My latest experiments in the Saroya lab revolve around extracts and hydrosols. Extracts are extraction of plant material using a solvent (such as water, glycerin, alcohol, or an oil). To be more specific, a water extract is also known as a tea - the material can be real tea or any other herb like rosemary, fennel, mint etc. If the solvent is glycerin, the extract is called a glycerite, if the solvent is alcohol, the extract is called a tincture. If oil is the solvent, the extract is called an oil infusion. Extracts can be used as a vehicle to carry the plant nutrients in controlled concentrations in a skin care formulation. As always, water extracts, or teas, are the hardest to preserve and hence I never use water as the solvent. In general, these extracts do not require heat. To make things more complicated, I will also introduce you to the term decoction - which is extraction of plant matter in water by boiling. The ancient practice of Ayurveda uses decoctions (or kashayam) to extract nutrients from barks, leaves, roots etc. The decoction is then boiled again in an oil to boil away the water leaving behind the nutrients in the oil. This is really the beauty of Ayurveda. Boiling off the water ensures that the product does not get spoiled due to bacteria and mold. Using a decoction to get the nutrients in the oil as opposed to a straight oil infusion ensures effective concentration of the nutrients. Oils are typically not good solvents for plant nutrients - so doing a straight oil infusion will be less effective. As you can imagine, this procedure is laborious and time consuming.
I have been playing with tinctures and glycerites and in some cases a mixture of glycerin and alcohol. Glycerin is a polyol - i. e. has multiple hydroxyl groups - and is an excellent solvent for a variety of plant matter. So is alcohol - to be specific, ethyl alcohol. I have been using the highest proof vodka for my extracts (I have absolutely no inclination to drink it btw). So far I have extracted citrus peels in alcohol (see this post), lavender, white oak bark, and pomegranate peel in a mixture of glycerin and alcohol. I use the citrus extracts for cleaning, the lavender extract as a room mist, and the pomegranate peel extract in a wonderful facial mist. The extracts cannot be used straight - they need to be diluted first, with distilled water. Depending on the application, the dilution will vary. For cleaning, I use a 50:50 extract:water ratio. For the room mist and facial mist, a heavier dilution. In general, with the addition of water comes the need for using a preservative. I use a preservative in the mists but not for the cleaning sprays as the higher percentage of alcohol acts as a preservative.
These extracts have expanded my product formulation. In addition to making liquid formulations, they can also be incorporated into creams and lotions (though the amount used will be very less and thus not deliver optimal concentration of the nutrients). For now, I plan to stick with sprays and mists.
Stay tuned for part 2: all about a different method of harnessing plant nutrients - via hydrosols or hydrolats.
I am thinking of writing an ebook on how to use plants in your backyard (or plants and herbs you can grow easily), and fruit peels that you throw away to make extracts and hydrosols. My thoughts are to cover the following in the ebook:
- Effective cleaning products using citrus extracts
- Make luxurious facial mists that are rich in skin nutrients
- Hair care products
The ebook will walk you through the material needed to get started, have detailed recipes, and links to research articles that describe the benefits of the products.
It would be wonderful if you, dear reader, would let me know if you would be interested in such a book. Please do let me know in the comments.
I am sorry if I completely change how you feel about soap. I thought about whether to write this or not and finally decided to write it after a recent conversation I had with a friend about her chronic dry skin.
What kind of soap do you use to cleanse your body? A bar? Liquid soap? Other? No matter what you use, please bother to look at what its ingredients are. If you use a bar, I'm pretty confident you will see "sodium tallowate" listed in the ingredients. I want to discuss this. I am a vegetarian - initially due to upbringing that has religious and cultural roots and now because I choose to be. I care about animals and choose not to consume anything that involves killing an animal. I was not always this way - I have bought leather goods before - now I choose to buy furniture, shoes, purses etc. that are not made of leather. I do not eat meat. I do not support animal testing or any cruelty to animals so that we humans can consume more and more. If you feel the same way as I do, ditch the bar soap with sodium tallowate. Tallow is a fat derived from certain animal parts (mainly cows) and is saponified with sodium hydroxide to form soap. Given the quantities of soap manufactured, I can't begin to imagine the condition of the animals from which it is derived.
Traditional soap is made by saponifying vegetable oils like olive oil. Saponification is the reaction of sodium hydroxide with the fats in oils that produce soap and other byproducts. So why is tallow (or lard - derived from pigs) used? To cut costs - it's a cheaper byproduct of the meat industry.
Liquid soap is made of synthetic surfactants. The sulfate surfactants (which are now notorious) are examples. A common surfactant is cocamidopropyl betaine. I don't have a huge principle issue with liquid soap. But my main problems are a) they have very little beneficial chemicals (most surfactants are drying and irritating), contain hardly any amount of beneficial oils or humectants (chemicals that draw water to keep skin hydrated), and b) since they contain a good bit of water, you need a preservative to ensure shelf life.. Too complicated. If you see a label that says natural liquid soap, it's a lie. Tallow is natural, synthetic surfactants are not.
