Celebrate the new year with
shiny tresses, a bright smile
and smooth, youthful-looking skin.
by Linda Melone
Pure beauty starts on the inside—but it doesn’t stay there. You can replace potentially harmful substances in hair, oral care and skin products with natural ingredients that will let you look your best without all the chemicals. Look for the following ingredients if your morning routine needs a healthy makeover.
Naturally Hair Raising
Innovations in hair care can help you enjoy healthy, shiny, chemical-free tresses, while cutting-edge cleansing techniques can help prevent breakage of dry or chemically treated hair. “Popular natural hair care ingredients include camellia seed oil, emu oil, ginseng extract, citrus extracts and specialty proteins,” says Desiree Mattox, a Detroit-based cosmetic chemist specializing in natural beauty products.
Rich in oleic acid, omega fatty acids, vitamin E and antioxidant polyphenols, camellia seed oil is a natural fatty acid known as an effective penetration enhancer. “The presence of this oil in a conditioner aids in the delivery of other nutrients to the scalp and hair shaft,” Mattox explains. In addition to oleic acid, emu oil contains linoleic acid. “Linoleic acid has been shown to help the skin and scalp retain moisture,” says Mattox. “It is a fantastic ingredient to condition the scalp and hair shaft.” Emu oil also helps soothe skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema. And evening primrose oil, another plentiful source of essential fats, helps nourish the scalp.
Mattox says that ginseng’s anti-inflammatory properties soothe the scalp and may even promote hair growth. If using ginseng extract as a hair rinse, Mattox recommends diluting it in water at the ratio of two teaspoons powder to eight ounces of water. Shake the solution, and spray it on your hair and rinse it through.
Citrus extracts, including those from orange, lemon and lemongrass, aid in cleansing and acidifying the hair. Extracts work best as cleansing and astringent properties for hair and scalp when used in moderation (too much can strip the hair of natural oils). Spray onto wet hair in the same proportions as for ginseng extract. Nettle is noted for its deep-cleaning action. Nettle has traditionally been used to help stimulate new hair growth, a capacity also credited to rosemary. Tea tree oil may help ease dandruff and itching. For added shine, look for hydrolyzed wheat protein or hydrolyzed flaxseed protein, which smoothes and seals the cuticle.
If you’re prone to dry or damaged hair, Mattox suggests “co-washing,” a technique that uses conditioner as the main cleaning agent. “Shampoos have cleansers which can be harsh,” says Mattox. “Instead, try washing with a light conditioner, which imparts moisture.” To co-wash, rinse your hair with warm water and then add conditioner and rinse. Co-washing may be done in place of shampoo or; if you use a lot of other products in your hair, clean with a regular shampoo once a week in addition to washing with conditioner. Hair rinses offer another gentle way to cleanse and restore the pH balance of the hair. “The more acidic the rinse, the better it will be at detangling the hair and smoothing the cuticle,” says Mattox. Try it if you want shiny, easy-to-comb hair.
Green tea’s health benefits run the gamut from reducing the risk of disease to aiding in weight loss. Now tooth decay prevention can be added to the list.
Polyphenols, highly concentrated antioxidants found in green tea, help inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause dental decay, halitosis (bad breath), strep throat, and several types of infection, according to Bruno Sharp, DDS, a prosthodontist specialist in Coconut Grove, Florida, who has formulated natural toothpastes. “Green tea also increases the acid resistance of tooth enamel,” he adds. “The presence of the antioxidant catechin in green tea may be responsible for its beneficial effect on periodontal health; it works by interfering with the body’s inflammatory response to bacteria.”
Green tea in toothpaste and mouthwashes also fight viruses by eliminating bacteria, says Sharp, who explains, “Research shows that once the bacteria are eliminated, the toothpaste is then able to fight off the viruses.”
Ayurvedic toothpastes containing herbal extracts, particularly neem, help freshen breath and stimulate gums in addition to cleaning teeth. Other herbal toothpaste and mouthwash ingredients include tea tree oil, which helps to gently control dental plaque and tartar, and myrrh, which was used by the ancient Romans for oral care. (Tea tree is also available in the form of oil-infused toothpicks.)
