Food On The Face ~ Kitchen Ingredients On Your Skin

The beauty business is the selling of “hope in a jar”, as Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon once called it. Its effects may be ephemeral but if you have ever searched the cosmetic and beauty product aisles or websites of your favourite department store or chemist, you will have noted how expensive the promise of beauty, youth and freshness is. Face masks from reputable skincare manufacturers can cost up to £50, or more, for a tiny jar, and the cost of cleansers, exfoliators, oils, serums and creams can mount up to several hundred pounds if purchased together. The global skin care industry is worth a staggering £25 billion per annum. Its far-reaching promises include these mercurial statements on glossy labels:

Clarins Extra Firming Day Cream

“Pioneering new organic plant extracts help to reorganise the very link between cells and fibres, giving skin back the bounce, softness and contour of its youth.” {Price for 50 ml = £46}

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum

“Pure, potent, intensive single dose capsules. Our innovative CLX Complex delivers the restorative power of Ceramides and essential lipids to help strengthen skin’s barrier against the visible signs of time.” {Price £37 for 30 capsules}

Crème de la Mer

“Miracle Broth™ is suspended within its extraordinary formula.  Pioneering the use of sea kelp and bio fermentation in skincare, Miracle Broth is the elixir known for its renewing energies. The transformation. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.” {Price for 30ml = £100}

Estée Lauder Idealist Dual Action Refinishing Treatment

“Ultra-gentle, all-in-one treatment delivers the instant, skin-renewing benefits of both Micro-Dermabrasion and a 30% glycolic acid peel. Includes concentrated levels of Salicylic Acid and Glucosamine, plus a high-performance blend of 5 specially chosen scrubbing spheres.” {Price for 75 ml = £36}.

A degree in molecular dermatology is not optional if you wish to lift the veil that surrounds the beauty industry and truly understand what the above products can do to your skin that Mother Nature alone cannot.

Put very simply, the top layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, is the protective barrier, with lipids, or fats, between the cells keeping moisture in. The human skin is the largest organ of the body, stretching on average, to span an area of 1.5 to 2 square metres. Up to 15% of the stratum corneum consists of water and when this falls below 10% the skin appears dry and flaky. A mix of different amino acids and water soluble salts, which help the cells hold in their moisture, is known as the “natural moisturising factor”. This helps the stratum corneum regulate natural water loss by preventing water evaporating from deeper layers of the skin. The mixture of amino acids and salts is easily washed out by strong, industrially made soaps and household detergents, and this reduces the ability of the cells at the surface to hold on to moisture.

To help keep water in the skin, moisturisers contain substances called humectants which are capable of attracting water and help to conserve the water in the skin. One of the oldest and best examples is a liquid called glycerin, which can be bought in the bakery section of the supermarket. It is a non-toxic, odourless liquid which draws moisture up through skin layers and slows or prevents excessive drying and evaporation. You can wipe liquid glycerin on clean skin, and it will feel soft and hydrated.

One of the most talked about ingredients used in the face care industry is hyaluronic acid, which is found naturally in connective tissue in the body. This acid aids healing and reduces inflammation as well as allowing the skin to transport nutrients from the blood, lubricating it and protecting it from damage. Hyaluronic acid can be found in many root vegetables, red meat, coloured peppers, coriander, parsley and in fermented soya products, a cheaper way, surely, of benefitting from its affects by consumption rather than purchasing expensive creams. Another group of acids, the AHAs, or alpha hydroxic acids, which are used in cosmetic peels to remove dead skin cells and promote glowing skin, can be found in the glycolic acid of sugar, the lactic acid of sour milk, the malic acid of apples and the tartaric acid of grapes.

In addition to scepticism about the hype that surrounds expensive face care range launches there is also increasing concern about the cocktail of chemicals contained in industrial formulas. Methyl, propyl and butyl parabens are the chemical compounds most commonly used in the face care industry, as they extend the shelf life of cleansers, creams and face masks, preventing microbial action. Parabens are thought to mimick oestrogen, which may cause tumours to grow and divide.

Keeping the skin clean, exfoliated and hydrated need not cost the earth nor poison us. As well as eating a balanced, healthy diet, staying out of the sun and drinking a generous quantity of fresh water every day, there are other ways we can improve the appearance and texture of our skin as we age. We can use the contents of our larder, garden and fridge to create cleansers, pastes, lotions and creams that are far healthier, cheaper, more natural and frugal than anything which can be purchased from Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, L’Oreal or Estee Lauder, the four largest skin care product companies in the world.

