As soon as indoor heat is turned on and cold winter winds start to blow, skin can become dry and lips and hands—the most exposed parts of the body—may become painfully chapped and cracked. Commercial lotions, which often contain a large amount of water and alcohol, as well as artificial fragrances and chemicals, can soothe for a few minutes, but the moisturizing benefits don’t last, and they do little to heal seriously damaged skin.
This is a prime time for herbs to come to the rescue. While there are many herbal products on the market, it’s easy, cost effective and fun to make your own body-care products. Plus, you’ll know the ingredients you’re using are pure and beneficial.
Many common garden herbs known for their culinary attributes also have beneficial properties for skin. So, if you have dried herbs from last season’s harvest, and plant based oils like olive, coconut, sunflower or grapeseed are in your pantry, you’re well on your way to making some great, soothing winter skin-care products.
If you don’t have your own herbs available, you can purchase dried herbs. Some of my favorite suppliers include Mountain Rose Herbs, From Nature With Love and Brambleberry. You can even gather needles from conifers like pine and spruce trees that you find growing in the winter months.
Common Herbs for Winter Skin Care
Below is a list of some of my favorite herbs to use for skin care. Gather these during the growing season and put an extra stash aside for winter soothing.
- Sage: high in anti-oxidants; anti-aging; tones dull skin; antiseptic
- Thyme: anti-bacterial; beneficial for treating acne—a scientific study at Leeds Metropolitan University in England showed thyme more effective than benzoyl peroxide in fighting the bacteria that causes acne
- Conifers (pine, spruce, fir needles): anti-inflammatory; anti-microbial; soothing for muscle aches
- Chamomile: anti-inflammatory; recommended for skin conditions, including eczema
- Lavender: anti-bacterial; antiseptic; good for all skin types; gentle
- Calendula: a soothing, anti-inflammatory herb used since the 12th century for healing skin ailments; gentle enough and recommended for use on babies and for those with sensitive skin and dermatitis
With these herbs in your supply, you’re well-equipped for making the following skin-care products.
The easiest way to turn your dried herbs into a skin-soothing preparation is to make an infused oil. Herbs macerate in oil for several weeks, allowing their beneficial properties to infuse into the oil, which is sometimes referred to as a carrier oil.
The choice of oil is up to you and/or what is available in your kitchen. A surprising variety of oils, some organic, are now available in many supermarkets. Look for oils that are cold pressed, as this process preserves more of the nutritional value of the oils. Olive is tried and true, but if you prefer a lighter oil, try sunflower or grapeseed. These are non-comedogenic oils, which means they won’t clog your pores. Other choices include coconut, sweet almond and jojoba. A higher-quality oil will result in a higher-quality product. Blending several oils together is perfectly fine, too.
Infused oils can be used as facial or body moisturizers, as massage oils, bath oils or as a base to make salves or balms. You can add a few drops of any essential oils to your infused oils for added benefit and fragrance.
Cold Oil Infusion
The folk method of preparing an infused oil cold infusion. It’s simple and effective, doesn’t require any measuring, and doesn’t require the use of a stovetop or other heat source.
Fill a clean, dry glass jar—any moisture can introduce bacteria and cause spoilage—halfway with dried herbs/plant matter. Add your oil of choice, filling the jar to the top and making sure your plant matter is covered. If herbs float to the top, stir until well-covered.
Cover the jar and label with contents and date. Place somewhere out of direct light, such as a cupboard. Give the jar a gentle shake whenever you think of it. After four to six weeks, strain your oil into a measuring cup or pitcher using a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Pour infused oil into bottles and label.
Hot Oil Infusion
If you need your infused oil to be ready quickly, use the following hot method of infusion.
Place the herbs and just enough oil cover them in the top of a double boiler. Allow to infuse over gently simmering water for 4 hours. Check the progress of your oil every 30 minutes, adding water to the lower part of the double boiler, if it is evaporating.
When cool, strain herbs from oil using a strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin. Pour into bottles and label.
Turning your herbal oil into a salve makes application a little less messy. Simply blend your infused oil with beeswax to create a semi-solid formula. The oils are moisturizing and soothing, and the wax serves as a protective layer for the skin. Below is a basic recipe—feel free to customize with the herbs and essential oils of your choice.
- 1 cup herb-infused oil
- 1 ounce beeswax (grated or granules)
- essential oil (optional)
- glass jars or tins for storing salves
Heat oil and beeswax in double boiler until beeswax is melted. Remove from heat. Add drop 10 to 20 drops of essential oil if desired. Pour into glass jars or tins. Allow to cool completely before covering. Label with contents and date.
Lip balms have the same basic ingredients as salves, but have a higher proportion of wax to oil, to make them a bit harder. This formula works well in a twist-up tube or in a small tin.
- 1 T. plus 1 tsp. beeswax
- 3 T. calendula or lemon balm infused oil
- 1 T. cocoa butter, shea butter or other butter (optional)
- 10 to 20 drops of essential oil of choice (optional)
- small jars, tins or lip balm tubes for packaging
Warm oils, beeswax and butters (if using) in a small glass measuring cup in the top of a double boiler until melted. Remove from heat. Add essential oils if using. Pour into small jars, tins or lip balm tubes. Allow to cool completely before covering. Label before storing.
With these simple, inexpensive ways to make great skin care products, why not consider growing more herbs next season. Oils, salves and lip balms make wonderful and useful gifts for friends and family, any time of year.