Dandruff Fighting Conditioner with Calendula and Shea

Dandruff has always been my Achilles heel when it comes to natural hair care. Before I made the switch I used a shampoo whose active ingredient was coal tar. That stuff worked wonders, but given that coal tar has a rating of 10 on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (the worst rating possible) and is a known human carcinogen… Umm, let’s not put that stuff on my body, okay?

I’ve found a number of natural alternatives that work, but the hard part is finding something that works without having some other down side. Oil treatments, for instance, are amazing. But I have yet to find any sort of natural shampoo that can easily wash the excess oil out of my hair, and as a result I often end up wandering around with greasy hair for a few days. And while I’m sure my hair and scalp enjoy that, the rest of me is not a fan.

This conditioner has been my answer to that problem. I needed something intensely moisturizing for my scalp that could still be washed out of my hair without difficulty, and oh my but this stuff has delivered. And like my All in One Rosemary Mint Conditioner/Shampoo, it also has the power to clean your hair while it’s working it’s moisturizing magic. I call that a major win.

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This conditioner comes out thick, creamy, and nourishing

About Calendula Oil

Calendula is a bright yellow flower related to the common marigold. It is used in all sorts of herbal skin soothing treatments. Rosemary Gladstar says of it:

“[Calendula] is a powerful vulnerary, healing the body by promoting cell repair, and acts as an antiseptic, keeping infection from occurring in injuries. Calendula is most often used externally for bruises, burns sores, and skin ulcers.”

(Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, p. 318)

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Calendula oil, infusing on my window sill

Sounds pretty lovely to me! Now, in order to make those flowers into a conditioner, we’re going to need to infuse them in some oil first. I recommend making a largish batch, as it’s useful for many different things. Here are a couple of methods:

The Stove Top Method

  1. Fill a heat proof jar roughly halfway with dried calendula petals. The measurements do not need to be exact. Fill it up the rest of the way with olive oil or another light carrier oil.
  2. Place this jar in a small saucepan with a few inches of water to make a makeshift double boiler. Heat on low for at least an hour, ideally longer. Make sure to check periodically that the water hasn’t all evaporated.
  3. Once your oil is sufficiently infused, remove it from heat and strain into a container for storage and store in a dark place.

The Slow Infused Method

This method takes longer, but is often preferred as some theorize that too much heat can destroy some of the healing goodies that we’re trying to extract. I have used both methods without a problem, so if you’re in a hurry go ahead and use the one above, but while this one takes longer it is also delightfully low tech and requires significantly less baby sitting if you’re willing to wait.

  1. As above, fill a jar halfway with calendula petals, then fill the rest of the way with olive oil (or oil of choice).
  2. Seal up the jar and store in a warm-ish place for four to six weeks, shaking the jar periodically.
  3. Once the infusion is complete, strain out the flowers and store.

If you don’t want to bother with all this infusing business, yes, you may simply use olive oil in this recipe instead. But if you’re looking to ditch the dandruff, I do recommend giving this a try as an extra boost of healing. You can also purchase pre-infused calendula oil if you prefer.

Now for the recipe itself.

Ingredients

  • 4g calendula infused olive oil
  • 2g shea butter
  • 6g emulsifying wax
  • 80g just-boiled water
  • 10g vegetable glycerine
  • 10 drops cedarwood essential oil
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil
  • broad spectrum preservative of choice (I used 2g of NataPres)

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To make:

  1. Heat calendula oil, shea butter, and emulsifying wax in a heatproof bowl set over a small pot containing a few inches of water. (Or use a double boiler if you have one.)
  2. Once the oils are melted, remove from heat and whisk in the essential oils, followed by the water and glycerine. The mixture should emulsify immediately. If using NataPres as your preservative, add that now. (If you’re using a different preservative you may need to add it at a different stage in the recipe. Make sure to follow the instructions for your specific preservative.)
  3. To help the mixture cool a bit faster, I like to stick the bowl in the fridge for a bit while I do some clean up, giving it an occasional whisk. It should thicken fairly quickly this way.
  4. Once cool, bottle, label, and enjoy!

To Use

You can, of course use this like any other conditioner, massaging  a bit into wet hair in the shower and then rinsing it out. However, since I’m looking to intensively moisturize my scalp as much as anything, I like to massage it into my hair and scalp when it’s dry and leave it for several hours or overnight. This has proven very effective, and it rinses out quite easily. Take that, oil treatments!

