Q & A

Email Your Beauty Questions To Kirsten At
beautyadvice@virgabotanicals.com
Why did you start your line virga botanicals? How is it based on Chinese medicine?
I've always loved nature. When I was growing up, my mom was a gardener, and knew a lot about herbs and herbal remedies. She had many books on the subject, and as it happens I was also a compulsive reader! I'd read anything I could get my hands on, and since there were all these natural therapy, herbal books around, I had a lot of exposure to that. One of the things I caught onto quickly was the making of simple, natural beauty treatments. I started working with that at age 12 or so, making my own skincare formulations, and just never found anything commercial that worked better, even when as a young adult I got a good job and could finally afford it.

I'd always been frequently asked what I used on my skin, and people seemed disbelieving or dismissive when I told them I made my own products. I never tried to keep any 'beauty secrets' - I was happy to explain my methods but found most people thought it would be too much trouble to do themselves.

When I started acupuncture school, it was primarily because of my interest in herbal medicine and the chance to work with a whole new world of natural therapeutic substances (many Chinese 'herbs' are not herbs at all but are actually foods or minerals; also some animals, which I *never* use for ethical reasons). I trained formally and fully in the field of Oriental Medicine, eventually receiving my masters degree and Board certification as an herbologist.

During my studies, I began experimenting with Chinese herbs in my skincare routine, believing totally in their power and the unique Chinese approach I was learning as far as how to combine them for maximum effect. I started virga botanicals before I graduated; it just seemed so in line with the direction I was taking, and was useful as well in our school clinic where I specialized in cosmetic acupuncture procedures.
How do I choose products for my skin type?
The products are grouped according to the skin's needs and the actions of the formulas.
Some products are Universal, meaning they are balanced to have multiple applications and are suitable for any skin type.

A great example the Green Tea Light Moisture Serum. It is an oil-free formula, and very light, so it is perfect used alone for oily skin as a day moisturizer. At the same time it is highly humectant (binds water) and full of antioxidants and sun-protectant green tea, so it works well also as an under-moisturizer serum to revitalize dry or dull skin, as well as just for its natural UV-protection . For combination skin it can be used as an all-over moisturizer with a richer cream applied on top just to dry areas. A complexion with dark spots reaps huge benefits from the brightening licorice, and sensitivity is toned down by the licorice, oats and green tea...

You can look at the products in this and other categories to find what suits your skin best. The glossary, which you can look at here explains some of the bio-actions in more detail if you are unsure or just interested. As always, with any questions you are free to email us or call for personal service. We are happy to help you choose a skincare regime custom suited to your skin's needs.
What distinguishes Virga from the other Holistic skin care lines on the market?
Thanks for asking.

Virga's special contribution to the world of skincare is its unique approach of marrying more familiar Western herbs with classical Eastern therapeutics, under the unifying methodology of Chinese Medicine practice. This tradition of phytotherapeutics is an exact and very complex science. Like everything it seems in Eastern culture, Chinese philosophy recognizes a whole world of properties and functions in each individual entity - in this case, each herb. So, combining them skillfully must be anything but haphazard, since all the qualities of each substance must be taken into account and balanced with all the qualities of every other substance in the formula. It is like a net, the interconnectedness of each thing affecting the relationship between all the others, creating a unified whole that does the job perfectly. I had a teacher in Acupuncture school who used to call this, "an elegant prescription'.
What are your thoughts on SPF's? And what do you recommend for sun defense and anti-aging?
I have mixed feelings on SPF's, I have to say. My own viewpoint is colored, no doubt, by the fact that my skin is allergic and badly reactive to most sunblocks - the worst skin issues I've ever had have involved awful deep weepy rashes after I've used it that took months to heal. For myself, I never, ever put chemical sunblock on my face for this reason.

So, I'm not a big personal fan of the chemical SPF's, always having felt -aside from my own bad experience - that there was something unsettling about those substances that were invisible yet strong enough to keep the sun itself at bay... Recent studies have echoed those suspicions and these days a lot of people are wary of the possible toxic effects of many types of SPF.

