The Role of Herbs in Skin Care

In our daily lives we often take the fundamental role of plants almost completely for granted. Plants and plant products interact directly with our bodies, influencing the whole system with their powers and chemical components.

Unappreciated connections

As a society, we can be so removed from the natural world that most people don’t know that aspirin was originally made from willow bark. How many of us realize that 12% of prescription medicines in the United States today come from plants, or that 75% of the world’s medicines are botanical?

Furthermore, a lot of Americans don’t see the daily importance and connection between plants and ourselves at all, much less on an almost constant basis. Do we think about how wheat in our toast is from the wheat plant, the corn flakes are from the corn plant, and the cotton we wear is derived from the cotton plant? When we go to work and sit at our hardwood desks, do we think of the strong oak tree from which our desks are made, or the gift of writing paper a tree gave us, not to mention the sheer beauty of trees, which filter and clean the air, give us shade, and convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into the oxygen we require to live?

Being biased toward apple trees, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than one in bloom. We are so fundamentally connected with the plants and the trees, yet when someone is hugging one, we laugh.

Time comparisons

Herbalism is based on over 10,000 years of trial and error. Western medicine is based on 200 years of trial and error.

Interestingly, different species of the same plants were used simultaneously for identical applications by Europeans and Native Americans before they ever crossed the ocean.

Herbs in skin care

Why use herbs in skin care? What makes them superior? Why not use the synthetic chemicals and petroleum-derived ingredients?

I came to use herbs from a process of elimination. In the beginning, I did not set out to find clean products free of harmful chemicals. I was a young girl who had serious acne and was desperate to clear it up. After ten or more years of trying everything else, I decided, what the heck, maybe a plant would work better than all these chemicals, because the chemicals were not working. To be quite honest, if the chemicals had worked, I probably never would have found my way to botanicals; my face would have cleared up and my search would have ended.

Even though my dad was a farmer and my sister a vegetarian, I didn’t see the connection. Although my dad was a fruit grower and truly loved his farm, trees, and apples, he was not a “back-to-nature” kind of guy. He was a proponent of scientific agriculture, including, for example, the judicious use of insecticides. He really believed it made him a better farmer.

Even though my entire life my sister had not eaten meat, I still didn’t understand the relationship between her vegetarianism and a Big Mac being part of a dead cow. Eating meat is just such a normal and established part of American life. We are not in touch with the connections between us and the animals, trees, or each other. I was probably in my late twenties before I really understood.

My search

So after I tried every other ingredient, I thought maybe herbs would be more effective. I knew the chemicals were not working for me, and they were expensive. I started to make homemade herbal cosmetics with things I already had lying around my kitchen.

I started trying a lot of toners and masks with fruit—apples and pineapple. I began reading and buying every book I could get my hands on, trying all of their recipes. I also started buying some products at the health food stores and trying to re-create and replicate them just to see if I could. Sometimes I could; sometimes I couldn’t.

I read books on herbs, chemistry, and folk remedies and acquired an incubator, microscope, homogenizer, and sterilizers and started running tests. I felt a little like a mad scientist; it was exhilarating, rewarding, and fun. Making my own products, learning so much—it was empowering.

Why purely botanical™ skin care?

Why use purely botanical™ skin care products? Because it beats the alternative! Even if herbs didn’t have the naturally occurring chemical constituents that promote health and heal us, I believe they would still be better than most mass-marketed cosmetic products.

Natural, synthetic, organic—what’s in a word?

The modern medical profession rose with the synthetic era in the late 1900s. The cosmetic industry began to tap the synthetic chemical stocks for their products at the same time. In the early 1900s, 80% of all medicines and cosmetics were obtained from botanicals.

It would appear we live in a time and place that is completely supportive of synthetic chemicals with only recent faint knowledge of the possible damage they may create.

I am personally so much more at ease knowing most of the products I use come from Mother Nature. I think they are superior to any synthesized chemical.

The technical classification for substances is divided into things that are “organic” and things that are “inorganic.” Organisms living or dead are called organic, and the rest are called inorganic. Chemists today refer to any substance that contains carbon atoms as organic, and they use inorganic to refer to any substance that does not contain carbon atoms.

So the technical definition of organic doesn’t mean much to us as consumers. It is the same problem with the term “natural.” Natural to me means produced from Mother Nature. Nothing from Mother Nature can really ever be successfully synthesized because it would no longer contain the essence of the earth.

Who knows better than Mother Nature?

Is any pharmaceutical company capable of coming up with any ingredient more perfect than a rose or a lily? As the overwhelming analytical discoveries of science continue, the simple basic conclusion will always be the same. The laboratory cannot successfully duplicate nature.

Versatility of herbs

Herbs and herbal products interact directly with our bodies, affecting the whole system with their active, naturally occurring chemical components.

Herbs influence the body internally and externally by changing the quality of the energy that flows through the body, just like food.

Synthetic chemicals are “use” specific only. This means that detergents are made to reduce surface soil and that is what they do. That is all they do. And they do it harshly. Sodium laurel sulfate is a detergent and that is what it does.

On the other hand, special herbs and oils have been selected for use in skin care throughout the ages. The mystical history of essential oils has its origin in ancient Egypt where herbs and essential oils were used in religious ceremonies. Three of the most widely used herbs in skin care are chamomile, comfrey, and calendula. All three of these herbs were used historically and are still popular today.

Nature always has provided us with the best ingredients for body care products. The basic chemistry of a healthy body care product is as old as mankind. The simple beauty applications of ancient cultures contained similar ingredients to any clean, natural product today.

How beneficial is Mother Nature?

American Indians believe the cure for every ailment is within twenty miles of where you live, that is, if you live in a natural environment where the native plants are allowed to grow.

One of the reasons why plant chemicals have such a dramatic effect on human physiology is because all living things are composed of families of related organic compounds. Proteins, enzymes, sugars, and vitamins from plants are bound to have some effect on similar substances in our own physiology. For example, antibiotic properties in plants perform the same effect on humans. They are present in the plants to provide an antibiotic function for the plant. In other words, the structure of botanicals corresponds identically to the structure of the human body. Bioflavonoids are in plants to protect them from the sun. Antibiotic properties in the plants perform the same effect on humans.

Botanicals’ benefits

The benefit of using botanicals is valuable both on the aggregate and on the micro level. On the aggregate level, they help support the planet; on a micro level, you can derive the healing benefit of each individual plant.

In choosing a good natural cosmetic product, it is important to understand how beneficial the product is to the skin. A good product must have a healing ability as well as being absorptive, healthy, and not harmful.

Gentle herbal cleansers and body care products will cleanse the skin, tone it to restore the natural pH balance, and nourish it with plant oils and extracts.

What I want in products

As an American woman consumer, I want what I think all American women want in their body care products:

  • a product to perform its duty (i.e., a cleanser to cleanse and a moisturizer to moisturize);
  • a facial line product to have ingredients like essential oils, herbs, and vitamins that will benefit my skin;
  • to support agricultural rather than chemical products.


I think that’s what you want, too. That’s why I’ve included recipes for you to make clean, healthy, and effective products in your own kitchen. (They are sprinkled throughout the book. Check the index.) And that’s why I create clean, healthy, and effective products through Lily of Colorado.

For more information and beauty tips you can purchase Beauty, Health and Happiness–A way of life an online version for only $2.99!