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Green Tea and Lavender Face Mask

Summer is a time of year when I crave face masks. For most of the year I can’t be bothered with them; it’s not that they’re difficult to make, but carving out time to spend 10-20 minutes with mud on my face often feels like work.

But in the summer, when things are hot and sweaty and my skin has been clogged with lots and lots of sunscreen, spending twenty minutes with some nice, cooling, cleansing clay on my face sounds like one of the most heavenly things on the planet.

 

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Ah, green mud. Doesn’t it look lovely?

That’s how I felt this morning, so I whipped up this lovely mask full of soothing goodies for happy skin. It’s loosely based on my Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment, with the added bonus of some kaolin clay and green tea. Lavender is incredibly healing, and green tea is packed with antioxidants that may help fight aging and repair damage from too much sun. Because who doesn’t enjoy painting their face to look like the Wicked Witch of the West and getting some happy skin to boot?

Green Tea and Lavender Face Mask

Ingredients

  • 1.5 tsp kaolin clay
  • 1/2 tsp aloe vera gel
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp matcha powder
  • 1/2 tsp water
  • 1-3 drops lavender essential oil

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Gently spread it across your face and let sit for 10-15 minutes, then wipe clean with a damp washcloth. Follow with a light lotion to keep your skin from drying out.

The Un-Blanket, or How to Stay Cool Without AC

It has been stupidly hot around here lately. Maybe you’ve heard? Even for those of us without fires in our front yards, the heat has been rough. Monday broke a few records, and even after dark it was still 100+ and 5% humidity in some places.

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My poor azaleas got fried after two days of insane heat 😦

I don’t know about you, but that’s not my definition of fun. Fire is essentially a season here, so much so that it’s somewhat concerning when we have a summer where half the state doesn’t go up in flames. Why? Because the less things burn now, the more fuel there is for next time. The worst wildfires are almost always in places that haven’t burned for a long time.

So knowing that this is not just the beginning of an insanely hot time of year, but also a season where things literally catch fire, it seems to be a good time to talk about ways to escape the heat.

The general rule you’ll hear in the green living circles is “cool the person, not the room.” That’s all well and good to a point, but when it’s 100+ outside and nearly 90 inside, some of that energy sucking air conditioning sounds mighty appealing. Heat and I have never gotten along very well, so it’s perhaps lucky for Mother Earth that AC is simply not something I have access to. Less lucky for me, however.

Thankfully, I stumbled across this little trick, which I am hereby dubbing the “un-blanket.” It uses no electricity, is surprisingly effective, and the only materials you need are a towel and some water.

How to make an “un-blanket”

Before we start, it should be noted that this may not work in extremely humid heat. It might even make things worse, though I can’t say I’ve tested it. But if you’re in a hot, dry, literally on fire kind of heatwave, this might be your savior. If you’re worried about the humidity issue, see how you feel after taking a shower. If that cools you off, bingo! But if it’s humid enough that showers just make you feel more sticky and gross, you might want to stay away.

Step 1: Moisten your towel

It doesn’t need to be sopping wet, but decently damp across the whole surface and on both sides. There are several ways you can achieve this; I tend to give it a quick spritz with cold water in my shower, though it’s easy to go overboard this way. You can also fill a squirt bottle with water and squirt down the whole thing on both sides. This takes longer, but offers more precision.

Step 2: Drape the towel across yourself

Wearing as little clothing as possible, drape the towel across yourself, making sure it’s touching your skin. It should feel cooling very quickly. I usually do this lying on a flat surface (usually I do it at night, when the thermometer just won’t drop even after the sun goes down).

That’s it! You can keep it on you as long as you need to, and if it starts to dry out you can give it another quick spritz if you need more cooling power. More water tends to mean it cools you off more, so try to get a feel for how much water you like before you go overboard.

So, why does this work?

We have all likely felt at times that water has the capacity to cool things down. This relates to some simple principles of thermodynamics. For starters, scientifically speaking “cold” doesn’t actually exist. There is only heat or the absence of heat. Things can be exothermic (emitting heat) or endothermic (absorbing heat). When you touch an ice cube, it feels cold because you are emitting more heat than it is, and the ice is absorbing some of that heat from you.

