Herbal Infused Oils for Your Botanical Skincare Regimen
A plant-powered skincare regimen is an excellent way to build your relationship with herbs and bring the potency of plant constituents into your life in an everyday way. The clear benefits we can see when we incorporate plant oils into our skincare routine speak for themselves: deeply penetrating hydration, skin cell renewal, and reparative and restorative qualities free from negative side effects.
And if just the thought of adding oil to your oily skin freaks you out - think again. Adding oil to skin of all types to hydrate, cleanse, and rejuvenate is the basis of the oil cleansing method which has gained so much popularity as the way to best truly cleanse, remove oils and makeup etc... without drying the dermis. While it might seem counterintuitive at first, adding oil to the skin is just the thing for working with the body's natural mechanisms, not against them. Better yet, adding an herbal infused oil to the skin which the body recognizes as a non-toxic, food-like substance rather than reacts to as an irritant, allows for health on a deeper level.
The Benefits of Herbal Infused Oils
When I first started incorporating herbal infused oils into my skincare routine, I did so mostly because of convenience: I have always had herbal oils around for general purposes, body care, kid care, first aid situations, massage, etc.... until I realized that I'd struck liquid gold. A little goes a long way, and a couple drops of calendula oil are enough to glow up my face for the whole day without making it overly greasy or shiny. If the oil aspect is a little too much for your morning routine, try incorporating herbal infused oils into your evening routine, applying them at night and allowing them to soak in and penetrate slowly when your skin is doing its deepest repair-and-restore work of cellular turnover.
I first found the beauty of herbal infused oils in their simplicity, how they can be so easy to make and use. But when I began comparing the cost of simple herbal oils - under $15/oz - to the cost of many other botanical skincare products - which ring in at upwards of $80/oz - I was beyond delighted with how cost effective they are.
Nourishing and building the skin with herbal infused oils is just the opposite of what many skincare products do, focus on stripping the skin and layering on additives and preservatives, fillers and unpronounceables. Many of the oils on the shelves of big-box stores or even boutique brands are plain old rancid, and some have fragrances added to hide the rancidity factor.
In general, the subject of non-toxic, plant-based skincare is massive and can be overwhelming. The trusty, verified go-to database that I have come to rely on when vetting any new topical products is the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep resource for in-depth ingredient safety ratings. But beyond this, a safe bet is simply to lean on simple, traditional plant preparations that are time-honored and trustworthy, like infused herbal oils.
There are a few botanical skincare superstars which build, replenish, and renew cellular skin health profoundly. Calendula, comfrey, and St. John's wort are the three we will explore here. Start with one that appeals to and work it into your daily routine, or stock up with these three on rotation and see where they take you on your herbal skincare journey.
Calendula, comfrey, and St. John's wort oil can be used on their own in conjunction with other safe, gentle skincare regimen components as needed. All three can be used interchangeably as facial or full body oils, several times daily or occasionally, and for addressing acute skin concerns or chronic. And each has its particular niche and distinctive qualities, which are covered below.
What is an Herbal Infused Oil?
Different from salves because they do not contain beeswax, a hardening element, herbal oils are as simple as just two ingredients: the herb and a carrier oil, in our case, organic olive oil. Our herbal infused oils are made by extracting fresh plants in organic, highest-quality extra virgin olive oil for six weeks, sometimes with a heat or solar-infusion element, in order to produce a fairly non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) oil, purely and potently infused with the benefits of the herbs. Olive oil itself can be of great benefit to the skin, due to its abundant antioxidant and polyphenol content. The only preservative we use in our herbal infused oils is a tiny amount of non-GMO vitamin E, which also comes with a host of skin benefits.
Infused Oils vs. Essential Oils
It's important to note that herbal infused oils are very different from essential oils, which can have myriad safety concerns, are rife with sustainability issues, may be expensive, and only contain isolated chemical compounds of a plant, rather than encompassing the beneficial spectrum of whole-plant constituents that we want. For more on considerations with essential oil use, see here. In contrast, herbal infused oils are absolutely safe for use neat (undiluted) on the skin for all ages and stages, extremely cost-effective, provide an entire range of beneficial constituents from the entire plant, and align with sustainable product preparation guidelines.
Calendula Blossom Oil for Skin Brightening and "that Floral Glow"
Resinous, radiant orange calendula petals (Calendula officinalis) convey to the skin the same beautiful glow that they hold on their own. Calendula oil makes a fantastic all-over herbal body tonic to apply for a layer of renewal and hydration after a bath or shower, as well as my number one all-purpose facial oil. It is what many herbalists consider to be the premiere herb for the skin, inside and out. It is supportive of the body's own reparative process of skin tissue, as well as nourishing and rejuvenative to a range of skin concerns from scar tissue to skin anomalies to garden-variety bumps and pores that over-produce sebum (in which case, an internal liver tonic like Deep Roots is also essential in supporting the elimination process). As an ingredient in our Viral Spiral, calendula also optimizes the body's natural defense system and promotes a healthy, happy skin surface free from invaders and other issues.
Kiddos and calendula go together splendidly, because of this herb's affinity for sensitive and delicate skin tissues and its ability to wipe out those run-of-the-mill rashes that come and go like the wind in some kids. Calendula is the first herb I used on my newborn baby, and the only herb I allowed to touch him for the first few months of his life. Bathing in calendula flowers is an exquisite and lovely practice, in addition to being beneficial for any systemic skin issues, redness, itch, or irritation.
