Nonna was right: Everyday household ingredients really can help you look and feel your best.
When I was growing up, my nonna would take the sting out of a sunburn with a milk-soaked cloth, or cure a cough with hot water mixed with lemon and honey. There's a reason she and other grandmothers relied on simple home remedies for health and beauty treatments: They're basic, natural, inexpensive, and, best of all, they really work. Here's a pantry's worth of tried-and-tested cures worth remembering.
Witch Hazel: This zingy astringent (made from the leaves and bark of the North American witch-hazel plant, above) has a bunch of uses. My favorite: Get rid of morning puffiness by soaking some cotton pads in the stuff and placing them on your closed eyes for a minute or two (it's working its magic on me, below). For those with oily hair, reduce greasiness by applying the solution to a cotton ball and dabbing on your scalp before shampooing.
Here I am using witch hazel soaked cotton pads to nix morning puffiness.
Olive Oil: Sure, it's a staple of Italian cooking, but olive oil is a beauty essential too. Sophia Loren has been said to take olive oil baths; try doing the same by drizzling a few tablespoons into your bathwater for softer skin. It also makes a good cuticle treatment, and, in a pinch, makeup remover.
Castor Oil: Generations ago, mothers would spoon out this vegetable oil to their kids as a supplement. Today, to reduce inflammation and increase well-being, some alternative health advocates swear by the practice of slathering castor oil on the abdomen, wrapping it in plastic, and topping with a heating pad. I like to use castor-oil wraps once a month, three days in a row just before bed, as part of a cleanse. The procedure is simple but can be messy—watch this castor oil how-to video for some step-by-step instructions.
Baking Soda: Good ol' sodium bicarb helps the texture of baked goods, making them light and fluffy, and it does the job in a beauty routine too. Use it in the shower as a skin-softening body scrub, work it through wet tresses as a shampoo alternative, or mix it with equal parts water to make a 15-minute acne spot treatment.
Aloe Vera: The leaves of this succulent plant ooze a gel that cools a minor burn or sunburn, and there are plenty of other uses too. Use it to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and stretch marks and to take the bite out of razor nicks. You can keep a potted aloe vera plant on hand and pick a leaf as needed, or get a tube of pure aloe vera gel at a health food store.
Milk: This dairy staple builds bone and muscle on the inside, and soothes and softens on the outside. Use a milk-soaked compress to treat a sunburn (like my nonna did), and add a few cups to your bathwater to moisturize your skin.
Mint: Fresh mint leaves add flavor to food and drink, and their cooling powers help cure an upset stomach or morning sickness. For a feel- better tea, steep fresh leaves in boiled water for a few minutes.
Ginger: Here's another food flavorer that doubles as a stomach settler. Make a tea by peeling and chopping a half-inch of ginger root and steeping it in boiled water for a few minutes.
Chamomile: This daisylike flower has a bouquet of beauty benefits. Hot chamomile tea will make you sleepy and help you get your beauty rest; a cooled version can be poured over your scalp to prevent and treat dandruff and when rinsed through light-colored locks, it works as a hair brightener.