Problem? Solution!
Natural fixes for 5 common beauty troubles

By Anna Soref

In this story, learn how aloe, burdock root, calendula, chaparral, dandelion root, essential fatty acids, frankincense, lavender, marshmallow, nettle, red clover, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, tea tree oil, thyme, and yarrow can help solve your beauty woes. Dazzling white teeth overnight, crow’s feet gone with a simple injection, pimples eradicated by a swipe of the pad—products offering beauty miracles such as these can be tempting. But there’s probably a part of you that knows these so-called solutions can’t be all that healthy. Guess what? You’re right.

But now the good news: You can achieve results similar to that of many conventional personal care products without the potential associated dangers. Read on for tips on how to handle five common beauty complaints—minus the toxic stuff.

1. Smooth out wrinkles
Conventional way: OK, so Botox does work miracles on wrinkles, but once you realize it’s the brand name for botulinum toxin type A, which is related to botulism, you’ll probably want to think twice before injecting it into your body. This bacteria works by paralyzing certain facial muscles, forcing wrinkles to relax. Side effects can include headache, bruising, and drooping eyelids. And don’t forget that in four to six months—welcome back wrinkles.

Natural way: What can you do instead? “Diminish wrinkles with a nourishing approach by using products that contain collagen builders to firm the skin, such as ester vitamin c, and skin regenerators, such as algae extracts, which ionize and regenerate skin,” says holistic beauty and lifestyle expert Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003).

To help smooth wrinkles, try facial masks made with yogurt, strawberries, or papaya, all rich in alpha-hydroxy acids that slough off dead skin cells and give the skin a softer appearance, suggests Laurel Vukovic, an herbalist and author of Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000). “Also, essential oils can stimulate cell renewal, which tends to slow down with age, leaving the skin dry, dull, and wrinkle-prone,” Vukovic says. She recommends rosemary essential oil because of its stimulating and antioxidant effects, and frankincense essential oil, which is considered a skin rejuvenator.

2. Whiten teeth
Conventional way: It seems as though everyone is on a quest for blinding pearly whites these days, but safety information regarding at-home bleaching products is lacking, and most aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Research has found that commercial teeth whitener swallowed by rats in large amounts was acutely toxic and even fatal (Journal of Dental Medicine, 1993, vol. 72, no. 9). Also, the over-the-counter tray systems can damage gums and affect tooth alignment, according to Gerard Kugel, DMD, MS, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Long-term use may also damage enamel, and whitening strips can cause tooth sensitivity and oral irritation.

A couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide mixed on your toothbrush with your usual amount of natural toothpaste can whiten your teeth gradually.

Natural way:
As an alternative, look for toothpastes with natural whiteners, such as lemon juice, or mild abrasives, including salt, baking soda, bamboo powder, or peelu (a natural fiber used for centuries to clean and whiten teeth). All can gently polish away stains and discoloration, says Kim Erickson, author of Drop-Dead Gorgeous (Contemporary, 2002). “A couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide mixed on your toothbrush with your usual amount of natural toothpaste can whiten your teeth gradually and even reduce certain gum problems,” James adds. For even more whitening power, add about 1/3 teaspoon of baking soda to the toothpaste and hydrogen peroxide mix.

3. Ditch dandruff
Conventional way: Although the FDA banned 27 dandruff shampoo ingredients in 1990, it permitted companies to continue using coal tar. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this coal by-product is a toxin that not only pollutes the water and soil but can cause liver damage and cancer. Coal tar, which easily permeates the skin, is sometimes labeled FD&C and D&C colors, so look for these ingredients and avoid using products containing them.

Natural way: Choose a shampoo containing tea tree oil, recommends Erickson. “Many scientists believe that dandruff is caused by a yeastlike fungus, and tea tree oil’s antifungal properties discourage fungal growth.” You can also add about 5 drops of tea tree oil to a dollop of your favorite shampoo each time you wash your hair, Vukovic says.

Boosting your dietary intake of essential fatty acids, such as flaxseed or fish oil, can also help relieve a dry scalp. If it is a dry scalp and not fungus causing the flakes, look for a natural moisturizing conditioner that contains plant oils such as jojoba, which is ideal because its molecular structure is similar to sebum, the skin’s natural oil, Erickson says. If the condition persists, try rinsing with an infusion of 1 tablespoon each of thyme, chaparral, and burdock root (herbs with anti-inflammatory properties that treat scalp infections) in 8 ounces of water after you shampoo and condition your hair. Boosting your dietary intake of essential fatty acids, such as flaxseed or fish oil, can also help relieve a dry scalp, Erickson adds.

4. Soften skin
Conventional way: Look at the ingredients in just about any conventional skin cream or lotion, and chances are you’ll see mineral oil near the top of the list. This gasoline-production by-product leaves the skin feeling moisturized but is actually doing the opposite. And because oxygen and moisture cannot reach the skin, your body’s largest organ dries out.

Tell us your thoughts
Did you try one of our recommended natural beauty treatments? Did it work? E-mail to let us know what you thought of the process and the results.

Natural way: A quick, natural, and inexpensive way to improve your skin, according to James, is to install a showerhead filter, which gets rid of the drying chlorine in which you would otherwise bathe. Also, make sure you get enough essential fatty acids, which improve the skin’s moisture-retaining lipid barrier from the inside out. “At least 2 tablespoons of flax, borage, or fish oil daily can make a real difference after a few months,” James says. Erickson recommends using soap alternatives and a skin cream that contains moisturizing plant oils, such as almond, avocado, or apricot kernel mixed with natural humectants, such as aloe, marshmallow, calendula, or honey. For quick relief from dry skin after a bath, Vukovic suggests massaging still-damp skin with jojoba oil mixed with essential oils of rose, sandalwood, or lavender, which are particularly soothing and balancing to most skin types.

5. Zap zits
Conventional way: The most common ingredient in conventional pimple treatments is benzoyl peroxide, which can “fry” the skin and create unsightly patches of dry flaky skin or redness, according to Erickson.

Natural way: To prevent pimples from popping up, keep your skin scrupulously clean. “If a blemish does appear, stop it from blossoming into acne by rubbing the affected area with the cut side of a garlic clove, which has antibacterial properties,” Erickson says. In addition, dabbing pimples with tea tree oil throughout the day has been shown to be as effective as benzoyl peroxide but without the drying effects, James says (Medical Journal of Australia, 1990, vol. 153, no. 8). If you do have acne, you can enjoy twice weekly facial steams with astringent and cleansing herbs, such as yarrow, nettle, and rosemary, says Vukovic. She also suggests drinking daily two to three cups of tea made from burdock, dandelion root, nettle, and red clover to improve liver and kidney function.

Results worth the effort
The next time you find yourself lured by conventional methods toward beauty perfection, think again. “Even if the immediate feel of the skin and the smell are appealing, there is not necessarily a cumulative benefit to the skin’s health and no support of the skin’s own protective functions,” Erickson says. “And there is usually some harm.” Although the natural option may take a bit more effort, your body and the environment will thank you in the long run.

Upon discovering what botox really is, freelance writer Anna Soref vowed never to get near the stuff no matter how bad her crow’s feet get.