Product Spotlight

Part 5. Understanding Skin Types

The tradition of categorizing skin care products by skin types (the designation of dry, oily, mature or sensitive skin) is a generally accepted practice and for the most part, helps individuals choose products that might be best for their complexion. Grateful Body also uses this convention for it is helpful and convenient to group our products in this way.

In this tutorial, I wish to discuss some of the ways that we design products for each of the skin types and then, nutty as it might sound, turn right around and admit that we don't even believe so much in the fixed concept called 'skin type'.

There are several ways to formulate products that are truly useful for each of the skin types. In my opinion, the most effective method is to choose botanicals that have specific therapeutic strengths and influences for the conditions of skin tissue in question. These are then prepared (via various extraction methods) in a way that can a) readily be absorbed, b) be accepted by the body as biologically appropriate, and c) be used in a restorative way by the skin. These are a few of the formulating directions I consider for each of the skin types:

Dry Skin

  1. Bring hydration to dry tissues using emollient herbs. I like to use Chickweed, Solomon's Seal and Red Clover for they really encourage healthy moisture levels within the skin cells by their nutritive components. Other demulcent herbs like Marshmallow Root, Licorice Root and Aloe Leaf offer hydration by virtue of their inherently high mucilage content.
  2. Red Shiso and a bit of Neem help remove low-level inflammation that can contribute to a dry condition.
  3. Most of my formulas for dry skin include Green Tea, Lavender, Turmeric and Gotu Kola because they offer so much protection from dehydrating influences like altitude, wind and weather.
  4. As an added benefit, most of these herbs also fortify the skin against other drying stressors like diet, smoking, toxins, indoor heating and other environmental influences.
  5. There are also certain herbs, both western and otherwise, that are in a class called 'Nourishing the Yin'. Also known as Yin Tonics, herbs like Licorice Root, Borage Oil, and Irish Moss are very nourishing for dehydrated tissue and have the extra benefit of providing a smooth texture for the skin.
  6. According to the skin type I'm working with, I will always adjust the botanical oil levels in the formula. The dry skin formulas contain a much higher percentage of oils in general, in this case using the denser moisturizing oils like avocado, olive and rose hip.
  7. And finally, we include butters that have an extra high essential fatty acid content. For our dry skin products we use cocoa butter and kokum butter.

Notes: The essential oils and hydrosols used in almost every formula are of the highest therapeutic quality; the small size and atomic weight of the aromatic molecule allows easy entry into the receptor sites of the skin cells. For this reason, these ingredients are some of the most important in the formula.

Oily Skin

  1. Reducing what might be called 'tissue dampness' is important here, I use herbs like Burdock Root, Yerba Mansa and Sage.
  2. Another strategy is to clear 'tissue congestion'. This approach has always yielded great results. Herbs like Oregon Grape Root, Ginger Root, Elder Flower and Daikon Radish are perfect for this.
  3. Use the lighter oils like Grapeseed and Jojoba.
  4. Personally, I believe using certain plants like Lemon Peel, Usnea Lichen and Walnut to lessen the chance of bacterial-based blemishes is much more effective and holistic than the common approach of including potentially harmful antibacterial chemicals.
  5. Salicylic acid has been shown to reduce excess oil production and help prevent acne, but instead of using the harsh synthetic powder, we make a beneficial infusion using the bark from the Willow (Salix alba).
  6. I always add a few astringent herbs like Yarrow, Geranium and Sage. There's a tendency to think these herbs dry the skin out, but instead they tighten and tonify; a real blessing for oily skin. Interestingly, astringent herbs also have many demulcent properties.
  7. Bringing mineral nourishment to oily skin is a real help and for this I use Nettles and Kombu seaweed.

Notes: The trickiest part of creating helpful products for oily skin is not the formulating but combating the prevalent attitude that products for oily skin should be oil-free. Most commercial oils in skin care have been refined to the point that their nutritional content is lost and they are now just a devitalized form of grease.  Given this situation, it's no wonder that people who have oily or combination skin or are blemish-prone shy away from oil. But real, vital botanical oil can really help skin that has symptoms of excess shine and blemishes.

