Stinging your face with nettles in the name of beauty formulation counts as the ultimate dedication to your craft. It's what facialist Deborah Mitchell did in order to create a vegan version of her cult Heaven Skincare Been Venom Mask, £86 using nettles. Deborah spent five years workout out how to get the same line-softening effect from nettles as from bee venom and the result is her new Heaven Skincare Nettle Venom Anti-Ageing Cream , £64, Nettle Venom Eyes, £55 eye cream and Nettle Venom Anti-Ageing Serum, £55 .
"I did literally sit in my kitchen stinging the lines on my forehead," says Deborah, who's possibly best known for being the Duchess of Cornwall's facialist. Camilla has been early adopter of the new nettle cream after receiving facials from Deborah using samples of it for more than a year before it launched in July. According to Deborah, she "loved the results". As a bee lover and president of the charity Bees for Development, Camilla may well prefer this insect-free alternative.
"The venom of the nettle causes a reaction similar to that of bees when they sting – the skin goes into rapid repair on first contact," Deborah explains.
Deborah forages the nettles in the hedgerows near her Shropshire home and endured many painful face rashes before working out how to extract the active venom and bottle it into a cream that felt pleasant to use.
For decades, nettles have traditionally been used in everything from detox teas to hair growth serums, cleansers and shampoos. "They are mildly astringent but also really soothing a nd calming to inflamed skin," says natural skincare formulator Annee de Mamiel who uses nettle extract in her De Mamiel Skin Pure Calm Cleansing Dew £55 and her Exhale Daily Hydrating Nectar, SPF 30 £83 . "They also have wonderful antioxidant properties."
But Deborah's Nettle Venom cream is the first time that the sting has been harvested for beauty purposes and claims to stimulate the skin’s natural repair processes to heal blemishes and redness as well as a lifting effect when used over time.
So what does it feel like? I was braced for impact when I opened my jar and applied the fine white cream on my face, but no need. There was only a fleeting mild tingling; no Botox-like frown-freezing effect either, but as the skin takes four-to-six weeks to renew it’s too early to tell (incidentally, I did a split face test with the original Bee Venom Mask and couldn’t discern a difference).
Both creams trick the skin into thinking that it has been stung, increasing blood supply, relaxing the muscles and a regenerative healing response. If the real-life pain of being stung by a bee versus a nettle, is anything to go by you'd think that the Bee Venom Mask (which doesn't harm bees in the making incidentally) would win out. But Deborah says they are equally as good (as of course, she would) and work in a slightly different way. 'While the nettles contain serotonin to calm your complexion, the bee venom has naturally-found antibiotics to cure skin conditions."
You can use them both in tandem, one morning and the other night, she adds, "This will make your skin think it’s been stung countless times (without the pain, of course); your skin’s own receptors contain proteins – called interferons – that start to reinforce it from the inside out."
Understandably Deborah is not letting on how she extracts the nettle sting to make her patented ‘Nettatoxin’ ingredient, but hints that it’s all done by hand using nettles harvested in the afternoons when they are at their most potent. Each jar contains half an ounce of nettle venom – about a heaped teaspoon and because the ingredient is used fresh, the creams are only made in small, seasonal batches. When this batch sells out, customers will have to wait until next year when wild nettles are once again available.
Buy Heaven Skincare Nettle Venom Anti-Ageing Cream ,£64. In the meantime, to harness the many other beauty benefits of nettles, try these:
The pollution protector
Handmade in England, this botanical serum harnesses the detoxifying and antioxidant protection powers of nettle extract along with other potent botanicals including echinacea and green tea to make the skin more resilient and repair damage caused by pollution. With pollution a prime cause of spots, ageing and dullness, my urban commuter skin lapped up this potent serum, which was instantly uplifting and soothing. It and sat well under moisturiser and makeup, and has become something I wear religiously on office days.
For a clean and green cleanse
Nettle juice is one of six vitamin and mineral-rich foods in this cocktail of super greens rich in ‘prebiotics’, the food that our bacteria need to thrive and which is key for a healthy skin barrier. This light gel is a nutrient-dense facial smoothie with nettle, broccoli, kale, avocado, pumpkin seed and wheatgrass. A pea-sized amount of this green gel is all you need for the gentle astringent powers of nettle. I;ve become rather addicted to this when I don't want to use my usual balm cleanser.
For a blemish busting SPF day cream
This scent-free daily moisturiser from the clean beauty brand has a super fine mineral sunblock in the form of zinc oxide and doesn't leave a white cast. Nettle is used here to help calm, brighten and repair spot-prone skin. With organic and wild-crafted ingredients such as dandelion, nettle and rosehip, it sounds like a forager’s dream. Aloe vera and chamomile soothe and calm. Fortunately for the price, a little goes a long way.
To boost hair growth
Nettle is a traditional remedy for hair loss and this organic scalp stimulating serum promises to turn back the clock on tired follicles. The serum feels zingy, as though it's waking up my scalp. Best used the night before a hair wash
The multivitamin for the skin
This cool Californian serum made by a winery owner April Gargiulo is a often name-checked by Gwyneth Paltrow. The reason for the eye-watering price tag is that it takes an unheard-of three weeks to make as opposed to the usual six hours for an industry-standard oil. During that time, the oil is infused with 22 whole plants, including nettle, from 'conscious growers' – as opposed to being a concoction of added essences or extracts. It's a top-secret process, but April loosely described it to me as being a bit like the way you'd infuse your posh olive oil with herbs, peppercorns and chillis over several days to release the flavour. Nettle is added for its high vitamin A and C content to combat wrinkles and sun damage. A real treat that beauty insiders rightly rave about.
To zap greasy hair
This natural cleaning spray with nettle extract from the French botanical brand uses corn and rice starch to cleanse the scalp, while silica helps zap greasy hair smells. It claims to control oil for 48 hours and does a pretty good job on lank second-day roots. It's scent-free so doesn't compete with my perfume. Make sure you muss it through thoroughly – this is a white powder that can make you look prematurely ancient if you’re a bit slapdash or hold the bottle too close to your head. A more natural option than most dry shampoos, which can leave a chemical smell. Klorane also does a Tinted Dry Shampoo With Nettle, £9.
The luxe de-fizzing, smoothing shampoo
This luxe silicone and sulfate-free shampoo (which has a matching moisturising Atlantis Conditioner, £24.50 ) uses nettle plant extract to add shine and tame frizz. It made by a New York styling collective who prize fine fragrance in their products describe themselves ‘as rule-bending’. Possibly the only rule you'll have to bend is spending more on shampoo than on your dinner, but it's a real treat. This is a superior hair wash experience that really does leave your hair soft, bouncy and hair-ad glossy, and smelling expensive with fragrance notes of bergamot, wild fig, cyclamen, lotus flower, cedarwood and tonka beans.
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