There is a glut of beauty products out there that feed off the complexes, or rather the complexions, of a nation. Each product promises to remedy at least one of our many physical imperfections, inviting us to indulge our vain hope for flawless beauty. So we buy, try, test and often discard every new lotion and potion, hoping this will be the one to leave us blemish free or wrinkle free. But whether they actually improve our skin is anybody's guess. We just keep paying out and praying.
Pierre Jean Cousin, an acupuncturist and herbalist at Kensington Therapy Centre, empathises. "I am not critical of cosmetic products, just of the profit margins of the manufacturers. No one has to spend a small fortune in expensive beauty products, as there are many natural remedies for beauty and cosmetic use." Which is why Cousin has written a book, Natural Recipes for Perfect Skin, which includes recipes for cleansers, toners and masks using vegetables, fruits and general kitchen condiments.
The revitalising and nourishing effects of applying such fruits and vegetables to the skin seem to have passed us by. But Cousin claims their use is nothing new: Cleopatra and her contemporaries were said to employ olive oil and milk to help keep their skin in shape long before Nivea. But what Cousin does do that many have not is show us how we can use the items in the fruit bowl to stir up some reviving and restoring skin treats. And, as the publishers claim, these recipes are good enough to eat: the decadent banana, double cream and honey anti-ageing mask sounds sumptuous enough to serve up as a dinner party delight.
Many of the fruits we eat on a day-to-day basis have excellent benefits when applied to the skin. The variety of acids found in fruit (including malic, glycolic, citric and tatric) and the high concentrations of vitamins and minerals can benefit all skin types when used frequently. The crushed flesh or juice of fruit has a much milder action than many cosmetic products, Cousin says, acting in synergy without dangerous side effects or reactions. The gentle peel- ing action of the masks removes dead skin, excess fatty deposits and blackheads, as well as erasing faint lines and wrinkles. Also, by increasing the acidity on the skin's surface, they inhibit the growth of bacteria, help to regulate the secretion of sebum, unclog and tighten pores, and tone and hydrate the skin.
Recipes based on fresh vegetables have an anti-inflammatory action, which is particularly beneficial for those with sensitive, damaged or inflamed skin. And because the properties in vegetables promote healing by providing the damaged epidermis with lots of vitamin A, in addition to vital minerals and trace elements, Cousin's masks are very useful for treating sunburn and skin allergies or those sudden outbreaks of acne and eczema.
Cousin also combines the healing and restoring properties of fruit and vegetables with those of herbs, oils and hydrolats (floral waters). Herbs – both fresh and dried – have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and Cousin details various infusions that can be used to encourage the cleansing, toning and healing process. Camomile flower, for example, is the best anti-inflammatory and should be used on frequently irritated skin, while thyme has a strong anti-bacterial effect and is useful as a skin wash for acne or infected eczema. Essential oils such as lemon, lavender, cedarwood and tea tree have also been included for their nourishing and healing properties, and Cousin uses them to make gentle daily cleansing lotions such as rosewater, honey and lemon lotion, and barley and rosemary lotion.
We often pick and mix our skincare products, unaware of what chemicals and other extras we are smoothing over our lines, lumps and bumps (something of a double standard considering we obsess about the additives and chemicals in food). This is why the collection of recipes by Cousin is so attractive – it is all so unprocessed and raw. The list of ingredients is usually minimal and always natural, using cheap, organic and holistic alternatives to skin care and repair. So you are bound to reap some benefits – even if it's just smelling good enough to eat.
'Natural Recipes for Perfect Skin' by Pierre Jean Cousin, Quadrille, £7.99Reuse content