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Proven Home Remedies for Common Conditions

Look and feel better with these inexpensive natural treatments

baking soda in a glass and lemon halves

Photo by Renee Comet

Equal parts of baking soda and lemon mixed together is a healthy mixture to rub on discolored nails.

En español | Do you have trouble sleeping? Does your skin look tired and dry? Then it might just be time for a spa getaway. But don't despair if you're not flush with cash — we're not talking about a weekend at a desert ranch.

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All you'll need to look and feel refreshed are a few minutes to yourself and a handful of ingredients that may already be in your pantry or refrigerator. These easy home remedies will boost the health of your hair, nails and skin — and likely your mood, as well.

Remember that natural remedies are not cures, says Dr. Barbara Reed, Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Always check with your doctor to make sure your symptoms are not related to an underlying health condition.

Discolored Nails

As we age, nails grow at a slower rate and may become dull or yellowed. Consider stopping nail polish use or smoking if those practices could be contributing to changes in your nail color. In some cases, discolored nails could be a symptom of a serious condition, so it's important to talk to your doctor, especially if you see a dramatic change in nail color.

If you're healthy but your nails are discolored, try lightly scrubbing nails with equal parts lemon juice and baking soda, Dr. Reed says. The acidic and antimicrobial properties of the lemon combined with abrasion from baking soda will lighten discolorations.  

If a fungal infection is to blame, try "tea tree oil or medicated vapor rub, applied around and squished under the nail twice a day for at least 6 months," says Reed.

Next: This plant improves sleep. >>

lavender sprigs and lavender oil

Photo by Renee Comet

The scent of lavender can ease insomnia and help improve sleep.

Insomnia

As many as one half of older adults have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, according to the American Psychological Association. "As we get older, sleep becomes more and more an issue. Sleep gets more fragmented — we wake up more often," says Dr. Philip T. Hagen, vice chair of the Mayo Clinic's Division of Preventive and Occupational and Aerospace Medicine and co-author of the Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies.

Studies have shown that the scent of lavender helps improve sleep and can prolong deep sleep. How lavender works its magic isn't yet clear. But scent receptors in the nose are very old, from an evolutionary standpoint, and closely connected to the brain, says Hagen.

For a sound sleep, try using lavender oil in a reed or other type of diffuser in the bedroom, or put a few drops of oil on a fabric that does not come in direct contact with your skin.

Next: A simple way to protect your nails. >>

olive oil in a jar and two nail brushes

Photo by Renee Comet

Olive oil can soften brittle nails.

Brittle Nails

Moisturizing nails with olive or coconut oil can help hydrate dry and brittle nails, says Dr. Wendy E. Roberts, founding director of Dermatopathology at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. The best time to hydrate is after bathing. Try rubbing oil over the entire nail on a daily basis. If you take an evening bath, wear light cotton gloves to bed to keep oil from getting on clothes and sheets.

"Vitamins are so important with nails, especially the omega-3 complex," says Roberts, a dermatologist who specializes in dermatopathology. Vitamin C and folate are also important, she adds. Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, fish oils and almonds will help keep nails from drying out.

Next: Use this pantry staple to relieve dry skin. >>

dry oatmeal sits in a lovely linen fabric

Photo by Renee Comet

Oatmeal eases dry skin. Add some to the bath or wrap use it as a gentle scrub for your skin.

Dry skin

If your skin has lost moisture, help restore it with oatmeal. Roberts calls oatmeal the "single most important natural remedy for people with eczema and sensitive skin." What makes it so effective? A combination of fatty acids, proteins and vitamins help the skin retain moisture and relieve inflammation.

Add a cup of oatmeal to a warm, but not hot, bath, or sponge yourself with a handful wrapped in cheesecloth or a handkerchief.  "While you can use whatever you have in the pantry, the finely milled oatmeal works best in the bathtub," says Hagen. Finely milled oatmeal is sold over-the-counter as colloidal oatmeal. If you use oatmeal from your pantry, make sure it's not instant because preservatives have been added to processed oatmeal.

Exfoliating and moisturizing scrubs also help with dry skin, says Roberts. "Plus," she adds, "scrubs are fun to make." Scrubs are usually sugar-, salt- or oatmeal-based. Mix the exfoliating ingredient with honey or any type of natural oil ingredients until they're a consistency that you can apply on your body and use once a week, she says. The salt scrub will be the harshest, so those with sensitive skin may want to stick with sugar or oatmeal mixed with honey. You can use the salty or sugary concoction as a spot treatment for dry lips, too.

Next: Easy remedies for dandruff. >>

a bowl of tee tree oil with a spoon and two oil bottles

Photo by Renee Comet

Tea tree oil's antiseptic qualities can help relieve dandruff.

Dandruff

Dandruff occurs when the scalp's skin cells grow at a fast rate and the dead skin cells build up and flake off in clumps. A yeast-like fungus called malassezia, which occurs naturally on the scalp, may cause skin cells to grow faster and contribute to the condition. Styling products, stress and dry weather can also cause dandruff or make it worse.

Tea tree oil, or malaleuca oil, from the leaves of a native Australian plant, has antiseptic and antifungal properties that may help, says Hagen. Shampoos with tea tree oil can be found in most drug stores. Or you can buy tea tree oil and add a few drops to a tablespoon of olive, safflower or other cooking oil and rub it into your hair before using your regular shampoo. Be sure to always dilute the oil, since applying too much to the skin may cause irritation.

Another home remedy for dandruff is green tea. Research has shown that green tea's anti-inflammatory properties may soothe the scalp and slow down the growth of skin cells. Steep two bags of green tea in one cup of hot water. Once the water has cooled, massage the tea into your scalp, let it soak in for up to an hour and rinse.

Next: How to beat dull hair. >>

mayonnaise in a porcelain cup

Photo by Renee Comet

Mayonnaise adds moisture to dry, brittle hair.

Dry and Dull Hair

Harsh chemicals and intense heat from styling tools can strip away your hair's outer layer, robbing your hair of moisture. Roberts recommends restoring moisture through hot oil treatments. You can use any oil that you have in the house — for example, safflower, canola, olive. Heat it up so that it is warm but not too hot. The important thing is to massage it into your scalp, she says. Then put on a shower cap for about an hour, then rinse or shampoo out the oil.

And yes, it's true, mayonnaise works as a conditioner. Slather your hair with a generous dollop, put on a shower cap for up to an hour, says Roberts.  

To enhance shine and remove build-up of oils from shampoo and styling products, try an apple cider vinegar rinse, says Roberts. Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of water, apply it to your hair and then rinse. If smelling salad-like is a concern, she says, you can apply your regular conditioner afterward.

Next: A rinse to treat oily hair. >>

apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon, and water in a glass

Photo by Renee Comet

Apple cider vinegar mixed with water can help oily hair.

Oily Hair

People with thin hair and blondes are more likely to have oily hair because their scalps have more oil glands (followed by brunettes and redheads), according to The Doctors Book of Home Remedies. While the thickness and color of your hair may be out of your control, you can fight stringy, greasy hair with an apple cider vinegar rinse. Apple cider vinegar helps reestablish homeostasis in hair follicles and so works to correct dry and oily locks, says Roberts. Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of water, apply it to your hair and then rinse. You can also cut down on oils by rinsing hair with the juice of two lemons in a quart of water.

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