Heavenly Herbs in Skincare

So what exactly is the big deal when it comes to the trendy   » green, natural, organic beauty  » , and will  itty bitty herbs really make a difference in helping keep our skin healthy?

For thousands of years, herbal therapy has been used for many skin disorders and beauty regimes. Even our biologically close relatives, the great apes, use herbal self-medication !!

Fact is, many beauty products are full of artificial colors, chemical fragrances, synthetic preservatives and stabilizers that can be damaging , from the way they are produced and disposed of , to the way they are absorbed into your skin, causing more harm and potential toxic damage than good. Seriously scary!! So where do we go from here? The skin is our largest organ, and what we put on it is really important for our health and safety. We now are conscious of the dangers of most mass produced beauty products, and why we shouldn’t use them.

If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin!

Some beauty products contain carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals that increase breast cancer risk. Each product you cut from your beauty ritual decreases the number and quantity of chemicals to which you’re exposed. So be attentive and cautious of what you feed your skin!!

As synthetic drugs became more readily available, use of herbs in the west declined. But recently, as the secondary effects of these chemicals became known, the demand for herbs in skincare and a return to natures’ remedies with organic produce is increasing, we have  the « green revolution ».  In Asia, especially in China and India, herbal treatments that have been used for centuries are now being studied scientifically. Herbs used in Indian Ayurveda and as part of traditional Chinese medicine are 2 well known systems.

Herbs, seeds, flowers, roots, leaves, grains…..Which ones????

When searching for that perfect and safe cosmetic, follow some simple rules, like you would  for a healthy diet: hunt for unprocessed ingredients, without any harsh chemicals or anything artificial! Basically, the closer to the nature your product is, the more your skin will know what to do with its beneficial ingredients in order to improve your skin’s health.

Chemicals and synthetic ingredients will only limit your skins natural healing process, clog pores, have harmful effects and can irritate skin , cause redness and flaky , dry ,skin.

There are more natural skin care products available now than ever, and their long list of benefits beyond even great looking skin might come come as a surprise to you. When you use natural products like this regularly, not only are you beautifying your skin, but you’re also absorbing antioxidants, enhancing your skin’s UV resistance, and stimulating your immune system as well. Botanical , plant derived products & extracts are being used more and more by educated customers and their desire for natural  & safeproducts,

Applying unprocessed, whole-food ingredients onto your skin — many that you likely even have already in your own kitchen — will make you love your skin, even if you are someone who has sensitive skin or has struggled in the past with clearing up difficult skin-related problems.And it’s easier then you think!!!

Many herbs are used for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic activities.German chamomile, tea extracts, caffeine, rosemary, coffeeberry, and many more. There are many herbs to try out, for every skin type, research them and thier benefits well before trying one out in your formula. Basil, lavender  or neem are good for acne or oily prone skin, while aloe, marshmellow or clary sage are better for dry skin. Lavender, nettle or lemon balm can help with sensitive skin. Here are some ideas for your next recipe!!

  • Comfrey: Perfect for rough and dry skin. Contains the protein allantoin which speeds up cell renewal.
  • Elderflower: Good for elderly skin and most other skin type; smoothes wrinkles, fades freckles, and can even sooth sunburns.
  • Calendula: Heals extra problematic skin – especially nice for healing rough patches.
  • Lavender: Above it’s noted that lavender is good for oily skin and it is. It’s also one of those all around herbs that are useful for almost any person’s skin type. Lavender also helps fight acne.
  • Chamomille: Actually can whiten skin, plus softens and fights acne.
  • Peppermint: Good for many skin types and can act as an astringent.
  • Sage: Tightens pores, stimulates, and cleanses well.

How can we incorperate these herbs in our skincare?

Infusions, macerations, decoctions, & tinctures as extraction methods are the most common. Herbal and floral waters, called hydrolates  or hydrosols, are by-products of the process used when making essential oils. They are a lovely addition to cosmetics instead of plain old water to toners, creams, facial washes, masks, shampoos, ect.

Herbal decoctions or infusions are a fantastic option to replace just water when making a skincare product. For a decoction, boil your harder herbs ( roots for example) in  water for about 10-20 min, then let sit before straining. For an infusion, the boiling water is poured onto the herb and left to sit 20 min. before being strained. These can be kept only a few days in the fridge before use.

A tincture is when the extraction method used is alcohol. (herbs macerate in alcohol for 2-3 weeks, then are strained) and these can be kept much longer , up to 1-2 years even!! This is the formulaters choice, to use alcohol in your cosmetics or not.

