These plants lend their essential oils to homemade beauty products.· 6 min read
Homemade skincare items are having a moment right now, brought on by concerns over some of the many chemical ingredients in most department store products and the continuation of quarantine restrictions.
While it may seem daunting, making your own scrubs, creams, and sprays can actually be fun, allowing you to custom make the scents and textures you like while eliminating the irritants and allergens you don’t. How-tos are beyond the scope of this article; there is lots of info available on the internet.
Here are five wonderful plants that contribute scent and soothing properties to your own products.
- Rose. Ok, I admit I cheated a little bit with this one. Technically, roses are shrubs, not herbs. However, rose oil is widely used in innumerable beauty products from perfumes to face creams and deodorants. Rose oil is soothing on red or sensitive skin and is high in vitamin C. It is safe for almost every skin type, and the vitamin C helps preserve the freshness of your homemade products. Rose oil is also good at hydrating the skin. When choosing roses to grow for skincare products, don’t select hybrid teas (the fussy garden queens); instead, grow old-fashioned varieties with tons of scent like Bourbons and heirloom shrubs. These varieties require little care, no spraying, and produce bushels of blooms. (I’ll talk in another article about selecting roses for skincare.) Rose essential oil is expensive, so growing your own is a nice alternative — and you can ensure that the roses were grown without chemical fertilizers or sprays.
2. Lemon balm. Lemon balm (also called lemon mint) is a fantastic herb for skincare products. The lemony mint oil in the plant is good for helping control acne, as it is both astringent and antibacterial. The scent of lemon is beloved by all sexes, and the herb is known for relieving stress, headaches, and anxiety. Lemon balm also makes a tasty tea. To grow, provide the plant with full sun; if afternoons are very hot (+90°F), provide some shade or extra water. This plant, like most mints, likes lots of water. Given a chance, it will spread vigorously throughout the garden, so you might want to grow it in pots to keep it contained. It loves manure or other organic fertilizers, but avoid chemicals so the plant doesn’t produce excessively long stems. Harvest by grabbing handfuls and cutting back to half or two-thirds of its original height. Thinning like this keeps the plant bushy and helps prevent fungal diseases that can plague mints if the leaves are kept too wet.
3. Rosemary. You’ve seen rosemary on my lists before and for good reason: This plant is the most versatile herb you can grow, with dozens of uses both culinary and medicinal. For homemade skincare products, rosemary provides its pungent scent, antibacterial oil, and needle-like leaves that are ideal for scrubs and soaps. Ground leaves provide natural exfoliation that’s gentler than sharp-edged walnut or apricot shells. Growing the plant is easy: just provide sun and warmth (it likes it hot!) and don’t overwater. Rosemary can’t tolerate wet roots, so keep the soil on the dry side. It’s a hardy perennial and will survive all but the coldest and wettest weather. It is naturally resistant to most pests if grown well, but wet conditions can lead to mildew problems, and mealybugs can appear if the plant gets too dry. Harvest by clipping the stems, then stripping the leaves off and using the leaves as desired. Toss the stems.
4. Peppermint. If there’s an herb everyone knows, it’s this one. Peppermint is beloved as a flavoring agent in everything from drinks to candy, and anything in between. Its potent fragrance and sweet taste make it a favorite for munching fresh, and it leaves a noticeable cooling sensation in the mouth. It does a great job freshening breath! In skincare products, mint oil is both astringent and antiseptic, and that cooling sensation feels wonderful on overheated skin. The astringent effects of mint oil are put to good use in shampoos, as well as facial cleansers, toners, and masks. Care must be taken to keep fresh mint oil away from the eye area since the pungent fumes may cause eye irritation. Use small amounts of oil until you determine what levels your skin can tolerate. As with lemon balm, full sun, lots of water, and some afternoon shade will give you bountiful crops of this fabulous herb. Growing in containers will control rampant spreading.
5. Calendula. Also known as “pot marigold”, calendula has gained popularity recently with cosmetic companies for the healing qualities of its flowers. In addition to having antiseptic properties, the plant is good at soothing irritated or damaged skin and helping to heal bruising and acne sores. It also makes a tea that soothes stomach aches. Calendulas are easy to grow from seed, but they are also available as transplants. Despite their sunny looks, calendulas are cool-weather plants; where the weather is really hot, plant seeds in winter. In most areas, plant seeds and transplants in the spring after the last frost date. Plant seeds shallow — no deeper than 1/4 inch and keep moist until they sprout. Thin seedlings to about six inches apart and don’t let them dry out: calendulas love water. Do not apply fertilizers (they aren’t needed.) Successive plantings a few weeks apart will keep the harvest coming. Cut the flowers as they appear for use in teas and skincare products; keeping the plants cut back produces more flowers.
Bonus plant: Aloe vera. Ok, since I cheated on number 1, here’s a bonus plant that’s great for skincare products. The aloe vera plant (a succulent, not an herb) has been used for millennia as a salve for burns, as well as a hydrator and all-around skin protector. The thick leaves contain a highly-emollient gel that has antiseptic properties and works wonders on skin burns of various kinds. Even today, it’s hard to find a better product for sunburn treatment. The hardest part of growing aloe vera is making sure that you have the correct plant: Many pictures that claim to show aloe plants are wrongly displaying agave, which is also a succulent but whose leaves have painful spikes on the tips and edges. The spikes on aloes are much shorter and softer, rarely causing pain when pricked. Do not mistake agave for aloe vera or your skin will suffer! (Below: The cruel spikes of agave.)
Growing aloe is practically foolproof: Plant in terracotta or plastic pots with holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. Water only when the leaves begin to wrinkle and droop; too much water will kill this succulent. It can grow in relatively low-light situations, but prefers indirect sun; hot sun through a window will burn the leaves. Break or cut a leaf as needed for burns. For skincare products, cut the skin and barbs from the leaves, preserving the gel in strips or squares. Use as desired.