The Cosmetic Apothecary

Important: I recommend a patch test beforehand to make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Apply a little to an inconspicuous place, such as the inside elbow, and leave for 24 hours. If there is reddening, itching or other adverse effects, do not use. None of the recipes on this page are intended for internal use.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided for personal interest only; any individual who uses these recipes does so of his or her free will, and I will not be held responsible for the effects of these recipes on other people. I myself have used most of these with great success, but what works for me may not work for you.

A Quick Word About Beauty Care

I don't claim that any of these ideas will produce miracles. There is only so much a cream or scrub or mask can do for you, whether it's one you make yourself or one that comes out of a bottle for a hundred dollars. And no matter what you put on your skin or hair, beauty will always be affected by your diet, stress levels, the amount of sleep you're getting and any number of environmental factors.

There will always be people who don't have the time or inclination to make their own products, or who'll just prefer the convenience of buying something off the shelf that looks pretty, smells pretty and doesn't need to be kept in the fridge, and that's fair enough. There will always be people like my friend who claims that expensive products feel so much nicer than cheap ones. Another friend of mine, who was using Chanel beauty products at the time, went to a dermatologist about an acne problem, and the dermatologist told her the best thing she could use to moisturize and cleanse was plain Sorbolene cream.

My point is that the only thing a moisturizer can ever do is to hold the moisture in your skin longer; it can't erase wrinkles or make you younger, no matter what the commercials claim. The only thing a scrub can do is to remove dead skin cells from the face and cleanse it thoroughly. What I do believe is that these home-made recipes can perform those functions as efficiently as those you can buy.

Skin Care

The Most Important Skin Care Advice of All: The most important and helpful thing you can do right now to stop your skin aging is to wear an SPF 15+ sunscreen every single day of the year. Most of what we consider damage due to old age — wrinkles, dry skin, etc — is in fact damage caused by the elements. Of course a skin that's been exposed to the sun and wind for seventy years is going to be more damaged than one which has had only twenty years of exposure. If you wear a sunscreen you will filter out most of the rays that cause this damage, and greatly lessen your chances of skin cancer as well.

Cleansers: I haven't used soap on my face since I was twelve; soap dries the skin and disturbs its natural PH mantle. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, soap will make your sebaceous glands overproduce oil, and if you have dry skin, soap will make it feel drier and tighter. Instead of using soap, try making your own cleanser from natural ingredients.

The All-Time Best Oily Skin Cleanser: Get a piece of unbleached calico, muslin or some other soft, fairly loose-weave material. Make a little drawstring bag about two inches square. Fill the bag with oatmeal and tie closed. Now, whenever you would normally wash your face with soap, use the oatmeal bag instead. Get it nice and squishy under warm water and rub it over your face as if it were a bar of soap. You'll get a milky lather from the oatmeal; massage this into your face well. Now rinse the oatmeal off using warm water. That's it. Oats are a gentle yet thorough cleansing agent and will remove the tiniest particles of dirt and oil while refining the pores and controlling the skin's production of oil. Be sure to empty your oatmeal bag and wash it well after every few uses, to make sure it's always fresh and clean. This, along with a few simple herbal infusions, got rid of my adolescent acne.

Quince Gel Cleanser — For All Skin Types: Add one teaspoon quince seeds to an enamel saucepan containing 250 milliliters of distilled water or herbal infusion. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. The mixture should thicken into a gel. Strain. To use, add enough finely ground oatmeal to the gel to make a smooth paste. Rub over the face and neck, leave a few minutes, then rinse with warm water (not hot!)

Violet Milk Cleanser: Add one teaspoon violet petals to ¼ cup milk. Heat gently until nearly simmering, and keep heating gently until the milk is strongly violet-scented. Strain, bottle, keep in the fridge and use within three or four days. This makes a soothing oil-free cleanser.

Milk and Honey Cleanser: Mix one teaspoon warm runny honey with 1 tablespoon milk. Use immediately. Very soft and soothing.

Toners and Lotions

Simple Herbal Washes: The ultimate lazy person's hint for herbal face preparations: if you drink pure herbal tea (not the kind with added flavorings!), stroke the tea-bag over your face after you've taken it out of the cup and wrung the water out. No waste, and no large quantity of infusion waiting to go off.

