If your only experience with chamomile is as a soothing cup of tea, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The chamomile plant also contains healing, nourishing oils. They’ve been a popular remedy for centuries – and for good reason.
As you’re about to find out, chamomile is great for your skin. It can calm your muscles to help you avoid spasms. And it can even help fight the common cold.
Chamomile is native to both Western Europe and Northern Africa, and the ancient Egyptians were quick to discover its many benefits. In fact, Egyptian noblewomen often applied the crushed flowers to their skin to slow the aging process. The Romans also recognized the plant’s medicinal properties. As the Roman Empire expanded, so did the reach of this flower. Eventually, the British brought it to North America – often in their doctor bags.
These days, we have better ways to extract the benefits from these flowers than the Egyptian noblewomen did. But these women were certainly onto something! Chamomile is still a popular drink today. In fact, over a million cups are consumed every day. But we might do well to keep chamomile in our medicine cabinets too, alongside more “modern” remedies. That’s because chamomile flowers are chock-full of antioxidants.
In fact, research shows that chamomile contains significantly more antioxidants than similar flowers, like marigold. In particular, they’re a great source of flavonoids and terpenoids. These help protect the skin by neutralizing free radicals, as you likely know. And they help regulate your immune system. This means you’ll have less inflammation – and less irritated skin.
But chamomile doesn’t stop there. It also has antibacterial properties. This makes it particularly beneficial when it comes to stopping breakouts. The flavonoids in chamomile help these protective properties penetrate the skin, so they can keep it healthy from the inside out. Chamomile’s ability to soothe means it can even help calm sunburned skin.
Calming Your Skin
If you’ve ever used chamomile tea to help you relax, you know how soothing it can be. This isn’t just in your head or the result of a pleasant ritual. Chamomile itself really does have calming properties. And those extend to the skin.
Researchers have found that chamomile can be effective in the treatment of atopic eczema. In fact, studies have found that it’s about 60% as effective as hydrocortisone cream (.25%). Roman chamomile of the Manzana type eases symptoms of itchiness associated with eczema when you apply it topically.
An old fashioned gynecologist that I studied with many years ago used to have women use a chamomile douche for vaginal irritation. She found it to be very effective.
It’s great for itchy skin, whether that’s due to dryness, an itchy skin condition, or even an encounter with a plant like poison ivy. It can help wounded skin heal and ease bruises and burns. And it can even help heal wounds on a part of the skin we don’t think much about: the inside of your mouth.
The skin inside our mouths doesn’t usually make much difference to our appearance. So we don’t pamper it with moisturizers or serums. But if you get a canker sore or gum irritation, you’ll be ready to move this area to the number-one spot in your skincare routine. It’s hard to look your best when every bite or sip you take is excruciating!
Because chamomile is so soothing, it can ease the painful burning sensation that accompanies canker sores. Simply brew a cup of tea and apply the bag to the sore. (Let it cool down first, or you’ll make the sore worse!) The anti-inflammatory properties will help the irritated skin calm down and heal. For gum irritation, you can use chamomile as a mouthwash. This can help clear out the biofilm where bacteria congregate, helping you avoid more issues in the future. And it can reduce bleeding and even ease pain associated with a toothache.
The Power of Chamomile Oil
For other areas of the skin, you’ll want to use chamomile oil instead. While chamomile can help just about anything that ails your skin, you can’t walk around covered in tea bags! To use chamomile oil topically, just apply a couple drops directly to the affected area. Or mix it with coconut oil or your favorite lotion for an even gentler delivery method. You can also look for products that have chamomile mixed right in. Many manufacturers that recognize the value in natural ingredients incorporate chamomile into their products.
Chamomile’s soothing ability can help your skin indirectly too by helping you get the rest you need. Indeed, many people first encounter chamomile tea as a way to wind down in the evening. I’ve written a good bit in the past about how important sleep is to skin health. Yes, beauty sleep is real! But plenty of people have trouble settling down to get that rest. Chamomile can help, whether you apply it topically, drink it in tea form, or simply diffuse the aroma in your bedroom as you’re winding down.
