holistic herbal summer skin care

Herbal Summer Skin Care Inside & Out

It’s finally looking a bit like summer here in Halifax, and especially after a long winter indoors, our skin is more susceptible to sun damage. Incorporate these herbal remedies into your summer skin care routine for healthy, happy skin.

In this post we’ll share some practical ways to reduce sun exposure, herbs that have healing benefits for different skin conditions, and ways to use those herbs in skin care recipes to nourish and protect your skin. We’ll also talk about healing your skin from the inside with nutritive teas and a healthy diet.

PRACTICAL SUN CARE

The best way to reduce sun damage is to reduce exposure during peak sun hours. I know you probably want to run outside and soak up every drop of sun while it lasts, but it’s best to start gradually in early summer so you don’t burn. It’s ok to get some sun exposure, but the most critical risk factor is burns. It’s most important to avoid sun burns to prevent disease. Avoid getting burnt with these practical tips. 

  • Gradual exposure in early summer
  • Avoid peak sun exposure during the summer, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Cover up with light clothing
  • Seek shade during peak hours
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Avoid burns
  • Get enough sun exposure – small, frequent doses

Sunscreen is not a failsafe method of avoiding burns, so it’s important that you don’t fall into a sense of false security, thinking that because you used sunscreen, you’ll be fine. Sunscreen wears off over time, and in water and sweat, and can’t be relied upon for complete protection from the sun.

Topical Summer Skin Care

Our skin is sensitive and absorbent to what is applied to it. Chemicals found in skin care products will soak through to deeper tissues of the body, which can then make their way to urine, blood and breast milk.  There are short and long term cautions and potential harm stemming from the use of certain chemicals found in sunscreens and other skin care products.

Read the ingredients when choosing a sunscreen and look for ingredients that are effective and not harmful.

Choosing a Sunscreen

A great resource for helping you choose a sunscreen is this website.

Environmental Working Group – 13th Annual Guide to Sunscreens

https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

Types of Sunscreen to Avoid

Skin is not an impermeable barrier, and many harmful chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin. Some chemicals in sunscreen are potentially toxic, and hormone disrupting. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, PABA and trolamine salicylate, vitamin A.

Although Vitamin A is beneficial when ingested, it is harmful when applied topically and combined with sun exposure. Vitamin A might be listed under other names such as Retinol, Retinals, provitamin A, or beta-carotene.

Avoid artificial fragrances, and choose sunscreens with pure essential oils instead.

Spray sunscreens may seem convenient, but they are a respiratory irritant and potentially toxic. It’s best to smear on sunscreen the old fashioned way.

Higher SPF (sun protection factory)  is not necessarily better. There is also debate about whether or not the really high spf sunscreens (40, 50+) offer any more benefit than SPF 30. The SPF scale is not linear, and although SPF 30 sounds like twice as much protection as SPF 15, that’s not actually the case. In reality, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, so it’s better to focus on getting a high quality sunscreen rather than a really high SPF.

Ingredients to Look For in Sunscreen

Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide, which are safe, effective sunblocks.

Even though you’re choosing a safe, effective sunscreen that meets all the right criteria, it’s not a foolproof solution.

  • Sunscreen alone is not enough protection.
  • Melanoma on the rise, despite the increased use of sunscreen.
  • Sunscreens are designed to prevent sunburn but don’t necessarily offer protection against UV damage to DNA and skin cells.

Don’t forget to wash off your sunscreen at the end of the day.

Uses for herbal summer skin care: after sun care, heat rash, treatment of burns, protection from skin damage, bug bites, wounds, infections

Herbs for Summer Skin Care

Medicinal herbs can also benefit your skin. Some nourish your skin from the inside, and some can be used in luxurious recipes to pamper your skin, or soothe it after sun exposure.

There are several herbs that are especially beneficial to the skin, for a wide variety of ailments, including summer sun care.

Calendula is easy to grow, and it has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties when applied to the skin. It’s not too late to grow right now. You can still plant it in Halifax and get a late summer harvest.

Wild rose petals are fabulous for skin care. You can get rose water from most Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocery stores, and you can use it as a nice cooling spritzer in the summer.

Lavender flower, like rose and calendula, is soothing, especially if you’ve had a burn. Lavender essential oil is a great thing to be included in a skin care recipe.

