on the skin, into the body
ruminations on health series: lotions and potions
There remains this outdated notion that suggests our skin is merely a barrier, a great, big plastic bag that keeps the internal stuff safe and the external stuff out. It’s ridiculous, of course, but I don’t think most people give it much thought. We live in a chemical storm of synthetic fragrances, chemical lotions, sprays, and all manner of “hygiene” products that hygiene our natural biochemistry into nuclear oblivion.
Every little thing we slather, brush, dip or dab on our bodies gets absorbed. We breathe it into our lungs or suck it into our blood stream. Our exquisite bodies do what they were designed to, for a time that has long since gone. It’s no longer the cool, clean waters, rich in messages and memories that we absorb. Now we absorb a synthetic concoction of unordered mayhem into our bodies in the form of febreeze and suffocating dryer sheets. (By the way, what is the obsession with these powerful scents? Were the ad campaigns so effective that they have convinced everyone that they stink without the plume of overwhelming scent covering up their human-ness?)
What goes on our bodies goes into our bodies. It is recognised and used, easily broken down and assimilated or it is not recognised and evokes the alarm bells of a body that now must use its energies and systems of detoxification and elimination to try to get rid of it. What can’t be broken down is stored some place less dangerous like fat tissue.
There are already enough environmental assaults on us that cannot be controlled. What was once just life in a clean environment must now be strived for. To simply put in the effort to avoid the constant volley of chemicals looks almost extreme or obsessive in a world that has normalised living in a chemical soup. That view keeps the manufacturer’s in business and the consumers entranced with shiny packaging and promises of eternal youth and beauty. All while they poison themselves with endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, and all manner of synthetics that load our bodies with evermore.
I am so often asked for my recommendations for skin care and I’m always hesitant to share it, for a few reasons. First, if your diet is lacking, what you put on your skin isn’t going to make up for it. It really is the truth. The most important thing you can do for your skin is what you eat and drink. Almost all of you know that we have been following an ancestral diet consisting of copious amounts of nutrient dense animal foods for a few decades now. More on that in a bit. But outside of diet, my hesitation to discuss skin care is simply because I don’t have any tried and true regime to offer up. There is no product that I think is worth more than anything you can make in your kitchen. In fact, most of what I use has been made in my kitchen. Second, what works for one person may not be what works for another. I have oily skin in summer that dries out in winter wood stove chugging season. What I use from one season to another changes. Aside from your kitchen, there are so many wonderful herbalists and potion makers out there right now making so many beautiful products with care and attention to their environments. I hesitate to name a couple I’m presently using as if they are in some way better than others. That’s not the case. I have literally used hundreds of different products throughout the decades. What I will share with you here is just what’s in my cupboard today.
There are a few staples that I keep around that many of the skin masks, scrubs, and “cleansers” I use are made from. These include:
Clays - magnetic clay is always in our house, it is a powerful “drawing” clay, especially useful for bee stings and other bites, poisonous/painful thorns, and detoxification. Very handy on the farm. I also buy bentonite clay in huge 50 pound bags for our cows. They get it intermittently in their mineral ration in the winter and I use it in my face masks.
Raw, organic honeys - I use Manuka honey for wounds, but will use regular honey if I run out. I use honey for all manner of skin “problems, sometimes mixed with a powdered herb for a specific purpose in the form of a poultice or salve. I also use honey in face washes and masks. Honey mixed with the drawing clay, packed on a nasty bee sting will instantly relieve pain (I know all too well, unfortunately). Honey is also a strong anti-fungal and is wonderful for conditions like fungal dandruff and any other fungal skin issue.
Tallow and suet - You can use both directly on skin if you don’t mind feeling like a lubed up grease monkey. I prefer to cut both by whipping them with other ingredients to make lotions. If being used for balms or salves, I usually use them alone with the medicinal herbals. My daughter, on the other hand, is a wizard with taking our suet and blending it with the most luscious ingredients like silk powder and dried herbs that elevates the experience of using it exponentially. I now rely on her knowledge of synchronistic plants and oils to include in the tallow lotions. She gets the tallow and we get the magic of her creations. It’s a good deal. It can be as simple as rendering down the tallow and using it to upping your game to make your goodies all the more lovely.
Unrefined, organic cocoa butter and coconut oil - I use these all over when I am under my light lamps in the winter and under the sun in the summer. I spend time, fully naked, under the sun every single day. Somehow I’m not a raisin riddled with cancer - go figure. Of course, it is what’s under my skin, the beautiful, protective animal fats that lay just under the surface, that absorb and utilise the sun’s beautiful rays. Now, if I was a margarine gulping, toxic seed oil sipping aficionado, I would have a different story to tell - one that is being played out all around us. If this is news to you, there’s some resources at the end of this essay should you like to learn more.
Herbs and various dried and fresh plants - from calendula in my skin balms to jewelweed, dried rose, and a myriad of herbs that I forage and grow, the bountiful generosity of nature plays a big part in our health care which includes our skin care. I started learning about plant medicines decades ago by going on walks with naturalists, taking classes and workshops, reading books from the library. I’m still infantile in my knowledge. I continue to take classes and, mostly, observe and spend time with plants, learning about them from them.
Hmm.. what else is in there that would be a staple of my skin care regime? Well, there’s salt - both good quality rock salt (which is just ancient sea salt captured in mountains from a time before our ocean’s were used as chemical dumping grounds - i don’t use sea salt from today’s oceans). Also, there’s epsom salt for my magnesium rich bathtub soaks. And, of course, there are bars of tallow soap for bathing and shaving.
