Witch hazel: Adding magic to your beauty routine

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Witch hazel sounds like something that would be used in a potion or spell, right? But you probably didn’t realize that it’s actually a pretty common ingredient in skin care products ranging from Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm to Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion… and for good reason.

What exactly is witch hazel?

witch-hazelWitch hazel is an ancient herb that has been used for medicinal purposes since centuries. It was first discovered by the Indians, who found a way to extract oils from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana – commonly known as the witch hazel shrub. Although the origins of its distinct name are unclear, it may have come from the Middle English word “wich”, which means “flexible”, in honor of the plant’s bendy branches.

Witch hazel contains tannin, flavonoids and strong anti-oxidants, which can help clear up a multitude of skin problems. Native Americans used the plant to ease swelling and treat minor wounds, abrasions and several other skin conditions. Today, herbalists consider it a powerful remedy for relieving muscle aches and pains, treating varicose veins, as well as to stem bleeding from cuts and scrapes.

However, it is as a beauty treatment that witch hazel keeps its mystique. And you don’t even have to wash your face with it from a silver bowl at full moon. It works quite simply and effectively at any time of day and the benefits are underlaid with solid scientific proof.

What to do with witch hazel

De-grease your hair: To reduce excessive oil, dampen a cotton ball with witch hazel and dab it along your hairline and parting. Leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.

Spot control: Witch hazel helps disinfect and reduce the inflammation on a pimple, which is why it can be found in many over-the-counter acne treatments. For maximum effectivity, try this potent mask: mix a teaspoon of witch hazel with two teaspoon of honey (for dry skin) or an egg white (oily skin). Apply this to the affected area and leave for 20 minutes; rinse off with cool water.

Soothe sunburns: Treating a sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking. And it’s simple – just spread a thin coat of witch hazel on the ‘burn. It will both cool and soothe.

Treat dry skin: Apply witch hazel immediately after showering… it will “lock in” the moisture that has just soaked into your skin.

Pore perfecter: The high level of tannin content (which strengthens pore walls) in witch hazel makes it great for soothing and tightening large pores. Plus the herb is naturally antibacterial and effectively sucks out dirt and oil without over-drying. To use, simply soak a cotton pad in watch hazel and gently rub over cleansed skin twice a day.

A branch of witch hazel

A branch of witch hazel

Toner: Unlike many harsh toners that contain chemical ingredients, witch hazel naturally firms the skin without making your face feel too tight. It also helps reduce inflammation and redness, while having a cooling touch that leaves you feeling refreshed.

Anti-aging: Witch hazel is rich in antioxidants, which defend our skin against free radicals. Free radicals can damage skin, leading to premature skin aging. So, apply witch hazel regularly to clean skin when you want to slow down the clock.

Refresh tired eyes: NOT by squirting witch hazel in them, but by soaking a clean rag in witch hazel and cold water and placing the cold compress over your closed eyes for 10 minutes. The anti-inflammatory effects (which make witch hazel one of the magic ingredients in Preparation H) will help relieve strained, puffy or red eyes.

Heal a bruise faster: Been in a fight recently? Well, maybe not. But if you bang your leg or arm and are left with a nasty bruise, a thrice-daily dab of witch hazel can help speed up the healing time. It also works as a disinfectant for cuts, cracked skin and blisters.

Soothe (or prevent) razor burn: The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming around irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving – this goes for both ladies and gentlemen.

Scars and age spots: Pour 2 tablespoons of witch hazel into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and mix well. Use a q-tip to dab the mixture onto the age spots before bed. Let dry and put on the night time moisturizer. Repeat process for 2 weeks to fade the spots.

Do a deo: The same antibacterial and astringent properties that make witch hazel so effective at reducing oiliness can also help your underarms. Simply saturate a cotton ball in the liquid, dab it on your underarms and let it dry. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nice scent.

Varicose vein relief: Soak wash cloths in witch hazel and lay on legs (which are propped straight out) to reduce pain and swelling from varicose veins. Witch hazel will help tighten the veins, relieving discomfort temporarily.

Soothe poison ivy and poison oak: Just like acne and blemishes, witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling. Something definitely worth packing on your next picnic or camping trip.

Do you currently use witch hazel in your skincare regimen?

Beauty recipe: How to make virgin coconut oil at home (effort level: easy)

We already know that coconut oil is one of the most versatile beauty ingredients, tackling everything from cellulite and dark patches to frizzy hair and eczema.

However, after reading about how so-called ‘virgin’ oils, like coconut and olive, are amongst the most faked products in the food world, I started exploring the process of making virgin coconut oil right at home.

Turns out, it’s pretty simple. And you don’t need any fancy machinery – just what you have right in your kitchen already. It does require a bit of patience in parts but to me that’s a small price to pay for getting coconut oil that I unequivocally know to be fresh, pure and virgin.

Ready to try it out?

