Health and Beauty

Rosemary infused oil for hair growth

In my postnatal state, there is one thing that horrifies me (well, as much as stretch marks), it’s brushing my hair and seeing handfuls fall off. This is a perfectly normal experience in pregnancy and afterwards, and it usually resolves itself within the first year, but it really makes you realise how gruelling pregnancy and labour are for the body, and how important it is to take time to recover, rest and restore yourself to full health. I am going to share a quick, basic hair oil recipe to stimulate hair growth, and hopefully it will also be an opportunity to look after yourself and reconnect with your body.

First of all, there are many different natural products that can be used to address hair loss. I originally tried Amla oil, which is widely used in India and Asia more generally, but it can darken hair and it wasn’t the best fit for my thin Caucasian hair. I therefore created a recipe that is more adapted to my hair type, based around three simple ingredients.

For this recipe, I used ingredients that I already had at home: fresh rosemary, a herb that stimulates circulation and is also used to deal with dandruff, jojoba oil (because it also encourages hair growth and it is easily absorbed by hair and skin), as well as lavender essential oil (which I use for everything and anything. All three elements have benefits for the hair, and the combination has a pleasant herby smell. You could easily adapt this recipe depending on what is easily available to you, and your hair type ( if you have a dry scalp for example, you may want to use ylang-ylang essential oil).

I love making using infused oils because they are such an effective way to extract a plant’s chemicals and they can be used in many different ways. They are also quite easy to make! There are many ways to make infused oils: you could simply live them on a sunny windowsill (but sun in a rarity right now in the UK), and I am told that a slow cooker is particularly efficient too. Personally, I use a vintage double boiler (or bain marie), which needs to left on very low fire for at least a couple of hours. I actually leave mine for a few minutes until the water starts simmering, and that I switch off and cover, as I don’t have a setting that is low enough to leave for a long while.

What you will need:

  • a handful of fresh rosemary
  • 100 mL carrier oil ( I used jojoba but it could be replaced with almond oil for instance)
  • an essential oil of your choice, here lavender.
  • a double boiler ( or slow cooker, or plenty of sun!)
  • a piece of muslin cloth to strain the liquid
  • a clean bottle or jar for storage

I made a very small amount, as I only use a few drops a day and it is a temporary measure, but feel free to double the measurements.

Cover the rosemary with your oil (you might need to chop the herbs a little bit). Bring your bain marie to simmer and leave for 4-6 hours on the lowest setting if possible. The oil should never boil. After that time, you can remove the rosemary and repeat the process with another fresh handful, which will create a more potent oil.

Once you are satisfied with your oil, leave to cool before adding a drop of essential oil. It is important not to add it when the oil is hot, as it will affect the potency of the essential oil. You only need a drop or two (around 1% of your final product), as it it a very concentrated liquid, and too much could be toxic.

Finally, strain the liquid through your muslin or a thin sieve to make sure you collect as much oil as possible, bearing in mind you will lose some during the infusing process.

Use this oil to massage your scalp and damp hair every day and leave in for best results; the massage will also help stimulate your hair follicles so turn this into a relaxing, feel good time for yourself.

Enjoy and let me know about your herbal creations!

Health and Beauty

It’s all about SOAPS ! Flax seed oil and Shea butter soapmaking

I’m fascinated with soap making processes at the moment, and I have been looking up dairy soaps and olive oil soaps, which both sound amazing! I am ordering some ingredients and will be sharing more detailed recipes soon. Basically there are four options for soap-making :

– the Cold Process : mixing lye and oils

– the Hot Process, similar to the first one, but during which the soap is cooked

– using a Melt and Pour base: melting a pre-prepared solution and adding fragrances and oils

Rebatching, with means reusing soaps and adding new ingredients to transform them.

Savon de Marseille - Traditional soap making using olive oil
Savon de Marseille – Traditional soap making using olive oil

I am a big fan of ‘Savon de Marseille’, soap traditionally made in the Marseille area in France, and the famous Aleppo soap, both of whom are usually made with olive oil. Many soaps nowadays contains sulfates (in particular sodium sulfates) which dehydrates the skin. I have some ghassoul clay, Moroccan Argan oil and Flax oil which I would love to use in a soap. Goat milk soap is also popular at the moment: it is hypoallergenic, moisturizing, and great for sensitive skins.

