Natural is making a comeback! And one of the places people are looking for gentler, preservative free choices is their medicine cabinets. Maybe you can’t replace everything, but there are quite a few natural alternatives to over the counter treatments. And science backs up that many of these really do work. Plus, most of these alternatives are cheaper and have a longer shelf-life than what you’ve been using.
So here’s our round-up of natural – and effective – medicine closet must haves. Just one warning. As with all medicines, some may cause allergic reactions. Test these in small areas/dosages first.
Zinc Oxide or Aloe Vera for Itch, Rash and Burns
If you’re not a fan of hydrocortisone (and I’m not…), give zinc oxide a try. It can be used to relieve poison ivy and other rashes, treat eczema and protect and heal cuts, sores or burns. Use it to prevent and treat diaper rash, too. It creates a protective barrier that prevents damage and helps the skin heal.
For a less obvious treatment for burns, bites and rashes, aloe vera is a useful alternative that also moisturizes and can be used as a base for making many types of skin care products. You can buy fresh aloe vera gel (it has to be refrigerated), bottled gel (some may have preservatives/those without tend to be thinner) or get a plant (snap off a stem). Apply directly to skin as often as you like.
Tea Tree Oil – a Potent Anti-bacterial
Great as an antiseptic, to soothe bug bites (even repel them) as well as kill the bacterial that causes acne, tea tree oil needs to be used at the right concentration to do its work. Most creams and lotion you find that mention tea tree oil don’t have enough. And using 100% tea tree oil directly on the skin is not recommended.
For most purposes, a concentration of 5% is required. The brand Derma-E makes creams and an oil with that amount. Or, you can mix pure tea tree oil with liquids, lotions, creams or aloe vera gel to make your own. Add 25 drops (1.3 ml) of pure tea tree oil to 25 ml of your base to make a small amount or 1 teaspoon of tea tree to 100 ml (3.3 ounces).
Since some people don’t like the smell of tea tree oil, you can add lavender, lemon or another fragrance oil to your base to mask the odor.
Witch Hazel for Skin Inflammation and Hemorrhoids
Witch Hazel contains tannin, a substance that when applied to the skin helps reduces swelling, heals broken skin and fights bacteria. It’s used to reduce itching, swelling (including varicose veins) and slow bleeding. Hemorrhoids especially respond well to witch hazel’s astringent and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Get the extract and mix some extract with water to soak a cotton pad or cloth. Apply directly to the skin then let dry. You can also mix extract with aloe vera gel (1:1 ratio) to use as a salve which can be used on internal hemorrhoids. If you can’t find extract, be aware that most of the products sold as witch hazel contain alcohol and should only be used externally.
Peppermint for Stomach Trouble
For those without GERD/acid reflux, peppermint in gel tablets or lozenge form does a good job of relieving indigestion or nausea. It’s also used for cramps, diarrhea, gas and morning sickness as it reduces spasms in the digestive tract. 90 mg of peppermint should do the trick. Formulations with caraway oil have also been used in research and may prove more effective than peppermint alone.
If you take peppermint and it increases your symptoms, book a visit to the doctor. You may have undiagnosed GERD/acid reflux.
Salt for Congestion, Sore Throat, Canker Sores
Salt is a bit of a wonder drug for reducing inflammation and keeping bacteria at bay. For gargling, mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt (preferably sea salt) with water (avoid swallowing) to soothe sore throat or canker sores. As a nasal flush or spray, use 8 ounces of distilled or boiled and cooled water to 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into a spray bottle with nozzle or use in a Neti pot.