Peppermint: Fantastic for acne, especially the itchy underground type. In fact, it soothes itchy skin in general.

Chamomile: Soothing and healing.

Lime Flower (linden): Soothing and softening, refines skin texture. Also supposed to remove wrinkles.

Yarrow infusion makes a great problem skin wash. It's a good astringent, but do watch out because it has been known to cause photo sensitivity in some people. Test on the arm or something first.

The two infusions I used to get rid of my teenage acne were lemon balm and parsley (separately). I just applied one with a cotton ball several times per day, and also used the oatmeal bag.

Oily Skin Refining Lotion: Peel very thinly oranges and lemons, being careful to get as little white pith on the peel as possible. Pack the peel into a glass jar and cover with water. Leave the peel to steep overnight. The next day, strain and filter the liquid, add a few drops tincture of benzoin (as a preservative) and keep in the fridge (label carefully!). The benzoin tincture will turn the lotion milky. Apply two or three times per day and leave on. This improves the texture of oily skin and clears dingy, dull skin, and the essential oils from the peel help heal and prevent pimples.

Sage Anti-Acne Lotion: Make a sage infusion and add half as much cider vinegar as you have infusion. Apply several times a day.

Herbal Pimple Lotion: Simmer 25 grams lavender flowers, the peel of half a lemon (no white pith), and 25 grams thyme in 200 milliliters distilled water. Add ten drops each lavender oil and tea tree oil. Dab on spots as needed. It should keep at least a week in the fridge.

Almond Milk: This will keep the skin soft and refine the pores. Pour 500 milliliters distilled water over 25 grams almond meal and ½ teaspoon sugar and leave overnight to soak. Strain and filter, add six drops tincture of benzoin as a preservative, bottle and label. Apply morning and night.

You can make this into milk of roses by using rosewater instead of distilled water.

Moisturizing and Hydrating

I don't generally use moisturizing creams on a regular basis. I feel that the sunscreen I wear every day of my life provides enough moisture during the daytime, and in the evening I wash it off and apply a simple rosewater and glycerin lotion. Once or twice a week I use a nourishing moisturizing mask, and this seems to keep my skin quite healthy. However, occasionally my skin gets a little dry, maybe from over-exposure to sun or wind, or from being in a heated or air-conditioned environment too long; on those occasions I do use a moisturizing cream. All moisturizers should be applied to slightly damp skin, since they work by keeping existing moisture in the skin.

Moisture Lotions

Many of these won't keep very long, which is why I advocate making very small quantities and storing them in the refrigerator. But they are all made of fresh ingredients and will feed and soften your skin beautifully.

Rosewater and Glycerin: Simply mix rosewater and glycerin until the proportion is pleasing to you; I like about one-third glycerin to two-thirds rosewater. As a general rule, the oilier your skin the less glycerin you need. This one doesn't need refrigeration. I find it's the ideal thing to moisturize the two patches on my cheeks that are flaky if not moisturized but get inflamed if I use heavy creams. Do attempt a patch test first, as some people are allergic to glycerin.

Citrus Milk: Slice up half an orange and half a grapefruit or lemon, and simmer very gently in a cupful of milk. Strain, bottle and refrigerate. This is a very light toning moisturizer which when applied regularly makes the skin silky and bright.

Rich Honey Lotion: Add 1 teaspoon of clear, warmed and melted honey to 100 milliliters milk. Stir briskly until the honey has dissolved and then add one egg yolk, whisking until well-blended. Bottle and refrigerate.

Peaches and Cream Lotion: Peel and mash one very ripe peach. Strain through a sieve to get all the juice out. Mix with an equal quantity of pure cream, then mix the peach-and-cream mixture with an equal volume of cooled elderflower infusion. This is a lovely soothing lotion for hot weather — keep it in the fridge.

Moisturizing Creams

Rich Moisturizing Cream: This is very rich and heavy, so don't use it if you have oily or sensitive skin. I advise doing a patch test beforehand as some people are allergic to lanolin. I use macadamia oil because it's very light; if it's unavailable in your area or you don't like it, substitute almond oil. Both these ingredients are close to the natural composition of the oils produced by human skin. Take one tablespoon anhydrous lanolin (wool fat). Put it in a jar in a bath of hot water and stir until it melts. Then add one tablespoon macadamia oil, stirring constantly. You may prefer less or more oil; if the consistency is wrong when the cream solidifies, simply remelt and add more lanolin or oil. When the lanolin and oil have melted together, remove from heat and stir in five drops of your preferred true essential oil to cover the sheepy smell of the lanolin. Squeeze in the contents of one vitamin E capsule and stir thoroughly until cool. Keep in an opaque or dark glass jar and in a cool place.

