Imelda Burke on natural beauty

From diet to DIY treatments, the natural beauty guru Imelda Burke has the lowdown on clean green skincare.

Expat Kiwi Imelda Burke is the owner of renowned London boutique Content Beauty & Wellbeing, a mecca for natural skincare, treatments and workshops.

She’s also the author of a new book The Nature of Beauty, in which she explains how to look after yourself from the inside out.

She lets Good Health Choices in on some of her best beauty secrets.

What key lifestyle changes can we make to improve the health of our skin?

Getting your zzz’s would be my first recommendation. The research on the benefits for skin (and general health) is very convincing.

Better still, my favourite find when looking into how sleep affects the skin was that good sleepers feel significantly better about their looks. The well-rested have a more positive perception of their appearance. The more sleep we get, the better looking we feel – so it’s true what they say about beauty sleep!

Second, reduce the sugar. Overeating sugar (of any type) can make skin dull and has even been shown to promote wrinkles.

At blame is a natural process known as glycation, in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form new molecules called advanced glycation end products (or, appropriately, AGEs for short). The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you develop.

As AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins. Most vulnerable to damage are collagen and elastin, the protein fibres that keep skin firm and elastic.

Some sugars are lower on the glycaemic index than others, for example coconut sugar versus refined white sugar, but all forms are still sugar to your body. Coconut sugar may be a smarter swap if you can find it, but it’s not really a green light for increasing your intake of sugar.

Nopal leaf and calendula buds
Nopal leaf and calendula buds

What are your favourite natural skin soothers?

My top four would be:

• Nopal leaf - calms and prevents sensitivity by reducing histamine-triggered reactions.

• Calendula – ideal for sore, inflamed and itchy skin conditions.

• Blue tansy – heat-releasing and soothing to inflamed, irritated skin.

• Oatmeal – relieves itchiness and dryness and soothes reactive skin.

What are some common misconceptions people have about treating their skin?

We often try to overcomplicate things. Reducing the number of products, as well as seeking out simple, uncomplicated formulations, often gives skin a break from the ‘actives’ and corrective ingredients and helps it rest and rebalance itself.

It’s good to remember that the health of your skin needs to be teamed with a holistic approach to the health of your body as a whole. You can consider your skin as a reflection of your internal health.

Do you think natural skincare is seen as less effective, and why?

It often boils down to the science versus nature debate, the premise being that somehow synthetically developed ‘scientific ingredients’ straight out of the lab are superior. But nature is science.

A natural skincare product has not had all the ‘science’ removed from it. A natural skincare formulator has had to do as much research into the properties of a particular plant oil or extract, or develop a method of green chemistry, to ensure we’re able to get the full benefit of a plant in a final product.

What people are referring to is that natural ingredients are often based on traditional ingredients which have been used for hundreds of years. They’re ‘old news’ in a world where we’re conditioned to think the latest is the greatest.

Imelda Burke is the owner of renowned London boutique Content Beauty & Wellbeing
Imelda Burke is the owner of renowned London boutique Content Beauty & Wellbeing

If I want to switch to more natural skincare, how do I go about it?

It takes a bit of research to find the product/brand that’s for you; often we’ve stuck with the same brand our mothers used or one we discovered in our teens.

As a starting guide, I’d scan the brands and recommendations in the skin type guide in my book The Nature of Beauty – these have been compiled from years of customer feedback.

I find people upgrade their bathroom cabinet in one of two ways. Some people want to switch everything all at once. They don’t want to waste any more time with the products they’ve decided are not for them. This route requires a bit more of an investment up front, so the alternative is to transition over time and as you finish a product, instead of repurchasing it, switch to a natural one.

Most people will want to switch their facial skincare first and although it is often the most fun to switch, for me the key product to upgrade first is anything that covers your whole body – it’s the largest surface area of skin, and involves the products we use in the largest volume.

Could you share a favourite natural beauty hack?

Soothe hot or inflamed skin with tea! Try a blend of cool chamomile and tulsi (holy basil) tea. Use a tea bag of each and brew tea as usual. When cool, apply with an organic cotton pad.

*The Nature of Beauty* by Imelda Burke, Penguin, $55 (hardback)
The Nature of Beauty by Imelda Burke, Penguin, $55 (hardback)

Spot treatment

Make your own.
A dab of manuka honey (minimum UMF15+ for skin) and a drop of tea tree oil dabbed on your spot overnight works wonders. Continue until inflammation is reduced.

Make Your Own Tinted Moisturiser
This is one of my favourite natural beauty tricks. Mineral powders are great for masking the white hue that mineral SPFs sometimes leave on the skin (mix a little into your SPF cream to give it colour before applying).

You can also use mineral powder to make a liquid or cream concealer, or a tinted moisturiser. Mixing minerals with creams and lotions can make them a slightly darker tone, so use a small amount of minerals first. Dispense some moisturiser (the usual amount to cover your face) onto the back of your hand then take a pinch of minerals and blend together until you get a shade that matches your skin tone.