Nourishing and moisturizing oils and creams
This story orginally ran in the Winter 2014 (V8i4) issue of Yukon, North of Ordinary.
Your epidermis is showing! And exposure to the harsh elements of the cold northern climate can leave your skin dry and damaged.
The epidermis is the top layer of skin, the body’s largest sensory organ. The dermis is the second layer of skin and contains many nerve endings. Our skin regulates temperature and acts as the body's coat; it protects and helps us stay warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot.
With proper sun exposure, our skin plays an important role in manufacturing vitamin D, which is vital to our immune system. In the winter, those north of 60 should supplement with extra vitamin D because the sun is not strong enough to naturally produce vitamin D in our bodies. According to Health Canada, the recommended vitamin D intake for children and adults (aged 9 to 70) is 600–4,000 IU per day when sun exposure is minimal.
Vitamin D aids the development and maintenance of strong teeth and bones and helps with the absorption of calcium from our diet to help prevent osteoporosis. Several studies have found adequate amounts of vitamin D may prevent cancer, particularly breast and colorectal cancers. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression.
Besides sun exposure and supplementation, we can get a small amount of vitamin D from fatty fish such as sockeye salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Beef liver, egg yolks, cod liver oil, fortified milk, orange juice, and button and shiitake mushrooms are also high in vitamin D.
Keeping the skin in good shape through the seasons allows for better absorption of the sun in the early spring and summer months. Ways to nourish and moisturize skin are conveniently found in your own kitchen cupboards. There are many great home remedies you can make to keep your skin healthy year-round.
In the summer, I like to gather wild-rose petals. Their emollient properties nourish and moisturize dry, sensitive skin. Horsetail helps the body produce collagen, which in turn keeps skin young and healthy. Fireweed, when applied topically, acts as an anti-inflammatory.
These wild botanicals and many others can be soaked in oil and used throughout the winter in the bath or shower, or as a body oil to keep your skin lubricated. Once you have made an herbal oil, you’re only a few easy steps away from making your own skin cream. All you need are a few ingredients that can be found around most households.
Basic Oil Infusion Recipe
1 cup (250 ml) fresh herbs or 1/2 cup (125 ml) of dried herbs
2 cups (500 ml) olive oil or carrier oil
1 tsp. (5 ml) vitamin E oil
1 dark glass bottle
1. Combine fresh or dried herbs in a blender with olive oil or carrier oil of your choice.
2.Pour into a jar and cover. Shake or stir daily.
3. After 2 to 4 weeks, strain the oil through a few layers of cheesecloth. Add 1 tsp. (5 ml)
of vitamin E oil as a preservative.
4. Pour oil into a dark glass bottle. Label and store in a cool place until you use.
NOTE: You can take half this recipe and use the oil infusion to make your skin cream.
Basic Cream Recipe
Creams differ from salves, ointments, and balms because they contain water and a blender is used to facilitate the emulsification process. They can be tricky to make, but this basic cream recipe is pretty much foolproof.
1 cup (250 ml) infused oil
2 tbsp. (30 ml) beeswax
1 tsp. (5 ml) vitamin E oil
Essential oils (optional)
1/4 cup (50 ml) room-temperature distilled water
1. In a double boiler or bain-marie, heat beeswax until melted. Add infused herbal oil. Slowly heat oil and beeswax mixture until it melts together, stirring occasionally.
2. Turn off heat. Add vitamin E and/or essential oils. Pour warm mixture into a blender and blend on low setting.
3. Slowly pour distilled water into mixture. Increase the speed of the blender. This is where the magic happens. Within minutes the mixture will start to thicken and look like cream.
4. Turn off blender. Use a spatula to scrape excess oil mixture off the insides of the blender and drop it back into the developing cream. Blend again until the mixture is fully combined—it should have a smooth and runny texture.
5. When cream has reached the desired consistency, pour into dry, sterilized jars.
6. When cream has fully cooled, secure lids and label jars.
Natural creams don’t have many preservatives. To keep your cream fresh longer, avoid sticking dirty or wet fingers in the jar. You can avoid contaminating the cream by using a toothpick, cotton swab, or clean Popsicle stick as a scoop. Once you have mastered creating botanical creams, you can start to experiment with a variety of plants. For muscles aches and pains, use arnica flowers, crushed juniper berries, highbush cranberry bark, or the inner bark of a willow tree. For an antimicrobial cream, use usnea (lichen that grows on spruce trees), pine needles, or Labrador tea leaves.
The boreal forest is abundant with medicinal plants that help keep us healthy year-round. During the the winter months, we often need a little extra self-care to keep ourselves healthy and happy. Here are a few other plants that are abundant around our gardens and homes that you might consider collecting and using.
Called the “magic healer,” chickweed has multiple uses. It is excellent when used fresh or dried, on its own, or in preparations for common skin irritations. Chickweed is strong enough to draw out infection from a wound or boil, yet gentle enough to use as a wash or poultice for eye irritations or on inflamed nipples of breastfeeding moms. Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, chickweed helps increase circulation and, as a result, is used by herbalists as an anti-rheumatic to reduce the swelling of sprains and strains. It can be used externally as a wash, poultice, compress, oil, salve, or cream to reduce inflammation of irritated and itchy skin. It is commonly used for insect bites, boils, and skin infections such as abscesses.
Red clover is considered the queen of blood purifiers. It’s used internally or topically to clear up inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rashes, psoriasis, and eczema. Red clover is helpful for dry, irritable, or inflamed skin because it’s considered soothing, cooling, and moistening. As an organic source of sodium, it helps alkalize the system and restore the acid-alkaline balance to the body.
Topically, plantain is used as a poultice, oil, salve, or a cream for skin infections, leg ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, nettle and insect stings, burns, abscesses, cracked skin, cuts,abrasions, and hemorrhoids. As a styptic, it helps staunch bleeding wounds and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. Plantain leaves contain allantoin, a natural chemical compound used as a skin-conditioning agent; therefore, the leaves work well as a poultice, oil, salve, or tea for broken bones,fractures, cuts, rashes, and abrasions. Alight, strained infusion made with distilled water can be used as eye drops, in a compress, or a wash for inflammation caused by pinkeye and blepharitis.