Cold Cream: Pour 84 milliliters olive oil and 28 grams beeswax into a jar or basin and stand in a pan of hot water on the stove. Warm gently (do not boil!) until the wax is just melted. Warm 30 milliliters rosewater. Stir the oil and wax together and while stirring, add the rosewater gradually. Remove the jar from hot water and stir vigorously until cool. To make a cream which is effective in fighting wrinkles and scars, add the contents of one or two vitamin E capsules (prick the capsule and squeeze the contents out).

Hand Cream: Beat together (preferably in blender) one egg yolk and two teaspoons lemon juice. Slowly add ¼ cup almond, carrot or other vegetable oil, while still beating. Beat in 6 drops tincture of benzoin, to preserve, and 6 drops lavender, rose or lemon oil, to perfume. Keep this refrigerated and it will last a long time. It will soften hands, feet, elbows and legs.

Masks and Facials

The best place to apply any facial is in the bath, where you needn't worry about drips and interruptions.

Oatmeal and Honey Mask: Mix oatmeal, either cooked or raw, with enough honey to make it sticky. Apply, leave for twenty minutes or so, and rinse off with plenty of water. It will tone oily skin, refine the texture of the pores, and gently lift a face that's in general poor condition, especially after illness or depression.

Honey Mask: Honey is a lovely mask. Massage it into your skin, and keep adding more and patting it on till your face is very tacky. Rinse it off, and your skin will look fresh and glowing. Honey is antiseptic, hydrating and cleanses the pores. However, if you're prone to odd pimples, don't use this before a big night — sometimes its ability to suck impurities out of the skin means you get a zit.

A beaten egg also makes a great nourishing mask.

Avocado-Honey Moisturizing Mask: Mash up two tablespoons avocado, mix with two tablespoons honey and one egg yolk. A very rich mask.

Prune Porridge: This mask sounds and looks disgusting but is very soothing and good for a face tormented by sore underground pimples. Pour ½ cup boiling water over two dried prunes in a bowl and leave until soft. Mash prunes. Use any leftover prune water in cooking about ½ cup oatmeal. Mix oatmeal with mashed prunes and enough honey to make a sticky mash that will adhere to the face. Apply while still warm (but not hot), leave 20 minutes and rinse off with warm water.

Yogurt Mask: Use natural, unflavored yogurt; you can add honey and/or oatmeal if you like. The gentle acids in the yogurt are very good to help restore the natural acid balance of the skin.

Fruit Mask: You can also make masks from mashed fruit pulp, alone or mixed with oatmeal and/or honey till you get the right consistency. Good fruit to try:
Tomato: Astringent and a good blackhead remover. Pulp it up and mix with oatmeal, or slice and lay on the face on its own.

Apple: Grate an apple and mix with honey to make a mask that soothes and heals acne, and makes your skin look great.

Strawberry: A good oily skin mask. Pulp it up, smear it on the face, wash off. Makes the skin look soft and fine. A good use for over-ripe or bruised berries.

Avocado: Moisturizing. I find it's too oily for my skin, but I've heard good reports from others.

Banana: Also a moisturizer.

Carrot: Grate a carrot, add honey, use as a facial for oily skin. Or you can mash up a cooked one.

Peach: A nice, good-smelling mask for dry or normal skin.

Cucumber: On its own, is cleansing, astringent and cooling during hot weather. Juice a cucumber and wipe the juice over the face. It will reduce shine and the appearance of wrinkles.

Creamy Green Mask: This mask feels wonderful and does great things to cleanse and hydrate the skin, and acts as a mild exfoliate as well as a mask. Mash one tablespoon ripe avocado, add ½ teaspoon honey and mix. Stir in a little almond meal until the whole thing is of a pleasant creamy consistency. Apply to clean skin, leave on for 15-20 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water, massaging gently as you remove to exfoliate the skin.