Dry patches of skin, peeling or flaky skin, or "winter skin" that is in deep need of hydration benefits from regular application of calendula oil. Calendula energetics are thought to be warming/neutral, though combative to heat and redness in the body, and moistening. One key characteristic of this herb is its ability to move the lymphatic fluid of the body and repel lymph stagnation, which is important in skincare due to the presence of lymphatic tissue beneath the surface of the skin. Calendula face or body oil is famous for not only getting the "golden glow" going but moving stagnancy from the inside out, which is incredibly beneficial for skin health.
When selecting a high quality calendula oil, ensure that you pick one made with organically grown calendula flowers that are fresh for extra potency. Dried will work, but fresh is best.
Best supports: sensitive skin, skin of all ages and stages, dry or normal skin, occasional redness, dryness, or discomfort
Comfrey Oil for Skin Strength, Vitality, and Renewal
Comfrey oil on the skin is both a "comforter" and a strengthener - literally rebuilding and repairing skin cells just as quickly and boldly as it takes over a garden plot. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) as a dominant perennial is a powerful force to be reckoned with, and in the skin it is no less assertive. The root of comfrey contains a phyto-constituent called allantoin, which must be what runs in the proverbial fountain of youth as it is so supportive of the growth of brand new skin cells. Comfrey is the original moisturizer due to this component, which also seems to create something of a protective barrier between the skin and the outside world.
Aging gracefully is done better with a little comfrey, which is known to diminish fine lines, plump thin skin, repair skin tissue, and improve the appearance of sagging or loose skin. Comfrey is best known in the skincare world as an all-round skin strengthener and tissue rebuilder, as well as supportive of the body's ability to improve scar tissue.
Comfrey's benefits to hair, skin, and nails are unparalleled. Clinical trials have demonstrated a remarkable and distinctive ability of topical comfrey extract in vitro to accelerate rapid cell growth and the rejuvenation and normalization of damaged skin, even speeding the body's own restoration of skin health up to three days faster than would have been the case without comfrey in vivo. (1, 2)
Another common use of mucilaginous comfrey oil on the skin is in the realm of intimacy. Comfrey oil makes a top-notch lubricant (not for use with latex condoms) and ally for creating a silky smooth oasis of a vaginal ecosystem. Comfrey oil is known to deeply nourish and support the health of the vulva and general external reproductive anatomy. Use it in tandem with a nourishing breast massage oil to fully bring your botanicals into the bedroom, head to toe.
When selecting a high quality comfrey oil, ensure that you pick one that represents the full spectrum of plant parts, including comfrey root, leaf, and flower.
Best supports: dry or normal skin, mature skin, skin in need of restoration
St. John's Wort Oil for Sun Defense and Nerve Support
The classic ruby red oil of St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), pigmented red with the famous phytochemical hypericin, makes an excellent all-over herbal body oil. When I do use St. John's wort as a facial oil, I do so with an awareness of this herb's important relationship with the sun. While some herbalists speak of this herb as increasing one's sensitivity to light and sun, many others use it to actually protect from the harmful effects of UVA/UVB rays, a quality that St. John's wort is thought to build up over time in those who use it regularly. This herbal infused oil is a wonderful one to develop an individual relationship with in order to see how it affects you specifically.
I also love using St. John's wort oil in combination with aloe vera, and a little lavender hydrosol, as an after-sun care routine. Start with a layer of pure aloe vera gel for cooling and easing, spray with lavender hydrosol to restore and cool further, and once that is absorbed, lightly apply St. John's wort oil. Lavender hydrosol - or another herbal spray, like tulsi, juniper, citrus, or sage - also makes an excellent astringent, pore-tightening facial toner before applying herbal infused oils.
Another of my favorite uses of this herbal staple is as a massage oil for discomfort and to ease anxiety. It has a penchant for soothing tired, sore, and stiff joints and muscles, and as a support for the nervous system along the spine and any area with lots of nerve endings. Many herbalists speak of this energetically shielding or protecting oil that acts as a big cozy blanket to the nervous system. St. John's wort oil is seen as warming, soothing, neutral/balancing to any redness or irritation, and slightly stimulating of movement, circulation, and healthy blood flow.
A note on safety: while internal use of St. John's wort may contraindicate with certain pharmaceutical medications and you should consult a trusted provider before using the herb orally, topical use is not associated with the same safety precautions and possible contraindications. Feel free to do a patch test on a small area of skin before use if you suspect a sensitivity or possible allergy.
When selecting a high quality St. John's wort oil, ensure that you pick one that has been made with the bud and flower for best results. Ours includes about 2/3 bud and 1/3 flower, which we have found to be the perfect ratio for an oil optimizing skin and nerve support.
Best supports: sun-affected skin (either before or after exposure), sensitive skin, stressed skin tissues, skin that has been affected by nerve sensation loss, occasional discomfort or tenderness
Make Infused Herbal Oils Work for You
Incorporating herbal infused oils like calendula oil, comfrey oil, and St. John's wort oil into your daily routine serves your health, your well-being, and your budget. Having multi-purpose plant-based preparations on hand that are safe for the whole family, versatile and beneficial in such a large range of scenarios is a key component to self-reliance and empowerment through herbalism.