Works to Relax Emotions as Well
Chamomile is a common natural remedy for anxious feelings. In fact, chamomile extract is powerful enough to act as a mild sedative. When you inhale chamomile vapors, the olfactory sensors in the brain tell the body’s stress response to relax. It can actually lower levels of certain stress hormones throughout your body. Chamomile is a common ingredient in aromatherapy blends for this very reason. If stress is making it hard for you to sleep, simply inhaling the fragrance of chamomile could help you rein in anxious thoughts.
One study with 103 cancer patients even found that massage using chamomile oil worked better than a placebo to help the patients relax. It soothed their anxiety and helped them experience their symptoms less acutely. This is a great way to pair up chamomile’s benefits for your mind and your body.
Of course, you may know that chamomile also helps your digestive system relax. If poor digestion keeps you up at night, easing your symptoms is another way chamomile could serve as a sleep aid. The anti-spasmodic compounds in chamomile oil can ease both constipation and diarrhea. And they can calm cramping, gas, nausea, heartburn, and other symptoms of indigestion. Both applying it topically and drinking chamomile tea can help.
There’s a connection between ongoing digestive distress and chronic inflammation. And that inflammation is often showing up on your skin. Chamomile can help as you try to figure out the root of the problem.
My long-time readers know that I’m a big fan of green tea. It’s one of the best things you can drink for skin health. I also recommend white tea for its antioxidant content. But if you are sensitive to caffeine, it’s generally not a good idea to consume caffeinated teas once lunchtime rolls around. Once again, you don’t want anything to interfere with that beauty sleep!
Fortunately, you can get the benefits of drinking tea all day long. Just switch to chamomile tea in the afternoon or evening. Make sure the tea you buy at the grocery store has a strong fragrance. That will help you know if it’s fresh and potent enough to be effective. And if you can, try to brew your tea in a covered container. This will help make sure you don’t lose antioxidants in the steam. You can let the tea steep for a full 10 minutes to maximize its benefits.
Chamomile tea can even be good for young children, particularly if they’re having digestive distress. Or, if you have a child who is constantly trying to steal sips of your coffee, offer chamomile tea instead. He’ll think he’s getting a treat – and his digestive system will agree! Plus, if it sends him off to sleep easily, it’s a treat for you too. Just make sure you give the tea plenty of time to cool down first. You can even serve it as iced tea if you like.
If he doesn’t like the taste of the tea, try diffusing chamomile oil in his room instead. This can be particularly helpful if you or your child has congested nasal passages. Chamomile can help decrease inflammation in the mucous membranes. This will help you feel better and sleep more soundly.
It is important to note that while chamomile is safe for young children, it’s not wise for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers to consume. Its effects on muscles, while great for relaxing your digestive tract, mean it can also stimulate unwanted uterine contractions.
It’s also not always a good fit for people with other plant-related allergies. If you have a ragweed allergy, for example, start with small doses of chamomile and see how you respond to it. This is especially important if you want to use pure chamomile oil topically. Make sure you test it on a small area of your skin first – somewhere inconspicuous, not your face!
Calming Muscles When They Spasm
Studies have shown that chamomile tea is associated with an increase in urinary levels of the amino acid glycine. Glycine relieves muscle spasms. I have many patients who drink chamomile when they begin their menstrual cycle and report significant relief.
It Even Fights the Common Cold
Research has shown an increase in urinary levels of Hippurte, a breakdown product of plant-based compounds known as phenolics. Some phenolics have been associated with increased antibacterial activity.
Think of chamomile at the first sign of a cold. Many of my European patients drink chamomile tea at the first sign of a cold or prophylactically before and during travel. With the Coronavirus going around, this is a great use for this tea.
For most people, though, chamomile is a great option if you need some calm inside or out. Whether you drink it, apply it topically, breathe it in, or do all three, you’ll likely find it soothing and healing. And that’s a beautiful thing.