Hair Care

Herbal Shampoo: For this I generally use castile soap. This is a very pure and mild liquid soap made from olive and coconut oils and is very good for the hair and skin.

Unfortunately any shampoo made by this method will be very runny; I haven't yet worked out a way to thicken the shampoo satisfactorily. I keep mine in a plastic bottle; when I have to use it I squeeze some shampoo into the lid and pour it onto the top of my head.

Basic Castile Shampoo: Mix one part liquid castile soap to two parts herbal infusion. Add one teaspoon glycerin per 200 milliliters shampoo, if desired; it facilitates mixing.

Shampoo for Blondes: Use chamomile or calendula marigold infusion

Shampoo for Brunettes: Use rosemary or sage infusion

For Oily Hair: Use yarrow, lemon balm, thyme or lemongrass infusion.

For Dry Hair: Use chamomile, red clover, comfrey or chamomile infusion.

For All Hair Types: Parsley, linden (lime flower), rosemary or nettle.

Essential oils can also be added to shampoos, both for scent and for their herbal properties. Some to try are: rosemary, basil, marjoram, lemongrass, lemon and lavender.


Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner: The best conditioner you can use after a gentle herbal shampoo is a weak vinegar rinse. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a liter of water and use this as the final rinse. It works even better if you can catch the run-off in a bowl and use the vinegar water several times. It restores the PH balance of the hair and leaves all hair types soft and shining. Use the following herbal vinegar recipe to add the properties of herbs to your rinse.

Herbal Vinegar for Hair: Fill a jar or bottle about half full with a combination of some or all of the following herbs: rosemary, sage, chamomile, catnip, yarrow, lemon peel, orange peel, basil, lavender. Fill the bottle or jar to the top with vinegar — use a good quality apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. Seal and shake every day for a few weeks. Strain and use a tablespoonful in your final rinsing water.

Essential Oil Conditioner: After towel drying the hair, put a few drops of rosemary oil in the palm of your hand. Coat your brush or comb with the oil by rubbing it in your palm, and comb the hair with it. Rosemary oil is very good for the hair, and the strong green scent fades as the hair dries. As it is a volatile oil, it does not leave the hair oily. You can mix the rosemary oil with either lavender or basil oil.

Hot Oil Treatment for Damaged Hair: This is to be used before shampooing, once a week. Simply warm a little olive or coconut oil and apply to the scalp; work well through the hair to the tips. Wrap head in a warm damp towel (dip it in hot water and wring out) and then in a large shower cap to prevent loss of heat. If the towel cools down, reheat it. Leave on for 20 minutes and then shampoo well.

Yogurt Conditioner for Dry and Flyaway Hair: Whisk together four tablespoons of natural, unflavored yogurt and one egg. Apply after shampoo and massage thoroughly into the hair, leaving on at least five minutes. Rinse out thoroughly with plenty of lukewarm water (not too hot, or you'll end up with cooked egg in your hair!)

Herbal Rinses

Hair can be kept soft and shiny with herbal rinses. Pour the infusion over the hair after washing it and rinsing thoroughly. It's even better to use a bowl to catch the infusion in as it runs off the hair, and to pour it over the hair several times. Regular use of some of these infusions will add tints and highlights to the hair.

For Brunette Hair: Use an infusion of rosemary, sage, parsley or catnip. Rinsing with a pot of black tea will darken the hair if used over a period of time, and a tablespoonful of lemon juice in the final rinse will eventually add highlights.

For Blonde Hair: Use an infusion of chamomile or marigold. A tablespoonful of lemon juice in the final rinse will help lighten the hair over time, but also tends to be drying.

For All Hair Colors And Types: Yarrow, catnip, nettle and parsley make excellent rinses to improve shine and condition.

Beautifying Bath

Herbal Baths: Make a small drawstring bag from unbleached calico or another natural, loose-weave fabric. Fill with the bath ingredients, draw closed and hang the bag over the tap where the bathwater will run through it. Or else just toss the bag into the bath, let the water run over it, and swoosh it around.

