Natural Skin Care

by Elizabeth Winslow • Photography by Jenna Northcutt

The skin you’re in is the only skin you’ve got. It only makes sense, then, to take good care of it—it has to last a lifetime. As a protective barrier, our skin can be occasionally subjected to harsh environmental conditions. During the warmer months, this can mean sunburns from high ultraviolet (UV) exposure and breakouts from sweat, grime and blocked pores. And while it’s true that skin is a barrier, it’s also permeable, so treating summer’s host of skin challenges with chemicals or questionable ingredients isn’t the best plan. Luckily for us, we have several natural skin care experts in our community, ready to guide us through taking the best possible care of one of our biggest assets.

Mariska Nicholson’s Texas olive oil-based skin care line Olive + M grew out of the desire for an unadulterated, nutrient-rich and all-natural skin care solution for herself. Several years ago, she began mixing oil blends in her own kitchen that, once applied, made her skin radiant and glowing. Soon, friends and family began commenting on her youthful-looking skin and asked her to make some of the magic potions for them. Nicholson is especially interested in the ways olive oil rejuvenates and heals the skin. “We tend to spend more time outside in the summer and consequently in the sun,” she says. “Free radicals produced by the sunlight cause damage to the skin cells. The high levels of polyphenols found in olive oil act as antioxidants that not only help prevent damage done by the sun but also repair and renew skin that has been overexposed to the sun.”

Finding the balance between soaking in essential vitamin D and not overexposing skin to the point of sunburn is one of the greatest challenges of the season. Nicholson’s advice: “If you do overexpose, marinate in olive oil! The polyphenols in olive oil will speed your recovery while feeding and nourishing your skin.” Another favorite nourishing oil is avocado oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, D and E. With its thin consistency, avocado oil penetrates the skin, but it’s also thick enough to serve as a protective barrier—much like a lotion—locking in moisture. Apply either oil just like a lotion, and use the good stuff—refined oils don’t contain the nutrients that extra-virgin oils do.

At People’s Pharmacy, Julia Strickler, ND also advises customers to nourish skin—with a focus on the inside first. “Make sure to eat foods high in antioxidants and healthy oils,” she says. “And hydrate! Add trace minerals to your water if you’ve been sweating or drinking [alcohol].” She also recommends eating foods rich in vitamin C and collagen and taking high-quality supplements, including minerals such as zinc and selenium and antioxidants such as CoQ10, resveratrol and astraxanthin.

Summer’s high UV exposure is of special concern to Strickler. “These rays from the sun are specifically what trigger sunburns and premature aging,” she says. “Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays can lead to damaged skin cells including the epithelial DNA. The classic symptoms of sunburn, including redness, swelling and pain, result from the prostaglandins and cytokines trying to heal from the acute toxic exposure to the UV rays. Eventually, the body begins to heal and sheds the damaged skin when your skin peels after the sunburn.”

beauty2Strickler’s favorite remedy for sunburn? Our good old hero, aloe vera. “Try to use a fresh leaf when possible (simply slice open and rub over affected areas) or the most pure form you can purchase,” she advises. “I keep some sliced aloe leaves ready in the freezer to help with my occasional kitchen burn, but this is also great for sunburns.” Strickler also likes a product called Miracle Mist. “It’s another personal favorite for topical use, as it was designed to help with burn repair by addressing the pH and microbial balance of the skin.”

Breakouts from sweat, grime and over-the-counter skin products are also a focus for the folks Strickler advises. Unfortunately, the only real solution is to avoid heat and sun as much as possible. Strickler says with a laugh, “Personally I get a rash from nearly every commercially available sunscreen, so I’m a huge advocate of covering up!” Above all, hydrate and moisturize, she says. Make it easier on your skin by minimizing drying soaps and long hot showers. Again, load up on vitamin C and antioxidants. When damage happens, she advocates single-ingredient home remedies to help support skin. Keep it simple, she says. “Apply black tea topically for its astringent skin-tightening purposes to help stressed skin, or cucumbers for rehydrating tissues—especially the delicate tissues around the eyes. Vinegar or mustard can take the sting out of a sunburn. The key, again, is don’t overdo it and plan ahead!”

Local author and natural skin care advocate Mary Helen Leonard has written the book on simple, natural-ingredient remedies. She’s been writing about DIY living for more than 10 years on her personal blog, Mary Makes Good, and on The Natural Beauty Workshop, an online publication of natural skin care ingredient supplier From Nature With Love. Her recently published book, “The Natural Beauty Solution,” is a step-by-step guide to replacing the commercial skin- and hair-care products in our routine with natural alternatives and easy homemade recipes. Like Strickler, Leonard also believes in keeping things as simple as possible—not only for health reasons, but also for the sake of economy and convenience. An avid cook, she approaches caring for her skin and hair with the same values she applies to what she does in the kitchen: quality over complexity. For example, a favorite everyday facial scrub is made from nothing but rice flour and water.

Leonard notes that summer’s sudden changes in temperature and humidity can make it challenging to keep skin balanced. “Add a little extra sweat and grime from outdoor activities,” she says, “and you can see why summer breakouts are so common. Just washing your face a little more often can make a big difference, especially after exercising. If dry skin is a problem, try adding a drop of honey to your usual toner or moisturizer.” Honey, available from local producers in pure form, is a natural humectant and can actually draw moisture to the skin. Locking in moisture is helpful during hot weather when the air is constantly drying out skin. Leonard also advocates the healing properties of the aloe vera plant. “The pure gel [also labeled “juice”] can be bought by the bottle or pressed from fresh leaves. I also love using puréed cucumber, cilantro and plain yogurt to make fresh masks if my skin gets too unhappy.”