Violet grows wild all over Nova Scotia. It has a heart-shaped leaf, and white or purple flowers. The heart shaped leaves have both tannins and mucilage, which makes them both toning and soothing. 

herbs for summer skin careRose water is also astringent, tones and tightens the pores. If you’re in Halifax, you can get rose water at Mid East Food Centre

Plantain is a common weed that is abundant in lawns. Like violet, it’s both mucilaginous and astringent. It can be used the same as violet, and it’s also good for stings, and mosquito and black fly bites. Chew it up in your mouth until it gets pulpy, and apply it to your sting or bite. Leave it on for about 10 minutes. It will alleviate the pain and itching.

Chickweed is a common weed that is specific for itchy skin. After mosquito bites, you can chew it into a pulp and apply it like plantain, or use it in a cream or lotion. Chickweed is also a good addition to a herbal tea mixture, because it’s cooling and refreshing, and can soothe you from the inside out. Chickweed is also helpful for moving lymph, so if you’re one who gets really swollen from bites, chickweed will help reduce the swelling.

Chamomile is another cooling, anti-inflammatory herb that is good for topical care. Chamomile and lavender are a great combination if you’ve got a bit of a glow from too much sun.

St. John’s wort is not a herbal sunscreen, as some believe, but it is good for after-sun care. It’s particularly helpful for inflamed skin and burns. It would be a good addition to a herbal oil, lotion or cream.

One thing to note is that taking St. John’s wort internally makes us photosensitive, so if you know you’re going to be in the sun a lot, it’s a good idea to avoid taking St. John’s wort internally, either in tincture or tea form.

Oats are great for itch and inflammation. If your whole body is itchy or needs some cooling after-sun TLC, take a bath in coconut milk and oats. Bree Hyland of Barre Studio recommends pouring a can of coconut milk into your bath and add a sock full of oats. When the oats are good and steeped in the bath water, squeeze the milk out of the sock.

If you want to go out foraging for these herbal treasures, we’ve got some wildcrafting tips for you.

Summer Skin Care Preparations

Baths

Baths are great for full coverage, when your whole body needs attention.

Make a really strong tea with calendula, rose, lavender. Double or triple the proportions that you would for drinking tea.

To make 2 L of tea, steep a full cup of dried herbs or 2 cups of fresh herbs in 2L of boiled water, then add it to the bath.

Lotions, oils, salves.

Oils infused with herbs are excellent for after sun care.

Oils are herbal infusions in an oil such as olive, almond, sunflower, or grapeseed. The oils have the ability to extract the plant chemical into the oil. You can use the oil directly on your skin, or you could prepare an oil and then convert that into a salve.

Salves or ointments. A salve is an oil-based preparation mixed with beeswax to make it solid so it’s a bit easier to apply.

Lotions are water based. You would mix a herbal water or tea with oil and emulsify it.

Compresses & Poultices

Compresses & poultices are local remedies involving wrapping up the skin with herbal medicines. A compress refers to making a strong herbal brew, soaking a cotton cloth in the tea. and wrapping up the area.

A poultice is similar to a compress, but instead of making a tea, you actually make pulp with the whole plant material and put it in direct contact with your skin.

Spritzers

Spritzers are great for cooling relief after too much sun exposure. Rose and orange flower water are available at most middle Eastern food stores. If you can find chamomile or lavender floral waters, they are also excellent for skin.

Herbal summer skin care from the inside

In addition to after sun care, and remedies for bug bites, it’s also important to get the right nutrients to keep our skin healthy. We can get nutrients from plants in herbal teas, herbal vinegars, and eating a healthy diet.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas offer antioxidants, which are important for protecting your cells. Calendula, thyme, rosemary fresh from the garden make a yummy and uplifting tea that is rich in antioxidants. Some other high-antioxidant teas are green tea, dandelion leaves, parsley, and watercress.  

Herbal Vinegars  

Nutrition is another important element of healthy skin, and herbal vinegars are a great source of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium,

Making herbal vinegar is a great thing to do with spring greens. Chop up some greens and steep them in apple cider vinegar for a couple of weeks. Strain the vinegar, and then you can use it in salad dressings. There are LOTS of types of greens you can do this with, including horsetail, dandelion, evergreen tips, stinging nettles and more.

Sour Food & Drink

In Ayurveda, the ancient science of healthy lifestyle, the six tastes are associated with the increase or decrease of specific energetic properties. The sour taste is cooling, so it’s great to sip on a sour drink in summer. You can make a delicious, refreshing iced tea with hibiscus, rosehip, and hawthorn berries. Add the herbs and let them simmer for about 15 minutes, then cool it with ice and float some orange slices in it.

