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Looking Good Naturally

On Friday afternoons, Kathlyn Quatrochi walks through her garden in Southern California with a group of women, gathering herbs and talking about the chemical properties that enable the plants to cleanse and heal the skin. Later, inside her cozy inn with its stuffed chairs and mahogany tables, Quatrochi shows her guests how to mix the herbs with ingredients like oats, buttermilk or perhaps whipping cream to make facial treatments.

Sounds appealing. But who has time for a getaway? It's actually closer than you might think. Many of the ingredients for the facials that Quatrochi prepares at her Sage Herb Farm are in your kitchen and possibly your garden. And the treatments, say Quatrochi and other natural skin care experts, are better for you than most of the cleansers and toners that you buy at the drugstore.

Open up the cupboard and look around in the fridge; cast a fresh eye on the herbs that grow in your garden. The right mix of oats, parsley, dried chamomile and hot water makes a nice cleanser. A mixture of sage, peppermint, lemon juice and water is a refreshing toner for oily skin. Quatrochi includes these recipes and more in her book, "The Skin Care Book: Simple Herbal Recipes," published by Interweave Press. Quatrochi, a master herbalist and a doctor of naturopathy, says that natural remedies are much kinder to the skin than synthetic products. Quatrochi started researching natural skin care about 20 years ago, after her younger sister was diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning that was traced to cosmetics she had used.

Fascination with Nature

Growing up, Quatrochi had always been fascinated by the natural remedies created by her mother and grandmother, concoctions that included mustard plasters, potato poultices, oatmeal masks and vinegar hair rinses. Over the last two decades, Quatrochi has developed her own line of natural skin care products and a philosophy that encourages women to take time for themselves. "Women are under a lot of stress," says Quatrochi. "When a woman doesn't take time, time takes the woman."

Aging, the environment, improper diet and stress take a toll on the skin, the largest organ of the body. Glands in the skin produce oil and sweat, which create a film on the surface of the body called the acid mantle. The slightly acidic pH of the mantle supports healthy bacteria and wards off harmful bacteria. Herbs have hydrophilic (water) properties and lipophilic (oil) properties that help the skin to maintain the acid mantle.

A Few Natural Skin Care Remedies

You'll need a few simple supplies to get started: a few spoons and whisks, a couple of small glass bowls, a small electric food processor or chopper, a few small jars with lids and zip-lock sandwich bags. Quatrochi's book is a great source for recipes. Some of the recipes call for oats, buttermilk, apple cider vinegar and honey. If you're a gardener, you might already have some of the herbs, like lavender, lemon verbena, sage and thyme.

For those looking for a shortcut to natural skin care, Ruth Ann Kondylas sells natural products from plants that she grows on her Everlasting Herb Farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her products are seasonal, depending on what's growing at the time. During the summer, Kondylas sells products like rose water and dill soap at the outdoor FreshFarm Market in Washington D.C.

"There are a lot of things from the garden that you can safely put on you body," says Kondylas. "We live such fast-paced lives. We want everything quick, and often we don't think about what we're using on our bodies." Kondylas, who learned to garden growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, cultivates herbs on about 1½ acres. She says, however, that you don't need a lot of space to grow enough herbs to suit your needs.

"It's amazing what you can do with what you cut from a small planter box," she says. "When I sell my products, I try to introduce what a wonderful thing it is to have a garden. It's just so nice not having to buy everything in the grocery store."