The same principle applies here, except with the added benefit of evaporation. The water takes away heat from your body, and then evaporates into the air, cooling you more completely. This is the same idea behind sweating, and it’s also why this may not work in situations with high humidity. The water can still absorb the heat, but if the air is already too saturated for it to evaporate it will just… stay there. It may feel good for the first few minutes, but after a time you’ll end up covered with water that’s just as overheated as you are.

Is this a perfect cure all? No. For one thing, it really only works when you can afford to lie around and get nothing done. (Or are willing to get things done while wrapped in a damp towel.) But I will say this has been pretty much the only reason I’ve been able to sleep the last few nights, and it helps mitigate that horrible feeling of waking up to find you’re already sweating.

Ah, summer. Why do people think you’re so glamorous again?

 

Three Ingredient Mango Lassi

Yesterday I found myself driving inland from the coast, an activity which is usually a minor nightmare because of traffic alone. But yesterday was extra special. Here in Southern California we were treated to an excessive heat warning, which by the coast meant somewhere in the high 80s to low 90s. I found this somewhat (sarcastically) adorable, since as I drove further east I got to watch the thermometer climb up to 111. On top of that I got the lovely privilege of navigating past a roadside brush fire along the way.

My response to all this? “Well, I guess it’s officially summer!”

Goodness but I have lived here too long.

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Mango and yogurt make for a beautifully refreshing combination on days with record breaking heat.

Despite my nonchalance toward brush fires, I am surprisingly non-nonchalant towards heat. You would think that having spent my whole life in the land of perpetual summer I would be used to it; alas, this is not the case.

Needless to say after this somewhat depressingly summery excursion, I found myself in desperate need of something cool and refreshing. Air conditioning is not a thing that exists in my house, so when it’s 100+ outside and a chilly 87 inside, frequent showers and cold beverages are pretty much your only hope.

Thankfully, I was saved by a mango lassi.

For those who aren’t in the know, lassis are Indian yogurt drinks, generally blended with fruit. They tend to be cool, creamy, and refreshing; they’re a real life saver when you live in a place where triple digit temperatures and firestorms are the norm. (Or monsoons, I imagine.)

Some recipes call for added spices and sweeteners, but I went for simple here. Who wants to juggle a ton of ingredients when it’s too hot to think straight? Not me, and I usually love that sort of thing. So here you are, a lovely, refreshing drink that contains nothing but mango, yogurt, and water. It’s so luxurious and lovely on its own, I doubt you’ll miss the other ingredients either.

Three Ingredient Mango Lassi

Makes 1-2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 cups frozen mango chunks
  • 1 cup full fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water, or more for a thinner drink (If you’re feeling fancy, you can use a splash of rose water as part of this)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!

Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment

It’s that time of year again. You know, the one where I go outside and immediately burn to a crisp. It’s enough to make me almost believe the people who insist I’m a vampire, even in spite of my love of garlic.

But the one weird thing about being me is that a sunburn, while certainly painful, is also an opportunity. Because I am my own guinea pig, after all, and now I’m free to experiment. (Insert evil laugh here.)

Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment

I’m rather fond of this experiment. I didn’t think of it until day 3 of the sunburn, but it still hurt like heck this morning and now… it doesn’t. So I imagine it should be similarly helpful if you think to use it sooner. My skin is delightfully soft and far happier than I would have expected after only one treatment, so much so that I might consider trying this more regularly just as a moisturizer.

It’s also delightfully simple, with only three ingredients, and as you will see all you have to do is mix it together. It’s so uncomplicated, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.

About the Ingredients

Lavender essential oil is incredible stuff. It has some amazing skin soothing and healing properties, and it’s especially good for burns. I keep a bottle of it in my kitchen for exactly that reason. Sunburns tend to be a bit more persistent than kitchen burns and I’ve had poor luck with it on its own, but mixed with the other two ingredients here the lavender oil works its magic pretty well. You could leave it out if you don’t have any on hand, but it may not work quite as well. Seriously, get some. It’s awesome.

Honey is antibacterial, and as such it has been used to treat wounds for centuries. It’s also a humectant, which means it has the power to  draw moisture into your skin. If you’re the sort who enjoys reading PubMed articles, here’s a study expounding on the wonderfully healing substance that is honey. It’s actually a pretty interesting read if you’re nerdy like me.

