefit in one thing, more is better. So we isolate it and boost it up–but then we’re missing the more balanced benefits that nature allows for us by using the whole plant.”
Nature has a way of providing us with what we need, and for protecting us by making sure nutrients are offered in a way that aren’t too overpowering, but still have the ability to get where they need to go in the body so they can do their jobs.
While scientific literature is quick to point out that there have been few clinical trials that evaluated the treatment of hyperpigmentation with natural ingredients (not to oversimplify the matter, but DUH. There is far more research on pharmaceutical treatments because they are where the most profit is, AND they have greater safety risks which warrant this type of testing than natural remedies do), research has shown that several phytochemicals did show efficacy as de-pigmenting agents.
The conventional approach would be to treat these phytochemicals as pharmaceuticals, by isolating them from the plant and concentrating them into extracts or active ingredients. These would then be formulated with preservatives and stabilizers to prevent degradation, and packed into a delivery system to be able to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin where melanocytes (melanin-producing pigment cells) live. This raises the cost of the ingredient, and also creates an ingredient that could be too strong for skin that is already inflamed and immune-compromised.
The more holistic approach I’m offering you today, is to use products that are made with skin brightening herbs and oils that naturally contain these studied phytochemicals. This way you are still getting the benefit of the “science based active ingredient” (that’s the term the “professional” skin care companies usually throw around). However, now get them in a dose that is safe for daily use, and with the support of the plant’s OTHER many therapeutic properties which help that active component absorb and perform optimally. This presents less risk of inflammation, less risk of interference with the skin’s natural functions (herbs support structure and function, not hinder or alter), and less risk of sensitization from overwhelmed receptors. While these compounds are noted to “inhibit” certain functions having to do with melanogenesis, in the whole plant form, they do so without risk of melanocytotoxicity (damage to the cells themselves). That is not the case with isolated or synthesized actives that inhibit or suppress these functions.
Here are 10 phytochemicals science has shown to help with hyperpigmentation, and the skin brightening herbs and foods that contain them:
Found in the leaves of the aloe vera plant (Aloe barbadensis milleris the preferred species), this compound has shown to act as a tyrosinase inhibitor. Fun fact: Tyrosinase is the enzyme that oxidizes the amino acid, tyrosine. This action is what triggers the melanocytes to produce melanin pigment (AKA melanogenesis). Aloesin is also known to prevent melanin overproduction in the presence of the sun’s UV rays. It works synergistically with arbutin.
This aromatic compound is found in the essential oil (steam distilled from the aerial parts) of German chamomile (AKA “blue” chamomile). It is also found in the essential oil from the bark of the Candeia tree (Eremanthus erythropappus), the Peakel (Smyrniopsis aucheri), the leaves of the Pogostemon Speciosus Benth, and the leaves of Salvia runcinata (a sage native to South Africa). It is effective on brightening hyperpigmentation caused by excessive sun exposure by inhibiting MSH (melanocyte stimulating hormone)-induced melanogenesis. Alpha-bisabolol is also one of the terpenes present in cannabis.
This is one of the more commonly isolated skin brightening herb compounds (also seen as alpha-arbutin and deoxyarbutin) in some of the safer hyperpigmentation treatments on the market. However, it is found naturally occurring in bearberry, California buckeye, pear, cranberry, and blueberry. This one is mostly effective for sun-induced hyperpigmentation (sun spots), and works by inhibiting both tyrosinase and DHICA polymerase (which is an intermediate in the biosynthesis of melanin)
This compound is found in Rockcress (Arabidopsis), wheat, rye, and barley. It works to prevent defensive melanin responses by inhibiting mitochondrial oxidoreductase, DNA synthesis, and tyrosinase.
This polyphenol antioxidant is one of the easiest to find in common fresh fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, guava, pomegranate, beefsteak fungus, and pecans. It is also one of the components of green tea, which has been studied along with catechins for improving the appearance of sun damaged and hyperpigmented skin.
Found in licorice root, this isoflavonoid acts as a tyrosinase inhibitor for dark spots caused by UVB-induced sun damage, and also has been shown to disperse built-up in melasma.