Astringent: Lemon grass, sage, yarrow, nettle, comfrey root.
Oily Skin Cleansing Bath: Lemon grass, geranium leaves, yarrow.
Another Oily Skin Bath: Lemon grass, mint, yarrow, witch hazel or rosemary, lemon verbena, geranium leaves, lemon grass, lovage.
Moisturizing Bath: Equal parts chamomile and rose petals.
Skin Softening Bath: Linden (lime flowers), rose petals, elder flowers, honeysuckle flowers.
Skin Toning Bath: Lavender, yarrow, mint, thyme.
Jeanne Rose's Aphrodisiac Bath for Girls: Equal quantities rose buds, acacia flowers, orange buds, jasmine flowers, bay leaf, rosemary, myrtle, thyme.

Other great ingredients for bath bags are ground oatmeal, orris root powder, ground almonds, dried milk powder. All will soften and smooth the skin.

You can make your own bath formula from herbs available to you in the following categories:
For Oily Skin: Rosemary, yarrow, lemon verbena, white willow bark, lemon grass, geranium leaves, strawberry leaves, mint, orange leaves, lemon leaves, pennyroyal, patchouli, lavender, eucalyptus leaves, comfrey root, thyme, witch hazel leaves (or decoction).

For Dry Skin: Chamomile, rose petals, rose leaves, orange flowers, elder flowers, clover flowers, fennel, honeysuckle, linden (lime flowers).

Soap Balls (Washing Balls)

The advantage of these little balls is that you can make them to suit your own skin and purposes, and they can be made out of all the little soap scraps that end up in the bottom of the soap dish. I keep my soap scraps in an empty ice-cream container till I have enough, or if I can't wait I grate up a cake of pure unscented soap to add to the scraps.

Oatmeal and Honey Soap: Put a cupful of grated soap scraps into a saucepan, add enough cold water to cover, and let stand for 24 hours. Add about a tablespoon of honey and simmer gently, stirring now and then, until the soap has melted. The mixture should be just a little thicker than thickened cream. Take off the heat and stir in a tablespoon of glycerin and about ¼ cup of finely ground oatmeal, mixing well. Add a few drops of any essential oil; I like orange or vanilla. The mixture should be malleable enough to work into balls. Cover your hands with ground oatmeal and shape. Put aside for about a month in a dry place before using. It's best to wrap the balls in unbleached calico or cheesecloth until they're hardened.

Oatmeal and Chamomile Soap
Make the recipe called for above, but use chamomile infusion instead of water. Dry the chamomile flowers used in the infusion and pulverize. When you add the oatmeal, include the pulverized chamomile as part of the ¼ cup.

Herb Soap: Pulverize finely 2-3 tablespoons of dried herb. Put a cupful of grated soap scraps into a china basin and set the basin in a pan of boiling water. Add a little boiling water to help the melting process and let the pan of water simmer until the soap has become a gel. Add the dried herb gradually and mix well. Let cool enough to handle and form into balls, or pour into a mold (cut-down milk cartons are good). Let it harden for a few weeks before using; the scent of the herb will improve and increase with age. You can add a few drops of essential oil to the mixture.

Suitable herbs to add to this soap:

  • Chamomile
  • Lime flower (linden)
  • Rose petals (and use rosewater instead of plain water to soften)
  • Mint (eau-de-cologne mint is lovely)
  • Thyme
  • Orris root powder

You can also add dried milk powder, powdered meals such as oatmeal and almond meal, or resins such as powdered benzoin. Just be sure everything is finely powdered with no sharp twigs, leaves, etc.

Bath Salts

You can make your own bath salts simply and economically, and formulate your own scents from essential oils for therapeutic or beautifying purposes. Here are four basic recipes to which you can add essential oils (or perfume) and food coloring. Be sure to add the coloring drop by drop and to stir well after every drop! It takes only one or two drops to color a cupful of salts.

Bath Salts 1: Mix 2/3 cup sea salt (ground to even sized crystals) with 1/3 cup Epsom salts. Add ½ teaspoon glycerin.

Bath Salts 2: Mix kitchen salt and bicarbonate of soda in equal quantities.

Bath Salts 3: Mix one cup Epsom salts, four drops glycerin.

Bath Salts 4: Grind washing soda crystals to small, evenly sized crystals.

Bubbling Bath Salts: Combine several drops essential oil with ½ cup cornstarch. Add ½ cup citric acid and one cup bicarbonate of soda. This mixture will froth and bubble when added to water.

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