Lately, skin care product labels have been reading more like grocery lists. Blueberries, chocolate, and green tea are just a few of the hot new ingredients found in everything from lotions to lip balms. Is this a gimmick to attract hungry shoppers?
Or, will these incredible edibles nourish your skin from the outside as well as from the inside? After taking a closer look at the research, we discovered that many foods can be used to make effective food facials, fresh from the kitchen. Here are the top choices for five common skin concerns.
Oil-producing sebaceous glands keep skin soft and retain moisture. When your skin lacks oil or moisture, the cells in the outer layers shrink and curl at the edges, resulting in dry skin. This can occur when too much of the skin’s protective oil has been washed away with harsh soaps, when less moisture is in the air (such as during winter months), or even after taking a hot shower.
Inexpensive, at-home food facial treatments are a creative way to help treat dry skin, according to Laura DuPriest, aesthetician and author of Natural Beauty: Pamper Yourself with Salon Secrets at Home (Prima, 2002). “You don’t have to make skin care complicated,” DuPriest says. “One great, easy facial for dry skin is to smear tomato paste on your face. Leave the paste on for five minutes and then rinse it away with warm water.” DuPriest says tomato paste is acidic enough to provide gentle exfoliation that will make your skin feel softer and appear smoother but is mild enough for dry skin. Tomato paste is also a rich source of the carotenoid antioxidant lycopene, which in one clinical study helped protect skin against damage from exposure to UVB sunlight (Nutrition and Cancer, 2003, vol. 47, no. 2). Tomato paste contains skin-nourishing vitamins A (converted from beta-carotene by the skin), C, and E. In addition to being protective antioxidants that fight free radical damage, these three vitamins can also help rejuvenate dry skin.
Other powerful foods that benefit all skin types and especially dry skin are olive oil, green tea, grape seed, pomegranate, and blueberry. These foods’ antioxidants “protect skin from free radical damage that results from pollution, oxygen, and sunlight,” says Paula Begoun, author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter without Me (Beginning Press, 2003). “The general rule of thumb is that more is better. And there is no single best antioxidant; these are only the antioxidants that we know about right now.”
As a daily moisturizer for dry skin, Begoun recommends applying a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil to help smooth and moisten tight, flakey skin. Make sure to wipe away any excess oil to keep your skin from getting too greasy. Olive oil mimics the lipid profile of skin and is rich in skin-protective antioxidants. In one study, olive oil helped protect mice from cancer tumors after exposure to UVB sunlight (Carcinogenesis, 2000, vol. 21, no. 11). Other excellent moisturizers that also mimic the skin’s lipid profile include apricot oil, canola oil, coconut oil, corn oil, safflower oil, shea butter, sesame oil, soybean oil, and sweet almond oil, according to Begoun.
If you have oily skin, certain foods can help control oil production without overdrying the skin. One of DuPriest’s favorite masks is a mix of a few crushed strawberries and a dab of sour cream. “Apply it to your face for a few minutes and then gently wash it off with warm water,” says DuPriest. Strawberries contain three antioxidants that perform double duty by protecting skin from UV rays and helping to rejuvenate skin: vitamins A, C, and E. And the soothing fat in sour cream will help temper the exfoliating properties of the strawberry seeds.
When excess oil and dead skin cells clog a pore, certain types of bacteria can thrive. One such bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, causes irritating blemishes. To fight pimples, Begoun recommends reducing the skin’s oil content, exfoliating the dead skin cells from pores, and disinfecting to reduce acne-promoting bacteria. “Gentle ingredients are essential first steps toward clearing your skin,” says Begoun. “There are common myths that overdrying, cooling, or tingling sensations mean that the products are working. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What you are doing is irritating already inflamed skin, which can interfere with the skin’s healing process.”
A simple facial for acne-prone skin is DuPriest’s cornmeal scrub. To make one application of this mask, mix 1 tablespoon of cornmeal with one egg white. If necessary, add some warm water to make a thick paste. Apply the mask by lightly massaging it onto the skin, and let it dry for about ten minutes. Gently remove the mask using a washcloth and warm water. The coarse cornmeal, warm water, and washcloth naturally exfoliate excess dead skin. DuPriest uses the egg whites to dry out excess oil on the skin. Egg whites also contain lysozyme, an antibacterial compound that is used as a food preservative. For daily acne treatments (because masks are recommended for use only once or twice weekly), consult with your health care professional for advice about appropriate and mild antibacterial products.
“The skin on your lips has no oil glands,” says Begoun, “so you need a combination of moisturizing ingredients, such as oil or lanolin, in a thick waxy base, such as beeswax, that will hold the moisturizers to your skin.” DuPriest recommends using either butter or honey on chapped lips. Antibacterial honey will stick well to lips and has moisturizing and wound-healing properties for skin. And unlike slippery olive oil, butter is a solid fat that will stay on the lips longer, giving them enough time to absorb the beneficial moisturizing compounds.
Puffy or tired eyes
To soothe your puffy or tired eyes, DuPriest points to chamomile. This herb contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds, such as apigenin, chamazulene, and alpha-bisabolol. Green tea also has anti-inflammatory compounds, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which makes it an excellent remedy for puffy eyes, according to DuPriest. When your eyes need a little pick-me-up, simply put brewed and cooled chamomile or green tea bags on your eyes for a few minutes to reduce swelling.
Try it yourself
In addition to making fun and effective food facials, you’ll need to feed your skin from within by drinking plenty of water and eating a sensible diet rich in protective antioxidants, whole grains, bioavailable proteins, and health-promoting fats. It’s always important to choose the right ingredients, whether you are eating your groceries or looking for a fun food facial perfect for your skin type. The next time you have a skin issue, why not head to the grocery aisles instead of the cosmetics counter?
Santa Cruz, California-based Adina Licht is a nutrition and food scientist with a love for chocolate and other skin-healthy foods.