“Don’t squeeze it! Don’t!”
“But I have to! It’s so ugly!”
“You’ll be scarred. Just don’t squeeze it, whatever you do!”
So goes a frequent conversation (if you can call an exchange conducted at such a loud volume a conversation) between my daughter Rosie and I.
It seems so easy to squeeze those zits and away they go. Dab on a little cover-up and who will ever know?
Thus reasons my daughter who – despite having passed out of her teens few months ago – is still at war with stress-related acne.
Well, call me old-fashioned, but I am a firm believer in the no-squeeze theory of pimple treatment. And I’ve seen the scars to back up my conviction. Luckily, there are many, much better alternatives.
A good old hot compress is the insta-treatment I recommend to Rosie. Dip a clean cloth into boiling water and gently dab on the blemish. If it is ready, it will drain on its own. Then apply a drop of lavender or tea tree oil for speedy (and scar-free!) healing.
That’s one thing. And I’ve got a few more spot treatments up my sleeve that I’ll share in the next post in this Simple Skincare Series. If you missed the first installment, check out a recipe for an all-natural face scrub here.
The thing is, if frequent blemish outbreaks plague your life you really have to dig a little deeper. Sure, natural cleansers, masks and toners are surely gonna help. And even some of the high quality commercial products (formulated with natural ingredients) might temporarily bring you closer to your dream of a flawless complexion.
But if you don’t at least try to address the root cause of the problem it’s like just slapping on so much more cover-up.
And, actually, that’s where I feel like I’ve failed Rosie. In recent years, as she blossomed into adolescence and beyond, I was exploring other interests and not focusing so much on my herbal roots. Sure, I gave her a few natural tips on topical treatments, we talked diet improvements, and I made a few half-hearted attempts at trying to get her to drink skin-rejuvenating teas. But the consistency wasn’t there.
See, most skin eruptive conditions (whether we’re talking pimples, excema or psoriasis) are caused (or at least exacerbated) by an imbalanced or sluggish liver. You might not have given much thought to this organ, but the lowly liver impacts much of what goes on inside our bodies.
One of the liver’s most important tasks is to filter and detoxify the blood. If your liver is sluggish for whatever reasons (and there are many) it may not be performing this vital function well, and the skin suffers as a result.
And then we’ve all heard that what we eat can affect our skin. The classic big no-no’s for acne sufferers are fried and fatty foods and chocolate. (The truth is that most processed foods can have a less-than-positive effect on our skin – more so than a couple of squares of high quality chocolate.)
But, did you know that the liver also plays a huge role in our digestion – and that digestive problems can manifest on our skin?
Yes – if you want to address your skin issues (whatever they may be) from the inside out then strengthening your liver is a primary plan of attack.
And then there’s another huge culprit in skin conditions: anxiety and stress.
You probably have a clue if stress is the culprit in your own case. If you find yourself needing to do the silent scream of frustration (or worse, the loud scream) on a regular basis, chances are that stress and anxiety are unwelcome companions in your life.
For now, I just want you to be aware of this. Your eyes would glaze from reading too long if I tried to incorporate information and recipes for stress as well as liver strengthening into this one blog post.
The stress/anxiety recipes will have to come later, but check out herbs like oatstraw and skullcap if you’re pretty sure you’re stress levels are affecting your skin. You can read about using essential oils for anxiety and depression here.
So – back to your liver.
A few herbs show up in nearly every herbal skin formula – and for good reason. They are both cooling and cleansing, working to soothe inflamed conditions while also cleansing and building the liver. These are: Oregon grape root, dandelion root, milk thistle and burdock.
Milk thistle is best taken in tincture or capsule form because the beneficial components within the seeds just don’t extract that well in water.
Okay then, what’s the plan of action?
If you don’t mind strong, “herby” tasting teas, you could brew up a decoction, and drink two to four cups per day.
Happy Skin Tea
1 part burdock root
1 part Oregon grape root
½ part dandelion root
½ part yellowdock root
½ part licorice root
A few fennel seeds for better flavor
Use 3 tablespoons of the mixture per quart of water and follow the instructions outlined here to make a decoction.
