Alcohol functions as a solvent and a preservative in skin care products. When applied to the skin it is cleansing, astringent and cooling. It can also be very drying for some skin types, which should be taken into consideration when creating formulas. Diluted alcohol can serve as a menstrum for tincturing herbs, and is used as an ingredient in facial astringents, deodorants, mouth rinses and body splashes. To figure out the alcohol content of a liquor, simply divide the proof in half. Thus, 80 proof alcohol contains 40 percent alcohol and 60 percent water; 100 proof alcohol contains 50 percent alcohol and 50 percent water. To use as a preservative, such as in a facial astringent, you will need 1 part pure alcohol to 4 parts other liquid. This means that if you are using 80 proof brandy, for instance, which is 40 percent alcohol, you will need an ounce of brandy for every ounce of other liquid. Brandy, vodka and other 80-100 proof liquors contain high enough alcohol-to-water ratios to use straight for tincturing. Occasionally 190 proof alcohol is used in a recipe to optimally extract the chemical constituents of an herb, such as St. Johnswort or resinous herbs like vanilla bean and myrrh. These high-proof extracts are usually diluted before use. Wines may be used in skin preparations, but they contain less alcohol than brandy or vodka. Wines are only about 15-20 proof, and may also have a strong color and odor, which you may or may not find desirable. Because of wine’s low alcohol content, it has less preservative action than distilled liquor. If you are tincturing with wine you will also end up with less alcohol-soluble constituents in your product. Warning: Whenever alcohol is indicated in a recipe here, I am referring to food-grade liquor, not rubbing alcohol, which is poisonous when ingested.
Arrowroot powder is made from the refined powdered root of the Maranta arudinacea plant. It is a thickening agent with excellent absorbent properties, and can be added to pastes and facial mask to thicken and make them adhere better to the skin. Arrowroot is also used as a main ingredient in body powders, giving a smooth, si1y feeling to the skin and helping to absorb moisture. Arrowroot powder is widely available in health food stores.
Baking Soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, cleans and deodorizes while providing a1alinity. It can be used in body powders, teeth cleansers, baths and hand and foot soaks.
Beeswax is an important ingredient used to emulsify creams and thicken salves. It should be bought in as unadulterated a form as possible, unbleached and minimally purified. It has a sweet smell that I find especially pleasing. I get my wax from a local beekeeper because the quality is high and his prices are the lowest I have found. If you can’t find a beekeeper near you, look in the Resources section for beeswax. Please do not try to substitute paraffin (a petroleum product) for beeswax. When using beeswax to harden oils for making salves and balms, I generally use 1 oz. of beeswax to 21/2 oz. of oil for a hard salve. Use 1 oz. beeswax to 3 oz. of oil for a looser salve. Some herbalists I know use 1 oz of beeswax to harden 8 oz. of oil. This will make a very loose balm with the consistency of petroleum jelly; if the temperature rises above 70 degrees F. it will usually melt into a thickened liquid oil. Modify the amount of wax you use depending on what you are making, where on the body it will be applied and the temperature conditions in which it will be used.
Borax sodium borate or sodium tetraborate is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. It is most commonly used as an a1aline water softener and cleansing agent, which makes it useful in mineral bath blends. It also serves as an excellent emulsifier for creams, because it helps water and oil blend together.
Clays are absorbent, drawing, cleansing, thickening and tightening agents, which makes them useful in facial mask, body powders, deodorants and creams. Clays are available in a variety of colors, a function of their place of collection and mineral composition. White kaolin clay has more neutral effects and is less drawing. Green clay, derived from volcanic deposits, is richer in mineral composition and is also more drawing and drying than kaolin clay. You can use any clay accessible to you just be sure that it is clean and that it has been collected from an uncontaminated source. Make sure when purchasing clays that their color is a reflection of their natural mineral composition and not added for effect, making them appear to contain minerals they don’t. When clay is moistened with an equal amount of water or other liquid and made into a paste, is can be used for mask and poultices.
Cornstarch is made from whole corn that has been softened with a “weak acid,” then further processed to remove the germ and hull, leaving behind the starch. This residue is then filtered, washed and dried. Cornstarch may be used in \he same way as arrowroot powder. It is widely used as a thickening agent and has excellent absorbent properties.
Distilled Water is made by evaporating water, then recondensing it for the purpose of removing minerals, bacteria and other substances. It is frequently used when making body care products, especially creams, to minimize bacterial contamination. You can use plain water, but bear in mind that it will usually cause a product to spoil more rapidly.
Glycerin is a sweet, sticky, soothing humectant that is a chemical component of oil and fats. It also has preservative qualities. It is preferable to use nonsynthetic vegetable glycerin made without petroleum by-products. The humectant properties of glycerin are useful in moisturizing and soothing dry, parched skin. The addition of glycerin is useful in creams, facial astringents and body splashes. It is added to the menstrum when extracting tannin-rich herbs to help liberate their medicinal properties while neutralizing the tannins. The menstrum should be 10 percent glycerin to 90 percent diluted alcohol. Herbs tinctured in glycerin diluted with water are called glycerites. For a short-term preservative (perhaps a few months), you will need to use at least 25 percent glycerin to 75 percent water or other perishable liquid. For a stable preservative you might need to use at least 60-75 percent glycerin to 250 percent water. However, note that even 25 percent glycerin in a product can make the skin feel too sticky.
Grains and Beans are used in scrubs and mask for the face and body. They provide vitamins, minerals and other nourishing substances while exfoliating skin and absorbing dirt and oil. Different grains and beans affect the skin differently. Some are more astringent and drying, while others are more soothing and emollient. The emollient and soothing grains such as barley and oats tend to have more gluten. The astringent and drying grains include rice, corn, millet and most beans.
Grapefruit Seed Extract is used as a preservative in creams and other body care products. It is considered to be a nontoxic, broad-spectrum antimicrobial with no known side effects for the body or the environment. Unfortunately, the manufacturing process is kept secret, as I discovered while doing research for this blog. I did learn that grapefruit seeds and pulp are used to manufacture the extract, but various other chemical processes are also involved that completely transform the organic structure of the raw materials. For this reason, I wonder whether the extract can be considered a truly “natural” product. However, many people are using the extract with good results for various antimicrobial body care preparations. of the extracts I have seen available on the market are diluted with 60 percent glycerin. Still, the manufacturers always recommend diluting grapefruit seed extract further to prevent it from irritating the skin. This means using anywhere from 2-20 drops diluted in liquid, depending on the quantity and purpose of the formula you are making. I called a manufacturer of the extract to inquire about its preservative properties. I was informed that 1 drop of extract added to 16 oz. of water will purify the water, similar to chlorination. In addition, I1/2 oz. of grapefruit seed extract added to 1 gallon of water will preserve it for a period of 3 months or longer. To bring the measurements down to scale, I approximate that 1 teaspoon of grapefruit seed extract will preserve 14 oz. of perishable liquid. The figures given are approximations only, but can be used as a starting point.
Lanolin is secreted from the sebaceous glands of sjjeep into their wool, and is often referred to as wool fat. It is highly emollient, soothing and softening. It may be used in creams, salves and hair products. Note that some people are allergic to lanolin, and that unrefined lanolin can have a very strong odor.
Lecithin is a thick, orange-yellow viscous liquid derived from egg yo1s, soybeans or corn. It makes oil and other skin care products spread well over the skin’s surface and has a softening and soothing effect. It is also a very good emulsifier. Be sparing in the addition of lecithin to creams, as it will make them very thick. I like to use 1/2 tablespoon of lecithin for an 19 oz. batch of cream.
PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) is a member of the vitamin B family that is used topically to increase the skin’s resistance to burning and damage from harmful ultraviolet rays. People who have experienced allergic reactions to PABA in commercial products may find that they are not allergic to naturally occurring PABA, or that the product which caused an allergic reaction may have contained other irritating substances. Food-grade PABA is available as a white crystalline powder that is water-soluble. It may therefore be difficult to keep it evenly dispersed in an oil unless the oil is shaken prior to use in order to redistribute the PABA. When creating a sun protection product it is important to use other skin-protective and -restorative substances like shea butter or jojoba oil in conjunction with the PABA; this augments the product’s effectiveness. The amount of PABA added to a product will depend on how easily you burn and what other ingredients you combine it with. For example, I use only 1/2 oz. of PABA (a heaping tablespoon) in a 32-fluid-oz. batch of my Golden Sun Juice. This formula contains only approximately 2lA percent PABA, but its protective qualities are enhanced by the other naturally occurring sun protection ingredients. It provides a sunscreen with an approximate SPF-15, which is not a sunblock. (This SPF is based on empirical research and not from laboratory testing.) Notice how your skin responds in the sun while using a particular formula. If it burns you need a stronger product, so increase the SPF by adding another teaspoon of PABA per 19-oz. batch. If your skin is not tanning, reduce or omit the PABA to decrease the SPF. Experiment with the formula, starting with a little and adding more or less PABA as needed.
Sea Salt is drying, cleansing, abrasive and drawing. It is useful for tooth cleansers, body scrubs, baths and hand and foot soaks. Use the purest, crudest salt available. The less refined the salt, the more therapeutic it will be, since unprocessed salt contains more of the minerals from the ocean and fewer of the chemicals used during the refining process. Eating unprocessed sea salt also provides the body with numerous minerals and trace elements, along with the sodium chloride found in regular table salt. If the cost of unrefined salt is too high for you to justify using it in baths or scrubs, then reserve it for ingestion.
Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, green pumpkin (often referred to as pepitas) and flax provide excellent nourishment for the skin when either ingested or applied topically. You should always start with fresh, raw, whole seeds, and preferably ones that are organic. Using whole seeds and grinding them immediately prior to use is essential for keeping their oils from oxidizing and becoming rancid. I store my whole seeds in the freezer to keep them from spoiling. Seeds contain appreciable amounts of essential fatty acids, vitamin E, zinc, iron and other nutritive substances. They should be included in the daily diet and can be incorporated into face and body scrubs and mask. Flaxseeds are very slimy due to their mucilage content, and may be applied topically to soothe inflamed or irritated skin*.However, the addition of too much flax in a mask or face scrub can make the formula too slippery to adhere to the face.
Vinegar has astringent, deodorizing and antifungal properties, and can also function as a menstrum for extracting herbs, although not as effectively as diluted alcohol. Vinegar is especially useful in facial astringents and hair rinses. I use organic, nonfiltered apple cider vinegar that still contains the “mother,” a by-product of enzymatic activity that has congealing properties which can give your liquid product a cloudy appearance. This enzyme-rich substance is highly beneficial both when eaten and applied topically. However, this kind of vinegar has a strong smell, and the cloudy appearance bothers some people. So you may want to use an organic white vinegar, or perhaps a more refined, filtered apple cider vinegar. When making products for the skin, especially for the face, I discourage the use of supermarket-grade vinegars, since they tend to be more caustic and irritating. Reserve supermarket-grade vinegars for house-cleaning and perhaps foot soaks. Note that vinegar tends to be drying, and its acid content can sting open skin and delicate tissues.
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