Having said all that: I believe completely in maximum sun protection, including daily sun protection. I wear a hat and carry an umbrella whenever I go outside, and religiously avoid the mid-day sun - that 10 to 4 window when it is at its brightest. Covering up as much as possible is important. I also drink green tea, all the time - I drink it like water, actually I drink it instead of water. It is known to have UV-protective effects when taken internally as well as topically, applied to the skin.

There is only one type of SPF I recommend, and that I use myself if I know I will be outside for a prolonged period of time.

My savior, when I cannot avoid the sun, is a 100% barrier formulation, meaning that the active ingredients are inert minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (actually, the second has been considered a little suspect too). These minerals form a physical barrier to the UV rays, like clothing does. Because they are inert, they do not react with or soak into the skin; and hence have a much lower chance of causing side effects. They also protect fully against both UVA and UVB rays, something which is not true of most chemical sunblocks. The trade-off is that, in SPF's high enough to be useful, they do create a visible white film over the skin. This is not so much a problem for someone like me - with my very pale skin it is noticeable but not dramatic. However on darker skin it can look strange, so I think the trick is just to be proud that you are taking such good care of your skin and let people think what they will! But I feel that the best compromise, for just everyday incidental sun protection is to use a barrier sunblock even if you feel you can only apply a little in order not to look pasty - less than the recommended amount if necessary - because any is better than none.

For care and healing of sun-damaged skin, I do recommend green tea. It is one of my favorites, both to drink, and topically. Our Green Tea Serum was made with this in mind, as well as to protect against the sun in the first place. The licorice in it helps with sun spots too. Also, daily application of vitamin C. Our formulation contains a unique non-irritating form. They can be used together, with a moisturizer over the top if you like. And, Cucumber Rosewater Cooling Face Mist is great for taking the heat out of sunburned skin.
Do you have favorite products in the line? What are they and why?
I do have my favorites. Because the line began as my personal homemade skincare regime, I tend to favor the products I made for my own needs way back when, because, of course, I'd kind of tailored them to my skintype. The Triple Rose Cream - I love that because I am a big fan of good nutrient-rich moisturizer. Unlike the other creams, this one is also a bit occlusive - meaning it seals the skin off from the environment giving it extra protection from oxidative damage (don't worry, it can still 'breathe', I promise! That's your blood's job). Even when I was a kid I used this.

And: the Green Tea Serum. I cannot say enough about the benefits of green tea and licorice. The way you are supposed to apply moisturizer over damp skin? I use this to 'dampen' it instead of water. I also love the cleanser, because I favor creamy cleansers and they are so hard to find otherwise.

The Chinese chemist in me loves the Superplants Eye Serum formula, which is composed entirely under the discipline of Chinese Medicine methodology, taking into account all the properties and energetics of each bio-active and fitting them together, like a puzzle, to create a unified, completely targeted whole. That, of course, is why it works so well!

But when something works well for someone - when she is happy and at peace with her skin and in touch with her beauty, and takes the time to let us know - then that thing, at that moment, is most definitely my favorite!
What's the difference between hydrated and oily skin?

What hydrates skin is the water content. Hydrated skin has an appropriate amount of moisture in and between the cells, which makes it supple, soft, glowing, and preserves the elasticity.

Oily skin has an excess of oil, which is completely different from water. Oil is what your skin uses to balance its pH. And, because oil and water cannot mix, it also forms a barrier to keep the water IN the skin - preventing it from evaporating, which it would otherwise do. But oil itself is not moisturizing, which is why creams and oil-containing moisturizers work best when you put them on over WET skin: they seal in the moisture. If you put them on over dry skin, you will just have a layer of oil over dry skin. This is what you DON'T want!

If you mistreat or strip your skin by using products that are too alkaline, it will produce more oil to try to balance the pH... but it won't produce more water. So, you get oily skin. If its dry too, the dry dead skin cells can flake off, mix with the oil and clog the pores. And you REALLY don't want that!

The trick is: hydrate + seal with an oil-containing barrier. Its the symbiotic best of both worlds!

What's the difference between hydrated and oily skin?
What hydrates skin is the water content. Hydrated skin has an appropriate amount of moisture in and between the cells, which makes it supple, soft, glowing, and preserves the elasticity.

