Your in-depth guide to natural skincare

The skin is usually the first organ to show signs of ageing. How quickly this occurs depends on many factors including genetics and lifestyle. However, the ageing process can be slowed significantly if you address your health holistically. I refer to this as the skin trilogy: what you apply to your skin; what goes into your body; and your state of mind. To achieve healthy, glowing skin you need to aim for harmony within your whole body.

What’s so appealing about youthful skin is the clarity and vital energy it radiates. However, this vitality can be achieved at any age, whether you’re 35 or 65, if you’re careful with your lifestyle: eat a diet rich in organic and biodynamic foods; employ the healing and rejuvenating qualities of botanicals in skincare; have facials and massages; swim in saltwater; get controlled sun exposure, exercise and good sleep; drink plenty of purified water for detoxification; achieve a balance between work and play; laugh a lot; and cultivate inner peace and contentment. Feeling comfortable in your own skin will give you a radiance that no amount of cosmetics can replicate.



Structure of the skin and ageing


The skin is divided into two main layers: the exterior epidermis and the dermis beneath. The stratum corneum (the horny, outermost layer of the epidermis) comprises dead cells that are flat and scale-like in shape and arranged in overlapping layers to create a waterproof-like barrier.

Beneath these layers is the germinative or basal cell layer, where new cells constantly form and old ones are pushed to the surface. The old cells are then shed when you rub against sheets and pillows or removed when you cleanse and exfoliate your skin. When you’re young this rejuvenation process occurs about every four weeks. As you mature it slows significantly.

The dermis is made up of a connective tissue framework in which blood vessels, nerves, glands, cells and the proteins collagen and elastin are embedded, providing strength, resilience and flexibility to the skin. Unlike the epidermis, the dermis is vascular and provides the skin as a whole with energy, nutrients and water.

When you’re young, collagen is mattress-like — firm and bouncy — and elastin is flexible. As you mature, collagen breaks down, the elastin fibres fragment and both substances cross-link and become matted like a coarsely knit jumper. The skin then becomes less able to take up moisture, collagen breaks down and elastin loses flexibility. The subcutis (the innermost layer of the skin comprising a network of fat and collagen) then begins to shrink. The epidermis responds by becoming wrinkled and furrowed.

Other factors besides advancing age contribute to the rapid cross-linkage and dismantling of collagen: poor nutrition, poor elimination of toxins, lack of oxygen and moisture, weak circulation, hormonal changes, emotional stress, environmental toxins, cigarettes, alcohol, dehydration, medications, synthetic chemicals in cosmetics, congestion of the body’s systems, drinking impure tap water, swimming in chlorinated water, ultraviolet radiation, emotional burdens and inherited factors. The more stress you put on your body the more the collagen breaks down and the elastin loses flexibility.




Protecting the skin’s acid mantle


The skin acts as a barrier between your internal environment and the external world, protecting your body from physical damage, toxins, pollutants, invasion by micro-organisms and ultraviolet light. It also assists in the elimination of toxins from the body and therefore plays an important role in your overall health and wellbeing.

The protective acid mantle on the epidermis is thriving with good bacteria, water and lipids (oils) that keep the skin healthy and balanced. Maintaining the health of the acid mantle with gentle, natural skincare is important, as an imbalance of this delicate ecosystem can contribute to many skin conditions, including dermatitis and acne. The acid mantle acts as the skin’s gatekeeper. If it breaks down, harsh synthetic chemicals, germs and bacteria can penetrate the skin more easily and compromise your health and the supporting structures of the skin.



The sun — friend or foe?


Guarding against the sun’s ultraviolet rays is one of the first steps to maintaining healthy skin. UVB rays cause visible sunburn and UVA rays penetrate the skin, causing cellular damage that accumulates over time. UVA rays are insidious — no redness occurs but the cumulative damage gives rise to visible signs of ageing. These include textural changes, reduced barrier function, hyperpigmentation, fine and deep wrinkles, impairment of the skin’s immune function and increased incidence and severity of skin disorders like rosacea and skin cancer.

Controlled exposure to sunlight is important, though, as the body needs it to synthesise vitamin D, essential for the absorption of calcium and therefore healthy bones and teeth. Controlled exposure can also have a therapeutic effect on skin complaints such as acne and dermatitis.



Free radicals


Free radicals are oxidising agents produced as part of the body’s immune response. If left to roam freely they can overload the cells and cause damage. The greatest damage tends to occur when your natural defences are low and the first signs are usually seen in the skin with early wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. Free-radical triggers include ultraviolet radiation, pollution, poor diet, refined foods, fried and burnt foods, processed cooking oils, alcohol, cigarettes, synthetic chemicals and stress. Antioxidants ingested and applied to the skin can provide protection from free-radical scavengers.