I chose a very simple recipe to share with you as I am a beginner with soaps myself, but hopefully I will get more adventurous once I get the hang of it. I have chosen to follow the Cold Process method and I have used sodium hydroxide to make the lye, as this is the most natural and traditional way of making soap. It is also easier to check exactly what goes into your soap, as Melt and Pour often contain a long list of ingredients.

Flax seed oil and Shea Butter Soap 

For the Lye:

25 grams of caustic soda

65g of distilled water

For the oils:

150g of Flax seed oil

50g of Shea butter

Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and have many cosmetic benefits : they help to smooth the skin and to clear acne
Flax seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and have many cosmetic benefits : they help to smooth the skin and to clear acne

You will also need two glass containers to combine and heat the ingredients, a spatula (I used a silicon one), a whisk or hand mixer, and moulds. It is important to protect yourself with gloves and goggles in case of a reaction, as caustic soda can be dangerous. Don’t leave within reach of children! Also remember to not use aluminium utensils as they react with lye.

– Carefully weight and prepare the ingredients.

-Add the solid caustic soda to the water (Never ever do it the other way around as it will ‘erupt’). This will heat, so put on the side and leave to cool.

– Combine the Flax seed oil and the Shea butter in the 2nd glass container and place in a pan of hot water until completely melted. Remove and leave to cool.

-Once both liquids are at room temperature, pour the lye solution into the oils and start mixing with a whisk or mixer. After around 15 mins, the mix will start solidifying into a custard consistency. This is called ‘tracing’: a drop into the mix will leave a trace. At this stage you can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil.

– You can then pour the mix into your moulds, and set aside. After a few days, the soaps should be hard enough to be removed from the moulds, and are now ready for curing! It is recommended to leave the soaps cure for about 6 weeks, until the Ph levels have gone up (above 7), which means they are not acid anymore and can be used on the skin. You can use Ph strips to check if they are ready. Pictures of my experiments coming soon!

You can create your own recipes easily using a soap calculator such as the Sage.

My first batch after curing :

My first batch of soap: flax seed oil and shea butter
My first batch of soap: flax seed oil and shea butter

Health and Beauty

Lemon: Your detox friend…and a lemon mask recipe

Continuing with the good start of 2013, here are a few detox tips using lemon. During the dark winter months when the evenings are long, the only thing we want is to cuddle up in bed with a warm hot chocolate and comforting food. To restore your energy levels and freshen up before the spring, I recommend a very simple recipe: hot water with fresh lemon, first thing in the morning.  Lemon, from the citrus family (Utruj in Arabic) has a long list of health benefits : it is high in vitamin C which strengthens the immune system (which is why it is recommended for colds) and is an antioxidant. However, whereas orange juice is acidic, lemon juice is actually helps digestion one of the most alkaline fruits and helps to balance the body’s pH. It supports digestion by kickstarting the production of bile, thus why it is good to drink it before having breakfast.

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The great thing with hot lemon water is that it helps me to reduce my coffee intake, and it is a diuretic, so it helps the body to get rid of toxins. Lemons are mentioned several times in Islamic traditions: in one hadith, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: “The citrus fruit is like a true believer, with a sweet taste and a pleasant scent” (Sahih Bukhari). In Suyuti’s medicine book, lemon is described as such: “The sour citrus is cold and dry. From it is made lemon juice, which is good for hot stomachs. It also strengthens and gladdens the heart, stimulates the appetite, quenches the thirst, satisfies hunger, cures diarrhoea and palpitations.”

There are hundreds of different recipes for the skin and the hair using lemon juice, zest or peel, mixed with honey, egg, avocado… Lemon is especially good for oily skins and acne, as it is purifying and antiseptic. As I tend to have a more sensitive skin, I chose a more gentle facial mask recipe to share with  you. It only requires oats and a lemon.

Lemon and Oat face mask

Cook 1/4 of of oat (I simply used organic porridge oats!), and once it has cooled down, add the juice and zest of half a lemon. You can add an egg yolk as it is also good for reducing oils in oily skin. Mix together until you get a smooth paste.

Apply on clean skin and leave until dry. Remove with warm water. Job Done!