Glossary of Natural Ingredients

Agar - Extracted from various seaweeds, agar is used as an emulsifier and emollient in cosmetics as well as a substitute for gelatin in foods. Look for it in your health food store.

Aloe Vera - A yellowish, sticky substance found in the leaves of the aloe vera plant. Noted for healing wounds and burns, aloe vera also soothes and moisturizes skin. Readily available in both gel and liquid form, aloe vera can be found in health food and specialty stores.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid s - Appearing naturally in fruits such as coconuts, apples, citrus fruits and black currants, alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, exfoliate and moisturize the skin. High in glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy's have become a popular ingredient among cosmetic manufacturers who regularly include synthetic AHAs in wrinkle creams, masks and toners.

Antioxidants - These substances have received a lot of press lately, mainly because of their ability to counteract the destructive effects of free radicals in the body. The most common use of antioxidants, however, is as a preservative. Synthetic antioxidants, such as BHA and BHT, are often included by cosmetic manufacturers to keep their products from spoiling, but natural antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E can be added to cosmetics as a safer alternative to the synthetic variety.

Aromatic Waters - These scented waters are used to treat a variety of skin ailments, from acne to burns. A byproduct of distilling essential oils, the most common aromatic water is the familiar rosewater. Aromatic waters are expensive and difficult to find. Rose and orange waters are often carried by Indian markets and liquor stores, but are usually of inferior quality.

Beeswax - Primarily used as an emulsifier, beeswax is obtained from the honeycomb of virgin bees. Because it is insoluble in water, beeswax is a great addition to skin creams and lip balms. For the highest-quality beeswax, purchase it directly from a beekeeper.

Bentonite Clay - This white, moisture-absorbing clay is found in the Midwestern United States and is sometimes called Indian Healing Clay. Used in blemish masks, bentonite is reported to draw poisons and toxins out of the skin. It is carried by most health food stores and some drugstores.

Carrier Oils - Vegetable oils are used to dilute and distribute or "carry" a plant's essential oils. Although essential oils don't spoil, some vegetable oils do. To insure quality, add a bit of vitamin E to your blends as a natural preservative. Common carrier oils include almond, avocado, grapeseed, hazelnut, jojoba, olive and sesame oils.

Castile Soap - Originally made from olive oil, the term “Castile” now refers to any mild soap. Although modern Castile soaps are widely available, they can be very alkaline to the skin and hair.

Cocoa Butter - Known for it's delicious chocolaty aroma, this fat expressed from the roasted seeds of the cocoa plant softens and lubricates the skin. Often used in sun, skin and massage creams, it melts to an oily consistency at body temperature. Cocoa butter can be found in most drugstores.

Cornflower or Corn Flour - An ingredient often listed in British and Australian cosmetic formulas, cornflower is simply another name for ordinary cornstarch.

Exfoliators - Any ingredient which promotes the removal of dead skin cells. Natural exfoliators include oatmeal, cornmeal and almond meal.

Glycerin - A sweet, syrupy by-product of soap making, glycerin has been used for thousands of years as a humectant, emollient and lubricant in skin care preparations. Available at most pharmacies.

Henna - This ancient dye comes from the henna shrub and has been used for centuries to color and condition hair. True henna produces a red dye, but today's henna products are mixed with other natural ingredients such as indigo or coffee to produce a variety of shades. Unlike chemical dyes which penetrate the hair shaft, henna wraps around each strand, effectively sealing it with a reflective coating. It is non-toxic.

Indigo - One of the oldest known non-toxic dyes, indigo is prepared from several plants native to Bengal, Java and Guatemala. Producing a dark blue powder with coppery overtones, indigo has been used for centuries to create color cosmetics and hair dye.

Kaolin Clay - Also known as china clay, this fine white mineral clay is used in the manufacture of many powdered and opaque cosmetics. It can also be used as an oil absorbing face mask. More difficult to find than bentonite clay.

Kohl - Used by the Egyptians to line the eye, kohl is reputed to protect the wearer from disease and evil spirits. Originally made from the ash of frankincense, kohl was later made from powdered antimony, a metallic element often containing lead, arsenic, phosphates and other impurities. Kohls containing lead have been banned in the United States and Great Britain.

Lecithin - This naturally occurring antioxidant and emollient is often used in soaps, skin creams and hair preparations. Found in egg yolk and soy oil, lecithin is high in the B vitamins choline and inositol. Liquid lecithin can be found in most health food stores.

Orris Root - Commonly found in craft shops, powdered orris root is used in sachets, aromatic dusting powders and dry shampoos. Derived from the rootstock of the Florentine Iris, orris is also used as a fixative in homemade potpourri.

Royal Jelly - Rumored as having the ability to restore the skin's youthfulness, royal jelly is the highly nutritious substance secreted in the throats of worker bees. A valuable component in Chinese medicine, royal jelly contains a full range of amino acids, minerals, enzymes and vitamins A, B, C and E. Look for it in Chinese herb shops.

Silica - Critical in the development of strong nails as well as healthy skin and hair, silica is found abundantly in nature. Alfalfa, beets, soybeans, whole grains, green leafy vegetables and the herb horsetail are good sources of this important mineral.

Soapwort - A perennial herb used widely during the Middle Ages, soapwort gets it's name because the leaves form a lather when bruised. Check with herb dealers for availability.

Tannic Acid - Natural tannic acid can be found in the bark of oak trees as well as in cherries, tea and coffee. Used as an astringent, tannic acid may tint the hair and skin brown when applied topically.

Volatile Oils - Another name for essential oils, volatile oils are responsible for producing the aroma in certain plants and flowers. Volatile oils stimulate the tissue they come in contact with and can arouse or soothe, depending on their source and concentration.

Witch Hazel - Used in many synthetic and natural cosmetic preparations, witch hazel is valued for its astringent properties. An old Native American remedy for insect bites, burns and irritated skin, witch hazel tones the skin and is good for oily complexions. Available at health food and drug stores.

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Kim Erickson.
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