After an injury (for example, sunburn), infection or the application of a harsh product, your skin becomes warm and red — the result of inflammation. Inflammation can be beneficial to the skin in the short term but prolonged inflammation causes free-radical damage and cell wall deterioration. It’s important to use gentle, soothing ingredients, both topically and internally, to help calm any inflammation that may arise.


What should you put on your skin?


Your skin is like the rest of your body: to thrive and flourish it needs to be fed a variety of nutrients. Natural skincare involves the application of biological substances derived from living plants and mineral sources that haven’t undergone any synthetic processes. Minerals, and plants that contain active substances such as vitamins, minerals, alkaloids, saponins, antioxidants and tannins, can be employed for protecting, healing, balancing, hydrating, fortifying and rejuvenating the skin. Many of these ingredients are easily absorbed deep into the skin where they can improve skin metabolism, accelerate cell functioning and affect collagen and elastin.




Essential oils


When applied to the skin, essential oils are cleansing, healing, balancing, antiseptic and anti-fungal. They help speed up the removal of old skin cells and promote the growth of new ones. They improve muscle tone and blood circulation and help eliminate waste, reduce inflammation, regulate sebum production and alleviate emotional stress. (Sebum is the oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands. It provides a thin film of fat to the skin to slow water evaporation and also has an antibacterial effect.)

The stimulating properties of essential oils oxygenate the blood, energise cells and promote regeneration. The nutrients and proteins in essential oils help maintain collagen and elastin.

The small molecules of essential oils are easily dissolved by the sebaceous fat and can penetrate the skin to affect the deeper tissue and organs. (See “Treatment oils for the skin” below.)



Plant hormones


Plants possess their own healing hormones. When a plant is damaged, sap travels to the injured area, sealing the wound and accelerating new cell growth. Plant hormone extracts have the same healing and rejuvenating effects when applied to your skin. Calendula, chamomile, arnica, comfrey and aloe vera are just some of the plants rich in these healing hormones.

Certain plants contain hormones that mimic oestrogen and affect collagen and tissue. They have a tautening and rejuvenating effect on the skin and are found in soybeans and soymilk, wild yam, black cohosh, flaxseed, chaste berry, red clover and a variety of beans and cereal brans. The essential oils of sage, verbena, hops, fennel and eucalyptus also contain these plant hormones.

Certain vegetable oils, such as avocado and soybean, are rich in phytosterols, a type of plant hormone that increases collagen synthesis in the skin. Phytosterols improve skin healing and help minimise scarring and inflammation.



Unrefined vegetable and nut oils


Pure vegetable oils, fats and waxes are extracted from the seeds, kernels, nuts and other parts of plants. These lipids are highly emollient and rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, phytosterols, vitamins and minerals. They can penetrate deep into the dermal layer and are used in cosmetics to soften, smooth, calm, moisturise and regenerate the skin, prevent moisture loss and restore lipid balance. Such oils include jojoba, sweet almond, apricot kernel, soybean, coconut, olive, rosehip, evening primrose, avocado, borage, macadamia, calendula-infused and wheatgerm, along with cocoa butter and shea butter.



Soy isoflavones


Protein extracts of soybean and soymilk contain oestrogen-like substances called isoflavones, which protect the skin against sun damage and may increase the production of hyaluronic acid (a substance that reduces wrinkles by binding to water molecules in the skin). They may also help lighten age spots.





Soybean-derived lecithin is a well-known phospholipid, a substance with great ability to attract and hold water. Soybean phospholipids contain a high percentage of essential amino acids that play a role in the synthesis of collagen and elastin fibres. They are often used as emulsifiers in natural skincare products.





Ceramides are skin lipids that also exist in beans, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, rice grains and cow’s milk. They form the epidermal barrier and stick the horny cells together like mortar holding bricks together, giving the skin its smooth, intact surface and protecting it from water loss and dehydration. Ceramides are used in the prevention of skin disorders and diseases.




Marine extracts


Sea plants boast the largest range of minerals of any organism and are used in skincare preparations for their cell regenerative properties and ability to attract and retain water. They are soothing, healing and anti-inflammatory. Add powdered kelp to your face masks or dip sheets of nori into warm water before pasting them on your face as a mask. Rich in nutrients, spirulina makes an excellent skincare ingredient when applied externally or ingested.



Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)


AHAs are substances naturally derived from fruits (including citrus, tomatoes and strawberries), sugar cane, milk and yoghurt. They break down the intercellular glue holding dead skin cells together, helping to increase skin cell turnover rate and revealing a brighter, softer, smoother-looking complexion. AHAs may also stimulate increased glycosaminoglycans (substances in the skin that are important for the maintenance of collagen and elastin) in the collagen matrix, thereby boosting the amount of moisture in the skin and minimising fine wrinkles.

BHAs are said to be gentler on the skin. Salicylic acid is an effective BHA found in willow bark and meadowsweet.

Note: High percentages of AHAs in skincare products can damage the skin. Avoid sun exposure after using AHAs as they can make the skin sun-sensitive.



Proteolytic enzymes


Proteolytic enzymes, which can digest dead or diseased protein material without harming living, healthy cells, make gentle but effective skin exfoliants. A commonly used proteolytic enzyme is papain, which is found in papaya, especially green papaya. Regular use enhances the smoothness, clarity, moisture and firmness of the complexion. Rub the inside of the papaya skin on your damp skin. When it has dried, rinse it off.




French Argiletz clays and Australian clays (slightly stronger) are cleansing, detoxifying, drawing, exfoliating, healing, soothing, toning and rejuvenating. Green clay, the most absorbent, is suited to acneous, oily and neglected skin. Pink is purifying and toning and is suitable for all skin types. Red helps treat sensitive skin and broken capillaries. White, the gentlest, is soothing, softening and suitable for all skin types. Yellow is recommended for restoring tired and neglected skin of all types.



Sun protection


Protect your skin from environmental assault and free-radical damage by wearing a good natural sun block. Look for products that use the physical blockers (as opposed to chemical sunscreens) micronised zinc oxide or micronised titanium dioxide.

Note: Avoid wearing certain essential oils in the daytime as they render the skin photosensitive. These include bergamot, angelica root, bitter orange, cold-pressed lime and grapefruit.



Inner beauty — feeding your skin


I often recommend people see a naturopath before they see a beautician, as good skin begins in the stomach. The skin, hair and nails are the last stop for essential nutrients that are distributed to the internal organs first.

A naturopath will help you reassess your diet and check that you’re digesting and assimilating nutrients properly. They’ll work with you to ensure your body is eliminating toxins efficiently so they don’t come flooding through your skin and cause skin conditions. They’ll also help you sort out any hormonal imbalances that contribute to skin conditions such as acne.

Start your beauty regime in the morning by drinking a glass of water laced with lemon juice, which is cleansing for the liver and aids digestion and the elimination of toxins.

Note: Fad dieting results in loss of muscle tissue, leading to a drawn complexion. Eating the right foods and fats like omega-3s will help you burn body fat but prevent the loss of wanted fat and muscle in your face.




Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)


Like oxidisation, glycation is another primary cause of premature ageing of the skin. Eating carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index causes blood sugar levels to rise. Sustained high levels of sugars cause glucose molecules to stick to protein collagen. This impairs the functioning of collagen and can cause age spots as well as loss of the skin’s elasticity and premature wrinkling.

ALA helps to stop glycation and has been touted “the universal antioxidant” because it’s both water- and fat-soluble, which makes it able to neutralise free radicals in both the fatty and watery regions of the cells. “It promotes the antioxidant network — it directly recycles and extends the metabolic lifespan of other antioxidants,” says naturopath Alison Cassar. Natural sources of ALA are red meat, spinach, liver, tomatoes and brewer’s yeast.

Topically: ALA is able to reach and protect both the water and lipid portions of the skin with potent antioxidant benefits. It plumps out wrinkles and gives the skin a healthy glow. It is also used to treat pigmentary disorders.



Essential fatty acids (EFAs), or vitamin F


EFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids the body cannot synthesise, so they must be derived from foods such as vegetable, nut and fish oils. EFAs are essential for the building, growth and maintenance of cells. They regulate the production of prostaglandins, which mediate in the process of inflammation and increase blood circulation (and therefore oxygen) to the skin. EFAs help maintain the fluidity and integrity of skin cell membranes, increase dermal hydration and rejuvenate the skin.

Supplementation with oils containing gamma linolenic acid, or GLA, (like evening primrose) and omega-3 fats (found in coldwater fish and flaxseed oil) improves skin texture and helps manage skin conditions such as eczema, dry skin, acne and psoriasis.

Topically: See “Unrefined vegetable and nut oils” above.



Vitamin A


Vitamin A (retinol) is effective in healing wounds, treating acne and psoriasis and helping to reduce scarring and wrinkles. Food sources are red meat (especially beef), chicken liver and dairy products. However, beta-carotene, a precursor for vitamin A, may be a safer way to reap the benefits of this vitamin, especially for children, pregnant women and those with liver or kidney problems. Beta-carotene is found in most dark-green leafy vegetables and most orange vegetables and fruits.

