Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mercredi: The Art of Beauty

My daughters are at that age where skin becomes what commercials euphemistically refer to as “a problem”. Usually it amounts to something more drastic than that in real life but then those ubiquitous commercials want to tone down and play up the “problem” at the same time. The message is, of course, you’ll just be unpopular and spotty if you don’t use our product. Buy. It. NOW.

Unfortunately, for the most part these celebrity-endorsed goos actually do very little to solve the problem: excess sebum on the skin generated by the onset of puberty. Nature, on the other hand, has the perfect solution which is both time tested and old wife approved. I’m talking about witch hazel.

Witch hazel is a bush whose twigs are often used for fashioning divining rods. The bark and leaves can be carried to cool passion and help recovery after breaking up with a lover. Finally, the witch hazel has been decocted for centuries to make an astringent that will calm inflammation, tighten pores and generally clean up extra oil on the skin. It has also been used as a rinse (usually diluted by half with water) for particularly oily hair and as a pre-modern hand sanitizer. It was favored by sailors as a soak to remove tar from the skin. No kidding.

Witch hazel astringent can be found in drug stores without much problem now. Look for one that uses the bark of the plant and does not distill the extract, which can remove the tannins. I like Thayer’s Alcohol-Free blend but there are others out there that will do the job just as well. Try to avoid any that add alcohol as all that does is dry out the skin, not remove the oil. I personally like the spicy scent of witch hazel but if you find it off-putting Thayer’s and others offer unscented blends.

People with sensitive and rosacea-prone skin (like yours truly) can have trouble with using witch hazel astringent as is. It’s also hard on open sours (such as recently excised blackheads). If you do have trouble with the straight stuff you can still get all the benefits of witch hazel but you will have to work a little harder. Here is a home-made astringent that includes witch hazel coupled with the soothing benefits of barley water. It’s a little more effort, but it really is worth it and it smells delightful.

Crush 1 tbsp of peppermint leaves (or about a teaspoon of dried peppermint), 1 tbsp of finely grated lemon peel, 1 tbsp of rosemary (or a teaspoon of dried) in a bowl with the back of a spoon (or a mortar and pestle if you have one). Place all in a jar that will seal tightly. Add ½ cup of alcohol-free witch hazel astringent, close the jar, shake gently and set aside to steep for 12 days.

On the 12th day, put 1 tbsp of pearl barley (available in the organics section of your grocery store) and ½ cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool and then strain through cheese cloth or a fine sieve. Strain your witch hazel mixture through the same medium, combine this with your barley water and decant into a bottle. Add 4 to 6 drops of peppermint essential oil, depending on your appetite for that minty scent.

Use on a cotton ball after washing but before moisturizing your skin. Keep the bottle in your refrigerator and use the mixture within two weeks (you can double or even triple the batch if you have a number of people, including gentlemen, who need it). À votre santé ~

Header: Young Lady at Her Toilette by Van Dou


Charles L. Wallace said...

Ahh, with hazel :-) Here's a couple of interesting points [well, interesting to me, anyway!!]

[1] Sailors using witch hazel to remove tar from the hair.... in olden days, sailors frequently had long hair, which would be tied back in a ponytail of sorts. The end would be dipped in hot tar and allowed to dry - no need for rubber bands or scrunchies! Indeed, that is where the flap on the back collar of the 'crackerjack' uniform came from: a removeable flap that would protect the uniform itself from the tarred hair. Originally, the flap was blue on both the blue and the white jumper. Nowadays, the blue uniform retains the blue flap, and the white uniform has a white flap. Totally non-functional, decorative only, but sailors are either [male] not allowed to have long hair any longer, or [female] required to wear their hair up. No sailor that I know of has ever tarred their hair, intentionally or otherwise.

[2] Gaylord Perry, that great ol' pitcher from SF Giants and SD Padres, back in the '60's and '70's, was a reknowned spit-baller. The spit ball is illegal, and has been since 1930. You see, when throwing a fastball, the ball releases first from the thumb and the two forefingers grip a wee bit longer, giving the pitch backspin. No worries, it flies on a given path and all are happy. A spit ball, though, is wildly different. One lubricates the index finger and middle finger of the throwing hand, and the resultant pitch has topspin: it gets to the plate and the bottom drops out suddenly, causing the batter to swing and miss. Saliva, mud, vaseline, witch hazel, you name it, it has probably been tried. I used mud once just horsing around in practice and threw a fastball about belt-high. When it got to the plate, it suddenly swerved downward and almost bounced off the plate!! Now, if I could only do that without mud.... Anyway, Gaylord Perry used witch hazel. Hid it under the bill of his cap and threw a mean spitter. Most of the time, he merely faked going to his cap and all - a routine for the fans to enjoy and the batter to guess at. Umpires, too. Far as I know, he never got caught. Wonderful theatre, wonderful baseball, wonderful witch hazel :-)

Pauline said...

That is all good stuff. I knew sailors frequently tarred their braids and the flap on the uniform makes sense - now of course it just "looks nice". I didn't know about the witch hazel/baseball connection, though. Interesting.

As I understand it, the witch hazel treatment for tar was only used when anticipating a little time ashore. Otherwise, why bother?

Timmy! said...

I'm just glad to be (long) past those days when I would need to use something like this on my skin, Pauline.

Charles L. Wallace said...

I think you are on to something, as far as tar removal for shore leave [um, liberty. Oops!]. Ladies prolly did not care for tarry dudes [well, Jack Tar has to stem from SOMETHING, eh?]

Can't believe I missed "with hazel" in my first line!! Ack! hahaha

BTW, the comment box scolded me for too long a post on that last one.... thought it had deleted me! Happily, not, as who knows if I coulda repeated that diatribe?

Pauline said...

Timmy, I wish I could say the same.

Charles, don't worry about it. The comment box is frequently picky and our thoughts often run way ahead of our ability to type.