If you’re not much of a tea drinker – or don’t think you’ll get it together to drink this every day – you can find some excellent skin cleansing formulas in shops or online. Most of these will set you back a bit more than a few pennies, but it is definitely the easiest route for busy people.
I used to love Skin Combo, a liver cleansing formula made by the decades-old family herb business, Terra Firma Botanicals. You could also try Skin Care Extract from Mountain Rose, Herb Pharm’s Healthy Liver Tonic, or any other formula billed as a liver tonic or healthy skin enhancer. But do check to see that it includes at least some of the herbs mentioned above. And make sure the company uses organic or wild harvested herbs.
A lower cost alternative is to make your own tincture. It’s actually an easy process, but it does take two to six weeks before your tincture is ready. And chances are it will not be quite as potent as the ones made by the pros who have all the tincture-making machinery. However homemade tinctures are still effective and have the added benefit of a personal formulation.
There’s a lot to be said (and even more to take into consideration) when making tinctures and extracts. There are numerous excellent books that include pages of background and instructions. If this is a topic you’d like to explore, I recommend The Herbal Medicine-makers Handbook: a Home Manual by James Green.
Before long you will be able to read all about how to make a tincture on this blog, the whole step-by-step process.
But if you just can’t wait and want to get that tincture going, it’s not hard to find instructions online or in books. Here’s one simple set of instructions. Since in this case you will be using dried herbs, be sure to grind them to a powder first.
You can also purchase liver tonics and skin formulas in capsule form. This is great for folks who can’t tolerate even the tiny amounts of alcohol found in a single dosage of tincture – or for those who just can’t stand the taste of the concentrated herbs.
Ambitious and budget-minded DIY types can even make up their own skin/liver tonic capsules. You’d need empty capsules and ideally a capsule-making device such as the “Cap m Quik” (both available at health foods stores and online.)
Although they make it easier to bypass tasting the bitter flavor of some herbs, capsules are my least preferred method of ingesting medicinals. Be sure to drink plenty of water when taking herbal capsule. You want to be sure the capsule dissolves completely in your digestive system, releasing the beneficial contents.
Although it’s much quicker to use a capsule-maker, you can put together herb capsules by hand too. Just fill a small bowl with the powdered herb mix, open an empty capsule, fill each end with the herb powder, tap the ends to settle the contents and put the capsule back together. Repeat. Ad infinitum. But it works.
Use the recipe below, or tailor a formula to your own needs. For example, if stress is part of the picture you could add some stress-reducing herbs like skullcap. If you’re thinking that teenage hormones are at fault, add some endocrine strengthening herbs like wild yam root
Liver Tonic Caps
1 part burdock root
1 part yellowdock root
1 part Oregon grape root
1 part milk thistle seeds
1 part red clover flowers
2 parts dandelion root
½ part licorice root
Grind the herbs to a fine powder, using a clean coffee grinder or blender. Mix together and fill capsules. Take 2 ‘00’ caps in the morning and 2 in the evening.
The trick with any of this is consistency. It doesn’t work to take a liver tonic for a few days and suddenly expect a soft, shining, flawless complexion. Be patient! Keep it up for a few months.
Meanwhile, you can be taking the multi-pronged approach by utilizing your homemade food and herb-based facial scrub and emphasizing whole unprocessed foods in your meals and snacks.
Final tip: one of my favorite herbalists, Christopher Hobbs, recommends hot and cold hydrotherapy treatments for problem skin.
It’s simple – apply hot compresses or splash your face with hot water until you get a good flush going. Then follow this with cold water splashes (but only about half the number of splashes.) The hot and cold will stimulate the flow of blood to the area. Hobbs recommends doing this at least twice a day, morning and evening, but he says more often is even better.
Next week, we’ll talk about some easy food-based skin recipes for masks and steams to bring out that vital glow.
Have you tried liver-cleansing to promote healthy skin? What’s your favorite skin recipe?
This is the second in a “Simple Skin Care” series. If you missed them, here’s how to find the rest:
Simple Skin Care: How To Make A Natural Face Scrub
Ten Easy Recipes For Home Facial Treatments (Or Feed & Steam Your Way To A Radiant Complexion)
7 Super-Easy Recipes For a Healthy, Clear Complexion
How To Make Fabulous Face Cream Or Lotion