Topically: Retinoic acid, or tretinoin — a derivative of vitamin A — is a popular skincare ingredient as it helps increase the skin’s elasticity, stimulates collagen, reduces signs of photo-ageing, clears up acne and reduces scarring, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Rosehip oil’s retinoic acid content, along with its high concentration of EFAs, may contribute to its formidable cell- and scar-healing effects — minus the skin irritation and redness retinol causes.



Vitamin C


Vitamin C is required for wound healing and preventing bruising, and is essential for collagen production. It’s an excellent detoxifier and potent antioxidant. Food sources are citrus fruits, parsley, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli and cabbage.

Topically: Vitamin C stimulates the synthesis of collagen. It helps to minimise fine lines, scars and wrinkles and reduce hyperpigmentation. There are many forms of vitamin C in skincare products, but L-ascorbic acid is the only useful form to apply to the skin.



The B vitamins


The B vitamins, which include biotin and niacin, coexist in many of the same foods and often work together to maintain metabolism and the health of the skin, hair, muscles, immune system, nervous system, eyes, liver and digestive system. Deficiencies can cause dermatitis, seborrhoea (excessive secretion of sebum by the sebaceous glands), acne and wrinkles. Food sources are eggs, milk, liver, whey, almonds, beef heart, mushrooms, wholegrains, peas, peanuts, sunflower and sesame seeds, salmon, walnuts, peanuts, wheatgerm, bran, brown rice, molasses, legumes, offal and leafy green vegetables.


Biotin (a B-group vitamin also known as vitamin H) is an important nutrient for the growth of tissues and the regulation of sebaceous gland secretion. A deficiency can lead to extreme drying of the skin and a sallow or dullish-grey complexion. Biotin is found in egg yolk, soybeans, organ meats, brewer’s yeast, cheese, barley and milk.

Topically: Biotin helps moisturise a dry complexion. Niacin has anti-inflammatory, skin-lightening and rejuvenating properties. Vitamin B5 assists in the treatment of acne and wrinkles.





Antioxidants are the skin’s warriors against premature ageing. They intercept free radicals before they can damage the skin. They help enhance our own natural SPF (sun protection factor) when ingested and applied topically.

Carotenoids and flavonoids are powerful antioxidants found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. The more vibrant, the higher the levels of antioxidants. Such foods include pumpkin, papaya, tomato, watermelon, rockmelon, blueberries and spinach and the herbs calendula and rosehip. Catechins are protective antioxidants found in green, red, black and white teas.

Other powerful antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, selenium, olive leaf extract, lycopene, grapeseed extract (also enhances the potency of vitamin C), co-enzyme Q10 and alpha lipoic acid.

Note: Don’t take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy without the advice of a doctor.



Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)


Vitamin E is the body’s most important fat-soluble antioxidant, especially for cell membranes. It protects other fat-soluble vitamins from oxidative damage, is necessary for tissue repair, is a natural anticoagulant and promotes healing. It has a protective effect when applied topically and ingested. Food sources are vegetable oils, nuts, wheatgerm oil, mustard greens, chard, sunflower seeds, turnip greens, almonds and spinach.


Vitamin K


Vitamin K is necessary for the body’s blood-clotting mechanism. It aids the healing of capillaries (blood vessels that have enlarged or burst to show through the skin). It helps reduce dark circles under the eyes and aids in the fading of hyperpigmentation and the treatment of rosacea. Food sources are chlorophyll, green tea, turnip greens, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, asparagus and dark-green lettuce.

Topically: Dermatologists have found vitamin K to be successful for treating dark circles under the eyes and bruising on the face, possibly because it stimulates blood flow to the area.






Zinc repairs damaged tissue, protects against susceptibility to skin infections and improves skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema and rosacea. Without zinc, vitamin A could not be released from the liver. Food sources are lean meat, seafood, eggs, soybeans, peanuts, wheat bran, cheese, oysters, brewer’s yeast, kelp, liver, mushrooms, nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

Topically: Zinc protects the skin from ultraviolet light, speeds healing and is antibacterial, making it an effective ingredient in acne preparations.



Selenium is a critical component of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. It protects cell membranes and red blood cells from free-radical damage. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts (high levels), tuna, beef, cod, turkey, eggs, oatmeal, chicken and rice.



Touted the “mineral of youth” because it’s one of the most vital elements of tissues, silica is essential for maintaining the elasticity, firmness and strength of connective tissue. Lack of silica will hinder the skin’s quick healing and lower elasticity and water content. Silica is found in the herb horsetail (a rich source) and grains like oats.