In addition to the staples are the nice-to-haves. The delightful products that I am currently using are ones I’ve used for a long while now, well most of them. Right now I have a couple of bottles of “Best Skin Ever” by Living Libations on the go. I use the Frankincense one to wash my face with and a few dabs of “Everyone Love the Sun” to mix in with some cocoa butter when I tan. Their “Best Skin Ever” line is all oil based. I do not use any soaps or stripping cleansers on my face, I only use oils or water, that’s it. My husband likes some of their products for men. He’s pretty basic, it took me fifteen years to get him to use some tallow balm on his face. Now he has a big beard that gets wiry. His incentive to keep that beard soft and smelling nice so he still gets regular smooch sessions seems to be the ticket to his consistency. Living Libations also make some lovely scrubs and moisturisers, toothpaste, too. Like I said, it’s all nice-to-haves, it’s a little indulgence we give ourselves, but all of it could be made at home, too.
For those fancy occasions that I get to go to the health food store, because I live in a communist country that disallows my participation in anything other than a gas station or grocery store (oh, shopping malls, but no thanks), I like to put on some make-up and do my hair. Nothing fancy, just something that makes me feel bright. For make-up, I have tried all the “natural” stuff out there. So much of it is gross. I applaud the effort, but if I look like a raccoon or hopped up candy cane, it’s not going to happen. I have strong histamine reactions to synthetic ingredients so makeup is an especially tough challenge. I have found two companies that I stick with now: RMS and 100% Pure. RMS is more refined and consistent, I’ve never tried anything they make and been disappointed. In both cases, you should still read the ingredients and decide if they’re okay with you. I usually just use mascara and lipgloss with a tinted face oil now. If it’s decent mascara you’re after that isn’t full of poisons and makes you look like a tarantula, the RMS one is great.
Outside of those products, there really is little else we use for skin care in our family. A couple of years ago, we started using Perma-Earth tallow based shampoo bars for our hair. We don’t wash our hair all that much, but this seems a pretty good bar for when we do. Their line of products is diverse and some have fragrances and colours which we don’t use. We prefer the plain tallow based bars. We use the Living Libations toothpaste or the Nelson Naturals one. Whatever you use, avoid fluoride and try to avoid glycerine. That can be tough. It’s also easy to make your own. I do that too sometimes. I seem to get into waves of doing things, then getting busy, forgetting I did it once, and then getting back to it. I’m in the relying on the toothpaste makers phase right now. Another big part of our oral health is oil pulling. We use organic, unrefined coconut oil mixed with various antibacterial essential oils (a drop or two) for this.
Of course, the main way we care for our skin is by eating foods that feed our skin. Animal fats, not seed oils. Adequate collagen, full compliment gelatine, sinew and meltingly tender tendons. Organ meats and whole, raw dairy. Adequate sunlight and movement. All of these things determine the quality and health of our skin. Everything we are told to stay away from.
Be aware, too, of the water you bathe or shower in. Our daughters both live in cities that fluoridate their water. They bought shower filters, but have since learned that there are no shower filters to deal with fluoridated water. The best they can do right now is ensure their drinking water is as clean and pure as possible. They both have Berkeys with the additional fluoride filter.
Of course, water is paramount to skin health. We seem to have made the importance of water equate to drinking great volumes of water. The more the better, right? That can be a problem as we further dilute nutrients and electrolytes in our bodies. Yes we need water, no we do not need to have a bottle in our hands like baby soothers, all day long. And yes, we definitely need to ensure we are drinking adequate electrolytes. But I don’t need to convince anyone of that, just do it for one week and see if you can go back to not doing it.
When our kids were small, we had a heck of a time getting clean water. We lived on military bases that all fluoridated their water. We, initially, bought a water distiller. We had to replace the minerals and electrolytes to that water which isn’t ideal, but it did get rid of all the crap (cleaning out that thing every week was revealing). After a time, we found out that there were clean sources of water via springs, all around us, that were open to the public. We loaded up the carboys every week and drove out to get clean, fresh, alive water. You can find springs near you quite easily now through websites that list them. Glass carboys are easy to find.
There are some herbalists who do not like essential oils because they take the medicine from the people and put it into the hands of businesses. Also, they can be quite harsh - a concentrated oil instead of the whole of the plant. I get that and I agree. I also use some essential oils and find them to be a lovely and useful part of how I connect and enjoy my self-pampering. The quality of your essential oils is paramount. I avoid MLM and commercially produced EOs and prefer to stick with smaller companies that offer certified organic oils. I use ultrasonic essential oil diffusers throughout our home to clean and purify the air, uplift our spirits or calm us and ground us. I’ve enjoyed learning about how essential oils can be used in these ways. It feels deeply connecting and enveloping in our home. I also enjoy mixing essential oils in carriers to make scents that I mix in with oils and anoint myself with every now and then. It brings pleasure to my rituals of self care.
I also do bath rituals, the last of what I will share here. My daughter prepares wonderful concoctions and strict instructions of how to approach the bath ritual. I light beeswax candles and submerge myself for, what for me, is a transcendent experience. I have learned, with my years, that these quiet, stolen away moments, are important connections and affirmations of affection for myself. There was a time in my life where I would guffaw at such ‘nonsense’, but age and life has asked me for more softness and it feels good to answer that call.
If you have any favourite lotions and potions or self care rituals that you love, please share them with us. Please, no advertising and no plugs for the chemical dealers. Otherwise, I’d love to hear about the small makers doing good things and I’m sure everyone else would to.
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