Diet

Increase your intake of antioxidant nutrients that offer protection from free radical damage from the sun.  These include vitamins A, C and E, and zinc and selenium. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables (5-9 servings per day), whole grains, nuts and seeds will supply these and other important nutrients for protection at the cellular level. In the spring and summer, it should be easy to get all your veggies.

Nuts and seeds have Vitamin E and Zinc. A great way to add these to your diet is adding walnuts or sunflower seeds to pesto. You can even add some other spring greens in there besides basil, and you’ll be getting a variety of minerals, too.

The skin is nourished and hydrated by adding essential fatty acids to the diet – fish, flax and hemp seed oils can be used in salad dressings and smoothies. If you eat fish, go for mackerel, sardines, wild salmon if you can get it.

Vitamin D: the “sunshine vitamin”

Vitamin D is another important consideration when it comes to summer skin care. We need sun exposure on our skin to activate the synthesis of Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is linked to the prevention of colon cancer and other cancers, diabetes, allergies, and many other ailments, and it’s known to improve bone health. Vitamin D production may be inhibited by sunscreen. It’s important, especially in northern climates to make sure we get enough sun exposure. This is a great reason to enjoy the sun, and to not approach the sun with fear.

With all these ways to take care of your skin with herbal remedies and nutritive herbs in your diet, there’s no reason not to get out there and enjoy the sun!
Have a great summer!

Herbal Tonics for Optimal Health

You can What is a tonic?  Is it the same as a remedy? Read on to learn the difference between a herbal tonic and a remedy, and find Savayda’s favourite tonics for each body system for optimal health. 

Remedies and tonics are two different uses of herbal medicines. Some plants are both remedies and tonics, depending on how they’re being used and what they’re combined with. A qualified herbalist can determine how best to use a herb to either boost a bodily system or to treat a specific condition. For example, Hawthorn is a gentle tonic for the cardiovascular system, but can also be used to treat hypertension. Elecampane boosts lung health, but is also an expectorant and can be used to treat bronchitis.

 

Each herb has many phytochemical constituents, which means it has many potential uses, and many could be either a tonic, remedy or both. This whole-herb approach is very different than the allopathic approach, which separates and reduces the plants to single molecules, and aims to match each ailment with a specific constituent.

 

Herbalists are more comfortable with the complexity of both plants and people, and knowing which herbs to use and when, is the art and science of herb combining.

 

Tonics Optimize Health

 

A tonic is a mild approach that is used to restore and strengthen a system of the body or to promote optimal health and well-being. One way that tonics differ from remedies is that a tonic will give improvement even in a healthy state, whereas a remedy is aimed at treating a problem, but doesn’t alter an already-healthy system.

I like to compare herbal tonics to plant foods, we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to supply us with the nutrients we need for basic healthy function.

 

A herbal tonic is generally thought of as a herb or combination of herbs that are gentle and nourishing, either to the whole body or to specific organs or systems. The mild herbs are used to promote a tonic action, often spread over many weeks or months to restore or support general health. They are used to bring balance to chronic conditions or to support general wellness and prevention of dis-ease.  

 

Herbal tonics can be taken periodically, rotating through different tonics for different systems. You could focus on a different system every month or every season.

 

A tonic may come in the form of a tincture, tea or herbal vinegar.

 

Tinctures are sometimes referred to as a tonic, which they may be in action, but tincture specifically refers to the preparation method of extracting the medicinal properties from herbs using alcohol. The terms tonic and tincture are not interchangeable.

 

Remedies Treat Ailments

 

Herbal tonics complement remedies. They help keep a healthy person healthy and offer support for the body’s systems, while remedies work to correct an imbalance or treat a specific ailment.

 

Like tonics , remedies come in different forms – teas, tinctures, syrups, etc, but the difference is that remedies offer a more direct input to the body’s healing processes.

 

Examples: St. John’s wort is a remedy for depression, calendula is a remedy for wounds, elderberry is a remedy for viral infections, turmeric is a remedy for inflammation.

 

Tonics as Remedies

In some cases, tonics can be an integral part of a remedy, and tonics can also supply a remedial action over the long them. Sometimes the use of general tonics can correct underlying problems, and long term use of tonics is one healing strategy.

 

This gentle strategy of long-term tonic use is ideal for people in weakened states, such as recovering from a major illness or surgery, children or the elderly. In these cases, the herbalist wouldn’t want to over-activate their system with strong herbs, so gentle remedies are better tolerated.