Topically: Silica is widely used in skin-firming preparations for the face, body and bust.


Co-enzyme Q10


This nutrient helps to regulate energy production in cells. It’s a powerful antioxidant whose application both internally and externally before sun exposure protects against sun damage. It also helps to stimulate cell turnover and reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles. Olive leaf extract and certain vegetable oils such as soy and canola contain this nutrient.






Glucosamine is produced in the body to help manufacture specialised molecules called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are important for the development of connective tissue and collagen. Glucosamine supplements are derived from the processed shells of crustaceans.

Topically: Glucosamine is said to stimulate collagen production.



Amino acids


These are the main building blocks of protein for cell renewal and growth (including collagen and elastin) and the maintenance of the body’s functions. Signs of an amino acid deficiency are skin problems such as blemishes or a dull, devitalised complexion. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products are rich in amino acids.

Topically: Amino acids increase the moisture content of the skin, making it smooth and soft. They are thought to help other ingredients penetrate the skin.



Probiotics and prebiotics


Probiotics are the friendly bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract that help support the immune system and fight off disease-causing bacteria such as candida. They clean out the digestive tract and therefore promote a clearer complexion.

Many microbiologists believe that a shortage of probiotic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract is the underlying cause of premature ageing. Supplements can help with acne, psoriasis and other skin disorders. Prebiotics (found in certain foods like tomatoes, onions, Jerusalem artichokes and chickpeas) feed the friendly bacteria.

Together, supplements of probiotics and prebiotics are a powerful symbiotic combination that can help you maintain a healthy digestive system. Look for the proven strains L Casei immunitas and BB-12 Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Topically: Probiotics in skin cleansers, creams and masks soften, smooth and exfoliate the skin, giving it a youthful appearance. For this reason, live yoghurt makes a great cosmetic.





Wheatgrass is a super, living food replete with vitamins A, B complex, C, E and K, many trace elements, amino acids and around 30 enzymes. It’s a powerful antioxidant and detoxifier. Its high chlorophyll content cleanses the liver, tissues and cells, aids in tissue repair, improves digestion and purifies and oxygenates the blood. It is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial when ingested or applied to the skin. It contains azelaic acid, which is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, making it helpful in the treatment of acne and rosacea.





Beta-glucans are polysaccharides found in oats, yeast, algae, mushrooms and barley. When ingested and applied topically they are effective in stimulating the immune system, protecting the skin against environmental pollutants, chemicals and ultraviolet radiation, increasing the skin’s ability to heal itself and reducing visible signs of ageing such as wrinkles.


What’s your skin type?


Normal — rare unless you’re very young. It is soft, smooth, finely textured, supple and balanced in both oil and moisture content. It has no enlarged pores, wrinkles or blemishes and is firm and resilient.

The following skin types represent a state of imbalance:

Oily — has a coarser texture with obvious enlarged pores. The skin may look sallow or dingy and is prone to acne, blackheads and infection. It is greasy as a result of overproduction of sebum, which can be caused by a number of factors including heredity, poor diet, metabolic disorders, hormonal imbalances, insufficient skin hygiene or harsh preparations that strip the skin of oil.

Dry — usually delicate and fine-textured with no obvious pores. It is predisposed to facial lines and wrinkles, lacks moisture or fat due to inadequate sebum secretion and is unable to trap surface moisture. Often it feels tight, parched and flaky.

Combination — a mixture of two or more skin types; often dry patches with oily patches on the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) where the sebaceous glands are most prevalent. Each area is best treated according to its particular needs.


Sensitive — fine textured, translucent and often prone to lines and small surface veins. It can suffer redness and irritation when exposed to allergens in the air, perfumes, lanolin and pollen and is often more susceptible to eczema and dermatitis. People with this skin type are often very sensitive and finely tuned, both physically and emotionally.

Dehydrated — lacking in water, quickly wrinkled, drawn and often cold. May be caused by insufficient fluid intake, poor lymphatic function, dieting, climatic conditions, central heating, air-conditioning or lack of sebum. Both dry and oily skins can become dehydrated.

Mature or ageing — prone to dryness, dehydration, wrinkles and lines, as it lacks oil and moisture. The skin becomes flaccid, sags (with underlying fat shrinkage and skin loosening) and looks dull. Growths and hyperpigmentation occur and small capillaries appear.

Acneous — suffering from acne, a disease of the sebaceous glands and hair follicles. An excess of sebum is produced and clogs the pores, forming blackheads. The pressure of this sebum in the connective tissue increases and creates inflammations, abscesses or pimples. Causes are usually hormonal or dietary. See “Oily” skin type above.