Herbs can also be macerated in glycerine for 2-3 weeks for use in eye gels, facial gels, or creams, instead of using plain glycerine.

Botanical C02 extracts are more potent and effective, making for a skincare product with some seriously powerful healing properties. Here you will have a high grade extract composition very close to the natural raw material, which also can be used in addition to your herbal infusions, greatly enhancing the benefits of your product.

Macerating herbs and plants in oils are another method of extracting some of the benefits of your botanicals into a vegetable carrier oil .Leaving the herbs covered in your choice of oil (almond, olive, sunflower, grape seed are good choices) for 1-6 weeks will do the trick. After filtering, some of the therapeutic constituents are then left in the oil.

Some fantastic choices are carrots, marigold, Saint Johns wort, comfrey, chamomile, rose, hibiscus,  immortelle, well, the list is endless!!!! Marigold or carrot will even color your oils, and can be used as a natural coloring agent to get a beautiful orange cream or lotion!!!!  Beware, using herbs in your creams and lotions can turn your products a not so attractive beige color, or leave a medical type of scent which is not always pleasant, but this can be covered up naturally to a certain extent,  with lovely smelling essential oils.

Bath treatments, facial steams, compresses, are all other methods available for healing naturally with herbs.

I will write and share a series of herbal blogs next, and go more into detail about some of my favorite herbs, how I use them in certain cosmeceutical formulas , and share some simple recipes for you to get the hang  of using these precious herbs as a part of your daily skincare routine. Treat your skin with respect, and keep it healthy and safe , just like in the good old days!!!!


The Aromantic guide to the use of herbs; by Kolbjorn Borseth







Thornfeldt C. Cosmeceuticals containing herbs: fact, fiction, and future. Dermatol Surg. 2005;31:873–880. [Pubme

Sensational Syndet Bars

  Let’s talk about soap. Or rather, non-soap soap . Not making much sense, am I?

AKA syndet bars, non soap soap bars or shower bars have been around for ages. They are often marketed as “cleansing bars” or “dermatological bars”  with the term “soap free” or “soaps without soap.”  These are different from soap as you know it, as they are not made via saponification of a fat, oil or fatty acids with sodium hydroxide. They have a neutral pH of about 5- 5.5, compared to regular soap which is naturally alkaline with a pH of around 9-10.

Syndet  bars are made up mostly of surfactant blends with low water content. Often synthetic blends of harsh detergents are blended with colorings and fragrances to get your regular commercial shower or soap bars. SLS and SLES for example, are harsh detergent based surfactants that can irritate skin which can lead to itchy scalp and dandruff.  It also has potentially toxic effects on aquatic organisms. So make sure your bars do not include these ones. The word Syndet is made up from both synthetic & detergent. It sounds bad, but by using gentle, natural, eco friendly surfactant or tension-active agents, we have a safe product that is not like the original syndet bars used to be.

The surfactants used here are mostly in powder form, with a smaller amount of liquid ones to get a nice foaming effect, which is what everyone expects from products we wash with.

Natural, plant based powdered surfactant SCI , or Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, is a sodium salt ester of coconut fatty acid and will be a large part of the bar as this helps makes a product solid, with some wax or stearic acid used to help further harden the bar.

Firstly let me say that I do love all those absolutely gorgeous saponified soaps made by fellow formulators and artisans, they are so creative and their skill and artistic talent are much appreciated and respected. I do crack and buy lovely goat milk or honey soap when I do come across them, they are so gorgeous and lovely. I just have a personal preference to making these as I find them easier to fabricate. I have made beautiful cold processed soaps before and I probably will again at some point as I like to change and improve on various techniques. But for long term, daily use, I personally do prefer an organic syndet bar to protect my skin.

Syndet versus Soap

I will point out a few advantages to these shower bars over soap:

  1. We do not need to work with lye, which is harsh and can be dangerous to work with if not careful.
  2. There is no need to go through the saponification process. We can use our syndet bars right away, just wait 24 hours for them to harden. There is no need to cure one for weeks until the lye transforms the fat into soap and it is safe to use.
  3. While making our syndet bars, at the end we are able to adjust the Ph as needed. We can get a lower ph of 5 or 5.5 then we have with a normal soap, which we cannot adjust at all. So that means we can adapt our bars to our physiological skin ph of 5, so our epidermis with all its complex microbial systems and friendly bacteria is not whacked out of order by a higher ph which can kill them all, aggress the skin and destroy the protective barrier.
  4. Syndets are recommended for cleansing sensitive skin and even baby skin, as they are far more gentle and skin-friendly than traditional soaps. People who wash hands constantly use these.
  5. Since we have a non alkaline ph in our bars, we have the options of using various herbal and botanical extracts, colorings and aromas that would not survive saponification or alkaline ph levels of a regular soap.
  6. We can make very small or large batches and use beautiful molds to make one bar or more.

