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Native American Beauty Secrets

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Aloe Vera

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Native Americans used aloe vera to soothe and heal the skin, as well as to hydrate and protect it from extreme climates in areas like dry deserts. It was also used to treat sunburn and for soap. Today, the ingredient is included in many skin-soothing formulas from after sun cream to face masks and moisturizers.

Bearberry

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Bearberry was used as a remedy for an itchy scalp. A tea was made from this evergreen shrub and mixed with grease and boiled cattle hoofs to use as a salve for an itchy, scaly scalp, baby rashes, and skin sores. Reach for this Derma E Scalp Relief Shampoo for a dose of this ingredient, plus tea tree oil, menthol, and salicylic acid.

Blue Corn

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Corn was very important in ancient Native American life and still is today. In addition to being used as food, it was also used for religious ceremonies like the naming ceremonies of babies, and marriage and funeral rituals. Corn was actually considered a deity in some cultures and a clan symbol for certain tribes. For the Hopi, it represented the Eastern rising sun and the beginning of life and wisdom.

Called flour corn, blue corn is coarser than yellow or white corn and is used for flours and cornmeal. Many Native Americans used ground corn to cleanse and purify the skin. It was rubbed onto the skin before ceremonies to rid the body of impurities. Ground corn may also be used as an exfoliator.

Creeping Juniper

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Juniper root for shiny locks. The berries from this evergreen shrub (also called creeping cedar) were made into a tea that was used as a wash for skin problems. Juniper root was also soaked in water to wash the horses, making their coats shiny. It’s now used in hair care products meant for shiny and healthy hair.

Fireweed

Winter skin protection. The inner stem of the root was dried and powdered and rubbed onto the hands and face in winter to try to protect the skin from the cold. (It was also used to waterproof rawhide.)

Prickly Pear

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Cactus for skin hydration. An anti-inflammatory, the leaves of the prickly pear were used to make a moisturizer for protecting the skin from the sun. It also speeds up cellular turnover, leading to improved skin texture and appearance.

Saw Palmetto

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Saw Palmetto was used by Native Americans for hair, scalp and skin care. Due to its ability to balance hormones in the body, it was used by Native American women to get rid of facial hair. It is now believed saw palmetto regulates excessive hair growth in women by suppressing DHT production in the body (a hormone produced by testosterone).

Sweetgrass

This flat-leafed bladed grass is considered sacred. It is smoked to purify individuals and their surroundings and is used in ceremonies. It is even handled in a special way to respect its spiritual powers. Some Native American women decorated their hair with sweetgrass. As a wash, sweetgrass was used to try to treat windburn and chapped skin. The tea can also be used as a hair tonic meant to make the hair shiny and fragrant.

Wild Mint

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Wild Mint for hair and skin. The Cheyenne Indians in Montana used a decoction of the wild mint plant as hair oil. The Thompson Indians of British Columbia used the whole plant soaked in warm water to make a solution that was used in hair dressing. Mint was also used in bath water to try to alleviate itchy skin.

Wild Rose Bush

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A mash of rose hips was made for skin problems. Now cosmetic companies use rose hips oil in creams and lotions to soothe the skin, as well as in anti-aging face creams, because it is thought that rose hips oil can reverse wrinkle formation.

Yarrow

Yarrow for fragrant Hair. Native Americans used an infusion of the leaves from this strong-scented perennial plant as a hair wash. The Okanagan Indians of British Columbia mixed the leaves and stems with white clematis (a perennial with bright yellow flowers) and witch’s broom branches to make a shampoo.

Yucca

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Yucca for hair growth. The yucca plant was used by several Native American tribes to encourage hair growth and to prevent baldness. The roots of young yucca plants were used for shampoo. The crushed roots were soaked in water to make a hair wash. Other methods involved peeling the bark of the root, which was rubbed in a pan of shallow water to make suds to rub into the hair and scalp. Yucca was also used as a hair wash for newborns by the Zuni Indians to try to help their hair grow healthy and strong.

To learn more about Native American practices and use of plant life, check out these resources:

Native American Ethnobotany Database/University of Michigan-DearbornExploring Kainai Plants and Culture/Galileo Educational Network

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