So what kind of soap should you use? If you suffer from chronic dry skin, start evaluating your soap. I recommend a glycerin soap. This brings me to one of the great ironies of the skin care industry. Glycerin is one of the key byproducts of soap making. However, this chemical is removed from soap as it is used extensively in the beauty industry. So manufacturers can sell you a crappy bar of soap and make more money selling one of the most beneficial ingredients in soap separately. Glycerin soap is soap from which the glycerin has not been removed. Glycerin is a humectant - it loves water and draws moisture to your skin when t is present on skin. It is almost impossible to find commercial soaps containing glycerin. A couple of brands I have seen is Kiss My Face olive oil soap and the famous Pears (that got into a controversy for changing its recipe adding a bunch of unhealthy ingredients). I encourage you to seek out hand made soap - there are plenty of people who make amazing hand made soaps - these will have the glycerin in them and your skin will thank you for the trouble. Or you can be like me and buy melt and pour glycerin base and customize this to your liking by adding oils, essential oils etc. Or you could learn a new skill and make your own soap. All you need is water, sodium hydroxide, and an oil! But this needs a bit of skill and caution. I have a packet of unopened sodium hydroxide - one day ...
It's really sad that the beauty industry peddles cheap unhealthy stuff at ridiculously marked up prices and makes all kinds of claims that are false. We need to get smarter about reading the ingredients and making good conscious choices just like we would for food.
Vitamin C is one thing that has made a significant impact on my skin. Read on for more info.
Image credit: http://www.suggest-keywords.com/YXNjb3JiYXRlIGFudGlveGlkYW50/
There's a ton of information and misinformation on using topical vitamin C - collagen boosting, scar fading and healing, wrinkle busting etc. And then there's the debate on what form of vitamin C is best - water soluble ascorbic acid, or fat soluble ascorbyl palmitate? Here's a reasonable article on vitamin C. But in the end, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Does it do what is claimed?
Short answer, it fades scars, brightens up the skin. I can only show you proof of the first as the 2nd claim requires precise photography at similar exposure etc. to demonstrate.
Above is a close up shot of my cheek - I apologize for the gory details of all the imperfections. The picture on the right is the before picture with a little scar from a blackhead in the center. The picture on the left is the after picture - the scar is very visibly diminished, (though there's a new one below). I had had the scar (that's faded) for at least 6 months. I started using my vitamin C serum late August and I think it took about three months to fade completely. So I think the serum definitely helped.
However not all vitamin C serums are created equal. Ascorbic acid is notoriously unstable in the presence of water and oxygen. It also needs to be highly concentrated (at least 20%) to work. This means one needs to be very careful when choosing a vitamin C serum. How do you do that? For starters look at the ingredients and make sure ascorbic acid is listed right after water. If it's somewhere in the bottom of the ingredient list, don't waste your money. Secondly, if you want to be nerdy, check the pH (pH paper is pretty inexpensive and can be used to test a variety of things at home). However this can only be done after you've bought the serum. The pH should be lower than 4 to be effective. Just for laughs, I measured the pH of things with some acids that are good for skin - ascorbic, citric, lactic acid.
Lemon and my vitamin C serum have the lowest pH at 3. Fresh orange juice has a pH of 5 and yogurt a pH between 5 and 6. So clearly lemon and my vitamin C serum are most potent.
After using the serum now for more than 4 months pretty much every night, below are my conclusions.
1) It fades scars - takes a couple months to disappear.
2) Acts as a good cleanser - I can visibly see the dirt on the cotton ball even after I've washed my face with soap.
3) Brightens face. This does NOT mean whiten. It makes it look less dull than it used to be. This is because acids are good exfoliators.
Regarding stimulating collagen production - don't know as I can't test for that. One last thing - if you are using a concentrated vitamin C serum, use it only at night as increased levels of ascorbic acid can make your skin extremely photosensitive.
It was not till recently that I became super conscious about what I put on my skin. For many years, I picked a lotion that was attractive looking and within my skin care budget without a thought to ingredients. That's because I did not realize that skin is very absorbent and what you put on it will end up in your blood. Recently I did an audit of all the products in my home and was shocked to find
1) Most of my soaps, scrubs, lotions has a minimum of thirty ingredients
2) Many of the ingredients are harmful
3) The skin care and cosmetics industry is totally unregulated and companies put all kinds of things in their products.
Below are a few examples:
Biore pore unclogging scrub
Notice all those things? There is an excellent database: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ where you can plug in all those chemicals and get a toxicity, study, and other detailed information. For instance: