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Sunday, April 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nature's bounty is the buzz at the cosmetics counter

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Many of us make repeated vows to simplify our lives and one place to start is with beauty routines. Instead of dozens of creams and lotions with names too difficult to pronounce, how about using the calm, peaceful-sounding chamomile and tea tree oils?

Yet, while going the "natural" route sounds easy enough, one spin down the beauty aisle of a department or drugstore and you'll see the choices are bountiful.

Just like their cosmeceutical cousins, specific natural ingredients spur different results. According to herbalist Barbara Close's book "Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics" (Chronicle), dandelion root is a skin clarifier, vitamin C is an antioxidant, rose oil has a calming effect on skin and tea tree oil is for blemishes.

Origins' entire product line is based on botanical essential oils. Last year, the company partnered with Dr. Andrew Weil, who specializes in integrative medicine, on a collection of beauty products that make the most of mushrooms.

"I have always recommended natural beauty products. I'm concerned about the artificial ingredients in many beauty products. I thought about more novel approaches and I looked at ancient species of mushrooms for their anti-inflammatory powers," Weil says.

While "anti-aging" is the buzzword, Weil believes that containing inflammation will improve both the health and appearance of skin. "Chronic low-level inflammation in skin is correlated with aging and damaged tissue," he explains.

The mushrooms reduce redness and calm the skin, and those things slow and even help prevent common deteriorative changes, according to Weil.

Plants use their essential oils as protective agents, so it makes sense to use them to protect skin, too, says Daria Myers, president of Origins, especially since essential oils have proven to have an affinity with human skin. "They have the ability to change your mood, the way you feel and they are considered a strong therapeutic resource in many countries. In France, the science of essential oils is covered under national health plan and in England, hospitals use them."

She adds, "We're actually substantiating the effects of the oils, not relying on folkloric claims. We're using industrywide accepted tests for efficacy." For example, cites Myers, a rice-starch rub is comparable to a clinical dermabrasion. Many prescription drugs and high-tech treatments have roots in the plant world, she adds.

Close, also an aromatherapist and founder of the holistic spa Naturopathica in East Hampton, N.Y., says that the acne treatment Retin-A is based on vitamin A, and fruit enzymes and glycolic acid, a derivative of sugar cane or fruits, break protein bonds that adhere to skin so they both exfoliate and encourage new skin growth. "They're natural ingredients with very active ingredients," she says.

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Another one of Close's favorite ingredients is shea butter for its "wonderful nutritive value and moisturizing." For the face, she recommends evening primrose oil, which has a lot of essential fatty oils, something the body produces on its own so it's recognized by the skin and is easily absorbed.

Close agrees that natural products don't always have the smoothest delivery or a uniform appearance. Her clients don't rank those things as priorities, though, she reports.

Expectant mothers seem to be particularly interested in avoiding chemical-infused products.

"When you're pregnant, you're aware of skin-absorption issues, but with natural products you don't have to worry about what you can use, what you can't," says Tanya Kazeminy Mackay, a founder of Mama Mio, a British-based maker of maternity beauty products. "So many beauty products say, 'Do not use if pregnant.' "

Mama Mio product's active ingredients include almond oil, wheat germ, rosehip seed oil, avocado oil and carrotseed oil.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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