Broken capillaries — appear as small, dilated, winding, bright-red blood vessels on the cheeks, around the nose and sometimes on the chin. This occurs as a result of poor elasticity of the capillary wall and gives the appearance of diffused or local redness. It is aggravated by extremes of temperature, excessively hot or cold water, nervous or digestive disorders, poor nutrition, saunas, exercise, drinking very hot liquids, spicy foods, blushing, smoking, alcohol, synthetic chemicals and fragrances in cosmetics, aggressive scrubs and alcohol-based toners and topical steroids.

Rosacea — often misdiagnosed as adult acne. Typically, people with the condition will experience inappropriate flushing not usually associated with sweating, and/or persistent facial redness. Broken blood vessels on the cheeks are common and bouts of inflammation that cause red papules or pustules may be experienced. (See “Broken capillaries” and “Acneous” skin type above for what aggravates rosacea.)

Hyperpigmentation — where patches of skin become darker than the surrounding skin. It may be the result of a hormonal imbalance or, more commonly, sun exposure. It tends to worsen with age, as sun damage accumulates and the skin’s ability to regenerate slows down. It is caused by an increase in melanin production (the substance that gives your skin its pigment).

Inflamed skin is more susceptible to hyperpigmentation, so it’s important to keep the skin calm, well nourished and protected. Be diligent with sun protection and use ingredients that promote the regeneration of cells, such as calendula-infused oil and rosehip oil (see “Vitamin A” above).

Regular exfoliation is effective as it helps remove dead skin cells, giving a fresher, brighter and more evenly toned complexion.

Vitamin C used topically is said to reduce hyperpigmentation. Arbutin, a natural compound found in the leaves of plants such as cranberry, blueberry, bearberry and most pear plants, is an effective melanin inhibitor, as are kojic acid (a byproduct of sake), azelaic acid (found in oats, wheat, barley and wheatgrass), licorice root extract and mulberry bark extract.


Treatment oils for the skin

The following combinations of essential oils, carrier oils and infused oils help regenerate and boost the skin while also treating specific conditions. Massage into the skin at night, intermittently.

Oily skin: 5 tsp hazelnut, 5 tsp jojoba, 4 drops sandalwood, 3 drops mandarin, 3 drops palmarosa.

Dry skin: 1 tbsp sweet almond, 2 tsp avocado, 2 tsp olive, 2 tsp wheatgerm, 4 drops sandalwood, 3 drops geranium, 3 drops rose.

Combination skin: 5 tsp jojoba, 5 tsp sweet almond, 10 drops lavender, 6 drops geranium, 4 drops neroli.


Sensitive skin, eczema and dermatitis: 5 tsp apricot kernel, 5 tsp jojoba, 3 drops chamomile, 3 drops Atlas cedarwood, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops patchouli.

Dehydrated skin: 1½ tbsp apricot kernel, 1 tbsp jojoba, 5 drops rose, 3 drops sandalwood, 2 drops palmarosa.

Mature skin: 1 tbsp jojoba, 2 tsp carrot-root-infused oil, 2 tsp evening primrose, 2 tsp rosehip, 6 drops rose, 3 drops frankincense, 2 drops patchouli. (Macadamia nut oil is also an effective treatment for dry, mature skin as it is high in palmitoleic acid, which closely resembles human sebum.)

Acneous skin: 2½ tbsp apricot kernel, 1 tbsp jojoba, 2 tsp rosehip, 4 drops carrot seed, 2 drops chamomile, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops tea tree.

Acne scars: 1½ tbsp jojoba, 2 tsp rosehip, 2 tsp wheatgerm, 6 drops sandalwood, 4 drops neroli, 4 drops lavender.

Devitalised skin: 2 tbsp apricot kernel, 2 tsp wheatgerm, 5 drops geranium, 3 drops rose, 2 drops cypress.

Broken capillaries and rosacea: 6 tsp calendula-infused oil, 1 tbsp rosehip, 4 drops rose, 2 drops chamomile, 3 drops cypress.

Hyperpigmentation: 1½ tbsp calendula-infused oil, 1 tbsp rosehip, 5 drops celery, 5 drops lavender, 5 drops lovage.



Stress and the skin


Not only does stress show in your facial expressions, it also weakens the skin’s protective barrier. Elevated stress levels and lack of sleep cause hormonal fluctuations, the release of toxins, the constriction of blood vessels and dehydration.