Making virgin coconut oil with fresh coconuts

You will need

2-3 mature coconuts (the brown-husked ones – they have the maximum oil content)
blender (optional)
cloth strainer
small saucepan
glass jar

How to

1. Split open the coconut and pour the water in a bowl

2. Scoop out the flesh using a sharp knife or a spoon

3. Roughly grate or shred the coconut flesh

4. Add the coconut water to the flesh and let it marinate for an hour (some recipes call for plain drinking water here but I prefer using the coconut water itself for two reasons: if any plain water is left over in the final coconut oil, it shall turn the oil rancid pretty fast; and the coconut water is itself a nutrient-rich oil base, so shouldn’t be wasted)

5. Pour everything into a blender and process till you get a paste-like consistency (if you don’t have a blender, skip this step)

6. Strain the paste (or the coconut-flesh-and-water marinade) through a thin cotton cloth to get rid of any residual solids; squeeze 2-3 times to get the maximum liquid out of the marinade

make coconut oil7. Now you have coconut milk (which has it’s own uses – more on that later!)

8. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and simmer on medium heat till you see it granulating and the oil separating from the solids. This can take up to an hour; stir frequently and hold on to your patience at this point!

9. Once the oil has visibly separated and risen to the top, remove it carefully with a spoon and pour into a glass jar

10. Let the oil cool for a couple of hours and then place the jar in the refrigerator overnight. This will make the oil solidify and completely detach itself from any residual water or milk solids

11. Scoop out the pure coconut oil and use it for any of these fantabulous skin and hair recipes!

Have you ever tried making coconut oil at home? How was your experience?

Beauty DIY: An ultra-easy face mask to unclog and shrink those mammoth pores

It’s probably the most asked question on this blog: How do I tackle enlarged pores? In fact, if we had our way, pores would do their job absolutely invisibly – the job being to act as the gateway through which skin’s sebum (natural oils) and toxins are thrown out, while water, air and beauty potions are absorbed.

Unfortunately, the invisible part rarely happens. Especially if you have oily skin or are more than 20-years-old. Oily skin has pores that are larger than average (to release all that excessive sebum). And as you grow older, skin loses pore-tightening collagen and elastin, making pores sag further. The result? Since enlarged pores don’t reflect light as easily, skin looks rough, bumpy and lacklustre – never an ideal scenario.

And that’s not all: Because pores have to deal with so much oil, dirt, leftover residue and dead skin cells every single day, they can easily become clogged. When this happens, blackheads or whiteheads appear and, if not treated properly, these further lead to acne. When the clogging becomes chronic, the pore walls stretch even further, creating a vicious cycle.

pores DIYUnfortunately, pores have no muscular structure, so they can’t open and close like a door (don’t believe skincare brands that tell you otherwise). But that doesn’t mean you are stuck with mammoth pores for the rest of your life, though. The trick is to leave them looking refined (and hence appear smaller), keeping them unclogged and smoothing the surface.

This all-natural recipe tackles enlarged pores with a mighty dose of skin toning, astringent and antibacterial ingredients. It also promotes cellular turnover, sweeps away dead cells and literally flushes out the pores, leaving skin looking refined and much smoother. All this with about 5 minutes of prep-work? Bring it on?

Ingredients

3 tablespoons kaolin powder (also known as Multani mitti), 1 egg, 1 tablespoon natural yogurt, 1 teaspoon honey

How-to

  • Pour the clay in a bowl and carefully add the remaining ingredients one by one, stirring well to get a smooth paste.
  • If the paste is too thick, add some water or green tea till it becomes manageable.
  • Apply evenly to clean, dry skin, avoiding eye area. Leave on for 15 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

Do you have enlarged pores? How do you tackle them?

Beauty recipe: The Italian secret to glow-y, flawless, PERFECT skin

I’ve spent most of these last weeks wandering around the inner reaches of France, Germany and Italy, with one conclusion: while French women are the epitome of understated chic and the Germans have a robust constitution, it is the Italian bellisima who wins the complexion stakes. Seriously, have you ever seen their skin? How it’s taut and tight, literally hugging the bones and glowing with an inner radiance that can’t be replicated with any amount of foundation or highlighter? How it’s flawless, despite their spending hours in the sun and eating a diet rich in carbs and sugar-laden tiramisu?

It’s enough to give mere mortals like me a complex. So… time to dig! And after interviewing a whole clutch of women from Milan to Matera (it’s the most exquisite Basilicatan village – look it up!), there are a few ingredients that crop up time and again. Humble kitchen ingredients that make for the most potent beauty treatments: olive oil, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), eggs and lemons. And quite a few Italian mammas (all with the skin of a 25-year-old on an 80-year-olds body) offered up this one recipe that combines these beauty ingredients into one seriously potent face mask that soothes, nourishes, busts blemishes and leaves you glowing flawlessly.

italian skincareThe secret?

Chickpeas are a potent source of skin nourishing and rejuvenating proteins, olive oil is packed with anti-aging antioxidants and hydrating squalene, egg yolks are full of vitamins (including vitamin A or retinol, which boosts cellular turnover and keeps pores unclogged) to maintain skin elasticity, while lemon juice takes care of any blemishes and minor skin infections.

You will need

1/4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 egg yolk
 

How-to

1. Mash the chickpeas and mix them with all the ingredients; blend till you get a smooth paste.

2. Spread this face over your; let dry for 20 minutes.

3. Rinse off with warm water followed by a blast of cold water. Pat skin dry and apply your usual moisturiser.

Which country do you think has the most beautiful women? C’mon peeps, time to put it to a vote!