Photos by Rob Hawthorne
Undereye circles, slowly spreading crow’s-feet, damaged and frizzy hair … looking at the same beauty problems in the mirror day after day can be discouraging. Is there something you can do other than applying concealer or wearing a hat?
We found four people seeking solutions to beauty problems—real solutions that don’t just cover up the problem but treat it holistically. Our experts looked at the causes behind the symptoms and came up with advice for healing and resolution. Some of these tips may take time to effect lasting changes, but wouldn’t it be nice to put away that makeup for good?
Beauty challenge: supersensitive skin
Elana Jefferson, 31, has always had sensitive skin, but in the past few years it seems to be getting even more delicate. “I really have to scrutinize labels; I never know how my skin is going to react to new products,” she says. Currently Elana doesn’t use natural skin care products, but she is willing to try. “I want to see if a more natural approach would work for me,” she says.
- Lipsky: Many people with sensitive skin simply are prone to dryness, or have thin skin that is very vulnerable to chemicals, so they find soaps or other additives very irritating. Elana may also have allergies to specific substances. Allergic skin can be extremely frustrating, but there is hope. Allergies are directly related to one branch of the immune system being overactive and attacking things that it thinks are trying to do you harm. Specific immune-modulating herbs that can help include reishi mushroom and schizandra. Regular relaxation or meditation can help you train your nervous system to rebalance, becoming less sensitive and overactive.
- Powell: To help calm her skin, Elana should try an herbal facial rinse. Make a tea with calendula and nettle (1 teaspoon of dried herb for each cup of water) and allow it to cool. When washing the face, do the final rinse with the cooled tea.
- Frost: I’d like to see Elana stay away from conventional products, which contain many allergens. She also needs to remember that natural isn’t a carte blanche for sensitive skin; she needs to look for products made for sensitive skin. She should take fish-oil supplements for at least three months, which can help with inflammation and hormonal balance. And avoid propylene glycol and sodium lauryl sulfate, which can cause skin reactions.
Beauty challenge: large pores, crow’s-feet
Laurie Budgar, 41, can’t complain much about her attractive olive complexion, but she wants to know what to do about her large pores. “My skin is generally pretty good, but I’ve had these large pores since I can remember, and I am getting some crow’s-feet too,” she says.
- Robertson: Laurie’s large pores may be the result of a water and oil imbalance. The skin tries to compensate for a lack of water by overproduction of oil, which may enlarge the pores. Laurie should apply essential fatty acid (EFA) serums directly to the skin twice a day, especially at the T-zone. Oils high in EFAs include avocado, macadamia, kukui nut, and tamanu nut. Jojoba is also a good healing oil. To be sure to retain the plants’ antioxidants, which combat free radicals that can damage skin cells, she should look for oils that have been cold-pressed or sun-infused, which means the plant is extracted by the sun’s natural heat. Working internally as well, Laurie should also take an EFA supplement—fish oil, borage oil, or evening primrose oil—to help balance hormones that can normalize sebaceous gland production.
For crow’s-feet, Laurie needs a moisturizer, night cream, or mask with high concentrations of antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid—a very powerful antioxidant. Laurie may also benefit from a mineral supplement, preferably a liquid form of chelated trace elements. Potassium and sodium, in particular, help regulate the water balance within the body.
- Frost: Proper exfoliation could help Laurie’s skin turn around. Alpha-hydroxy acids can help increase cell turnover rate (the renewal process for skin cells) and improve the appearance of rough skin. A fruit enzyme mask with alpha-hydroxy acid will dissolve and exfoliate gently. For quick results, Laurie should apply an enzyme mask to open pores for several minutes, then follow it immediately with an antioxidant skin serum or moisturizer.
Beauty challenge: tired eyes
The stress of working as a freelance illustrator and toy designer with constant deadlines sometimes keeps 38-year-old Bill Thomas from getting the sleep he should. And although he says he’s used to feeling tired some days, he dislikes waking up to undereye circles and puffiness. “I hate looking 10 years older than I really am,” he says.
- Lipsky: Both undereye circles and sleeplessness are directly attributed in Chinese medicine to weakness and depletion of the kidney energy. When you start to see undereye circles, you know kidney energy is running low. Bill should start with regular exercise that gets him tired only to about 75 percent. One of the keys to building up your kidneys is to learn how to keep energy in check. Herbs that strengthen the kidneys are Siberian ginseng, deer antler velvet, and schizandra, a tonic herb for chronic fatigue. Acupuncture treatments would also help restore balance immediately.
- Frost: To reduce puffiness, apply cool green or chamomile teabags to the eyes in the morning for about ten minutes; the tannins in the tea will reduce puffiness. Exfoliation with natural acids will help with cell renewal. Bill should shop for an eye cream rich in vitamin K, which will help strengthen the capillaries, thereby reducing discoloration. Sleep is really the key to healthy skin. Restorative (nonaerobic) yoga at night might help him catch some zzz’s. Yoga poses can be as simple as lying on your back with your feet comfortably raised with a pillow, or with a bolster placed under your lower back for a gentle stretch. Deep breathing and comfort are crucial here.
Beauty challenge: Frizzy, damaged hair
Jessica Parsley, 32, wishes she could do something to help her unruly, fragile hair. “I would love to grow my hair long, but I can’t,” she says. It tends to break because of sun exposure, blow-drying, and dry weather.
- Mathieu: Jessica should avoid gels and mousses because they can cause buildup and irritate the scalp. She should use a broad-tooth comb instead of a hairbrush to avoid breakage. Also, we often forget that hair, like skin, needs protection from the sun, so Jessica should wear a sun hat when outside.
- Frost: A hair mask done every several weeks can do wonders for damaged hair. To make a simple one at home, mix equal parts olive oil and avocado in a blender and apply to clean, wet hair until saturated but not dripping. Cover hair with a shower cap or hot, wrung-out towel for 20 minutes and then shampoo out. If she can, Jessica should apply a hair mask and then sit in a steam room at the gym or a steamy bathroom to really open the hair shaft and let nutrients in. A store-bought hair mask will also work. Look for beneficial ingredients such as shea butter, avocado butter, almond oil proteins, and grapefruit extracts. Jessica would also benefit from taking an essential fatty acid supplement, which can moisturize the skin and hair from within.
- Powell: Jessica needs to get more minerals into her body that will strengthen her hair. She can start by eating kelp and other seaweeds, which are all high in minerals, and by sipping mineral-rich chamomile, nettle, and raspberry teas. If she has time, Jessica should use an herbal hair rinse. Make a tea with 1 teaspoon per cup of water of dried burdock, rosemary, and calendula (available in bulk at most natural products stores), then let cool. Rinse hair with tea, gently massaging the tea into the scalp, and don’t rinse out.
Lafayette, Colorado-based freelance writer Anna Soref is currently on a national museum tour researching alternative concepts of beauty.