 

As an example, a herbalist might use tonics to support the immune and nervous systems of a patient undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, when their system couldn’t handle the addition of stronger treatments.

 

Savayda’s Favourite Tonics for Optimal Health for Each System

Hawthorn [Crataegus spp.] for the Cardiovascular System

Hawthorn is Savayda’s favourite tree. Named for its intimidating thorns, hawthorn is a very useful plant for heart health. It helps correct both high and low blood pressure, and strengthens veins and arteries. It’s a core herb to use for any cardiovascular conditions.

In addition to the physical heart, hawthorn also offers support for the emotional heart. It is good for protection and resilience when going through emotional difficulty.

Oatseed [Avena sativa] for the Nervous System

 

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Oatseed comes from the same plant as the oats commonly used for food in oatcakes and granola, but oatseed refers to the immature green, milky seed, before it matures into cereal oats. Oatseed balances the nervous system from the extremes of anxiety or depression and restores strength and energy to the nervous system when exhausted.

Raspberry Leaf [Rubus ideaus] for the Uterus

Good as a tea or herbal vinegar, raspberry leaf is used as a tonic post-partum or in late pregnancy. It’s also beneficial for women who are having some menstrual difficulties. It gives strength to the uterus so it functions better, and results in fewer menstrual cramps, and faster recovery, restoring tone to the uterus.

Partridge Berry [Mitchella repens] as a Fertility Tonic for Both Men and Women

Traditionally used to improve fertility due to its influence on normalizing endocrine hormones in both males and females.

Damiana [Turnera diffusa] for Prostate Function

Damiana is a mild hormone normalizer and general restorative for men.

Horsetail [Equisetum arvense] for Skin, Hair & Nails

High in silica and other minerals, horsetail is the best tonic for strengthening brittle nails and fine hair. It delivers required nutrients, acting like a food that encourages growth and strength.

Elecampane [Inula helenium] for the Respiratory System

A warming herb that soothes bronchial tube linings and acts as an expectorant for lung cleansing, and has a relaxing effect on smooth tracheal muscle.

Gotu Kola [Centella asiatica] for the Brain

Gingko biloba is often championed as an exceptional herb for the brain, but it is actually more of a remedy than a tonic. While Gingko biloba has direct action by improving blood flow for focus & memory, it is usually taken when there’s a deficit. In contrast, Gotu Kola can be taken in a healthy state, and also improves mental functioning. Gotu Kola is not too stimulating, and is more stabilizing and good for overactive or underactive brains.

Dandelion [Taraxacum officinalis]  for Digestion

Its bitter taste signifies its effect on the digestive system. Bitters tune up and gently stimulate the whole digestive system.

Astragulus [Astragalus propinquus] for Immunity

Astragulus helps to ensure that the body’s white blood cell count is where it should be. Produced in bone marrow, white blood cells are a critical part of the body’s defense system and should be ready to be called into action when needed.

Milk Thistle [Silybum marianum] for the Liver


Milk thistle is like nutritive food for the liver, helping to restore liver cells and protect them from damage.

Blueberry [Vaccinium] for the Eyes

You’re probably aware that blueberries are a powerhouse of antioxidants but did you know they’re also good for your eyes? They contain anthocyanadins that strengthen the blood vessels in the eyes, and can reduce the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.

Nutritive Herbs for the Musculoskeletal System

The best tonic for the musculoskeletal system is proper nutrition, and there are many herbs that can help you make sure you get your vitamins and minerals. Nettle, dandelion leaf, horsetail, and plantain are great spring greens that can be eaten whole, or made into mineral-rich vinegars. You can forage lots of nutritive herbs. Check out our Foraging Guide.

Adaptogens for Your Whole Being

Adaptogens behave like tonics, helping the whole body to resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions to promote optimize health, and are having a renaissance today. Common adaptogens include eleuthero, withania and schizandra.

 

Conclusion

Tonics are a wonderful first foray into the world of herbal medicine, and a great way to optimize your health. 

Remedies and tonics are not the same thing, but they can complement each other or be used for different purposes. Tonics are more nutritive and balancing, remedies treat specific conditions. Tonic herbs are generally safe for use for self care, but make sure you check for contraindications before taking any new herb. Although they are generally gentle for healthy bodies, the plants can still have strong effects that may interact with other medications or conditions.