Also known as Vitamin P, this phytonutrient is widely available in fresh fruits and vegetables, and is the most active bioflavonoid antioxidant in citrus fruits. It is a tyrosinase inhibitor that facilitates the formation of Vitamin C; an important antioxidant which is protective of the melanocytes, and also must be present for collagen and elastin production. Other fruits that contain hesperidin are grapefruits, plums, bilberries, and apricots. You can also find it in green and yellow peppers, broccoli, and buckwheat.
One of the main active constituents of licorice root, liquiritin also has been shown to disperse melanin in cases of melasma similar to glabridin. One 2009 study found that liquiritin was more effective in visible depigmentation and melanin dispersement than the standard prescription and OTC dosages of hydroquinone.
Not to be confused with proanthocyanidins, there are both A and B-type procyanidins which have shown to improve melasma with their strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also tyrosinase inhibitors and scavengers of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and other free radicals. The most prominent food source of A-type procyanidins are found in cranberries, while plums, avocados, cinnamon, and peanuts also contain them. B-type procyanidins differ due to their content of catechins and epicatechins, and can be found in “blueberries, blackberries, marion berries, choke berries, grape seeds, apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, kiwi, mango, dates, bananas, Indian pumpkin, sorghum, barley, black-eyed peas, black beans, walnuts, and cashews.”
Milk thistle (AKA silybum) seeds are the main source of silymarin. It is also abundant in wild artichokes, turmeric, coriander seeds and leaves (cilantro); and trace amounts can be found in dark-skinned grapes, beet greens, black cohosh, peanuts, brewer’s yeast and most berries. Silymarin is mainly known for its liver protective benefits, but directly benefit melasma and other forms of hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosine from hydroxylating into L-DOPA along the thyroid hormone pathways.
There are other phytochemicals that found in skin brightening herbs, fruits, and vegetables, which you can find in some of the sources below. Please note that I’ve used the cosmetic term “skin brightening” instead of “skin lightening” or “skin whitening.” These are medical claims and terminology that suggests that the ingredients alter the structure or function of the body, which are drug/health claims.
Care for hyperpigmentation inside out and outside in.
After reading through the above (and information sourced below), you will notice that in some cases, several of these compounds can be found in the same fruits and vegetables and that some of them work together. I always recommend to my Create Your Skincare students that they choose multitasking ingredients that share common constituents across multiple categories whenever possible.
It’s also very important to note that while melanin production, function, and dysfunction absolutely are influenced by the sun and what happens to the skin topically, the cells themselves depend on the right nourishment from within to form and function the right way. Melanin production is also closely tied to liver function and thyroid function (as noted above, and also discussed in my bestselling book, Love Your Skin, Love Yourself). So if you struggle with hyperpigmentation, I recommend adding a wide variety of the fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes mentioned above to your diet, in addition to finding ways to incorporate them into your topical skincare regimen.
To learn how to create and customize all natural herbal skin care products for yourself or for your clients, check out my Create Your Skincare online courses, and start with a free class today!
*The content in this article is for educational purposes only, is not intended to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or disorder; and is not a substitute for medical advice or care. Please consult with your own licensed healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet or regimen, and for advice on your own individual condition.
One of the things I love the most about my work is helping budding skincare entrepreneurs start, or grow their own herbal skincare business. For me, working hard to build someone else’s dream just didn’t fit with who I am. I have not one, but two successful skincare businesses now, and there is nothing more I love than to teach other “unemployable” people what I know. I do that in my Create Your Skincare Professional Edition online course.
What’s been the most inspiring to me is how so many of my students have used the businesses they build in CYS Pro to make an impact locally and globally. They consistently find ways to support causes that are near and dear to them, and make purchasing decisions with the safety and dignity of humans, plants, and animals in mind.
I’ve also begun to realize how personally, I have always felt drawn to support businesses that were community-oriented (I am that person who shops at the co-op that sources much of their produce and meat locally, even though it is more expensive than the supermarkets), or that give back to a larger, global cause.
My own skincare philosophy (which I use personally and teach in Create Your Skincare) is all about quality herbal skincare ingredients, small batches, customization wherever possible, and NOT mass production. I developed this because unfortunately, mass production always negatively affects quality, freshness, and the overall energetics of the products. While I do advocate for and teach safe natural preservation methods, I also prefer to that products are as fresh and close to harvest as possible–which definitely means smaller batches. But even before I shifted to this mentality (which resulted from years of frustration with greenwashing and the fact that it’s still OK in the United States to use toxic chemicals in products we use daily), I chose to purchase from companies with a cause.
Your skincare business absolutely needs to support your family and livelihood.
But it’s also important that while you are building your skincare business and setting up a legacy for your family, you do so with the understanding that all of our actions as humans affect all other beings on the planet. We might not realize it, but the purchasing and marketing decisions we make affect animals, plants, people, water, air, soil, and other aspects of life on Earth.
Herbal skincare is always better for the environment than skincare made from synthetic ingredients which require the use of non-renewable natural resources (such as petroleum), and a great deal of power to manufacture them. However, there’s also an ugly side to the herbal industry. Due to the growth of both the herbal skincare AND herbal/dietary supplement industries, many of our precious medicinal plants are now at risk, or endangered. This is something I learned about for the first time a few years ago, when Rosemary Gladstar introduced me to United Plant Savers at the MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference. I’ve been a member ever since, and I consistently check their journal and website for updates.
Me with the legendary Rosemary Gladstar
There are three ways you can use your skincare business to contribute to medicinal plant conservation, and protect the plants so that they are available for future generations.
The first thing is to never purchase wild-harvested herbs.
Wild-harvested means that the plants have been taken from the wild, without regard for how much is left, what effect it has on other plants in that environment, or replanting. Instead, look for the terms “ethically harvested,” or “organically grown.” If you do find an herbal supplier that uses the term “wild-harvested,” ask what they mean by that.
Second, you can grow many of your own herbs for use in skincare yourself.
Whether your focus is on local, native herbs, or you like something a bit more exotic, it’s so easy to grow your own organic plants to use as ingredients in your herbal products. I started my herbal skincare garden with one of those 4×4 garden square kits, and just a few perennials in my backyard, and have added to it over the years. I use my herbs to make infusions, infused/macerated oils, facial steams, grind them up to use in masks, and also use them for compresses and poultices.
Third, you can donate a percentage of your sales to a non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve these precious plants.
Another important–but not often talked about–issue is human trafficking.
This is something that I’ve had awareness for years, because back in the day when I worked for The Body Shop, they donated a percentage of their proceeds to the Somaly Mam Foundation, which aims to eradicate slavery and empower its survivors. Tasha Hetke, of Native2Nature Skincare (read her Create Your Skincare Story HERE), who donates a percentage of sales to help end sex trafficking through two different non-profit organizations.
Human trafficking isn’t just about sex slavery. Victims of human trafficking are also used to harvest plants and mine minerals for various industries, often in highly unsafe conditions, and with no pay. We’ve recently had discussions both in my free Handmade Skincare Enthusiasts group and in our private student group last semester about slaves (often children) being used to mine minerals used in cosmetics. Is it possible to find ethical mica, and other minerals used for coloring skincare and color cosmetics? The good news is that when I did a little digging, three out of the four US-based suppliers I questioned responded that they either guarantee that their minerals are ethically mined, or use synthetic minerals.
You might be wondering why you’d want to use synthetic minerals in natural skincare products?
You may not know this about me, but I am a gemologist (it was my “pregnancy project” with my first baby). I don’t have a problem using synthetic minerals in cosmetics. We are not using them for therapeutic purposes, and the chemical composition is identical to the natural. When purchasing, you want the term “synthetic,” not “simulated or simulant.” The latter two are completely fake–made with plastics, cheap metals, etc.