You’ll find other tooth care products in, surprisingly, the produce aisle. Rubbing a cut strawberry on your teeth, for example, allows the malic acid in the berry to clean and remove stains. Allow the crushed berries to remain on your teeth for five minutes and then rinse off. “Eating raw vegetables also naturally cleans teeth and removes topical stains,” says John Koutsoyiannis, DDS, a New York-based dentist. “Apples, pears, celery, carrots, cauliflower and cucumbers also cause saliva production, which combines with these foods’ natural fibers to help clean teeth and get rid of bacteria.”
Two kitchen staples—sage and salt—work together to whiten teeth. Simply grind together two tablespoons of dried sage leaves with two tablespoons of sea salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 250°. Use the mixture in place of toothpaste and rinse thoroughly. Another old standby, baking soda, is also effective. “Brush baking soda on your teeth twice a month to keep teeth white,” says Koutsoyiannis.
Other natural oral health remedies include aloe vera and licorice for cold and canker sores; both herbs are recommended by the Academy of General Dentists. In one study, participants who used a licorice root extract in the form of a self-adhering, time-release, dissolving oral patch reduced their cold sores while the no-treatment group had a 13% increase. The aloe vera plant, popular for relieving skin itches, burns and poison ivy, also helps heal lesions both on the inside and outside of the mouth—without the bitter taste or sting found in some traditional products.
A product you use on your skin should be natural enough to eat, say natural cosmetic manufacturers. And that holds true for many new skin care products. For that reason, ingredients such as cranberry, pumpkin and Argan oil are endorsed by skin care specialists.
“Cranberries contain natural, gentle acids that exfoliate (help rid the skin of dead cells),” says Todra Payne, a celebrity make-up artist turned healthy beauty expert and founder of healthybeautyproject.com. “Plus, cranberry extract has wonderful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that protect the skin from free radicals (molecules responsible for aging).”
Payne suggests the following do-it-yourself cranberry cleanser for dry skin: Take 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, blend, strain the juice and add a teaspoon of honey, which provides moisture. Rub it onto your face, leave it on for two minutes and rinse off with lukewarm water. Payne cautions that it won’t lather like traditional cleansers. But if you don’t feel clean unless you see bubbles, toss in a handful of soap nuts, a natural berry from trees in India available in health food stores. For a cranberry toner, use pure cranberry juice (not a sugary, commercial blend), put it on a cotton ball, wipe your face and follow with cool water. “It’s best for people with oily skin,” says Payne.
Sensitive skins may benefit from pumpkin-based facial masks. High in vitamin A (which promotes skin healing), vitamin C and zinc, pumpkin soothes and moisturizes. “It’s particularly soothing for sunburned skin,” says Payne. To create a simple pumpkin mask, combine 1/4 cup of pumpkin with a whole egg and apply it to your face. Relax with it on for 15 minutes and rinse. Add a teaspoon of honey for dry skin and the same amount of cranberry juice for oily skin, suggests Payne.
One of the latest “must have” ingredients, Argan oil is extracted in an environmentally responsible manner and sold exclusively by a women’s cooperative in Morocco, which uses the proceeds to fund projects for local women. Rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, Argan oil can be eaten as a dip for bread or mixed into salads as well as used in cosmetics and skin care products. “The oil contains amazing moisturizing properties and is more resistant to spoilage than olive oil,” says Payne. In addition to Argan oil, look for guava seed oil to crop up on skin care labels for its anti-aging and skin-tightening effects.
When it comes to facial cleansers, what gets left behind is just as important as what is taken away. Skin is protected by a gently acidic mantle which is easily stripped off by many common types of soap, which tend to be harshly alkaline. To counteract this effect, look for cleansers with a pH-balanced base. Such cleansers often incorporate precisely formulated amounts of such aromatherapy agents as lavender, used to promote healing, and lemon, which contains fruit acids that help remove dead skin cells and bleach discolored areas.