Sweet-smelling chamomile flowers have been used in medicinal and beauty products for millennia, soothing us both inside and out
By Lola Augustine Brown
We humans have relied on chamomile to calm us and soothe a myriad of ailments for thousands of years. Both crushed chamomile flowers and potent extracted oils have been used to treat everything from ulcers and anxiety to flatulence and bacterial infections. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used chamomile flowers, and today you’ll find these flowers used in products from teas and tinctures to big-brand beauty products.
“The chamomile plant is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and contains various bioactive phytochemicals that can calm infections and many gastrointestinal ailments,” says Peter Matravers, a pharmacist and external scientific advisor for Arbonne. And because the scent of chamomile is uplifting, Matravers says, it’s often used in aromatherapy.
In recent years, there have been many studies of the effectiveness of chamomile in treating the skin, and one such study reported that the flower extracts are more effective than corticosteroids in healing wounds; another found that chamomile was more effective than hydrocortisone cream in the treatment of eczema.
Even when you aren’t trying to treat more serious conditions, chamomile’s calming and antiseptic effects give gentle relief to the skin.As a consequence, it appears in the product list of many creams and lotions. Arbonne uses chamomile in its Calm line of products (such as Calm Gentle Daily Moisturizer, $53, and Calm Soothing Facial Serum, $60), developed to provide relief from tightness, dryness, and overall skin discomfort.
Many brands use chamomile in products designed to remove makeup and cleanse the skin, usually intended especially for those with sensitive skin. The Body Shop, for example, offers a range of chamomile (though it’s labelled as the “camomile” range, dropping the h) cleansers, including the company’s Sumptuous Cleansing Butter ($17), which “melts” makeup off the skin and leaves skin feeling soft and clean, and a Gentle Eye Make-Up Remover ($19), which gets your lids and lashes clean without any of that dreaded inner-eye tingle some products induce. Canadian organic beauty brand Conso-nant Skincare offers super-gentle Come Clean Cleansing Cloths ($10) with chamomile that offer a great on-the-go makeup removal solution.
Those with sensitive scalps might want to consider using shampoos and conditioners that contain chamomile, too. Many brands, especially those found in the natural or organic aisle of your local supermarket—Avalon Organics, Live Clean, and Herbatint, for example, incorporate chamomile in their products.
Leigh Joseph/Styawat, an ethnobotanist from the Squamish Nation in British Columbia, uses chamomile in both essential oil and powdered form when making beauty products for her small-batch botanical beauty products line, The Wild Botanicals (thewildbotanicals.com).
Joseph/Styawat incorporates Indigenous knowledge that has been passed down for generations in her products. “Many plant medicines are most effective when used both topically and internally, and chamomile is a plant that can be used this way,” she says. “I love the calming nature of the scent and properties of this plant for the skin and senses. It blends well with other delicate florals that are native to Canada, such as wild rose and fireweed.” (Chamomile isn’t native to Canada; the most commonly grown strains for medicinal use are German and Roman chamomile, but today it grows wild all over North America.)
“It’s a plant that has been integrated into self-care because of its gentle but effective benefits for skin, hair, and mood,” says Joseph/Styawat, who uses chamomile in her blissfully relaxing Rose Yarrow Bath Salts ($18), Rose Facial Oil ($26), and Rose Facial Toner ($22).
Do It Yourself
If you want to experiment with using chamomile in your health and beauty routines, rest assured that it’s easy to make your own products using chamomile essential oil. The national chain Saje Natural Wellness offers Roman Chamomile Pure Essential Oil ($22), which the company says can be used to relieve muscle aches and pains, rashes, insect bites, headaches, and insomnia. You can mix a few drops of the essential oil into a carrier oil (a more neutral oil that blends well with others, such as almond, coconut, or jojoba oil) to use on the skin, or use a few drops in your bath or as a facial steam.
And of course, chamomile tea is sold in every supermarket, as well as in health food stores. Reputed to calm anxiety and induce sleep, it just might be the perfect thing at the end of a stressful day.