A true synthetic uses a lab to basically mimic, but greatly speed up the process (heat, cooling, pressure, etc) and conditions necessary for naturally occurring elements to form minerals in the earth. The elements themselves are the same, and the minerals that come out of the process are the same. All that’s changed is the conditions and speed of growth, and amount of controls in place. I would much prefer this to questionably sourced micas or oxides. So if you want to use mica, iron oxides, and other minerals for your skincare products or color cosmetics, please do your homework and purchase either ethically sourced or synthetic minerals.
Finally, we must talk about Fair Trade.
Many of the precious oils, butters, teas, and other ingredients harvested and produced around the world come from small villages whose residents rely on their sales for their local economy. Many of these cooperatives (such as argan oil, from the Berber women in Morocco) are run by women. Unfortunately, these plants and the people who harvest and process them have been exploited by opportunistic large companies who don’t pay them fairly for their labor or the quality of their products, and overharvest their land. Fortunately there are many non-profit organizations that work to ensure safe labor practices, fair pay, and protect the people, plants and land.
It’s also important to buy authentic and indigenous when possible, because when larger companies produce knock off versions of indigenous products, not only are the products not authentic, but consumers don’t know the difference. So the only one who wins is the big corporation. The indigenous producers don’t get paid for their efforts, precious traditions are diluted, and the consumer gets a mediocre product. This is something Tammie Umbel spoke about at length about black soap in the Herbal Skincare Summit.
Here’s one way I’m giving back:
I did not have cash flow AT ALL when I started my first business. But what I did have was passion, ambition, and determination that I would do whatever I could to make this thing real, and make it something that helps people in a big way, supports my family, and also gives back. And I’ll be honest. I definitely could have reached my first six figures sooner if I’d had a little financial nudge along the way. I had the creativity, knowledge, and hustle–but not the cash. So my trial and error period was a bit longer.
This Scholarship Competition is one way I can give back with a little nudge, and it’s also my hope that it activates the same passion, drive, and commitment within you, and inspires you to GO FOR IT, win or lose.
And by the way, there’s no way to lose with this Competition!
By entering, you’ll automatically win 10% off, if you’re not one of the winners of the 3 main prizes. That’s a $400 nudge! Create Your Skincare Professional Edition starts again soon! I hope you apply for one of our scholarships.
Confession time. When I first began making my own herbal skincare products, there’s a lot I got right, but there’s a LOT I got wrong. And that makes sense, because I learned on my own through years of trial and error. I had emulsions boil over and nearly start fires, my creams and lotions separated, I accidentally grew colorful strains of mold, yeast, and goodness knows what else. But I always went back to the drawing board and found a way to make it work with the next batch. However, in my very early days of making custom skincare products for other people, I found that some of those mistakes started rearing their ugly heads again. Why did that happen? Because even though there was a lot I learned really well on my own, I found that I had unfortunately learned a great deal of misinformation about very important things like natural preservation.
When you make herbal skincare–or any skincare at all–keeping yourself and your customers safe is the top priority, hands down. Microbial contamination is the number one risk when you make any product containing water. The ONLY way to inhibit microbial growth in a water-containing herbal product that’s intended to sit on a shelf (or in a drawer, cupboard, cabinet, etc) for months on end is to use a proper natural preservation system.
To this day, I still see the same natural preservation misinformation I learned written all over the place. These myths are written into herbal skincare books, shared on wellness and herbal blogs and Instagram pages, and even taught in herbalist and aromatherapy courses.
So today, I’m going to debunk the 5 most common natural preservation myths in herbal skincare.
1.Essential oils are effective natural preservatives.
Essential oils are powerful medicine–there’s no doubt about that. I’ve seen multiple images of resistant strains of bacteria and even viruses recoiling from a single drop of a powerful antimicrobial essential oil. There are multiple PubMed studies which have shown antibacterial, antiviral, anti fungal, antimicrobial, anti-et-cetera effects. I am not here to dispute that. What I am here to say, is that to adequately preserve a water-containing skincare product, you’d need to use too high a percentage of the essential oils to be safe for topical application, especially daily topical application to delicate facial skin, and in such close proximity to the eyes and mucus membranes. Please do not rely on essential oils as natural preservation for herbal skincare.
2.Herbs with naturally occurring antimicrobial properties don’t need added preservatives.