These corporations preach the antioxidant gospel as a significant part of their sales pitch. Antioxidants play an important role in skin care and the prevention of premature aging. They neutralise free radicals and prevent cellular damage from occurring. Free radicals are molecules that damage collagen and cause skin dryness, fine lines and wrinkles. The atoms that comprise skin cells try to maintain an even number of electrons, which renders them stable. If an atom has an uneven number of electrons, it will take an electron from another, healthy atom in order to become stable. When skin is subjected to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, air pollution or cigarette smoke, oxidative stress occurs, this produces free radicals, or atoms with an uneven number of electrons. This can cause a damaging chain reaction which ultimately leads to the degradation of collagen fibres in the skin.

Antioxidants comprise compounds such as vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q10, idebenone, zinc, copper and beta carotene. Beauty companies are harnessing these compounds, as well as the antioxidants from an increasing range of botanicals such as rosehips, herbs, avocado, green tea, pomegranates, coffee berries and grape seeds. Research has shown that antioxidants can be absorbed from topical application onto the skin.

By mashing up fruits that are high in antioxidants, such as bananas, strawberries, kiwis, blueberries, blackberries, papayas, tomatoes, apples or pineapples, and mixing with raw honey and a little bit of granulated cane sugar, you can create a very effective exfoliating mask, which can be gently rubbed all over the skin and then left on for 10 minutes for maximum effect. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and a face flannel and pat the face dry with a clean towel.

Finely chopped brazil nuts, almonds, oats and ground up rice and sea salt also make very effective scrub ingredients to remove dead skin cells gently. It is argued in many medical journals that in the West we should all be limiting the amount of salt and sugar we consume. I argue we should not put excessive sugar and salt in our body, but rather on it, using it to slough off old skin cells, thereby allowing cell regeneration, which is very important for glowing skin. When mixed with beaten egg, honey and baking soda they turn into useful exfoliants and face masks all-in-one. A few drops of lemon or lime juice added to the face mask can also help to lighten any dark blotches caused by pigment changes in the skin when exposed to the sun.

Diluted vinegar makes a very effective toner and washes away shampoo build-up from the scalp. Rosewater, orange water and chamomile infusions are also gentle, soothing and refreshing skin toners. A few drops of vanilla extract can be added for fragrance.

Slices of cucumber placed on closed eyelids can help reduce puffiness. Cucumber is very hydrating and contains trace elements of potassium, silicon and sulphur. Moist green tea bags are also very beneficial to the eye area, geen tea being rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidants. Finely sliced herbs, like mint, parsley, coriander, rosemary and lavender, mixed into yoghurt, make a calming and hydrating face mask. Hot steam face baths are also good at opening pores prior to cleansing: create a bouquet garni of fresh garden herbs and place it in a bowl of kettle hot water, using a towel as a head cover to trap the steam. Inhale deeply.

Cold pressed almond, avocado, extra virgin olive, grape seed, rapeseed and coconut oils make extremely good moisturisers, and are particularly pleasing to use when mixed with a few drops of fragrant aromatherapy oil, such as lavender or eucalyptus. These oils are rich in linoleic acid, which contains essential fatty acids that hydrate the skin and are easily absorbed. Fatty acids regulate cell function and enable skin to retain moisture.

Moisturisers have, in fact, existed, since man began to hunt with sharp stone tools, 10 000 years ago in the Mesolithic Era. Hunters realised that rubbing animal fat on their skin helped to protect them from dryness when exposed to the sun. For centuries women all around the world have been using plant oils to condition the hair, use in the bath and rub all over the skin. Moroccan women use argan oil, from the argan tree, a rich unguent that is high in fatty acids and Vitamin E.

The result of rubbing plant oils on the skin need not be greasy, because only moderate quantities should be used and any excess blotted with tissue. Plant oils are not comedogenic {creating blocked pores} if used on carefully cleansed and exfoliated skin

It is believed that Cleopatra bathed in milk, sesame oil and honey, the ancient Sumerians created emollients from pulverised plants and tree oils, and in ancient Palestine women used myrrh, olive oil and spices to cleanse and protect their skins.

We are following in the footsteps of our ancestors when we use natural, sustainably sourced products in this way. By having a ready collection of useful ingredients and plants in your kitchen and garden, you can look after your skin in a much less toxic and infinitely more pleasurable way than having to purchase industrially made products. It is also a very good way of using up leftover or overripe produce, which, in these economically challenging times, is a helpful idea.

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