Fabrication process

These adorable bars take a little practice to perfect. Finding the right balance of wax/surfactant to get a hard enough bar, may take several trials. SCI is a solid surfactant, the only one I use, and the first step is getting this ingredient to the right consistency. It must be heated on quite high temperature, and the dry powder or tiny granules (I’ve never used the noodles) will swell, they do not melt, with the water content and become smooth and gel like. This step takes time and high temperature, mixing and pouring the right way at the right moment. Keep trying till you understand the process and see how the ingredients work together. It’s all a learning experience and practice will make perfect!!

Always take a pH measure at the end, and then you can adjust it accordingly in your next batches by adding more or less lactic acid as needed. Please let me know if you have any questions about this as I won’t go into too much detail about pH adjustment here.

These bars harden quite fast and must be poured very quickly into their molds. I find smaller batches much easier to manufacture. I can’t even imagine making these in large quantities in an artisanal lab. Stirring and pouring techniques would need to be done differently and with special equipment.

To preserve or not to preserve?

I do not add preservatives to my solid shower or shampoo bars all the time. Many have been made without and used over several weeks time with no signs of contamination, even when left on  humid shower racks. I do recommend letting them air dry between uses by keeping them in a bowl that has some holes so they are not sitting in water puddles between uses. If you add herbs, clays, aloe vera, or other ‘live’ botanical extracts, test your product for microbial stability and you might want to add a preservative system.  I used an herbal infusion here instead of plain water so this is the main reason I chose to add a preservative in this formula.

I am happy to share a lovely sample formula, so please give it a try and let me know how it turns out!!

Sample Formulation

stage Ingredients 100 gm
A Hibiscus, Rose & Mallow Infusion 30
A Hibiscus Glycerite 7.5
A SCI 25
B Beeswax 20
B Coconut Oil 6
B Vitamin E .5
C Coco Glucoside 5
C Betaine 3
C Hibiscus powder .3
C Lactic acid powder 1
D Sorbate & Benzoate .7
D Monoi  aroma 1

Fabrication Method

  1. Boil water and infuse your herbs in it for 15-20 minutes, then strain.
  2. Prepare A phase in a medium sized heat proof bowl                         .
  3. Prepare B phase in a small metal bowl or glass beaker. Prepare other phases in separate beakers.
  4. Place A bowl in water bath and start heating . Use heat proof gloves, the containers will get hot. This step can take time, be patient and stir ingredients well until a smooth blend is obtained and you cannot see individual pieces of the SCI. It will get translucent and thick.                                                             
  5. Heat oil phase B (not vitamin E) till melted, and then add this slowly to the SCI phase A while mixing by hand with mini whisk or spatula until well combined. Keep this mix on the warm water bath but with the heat turned off. Otherwise your blend will solidify too fast. Vitamin E can be added once the blend is cooled slightly.
  6.  Add phase C and stir gently, still keeping everything on the water bath.
  7. Add rest of ingredients, stirring well after each addition. Make sure everything is measured out in small beakers and ready to add quickly                                 
  8. If you work fast you can take a small amount of product and mix it in some distilled water, and take your PH measure. You might not have time to adjust it if it is too high, but note down the PH, and in your next batch you can add more or less lactic acid  to your formula as needed  to get the desired pH of 5 or  5.5. Remember, a tiny % will change the pH quiet drastically so go ea     
  9. Pour quickly into molds. Tap the molds on counter to release any eventual air bubbles, there are usually a few that come to surface. Sometimes the mix is more pourable than others, if it’s too thick, you can work with a spatula or spoon to get the paste into your molds.
  10. Let cool in fridge or in room temperature, if it is not too hot in your work area. After 24 hours the bar is solid and ready to use .                                                                                             

Feel free to swap vegetal oils or use herbal powders to those you prefer. Betaine can be replaced with sodium lactate, if you don’t have either, just try the formula without and recalculate the % to add up to a total of 100 . This should make 2 small bars. Hibiscus gives a light pink color to your bar but it can fade over time. Other colorants of your choice can be added as you wish !!

I used my home made hibiscus glycerite, but if you don’t have this plain vegetale glycerine is fine. Use herbs you have on hand to infuse into your water phase if you like, or plain distilled or deionized water will do.

Have fun experimenting to get the effect you want and please share your trials with us!!

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