Herbalists might get mad at me for this one, but I had to list it, because I see this one just as frequently as the essential oil one. I see herbal cream recipes that say that products made with infusions and hydrosols blended with oils and beeswax last several months to a year without refrigeration. The explanation is that the antimicrobial constituents of the plants themselves are enough to prevent contamination of bacteria, mold, and yeast.
Like honey (read more about that here), once you add water to any plant matter at all, it’s going to grow microbes. This is also the case with hydrosols–hydrosols are water and plant constituents, and therefore are susceptible to microbial growth. The plants’ natural sugars act as food for the microbes, and there is no way to predict which microbes will grow–beneficial or pathogenic.
I also see herbalists relying on antioxidants like rosemary antioxidant, Vitamin E, or grapefruit seed oil to preserve their products. These are antioxidants–not preservatives. They do not do the same thing. Most unpreserved herbal emulsions (creams, lotions) should be used within 3 days unrefrigerated, or within 7 days refrigerated. If you are an herbalist and you don’t want to add a preservative to your recipes and products, please educate your clients and audience with this important usage information.
3.I don’t see, smell, or feel a change in my herbal skincare product. Therefore it’s still fine to use.
Nope. While it is true that many instances of microbial contamination can be detected with the senses–it might start to smell like compost (or something else that’s just not the lovely floral or fresh scent you were going for); it might separate or curdle or otherwise change in consistency; or you might see actual spots, a colored film, or fuzzy mold–that’s not the case with all contamination.
Back in the day, I had an instance where I had a product that looked, smelled, and felt fine. But I started to get a rash on my face, which I had no other explanation for. After a chemist friend offered to run a microbial test (which I had no idea was even a thing), we found that my cream tested positive for both bacteria and yeast. Lesson learned.
4.You can use raw apple cider vinegar or kombucha as a preservative.
The theory with this one is that because both of these would lower the pH of the product, and they contain probiotic strains, “bad” microbes won’t stand a chance. This is an excellent example of how theories don’t always translate to real life. First, for the pH to be low enough that pathogenic bacteria, mold, and yeast couldn’t grow, that pH would be too low to be safe for topical application. You could literally cause a chemical burn.
Second, the piece about the probiotic strains being powerful enough to overpower any “bad” microbes that might enter the mix…how could you possibly know that? As Dr. Maya Shetreat taught in the Herbal Skincare Summit, with microbes, it’s not always about the good guys and the bad guys. Biodiversity is what’s important. Like a crowd of people at a party, sometimes there are uninvited guests that can be easily dealt with; but other times an all out brawl can happen. There is no way to predict how microbes will act once put into a bottle or jar with other ingredients to interact with. There’s no way to tell how long a probiotic strain will remain viable, or simply convert into sugar (which then becomes food for other microbes). While there are new and exciting advances in fermentation-derived antimicrobials (which many of my students love to use), relying on wild strains or untested strains is just an unnecessary risk.
5.I can just buy a natural preservative online and add it to my product, and I’ll be fine.
The great news is that we have such a wonderful, growing array of natural antimicrobials available to students, indie formulators, and small skincare business owners today. We also have a nice variety of synthetic preservatives that have been approved by organizations such as Made Safe, EcoCert, Cosmos, and Natrue for use in non-toxic or organic products. Every time I attend a conference, or speak to suppliers, I’m constantly being told about new advances in natural preservation, and after years of resistance, the cosmetic chemistry industry has finally embraced the fact that the demand for safer, more natural products is only going to continue to increase. All that being said, there’s not a “best” natural preservative to use that’s effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria, mold, and yeast. Sometimes you get lucky, most other times, multiple formulation attempts, tests, and adjustments are necessary to ensure that your natural preservation system is effective for each individual herbal skincare formulation.
Luckily, effective natural preservation for herbal skincare can be learned!
One of the reasons my Create Your Skincare students value me as a teacher is because my own educational experience has been so varied. Though I began formulating my own products from the perspective of an herbalist and aesthetician, once I realized that my knowledge of natural preservation was not only lacking–but was actually based on incorrect information–I added cosmetic chemistry to my educational journey. I also learned more about microbes and the microbiome in general in my education about functional nutrition and fermentation, in addition to bio-individuality and genetics.