Oily skin has an excess of oil, which is completely different from water. Oil is what your skin uses to balance its pH. And, because oil and water cannot mix, it also forms a barrier to keep the water IN the skin - preventing it from evaporating, which it would otherwise do. But oil itself is not moisturizing, which is why creams and oil-containing moisturizers work best when you put them on over WET skin: they seal in the moisture. If you put them on over dry skin, you will just have a layer of oil over dry skin. This is what you DON'T want!

If you mistreat or strip your skin by using products that are too alkaline, it will produce more oil to try to balance the pH... but it won't produce more water. So, you get oily skin. If its dry too, the dry dead skin cells can flake off, mix with the oil and clog the pores. And you REALLY don't want that!

The trick is: hydrate + seal with an oil-containing barrier. Its the symbiotic best of both worlds!
What are the benefits of using a toner?
My feeling is that they are optional for most people. I don't use one and never have; but then my skin tends to be dry and sensitive.

The best use of a toner IMO is to use it to clean off any residue after using a creamy cleanser to wash. And: I always recommend using a creamy cleanser; it maintains the skin's healthy pH a lot better, which keeps it balanced.

I recommend a creamy cleanser even for oily skin, and this is where the toner comes in: a lot of people with oily skin feel a strong need to get every bit of residue off their faces to prevent clogging of pores. Pore-clogging is actually more complicated than this, but so many people are convinced they need to 'super-cleanse' oily skin that I have toners in my line for that purpose; because I know that the alternative is that they would use a foaming, clear cleanser or soap, which I feel is a really bad idea (not pH balanced). So, the toner basically creates the compromise that allows me to hope my suggestion of creamy cleanser for everyone is considered!

Virga has toners that are very very mild and pH balanced (no alcohol) while still wiping clean.
How can I make my hands soft?

Wet them, then slather an occlusive (i.e., very thick) cream on them - Cocoa butter, petroleum jelly (I know, unpopular, but works really well), or Virga Botanicals Overnight Intensive Hand and Nail Treatment are all occlusive and very healing. Your hands should feel so greasy that you couldn't touch or do anything with them - you don't want this to soak in, you want it to coat your hands thickly. Then, put plastic bags over your hands; then pull socks on over that, to hold the plastic bags on.

Do this right before bed. Sleep with your hands covered in goo and plastic all night. Wake up, wipe it off carefully - do not wash with soap! It will have soaked in, held the moisture in all night, and your hands will be awesomely soft! Promise!

One more thing: if you tend towards any nail fungal infections, or have artificial nails, put some anti-fungal cream (the kind for jock-itch or athlete's foot will do) around your nails for a few days afterwards. This is a preventive measure. Fungus is more prone to grow in a moist environment, which is what you are deliberately creating by doing this, so: just to be on the safe side.

What are some tips for skin whitening?

I love licorice extract for skin lightening. It slowly evens the skin tone.

Our Green Tea Light Facial Moisture Serum that contains licorice and has been cherished by a lot of people for just this property! I've been using it since I was 12... 48 now... still happy with my skin!
Can hand sanitizers be used on your face to cure acne?
Oh, wow, please don't do this.

Hand sanitizers are not meant for the face. They contain large amounts of alcohol which will just devastate your skin, dry it out horribly, irritate it and damage it in ways it could take months or even years to heal.

The composition of hand sanitizers makes them very alkaline and this will immediately strip your skin of all the natural protection it needs to remain intact and relatively healthy despite the presence of acne. On top of this, and almost guaranteed, a harsh product like hand sanitizer will make your acne worse.

The best thing to do for acne prone skin is to baby it, treat it gently, and maintain the pH at the optimal level for skin which is about 5.5. You can do this by using a gentle creamy cleanser and then a mild alcohol-free toner afterwards if you feel you still need a 'cleaner' feel. Moisturize with a pH balanced oil-free moisturizer and then leave your skin alone! You can use a spot treatment for inflamed pimples; they can be harsher but only putting them where really needed will spare the rest of your skin. If you need extractions done, I'd see an esthetician. I'd also look at diet and internal imbalances that could be contributing. A Chinese Medicine practitioner trained in herbal therapy and specializing in skincare is a great bet for this (of course, I'm totally biased here!). A dietician or western dermatologist could also help.

But for goodness sake, please don't try the hand sanitizer!!!

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