Sensitive Skin

  1. First, calm skin tissue . . . this must be addressed. You can't rebuild the house while it's on fire. I make calming brews of Wild Lettuce, Calendula and Chamomile for this. The oils used here also assist that aim. Certain oils like Borage and Rosehip Seed easily soothe troubled skin.
  2. Right along side of this is the need to reduce inflammation. I typically use the herbs Mullein Leaf, Red Clover and Yarrow for this purpose.
  3. The skin has grown sensitive for some reason so it's important to start the comprehensive process of encouraging detoxification of the skin tissue. This is done slowly and gently using wonderful herbs like Figwort, Pau D'arco and Yellow Dock.
  4. I must say that I feel very strongly about including St. Johnswort in the sensitive skin products; it is one of my favorite herbs. We get the fresh flowering tops from Sonoma County. St Johnswort (or St Joanswort, as I like to call her) is a gentle remedy but at the same time very powerful. It is an anti-inflammatory, it helps heal wounds and skin disorders, helps repair tissue and as a bonus, can calm the emotional body. I’m so grateful for this wort.
  5. The closing aim of the formulation would be to gradually strengthen the skin. There are so many useful botanicals for this but I am partial to Self Heal, Speedwell, Sheep Sorrel and Blackberry.

Normal Skin

Notes: What is normal skin? Is it skin that has no obvious troubles? Is it skin that has a good balance of moisture?  Grateful Body's view of normal skin is that when challenged by stressors, it doesn't exhibit symptoms that are in the dry or the oily, blemish-prone direction. Instead, it may exhibit problems of premature aging, a rough texture or poor tone. Given this, here is my approach:

  1. Provide a vigorous mix of nutritive herbs known for providing maximum micro-nutrients for the skin. My choices are Watercress, Chia seeds, Horsetail and Wild Oats.
  2. Keep on the program of strengthening the skin tissue. I've seen marvelous results from our infusions of Rosemary, Meadowsweet, Burdock and Hibiscus.
  3. Eliminate and prevent the possibility of inflammation with Cleavers, Plantain and Dandelion Root.
  4. Moisten and tonify the skin with Red Clover, Rosemary and Cupuacu Butter.
  5. And finally, help the skin process UV with Pomegranate and Sea Buckthorn.

So there you are; a basic primer on how Grateful Body formulates products for different skin types. But even so, I will try to make the argument that dry and sensitive aren't really skin types. In the case of dry skin, in most situations it takes years for the effects of certain influences to gradually accumulate and manifest as skin that is actually dry. It's the same with sensitive skin, there might be a propensity for system sensitivity but the condition of having sensitive skin is most often caused by direct environmental pressures and the diminishing of the immune response. Oily skin I do consider a type for it often enters early, even at adolescence, and might not let up till menopause. But still, with the right support, oily skin symptoms do not have to be a constant.

It's very true that people have strong hereditary tendencies toward all these skin conditions. There are hormonal influences, dietary and environmental pressures and we should never forget the emotional circumstances of the familial constellation. These influences accumulate gradually (or suddenly) and then manifest as skin that is actually dry, oily or sensitive. But regardless of these influences and their persistent impact on our skin, it is my wish, through this tutorial, that we learn not to identify with the current state of our skin as our 'type'.

We feel that there is a positive effect in understanding that the current condition of my skin is not my 'type' and is not set-in-stone.  It's a big relief that one doesn't have a t-zone, dry patches, an oily forehead or various inflammations as a fixed trait. At Grateful Body, our aim is to turn all these supposed skin types back to the natural condition of your skin when it is healthy and balanced. For example, when we sell 'sensitive skin' products, it is with the explicit understanding that using these products will so nurture and strengthen the skin that eventually a stage is reached when that skin is NOT sensitive anymore. When people don't identify with the current state of their skin as their established skin type, they will instead develop a reasonable expectation that skin care products actually help their skin return to a natural, healthy state.  

Dec 01, 2015

I take blood thinning medicine. As I age my poor legs bump into foot stools and chairs.
frequently. They bleed underneath the skin but because Midnight Oil has conditioned my
skin my skin doesn’t break or bleed. Not a night goes by without rubbing in my favorite Midnight Oil.

Frances M. Henry
Nov 17, 2015

Very interesting to read about your knowledge of various herbs and plants which enable you to develop a specific nourishing skin care that targets our various skin nutrient needs.

I know that nothing I have tried on my face and neck has such long lasting benefits as my Grateful Body moisturizers, phytonics and cleansers. My skin actually feels satisfied after using Grateful Body nourishment products. Thank you for creating these satisfying skin care products.


Linda McDaniel
Nov 17, 2015

An interesting and informative read!

Nov 17, 2015

I noticed the absence of specific formulations for “Mature” skin, although it was listed as one of the “types”. What about we Wise Women? :-)

Janet Ledder

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