I respect my students’ (be they herbalists, aromatherapists, aestheticians, health coaches, or other wellness practitioners) desires to create products that are as close to nature as possible. I understand not wanting to interfere with the powerful medicine nature provides us, or mess with the synergistic or energetic properties of the plants.
But I also cannot condone the spreading of unsafe recipes and practices. When you are making products for yourself that will be used quickly, certain allowances can be made (though you of course should never put yourself at risk with unsafe practices). However, when you are creating for or selling products to other people–or you are sharing recipes and tutorials online–you have a responsibility to do so in the safest way possible.
Do you want to learn how to start or grow a successful, safe, and smart herbal skincare business?
Dry skin is no fun, whether its due to a change in weather or climate or due to other reasons such as genetically alipidic skin or chronic dehydration. It can feel constantly itchy, unevenly textured, appear prematurely aged, and feel tight to the point that you feel like your skin might tear from smiling (and for some severe cases, it can). Even washing dry skin with plain water can be painful–especially in the winter.
I’ll be honest with you–I never thought I’d experience dry skin. As someone who, for the majority of my life had oily, clogged, acneic skin, I used to actually envy people with dry skin. People with pores so tiny, they’d never show blackheads or sebaceous filaments. People who never had to carry around blotting papers, or worry about looking like a sweaty mess in a group photo or while giving a presentation. People who never had to worry about a big ole’ nasty zit popping up right before a special occasion.
Of course later on I learned a lot more about skin both on the surface (as an aesthetician and formulator) and below (as a health coach, herbalist, and functional nutrition practitioner) and realized that oily skin actually does have perks and isn’t a cause of acne. I also learned that dry skin doesn’t mean no acne, and it comes with a whole slew of other uncomfortable skin issues. So I began to appreciate my oily skin–especially when my acne cleared and I began to see that my skin was not showing signs of age as quickly as my dry skinned friends.
For years, my skin did really well with a minimalist regimen of just an oil cleanser, simple toner, and facial oil serum for my moisturizer. I used more saturated, expansive lipids in my winter blends, and less saturated, “drier” oils in my summer blends to adjust my skincare to my skin’s seasonal needs. If I felt like experimenting with new water-soluble ingredients, maybe I’d make a cream–but I never liked layering products on top of products in complicated skincare regimens. Maybe that’s because I believed the marketing hype I was sold years ago with the acne “systems” I used to buy–and even what I was taught at trade shows and manufacturers’ product education classes taught by professional skincare companies. Once I realized that my skin–and my wallet–didn’t like all those different products, I stripped my regimen WAY down. And until this fall, that was enough.
Until it wasn’t.
This past fall, I switched up my oil serum as usual, and made a really lovely blend that I loved using, but for some reason, it wasn’t enough. For the first time in my life, my skin felt dry all day long, to the point where it was uncomfortable. I made sure all my ingredients were fresh and hadn’t gone rancid. Yup, all fine. I made sure I hadn’t introduced something new or toxic into our household cleaning products or other personal care products. Check, all good.
I made sure I applied my oil serum while my skin still had water on it from the shower, or from my hydrosol toner, and still, I woke up feeling like my pillowcase was sandpaper on my skin. I started adding a layer of shea nilotica butter on top of the oil serum, thinking my skin needed an even MORE saturated lipid to keep in the moisture. Nope, no dice. I also started using a wellness tracking app to me sure I was getting enough sleep and drinking enough water for my weight. My skin still felt dry–even in the notoriously oily t-zone area.
What changed to make me all of the sudden have such dry skin?
I’ve gone through 40 other Northeastern/MidAtlantic US falls and winters. But in this 41st one, my skin has changed to the point where my normal seasonal oil blend tweaks were no longer enough. As I mentioned in my last post (which you can read HERE), the skin needs both water AND oil to be thoroughly moisturized at any time of year. The skin also does not get enough water from the water we drink, and I’m going to say this again, while oils help to seal hydration into the skin, they DO NOT HYDRATE the skin on their own.
