By: Liz Resnick
Don't spend a fortune on cosmetics when everyday foods offer therapeutic and beauty-boosting benefits without potentially harmful ingredients.
Cleopatra bathed in milk, Japanese geishas washed their faces with rice water, and the Romans slathered themselves with olive oil. For thousands of years, it was understood that certain foods had the power to nourish the skin not just when consumed, but when applied topically. In recent years we've become more reliant on mass-produced cosmetics, with sales of these products in the United States expected to top more than $62 billion this year. But reports on ingredients like endocrine-disrupting phthalates and the potentially carcinogenic foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate may be cause for concern. While Canada and the European Union have banned more than one thousand cosmetic ingredients--including retinoic acid, an acne-fighting ingredient commonly prescribed in the U.S.--the Food and Drug Administration has not yet followed suit.
In response to these mounting concerns about the ingredients found in skin care products, consumers are looking for more natural products. A 2016 report from Mintel indicates widespread interest in food-based and probiotic skin care options among American consumers, 78% of whom already use, or are interested in using, products containing fruit-based ingredients. Eveline Ashton, a bioenergetic practitioner and holistic healer, has noticed this trend as well. "With the growing awareness of climate change and movement toward organics," she says, "I think people are waking up to some of the old ways, where natural is better. I certainly found in my practice that many people came to me because they were not happy with the standard medical emphasis on pharmaceuticals, and more and more people are developing allergies and becoming sensitive to chemicals."
To nourish your skin the way your ancestors did, set aside the expensive products full of questionable ingredients, and try out these natural skin care options. Most of these dermatologist-approved ingredients are probably already in your kitchen cabinet!
Oatmeal is best known as a nutritious breakfast food, but did you know that it offers topical benefits as well? "Oats have long been used, as a paste or solution, for bathing and soothing skin problems and dermatitis," says Alan M. Dattner, M.D., a holistic dermatologist based in New York and author of Radiant Skin From the Inside Out. A compound found in oats called saponin acts as a surfactant, cleansing the skin by binding to impurities in your pores. Oats also contain numerous amino acids, including lysine and arginine, which aid in moisturizing and healing damaged tissue. Many skin care products include oat-derivatives, but with potentially harmful additives. Dyes like Yellow #5 Lake have been linked to cancer and hyperactivity, and the generic term "fragrance" often conceals a host of undisclosed chemicals. Why risk the effects of such ingredients when you can experience the benefits of oats directly from the source?
In addition to their cleansing and healing properties, ground oats make an excellent gentle exfoliator. In December 2015, President Obama signed into law an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, effective in 2017, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of products containing polyethylene (plastic) microbeads, which are the key ingredient in many exfoliating scrubs. While opinions vary on the actual effectiveness of using these beads on your skin, there is no question that they wreck havoc on marine life, as they are insoluble and too small to be filtered out by most wastewater plants. Alternative exfoliators containing salt, sugar, and coffee grounds have gained popularity in response to the microbead problem, but the sharp edges of these substances can cause small tears in the skin. Oats, on the other hand, are less abrasive when ground up into a fine powder, which you can do at home in a food processor. Dattner says the ground oats "should feel a little gritty, but not chunky," like almond meal. And if you are sensitive to gluten, be sure to use a gluten-free variety. Ashton recommends the following uses for oats:
To soothe rashes, eczema, hives, acne, or redness: Mix water and finely ground oats to form a paste, and apply as a facemask or to any affected area. Rinse off with warm water after about 15 minutes--up to an hour, for a particularly bad rash--or when itching subsides. For a full-body soak, add ground oats to lukewarm bath water.
To cleanse and exfoliate: Combine two parts ground oats, one part finely ground almonds (which contain healing vitamin E), water, and a few optional drops of essential oil to form a paste. Gently massage onto dampened skin then rinse with warm water.