Our intuition might tell us we should use products that dry out our skin if we’re dealing with excess oil or acne. But even acne-prone skin needs to stay hydrated to be healthy. Astringent products marketed as acne treatments typically have intense oil-fighting ingredients. The problem is they will often go too far, resulting in overly dry and damaged skin. Instead of using these types of products, there are milder herbal alternatives that will help balance oily skin without the over-drying effects.
What is an astringent?
An astringent is a substance that draws water out of tissues, shrinks pores and tightens skin temporarily. Astringent products are often used after cleansing and before applying a serum or moisturizer, similar to a toner. But they’re not the same.
Astringent vs. Toner
Products labeled as astringent are often confused with toners. Astringent products are meant to remove excess oil and usually contain alcohol, citric acid, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to accomplish this. The problem is that these ingredients are harsh on the skin and can cause irritation, inflammation, dryness and redness, especially on sensitive skin. They’re usually marketed as treatments for acne-prone or oily skin. But astringents can even make oily skin irritated or cause it to produce more oil to compensate for the drying effect.
In contrast, toners usually do not contain ingredients that dry out your skin. Instead, they typically aim to cleanse pores, slough off dead skin cells, calm irritation, and balance your skin’s pH. Toners help prepare your skin for your serum or moisturizer and can be used by all skin types. They can also contain ingredients that help hydrate your skin, instead of drying them out like an astringent.
What are herbal astringents?
Since using chemical astringents can be over-drying and irritating, most skin types will be better off without using products that contain them. But if you’re looking for a safer way to manage your oily skin, there are alternatives. Natural astringent ingredients are much gentler on your skin and can get rid of excess oil without disturbing hydration levels. Many herbs have astringent qualities and can safely be used by most skin types. At Nurture My Body, we incorporate high-quality astringent herbs into many products to help naturally balance the skin’s sebum.
The following is a list of herbs with astringent properties that we love for their gentle yet effective nature.
The calendula plant, also known as pot marigold, has bright orange or yellow flowers and is native to the Mediterranean region. Traditionally, it’s been used internally and externally as medicine and as a culinary ingredient to add color and flavor to many dishes. More recently, it’s been used to treat burns, bruises and wounds due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In skin care, calendula is a mild astringent and an emollient, helping to soften and soothe irritated skin.
The cypress is part of a large group of evergreen trees with needle-like leaves and cones. The oil has been used for many years to treat respiratory ailments, heal wounds, and as a calming scent in aromatherapy. The plant parts have been used as incense for purification of the air. Cypress is also believed to have many other beneficial properties, including anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic (reduces muscle spasms). As an astringent and anti-bacterial for the skin, the oil is commonly used to treat acne.
Elder, also known as Sambucus Nigra, is a deciduous tree whose parts have been used as medicine for thousands of years. The elderberry is known to be a powerful immune-boosting tool during cold and flu season. The flowers are used in traditional medicine as a diuretic, laxative and diaphoretic, which means it causes you to sweat to encourage the release of toxins. As a skincare ingredient, elderflowers possess antioxidant and astringent qualities and are also high in vital nutrients like vitamins, bioflavonoids and essential fatty acids.
Nicknamed appropriately, the Euphrasia plant has long been used to treat eye conditions like conjunctivitis, swollen eyelids and sties. Its anti-inflammatory properties also make it helpful as a treatment for sinusitis, colds, and respiratory health. Eyebright also helps de-puff and reduce redness around the eyes and acts as an astringent and antioxidant on the skin.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea Tree oil, used in Australia for over a century, has been the subject of many clinical studies exploring a variety of potential health benefits. As a known anti-bacterial agent, it’s an ingredient in many different self-care products for the skin, oral hygiene and hair. Research shows its effectiveness as a treatment for acne via anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory actions. And it makes a wonderfully potent astringent to reduce pores and manage oily skin.
Green tea is praised mainly for its abundance of antioxidants and is well-loved as a healthy drink. But it also has many benefits topically for the skin. The antioxidants help repair damage from free radicals that lead to signs of aging, like wrinkles and fine lines. It’s also a powerhouse for treating acne because it helps reduce inflammation, kill bacteria, and slow sebum production. Its astringent action also minimizes pores and balances the skin’s pH.
An array of citrus oils is used in skin care for their astringent and toning effects. Oils like lemon, lime, sweet orange and neroli are excellent ingredients to purify the skin, balance pH and reduce pore size. Often found in acne-fighting treatments, citrus oils help cleanse pores of impurities and seal them off to prevent new infections from growing. Plus, they help reduce inflammation that comes along with certain types of acne. Vitamin C in citrus also supports collagen production to counteract signs of aging.
Nettles, from the Urtica family, are wild plants that sting or burn if you happen to touch them. But they also have incredible healing benefits! In folk medicine, nettles were used to treat everything from colds to dysentery to headaches to digestive issues. Recent research shows nettles’ potential to reduce arthritis pain, decrease prostate size and treat other symptoms of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, block histamine to reduce allergies, lower blood pressure, and more. For skin, it acts as an astringent to tighten and tone, and as an anti-inflammatory to reduce redness and irritation.
“That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet,” so says Juliet. And Rosa damascena, or Turkish rose, is just one of many names for this aromatic icon. But the benefits of rose go well beyond fragrance and beauty, and rose has been used internally and externally for many ailments. In skin care, rose is effective at hydrating, soothing and repairing and is especially good for mature skin. Astringent properties make it an excellent toner and pore purifier.
Most people know strawberries to be rich in vitamin C, which has potent antioxidant and collagen-building powers. However, it’s not as well known that the leaves are also a prime source of vitamin C. Another benefit of strawberry leaf is that it’s a natural source of salicylic acid, a common ingredient in acne treatments used for its ability to unclog blackheads and reduce inflammation. Also, the astringent qualities of strawberry leaf make it an excellent oil balancer.
Witch hazel is a natural alternative to alcohol because it’s much gentler on the skin, but it’s still effective as an astringent that minimizes pores and reduces excess oil. It will also calm irritation and reduce redness associated with skin issues like eczema and psoriasis. Overall, witch hazel improves skin tone and helps manage acne-prone skin.
Oily skin is best managed using mild astringents that gently reduce excess oil and leave enough natural oil behind to retain the skin’s moisture. You’ll find many of these astringent herbs in our all-natural organic products that are excellent for acne-prone skin. Plus, they’re mild enough for all skin types, including skin with sensitivities.