Aloe Vera is also an age old sunburn treatment. Science also backs up the folk wisdom here, showing that aloe can help speed healing of burns. It’s also a common ingredient in moisturizers and such, as it tends to be something our skin rather enjoys. If you can get it straight from the plant, great. Otherwise you can buy a bottle of it, but make sure it’s the pure stuff! The ingredients should be aloe vera gel and a preservative or two, nothing else. (It is highly perishable, so aloe gel with no preservative is a bit suspect as well.) If it’s bright green, that’s not what you want. Often I see bottles enthusiastically labeled “100% GEL!!!” which means, um, nothing. Double check the ingredients before you buy.

Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix all of the above together. This recipe should make enough for several treatments, depending on the size of your burn.

To use, gently dab this mixture on the burned area, coating it completely. Let it soak in as long as possible. Warning, it will be sticky! Once you decide you’ve gotten enough out of it (or in my case, once you decide you want to be able to use your arms again) rinse clean with cool or tepid water and pat dry with a towel or washcloth. Repeat as necessary, and store in the fridge between treatments.

As another helpful note, don’t be afraid of getting this in your hair, especially if your sunburn is near your hairline or on your scalp. (Ouch!) It will rinse out quite easily in the shower, and chances are your hair will quite enjoy it too.

All in One Rosemary Mint Conditioner/Shampoo

Have you ever had one of those happy accidents where you create something you expect to be a total flop, and it somehow turns out to be amazing?

This was one of those. Initially, I was going for a conditioner that was both deeply moisturizing and incredibly easy to rinse out of your hair. I also wanted it to be something I could apply to my scalp to help with dandruff and not worry about turning into a grease monster for the ensuing week. I got both of those things, and I love it for that.

What I didn’t expect is that this stuff is actually capable of cleaning my hair.  Yes, you heard me. I can slather this stuff on my whole head, roots to tips, and just rinse it out. My hair is both cleaner and softer than it’s been in a very long time. I’m on my second batch and I think I’m in love.

Ingredients

Here’s a bit about some of the cool ingredients in this recipe.

Emulsifying Wax

Emulsifying wax is some pretty weird stuff, but generally in a good way. No, I can’t point to the Emulsifying Wax Tree that grows Emulsifying Wax to be harvested and sold through some sustainable fair trade organization. Would I prefer something like that? Yes. But emulsifying wax does a very specific thing which is hard to achieve in nature.

It emulsifies. What’s that, you say? Essentially, it’s convincing oil and water to mix, and you may recall from elementary school science that these two substances aren’t exactly best friends. And yes, it’s POSSIBLE to create an emulsion without e-wax, but it’s a huge pain in the you-know-where and will probably separate if you let it sit for too long.

Oil Portion
Emulsifying wax and oil, before melting.

I don’t know the exact chemistry involved in what e-wax does (Note to self: future research topic) but as far as readily apparent observations, it essentially makes the oil want to grab onto any nearby water like its been lost in the Sahara for weeks on end. This essentially renders the oil somewhat water soluble.

Now the cool thing in this recipe is that there is enough emulsifying wax to emulsify more than just the oil in the conditioner. This means that once it comes in contact with the oils on your scalp, it makes those water-soluble too. That makes it so you can just rinse those oils away with plain water, and your scalp and hair will be nicely moisturized to boot. Cool, eh?

Castor Oil

I chose castor oil because it’s rumored to help encourage hair growth. I recently lost a lot of my hair after a long unnoticed case of vitamin D deficiency, and even though it’s coming back now I’m all for encouraging it to get a move on. Castor oil is also incredibly thick, and very nourishing for your hair. I quite like it in this recipe, but if you don’t have any on hand you could easily switch it with more olive oil, or else some other oil that your hair might like.

Emulsion
Hey look, an emulsion! It will remain quite runny while it’s warm, but will gradually thicken as it cools and more so over the next few days.

The other things in this recipe are pretty flexible. You can’t really make this without e-wax, but the oils, essential oils, and glycerine could easily be swapped for other things. The main thing I will stress is that the oil:water:e-wax ratio must be kept the same, or you might end up with a much greasier end result on your hands. (Though you could possibly up the e-wax for more cleaning power if you wish.)