So, I needed to mitigate this new dry skin situation by adding more water into my topical skincare regimen.
Here are 4 steps I took to achieve balanced moisture on my 41 year old skin this season:
1. I switched from cleansing with a cleansing oil to cleansing with raw honey. Honey is a powerful humectant, and it also is rich with natural sugars that nourish the skin’s microbiome, enzymes, and antioxidants. It cleanses effectively, and does a great job of hydrating–and contrary to what you might think because of its stickiness, it is very easy to remove with a warm, soft cloth.
2. I changed up my hydrosols from rose and witch hazel which are both tightening/astringent to chamomile and geranium, which are less intense on drier, more sensitive skin. Instead of preserving it with alcohol, which can be drying, I switched my preservative to a low percentage of a lactofermented antimicrobial (I teach you how to do this correctly and safely, by the way, in my Create Your Skincare online courses).
3. I made a thick, rich, luxurious, humectant-rich cream. I chose my ingredients according to my Skin Sequencing® method (which I teach exclusively in Create Your Skincare Professional Edition), and instead of distilled water which is actually too alkaline for the skin, I used lower pH hydrosols, and humectant-rich aloe and one of my handmade glycerites. I also added nourishing oils and demulcent/mucilaginous herbal extracts, along with natural emulsifier and antimicrobials. The formula is simple but each ingredient was chosen for a specific purpose for my unique skin, because I didn’t want to overwhelm my already-freaking-out skin with an overly complicated formula. I apply this underneath my oil serum.
4. I sleep with a humidifier, and we also have hepafilters in the house. Humidifiers are a great way to counteract drying forced air heating systems and fireplace air’s effects on the skin. However, with humidifiers, you really have to be careful to clean them properly and change the filters often, as they can breed mold. Our hepafilters are to help clean the air of potential mold spores, and other irritant, drying particles.
These changes have restored my skin’s moisture and glow, and have made it look and feel as good as it does in the summer when there’s an abundance of humidity.
What if you don’t want to add a lotion or cream?
I know a lot of purist holistic aestheticians and skincare enthusiasts who don’t like to use creams or lotions, because they don’t want products with emulsifiers or preservatives. I strongly believe that there are safe, and even beneficial emulsifiers available these days–and new ones continue to enter the market. But I get that some people just don’t want to go there.
If that describes you, then you might be fine applying a tepid herbal compress of a demulcent/mucilaginous herb blend (marshmallow, hibiscus, elderflower, and oats are lovely), or apply a one-time use DIY mix of this blend with some fresh aloe vera gel as a hydrating serum under your oil. If you want to take the time to do that, and it’s giving you the results you want, then go for it! But if you’d like something that’s shelf stable that you don’t have to whip up every day, then it’s a great idea to learn how to make herbal creams and lotions safely.
Do you have dry skin?
What’s worked for you to help it stay hydrated, especially during the winter or if you live in a desert climate? Please share your best tips in the comments below!
Want to learn more about how to use herbs inside and out for gorgeous, glowing skin all year round?
Check out the Herbal Skincare Summit. You can now purchase anytime access to all 18 herbal skincare classes, get awesome bonuses, plus the exclusive Herbal Skincare Summit Companion e-Book!
Facial oils are all the rage now in the world of holistic skincare and green beauty. They got their start as a traditional herbal remedy. Herbalists have been using gorgeous plant-based oils to nourish, soothe, and protect the skin either in blends of different fixed (AKA carrier) oils, pressed from nuts or seeds–or infused with the oil soluble therapeutic properties of herbs. They then expanded as exclusive boutique skincare products, handcrafted in small batches by artisans or herbalists, and sold in small spas, Etsy shops, and local health food stores. Now you can find facial oils just about everywhere, from drug stores to department stores, to cosmetic chain stores, to spas and wellness centers–and of course from a multitude of online suppliers. While facial oils offer a ton of skin benefits, they might not be enough to give you the moisture your skin needs–especially if you tend to run dry, or if the weather is harsh.