To manage your stress levels, see a naturopath to help you reassess your diet and lifestyle. Accelerated stress levels may be a symptom of nutritional deficiencies, especially of the B-complex vitamins essential for a healthy nervous system. Your naturopath may also recommend you take herbs such as passionflower, hops and valerian. The long-chain omega-3s help decrease the stress hormone cortisol and inflammation levels.

As stress promotes the formation of free radicals, which damage body tissues, especially cell membranes, antioxidants taken orally are beneficial to the skin.

Regular exercise is a great antidote to stress. It increases your intake of oxygen, improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, promotes restful sleep, induces perspiration and the elimination of toxins and releases “feelgood” endorphins.

Great improvements in skin problems exacerbated by stress (for example, eczema) can be achieved with simple relaxation practices such as meditation.

Add six drops of Bach Flower Rescue Remedy to 100ml of your moisturiser or facial oil. Take a bottle of bergamot and lavender around with you and smell these essential oils as you need them. Bergamot is uplifting and antidepressant and lavender is calming.



Your skincare routine


Always apply skincare products in upward, circular motions and extend all treatments to the neck and décolletage.





Cleansing the skin helps rid it of the day’s buildup of dirt and grime and cellular waste. If you don’t cleanse properly, congestion occurs and outbreaks and imbalances result. Avoid cleansing with harsh surfactants (like sodium lauryl sulfate) that strip the skin of its oils.

Milk is a gentle and effective cleanser as it’s full of skin-smoothing acids, lipids, vitamins and minerals. For oily skin, use skim milk or buttermilk. For sensitive skin, use goat’s milk or soymilk.

Vegetable and nut oils make excellent cleansers as they help dissolve dirt on the surface of the skin. For oily skin, use lighter oils like jojoba — excellent for balancing sebum regulation. For dry, mature skin, use heavier oils like olive oil.

Liquid castile soap is unlike other soaps, which are very drying, and makes an excellent cleanser. Add 10ml of vegetable oil to 100ml of castile soap for oily/combination skin. For mature/dry skin types, add 40ml of oil. You can add 20 drops of essential oil to suit your skin type. (See “Treatment oils for the skin” above for oil combinations.)






You can exfoliate with AHAs, fruit enzyme peels or mechanical scrubs (using grains) to eliminate dead surface cells and promote a fresher, smoother complexion. Removing these ineffectual cells also increases the efficacy of topical treatments applied to the area. (See “Alpha hydroxy acids” and “Proteolytic enzymes” above.)

If you prefer mechanical scrubs, you can make a great base scrub using ¼ cup fine oatmeal, ¼ cup rice flour and 1 tbsp clay to suit your skin type (see “Clays” above). Other grains work well, too, but you must grind them as fine as possible with a coffee grinder. You can mix a little with water, herbal tea, yoghurt, fruit pulp or juice, or milk suited to your skin type (see “Cleansing” above).

Avoid mechanical scrubs if you have very sensitive skin or broken capillaries. Use papaya instead. Very fine oatmeal soaked in water or milk and used gently is also OK. Always be gentle to your skin to avoid inflammation — rub, don’t scrub!





Toners applied after cleansing or using masks help to remove or dissolve any residue. They also help stimulate circulation, restore the skin’s acid mantle, hydrate and refine the skin and temporarily reduce pore size. Avoid alcohol-based toners that strip your skin of its natural oils, overstimulating the sebaceous glands and making your skin far greasier than before. Here are some ideas for natural toners:

  • Distilled witch-hazel is healing, astringent and good for all skin types except those with rosacea. Add 4 drops lavender essential oil to a base toner of 100ml distilled witch-hazel.
  • Floral waters make soothing, healing skin toners alone or as bases for adding other ingredients. Herbal or purified water can also be used as a base toner.
  • Herbal tea infusions make great toners, especially cooled green tea, which is healing and soothing for all skin types.
  • Green tea and apple juice together make a lovely toner suitable for all skin types (make fresh as needed — it will keep in the fridge for up to a week).
  • Aloe vera juice makes an excellent addition to a toner because of its astringent, healing, regenerative and antiseptic properties.
  • Add 1 tsp apple cider vinegar to 100ml base toner to help restore the skin’s pH.
  • Add 1-2 tsp fruit juices such as apple and lemon to 100ml base toner to enhance your toner’s skin-smoothing properties.
  • Add up to 5 drops of essential oil suited to your skin type to 100ml base toner (See “Treatment oils for the skin” above). Shake well before using to disperse the oil throughout the base.


Healing & regenerative floral toner

4½ tbsp rose water

2 tsp aloe vera juice

10 drops citrus seed extract


Mix the ingredients well and store in a bottle in the fridge. It will last up to three months.

This toner is suitable for all skin types, including those with rosacea, and is effective for relieving sunburn.