The Recipe

A quick note on measurements: I measured this in grams because grams are far more useful for the math involved in creating lotion and conditioner recipes. Maybe that’s un-American of me. Too bad. I highly recommend that you consider using grams as well, but if you’re metric phobic and/or afraid of using a scale I’ve also included volume measurements. Note that these measurements may not translate as well if you are substituting ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2g (1 1/2 tsp) Castor Oil
  • 4g (1 1/2 tsp) Olive Oil
  • 1g (1/4 tsp) Vitamin E Oil
  • 4g (1 1/2 tsp) Emulsifying Wax (I use this kind)
  • 80g (1/3 cup) just boiled water
  • 10g (2.5 tsp) Vegetable Glycerine
  • 6 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
  • 15 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
  • Broad Spectrum Preservative*
  1. Measure out all the oils and e-wax into a small heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a small saucepan with an inch or two of water in it. (This effectively makes a double boiler.) Heat on low until the wax is completely melted.
  2. Remove from heat, and add water and glycerine, whisking constantly until a creamy emulsion is formed. It will stay quite thin until it cools.
  3. When slightly cooler, whisk in the essential oils. Pour into a pump bottle or squeezy bottle and refrigerate to set. Depending on the kind of emulsifying wax you use, it may continue to thicken over the next few days, so don’t worry if it seems runny at first. You may still use it immediately.

To Use

You can of course squirt this into wet hair in the shower as one does with any other conditioner, but personally I like to massage it into my hair and scalp while it’s dry and let it soak in for an hour or two or overnight. (However much I have time for, really.) I find this beneficial for extra moisturizing power as well as for fighting dandruff, which was my main goal. If you don’t have dandruff however, you will probably still love this conditioner!

*Note on Broad Spectrum Preservatives: Depending on your preservative, you will need to add different quantities at different points in the recipe. Some should be added to the water part before emulsifying, others go into the oil, and still others are added at the end. Read the usage instructions for the preservative you are using and follow those.

Before you ask, yes, preservatives are necessary. Bacteria and mold grow incredibly quickly in recipes containing water, and you need something to keep them at bay. Before you run away in protest, however, there are thankfully some relatively hippie-friendly options. Personally I use NataPres, which is a mixture of plant extracts and fermented radish roots. It seems to be decently effective, though you should do your own research. If you’d like to learn more about nature-derived preservatives, the Nerdy Farm Wife has an excellent article here.

 

Magical Cold Remedy Tea

Imagine if you will a sunlit hillside in rural Greece, lined with terraced farms and winding dirt roads. In the distance, the Mediterranean is visible and the wind carries traces of sea air as it sweeps through the area. On top of this hill is an Orthodox convent that has been a part of the landscape for centuries.

It was in the midst of this scene that a wayfaring college student was welcomed inside by the sisters. (Okay, I was in a large group of wayfaring college students who were there to study the classics, but isn’t it more romantic to envision that I arrived alone, having trekked through the mountains on foot?) As we sat in a circle, the sisters told us about their lives at the convent and offered us tea and Turkish delight. The sweet, jellied candy was traditional, they said; historically visitors really did have to trek across those mountains, and the sugar and calories provided vital nutrition after a long and harrowing journey.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A courtyard of a Greek monastery. A wonderful place for tea, don’t you think?

But the tea… Oh the tea! Those lovely sisters have no idea how it changed my life, or that they might have been the ones who prompted my early forays into herbal medicine.  That tea was amazing. It managed to be both warming and cooling at the same time, and it was delicately spiced and lightly sweetened with honey. Several people asked one of the sisters what kind of tea it was (even her fellows were as curious as I was) and she replied each time that it was mint, with a touch of cinnamon and clove. The mint and honey were both grown/collected from their own farm. The clove and cinnamon were luxurious additions since they hardly grow in that area, but the resulting tea was heavenly.

Fast forward a year. In that time I have returned home from my adventures in Greece and already meandered my way back to the European continent, this time to Paris. I have also succeeded in getting sick. A lot. (I blame the Parisian metro. I love that metro system, but it also harbors many, many germs my American immune system had not yet learned to fight.) In the month of October, I came down with three separate colds, the last of which grew into full blown pneumonia AND conjunctivitis. (Fun times. Really.)

During this time, as I was lying in bed coughing my lungs out and unable to breathe through my nose, I thought of that wonderful tea back in Greece. I had half-heartedly attempted herbal cold remedies before, usually involving ginger, lemon, and honey, but none of them were successful enough for my liking. As I remembered that lovely Greek tea, it occurred to me to wonder what mint would be like in that mix. It would give the beverage more body, certainly, and mint had antiviral properties too, right? Sure, mixing the hot flavors of ginger with the cool ones of mint could be weird, but it worked with the cinnamon and clove… Continue reading