Why are facial oils so popular?
Facial oils make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. First, they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids–all nutrients the skin needs for a healthy barrier function and happy microbiome.
Second, the nutrients in facial oils are more bioavailable than in creams and lotions, or water-based serums. The skin is a semi-permeable barrier. It’s meant to keep certain things out, and allow certain things in. The skin’s barrier is comprised of a mixture of dead skin cells, and a lipid matrix (a combination of fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol). An article from the International Dermal Institute uses the analogy of bricks and mortar to describe the skin’s barrier system. The dead cells are the bricks and the lipids are the mortar.
This barrier is hydrophobic–which means it repels water, bit lipophilic (oil loving) which means it will attract other lipids. Therefore lipids and oil-soluble nutrients are more likely to absorb into the deeper layers of the skin, where they can nourish and protect the delicate cells below the surface. And it does this so easily, in a super-concentrated dose! Unlike water soluble nutrients or active ingredients which have to be synthesized into a lipophilic delivery system in order to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, facial oils are already naturally able to do that. No human involvement necessary.
The biggest reason facial oils are so popular now is that from a formulation perspective, they are easier to work with because they generally do not require a preservative. This makes people who buy based on “free from” claims (not that I’m recommending that–read THIS) happy, and requires less labor and resources from a formulation perspective. That doesn’t mean that oils don’t require special handling–some of the are very fragile and can oxidize and degrade quickly–but they don’t support microbial growth (though contamination from improper storage, usage, and handling are possible).
Do facial oils work for everyone?
The short answer is yes…but.
The but has to do with the fact that there are several variables that if, and how well an oil will work for someone. Factors include the overall level of skin hydration, compatibility of the essential fatty acids in the oil with the lipid matrix of the person using it, level of saturated fats in the oil; whether the oil has been processed, stored, and used correctly, etc.
To answer this question, let’s focus on the “but” that has to do with the overall level of skin hydration. To be fully moisturized, and to be able to take in nutrients, the skin has to be hydrated. While it is important to drink lots of water and eat hydrating foods throughout the day, the water (and nutrients) that we consume internally first nourish and hydrate the internal vital organs. By the time they reach the skin, there’s only about 10% left. This is why it is important to hydrate the skin on the outside with water-containing ingredients (but not water itself–check out my interview on The Healthy Me to learn why).
Why your facial oil might not work
Oils do not hydrate the skin on their own. While they definitely help seal in existing moisture, they cannot bring water into the skin because they do not contain water or any other aqueous substance.
There are different dry skin types–alipidic skin, or “oil dry” skin is a lack of oils or slow sebum production, in which case, a facial oil might be the solution, in addition to more healthy fats in the diet. However, the biggest reason for dry skin is dehydration.
If you are relying on your facial oil to hydrate your skin–especially if it’s dry, and especially if it’s cold out or you have dry interior air–I hate to tell you this, but you’ll likely find yourself disappointed. If you are relying on an anhydrous (not water-containing) skincare regimen consisting of oils, butters, balms, and salves, you also might find yourself disappointed.
I often see well intended skincare advice on blogs and social media recommending that if your facial oil absorbs too quickly, or “dries” too quickly, that all you need to do is use a heavier, thicker, more saturated oil. I still recommend that you do that–because if your skin is soaking up your oils to the point where you feel like you have to use a ton to feel moisturized, then you clearly need different oils in your blend. There are THOUSANDS of oils, and billions of people–there is no perfect oil or perfect blend that is right for everyone. But even the most carefully selected facial oil blend will not provide complete skin moisture, because the skin also needs hydration–from water or a water containing ingredient.
In my next post, I will give you suggestions on how to provide your skin with BALANCED moisture, with both water and oil–whether you’re a purist or you like a big, elaborate regimen. I’ll also share what happened when my OWN skin freaked out at the beginning of this season, and what I had to do to calm it down.
In terms of facial oils, I can tell you that the first thing you need to do is choose the right ones for your unique skin type. I teach you to do that FREE in my online mini-course, Boutique Skincare Basics.