Applying masks


There are two types of masks: wet masks, which infuse ingredients into the skin and are predominantly hydrating, soothing, healing and calming; and dry masks, which dry on the skin and are predominantly extracting, purifying, stimulating and toning. Great mask ingredients include:

  • Clays — use a clay suited to your skin type (see “Clays” above). To make a paste you can add herbal waters or purified water. Yoghurt, mashed fruit and fruit juice make excellent additions to clays. You can add 1-2 drops of essential oil suited your skin type per application of clay mask (see “Treatment oils for the skin” above).
  • Avocado — full of good oils and nourishing to the skin, especially dry and mature skin types.
  • Cabbage — great for treating inflamed, pimpled skin. Dip a couple of cabbage leaves into boiling water to soften them. Once cooled, place them on your face for 10 minutes.
  • Cornflour — mix with a little water to make a soothing mask for irritated skin suffering from eczema.
  • Honey — boasts skin-smoothing, antiseptic and humectant (attracts and retains moisture) properties. Manuka honey is extremely healing and has greater antibacterial properties than tea-tree oil, making it excellent for treating acne, dry skin, mature skin, eczema and dermatitis. Apply a fine layer to your skin or add it to your skincare preparations.
  • Oatmeal and almond meal — replete with nourishing and skin-smoothing nutrients, they are great bases for wet ingredients and suitable for all skin types.



AHA fruit gel mask with green tea

2 tbsp green tea

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp apple juice

1-2 tbsp citrus pectin


Mix the tea and juices together well and slowly add the citrus pectin until you achieve the desired gel consistency. Apply to a clean face. Leave for 10-15 minutes. Rinse off well.

This is an excellent mask for decongesting the pores and improving hydration, tone and texture. It’s suitable for all skin types. For those with sensitive skin or broken capillaries and rosacea, omit the lemon juice.





Skin moisturisers help prevent dryness and dehydration while creating a protective barrier against free radicals and moisture loss. They must contain oil and water (to keep the skin’s surface layer soft and supple), emollients (to lock in moisture already present in the skin; see “Unrefined vegetable and nut oils” above) and humectants (to bind water to the skin; commonly used humectants are vegetable glycerine and honey). Moisturisers may also contain essential oils to assist in the rejuvenation process. Avoid mineral oil in moisturisers as it is occlusive and causes imbalances in the skin.


Regenerative moisturiser

First (oil) phase

8g vegetable emulsifying wax

2 tsp calendula-infused vegetable oil

2g shea butter (omit for oily skin and add another ½ tsp calendula-infused oil)

1 tsp rosehip oil


Second (water) phase

5 tbsp purified water or rose water

½ tsp vegetable glycerine


Third phase (actives and preservatives)

4 drops Amiox (an antioxidant that keeps the oil fresh)

20 drops olive leaf extract (optional)

16 drops citrus seed extract (helps preserve the water content)

20 drops lavender essential oil or a mix of oils to suit your skin type (see “Treatment oils for the skin” above)


Mix together the ingredients of the first phase except the rosehip oil. Place them in a bain-marie or similar and heat over medium temperature. Mix together the ingredients of the second phase in a pot and heat over medium temperature. Once both phases have reached 65-70°C, remove from heat. Quickly add the rosehip oil to the first phase mixture. Add the second phase mixture to the first phase mixture, constantly stirring. At 40°C add the ingredients of the third phase. Mix thoroughly and keep mixing. When the mixture starts to thicken, pour into jars. Seal the lids after allowing the cream to cool for 1-2 hours.

This moisturiser can be used on all skin types. It will last up to nine months, especially if kept in the fridge. Those with oily skin need apply only a small amount.



Skincare around your eyes


The skin around your eyes is the most delicate. It lacks oil glands, which makes it prone to wrinkles. The regular and very gentle application of light gels or oils will help keep the eye area moisturised and protected. Putting cool pieces of cucumber or cooled chamomile teabags over your eyes is great for calming puffiness. Certain ingredients such as vitamin K and Centella asiatica (gotu kola) are helpful for dark circles under the eyes.


Eye oil with rosehip & carrot seed extract

30ml jojoba oil

20ml rosehip oil

2 drops carrot seed oil

Mix the oils together well and store in a small bottle. Apply small amounts around the orbital bone very gently with your middle finger.

Carrot seed oil contains vitamin A and is also helpful for stimulating sebum, thus providing much-needed moisture to the eye area.


Carla Oates is a natural beauty expert who writes a regular DIY beauty column for The Sunday Telegraph and is the author of Feeding Your Skin (Lantern Books).


Carla Oates

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.

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