Sarah Villafranco, M.D., is a natural skin-care expert and practiced emergency medicine for 10 years.
When you look at the ingredient labels of some of your favorite natural skin care products, you'll likely see many ingredients you recognize from your pantry. For good reason: Many of the same foods that you use to nurture your body are healthy when applied topically as well. So if you're looking to experiment with a new Sunday night mask or DIY your own body oil, you'll likely find what you need right at home—or with a quick grocery store run.
But don't just take our word for it: There's actually research and dermatological studies to back these claims up. Read below for some of our science-backed favorites:
Honey (or even better: manuka honey) is one of the most multifunctional items in your kitchen. Within skin care, research shows that raw, organic honey has antimicrobial properties, can help heal skin wounds, and is anti-inflammatory.
Try it at home: Manuka honey has gained popularity as a face wash recently: Simply apply it to dampened skin and remove with a warm washcloth. You can also use it at as a healing mask once a week by applying a thin layer on clean skin for about 10 minutes, before rinsing it off with warm water.
2. Coconut oil
This trendy household staple is used for everything from natural lip glosses and hair masks to the ayurvedic practice of oil pulling. The oil is rich in fatty acids, which give it antibacterial properties, helps your skin boost collagen production, and can help improve moisture levels and the barrier function. People also love it because they find it absorbs easier than other, thicker oils (there's likely some truth there: It's a monounsaturated fat, which has higher permeability rates for the dermis.) However, coconut oil has also been found to be comedogenic—pore-clogging—in some patients. It’s also very high in lauric acid, which can accumulate in the top layer of the skin without penetrating, leaving the skin drier over time if used too much.
Try it at home: It works as a great base for most DIY beauty products—try it with sea salt for a moisturizing body scrub (see here).
3. Olive oil
Olive oil is high in vitamin E, an oil-soluble antioxidant that is often used in anti-aging products. When applied topically, this can help reduce oxidative stress on the skin and hair. The vitamin E also makes it incredibly anti-inflammatory for skin experiencing free-radical damage from sun exposure, according to a study. However, studies do show that regular application can exacerbate eczema, if you are prone to the skin disorder.
Try it at home: Organic, virgin olive oil tends to be a go-to for all-natural oil cleansing due to its high antioxidant content and ability to lift off even the most stubborn of makeup. Even if you are not one to oil-cleanse, one drop per eye makes for an excellent makeup remover.
4. Shea butter
Rich in triglycerides, shea butter is an excellent emollient and can help skin reduce moisture loss. Shea butter extract has also been shown to be anti-inflammatory, and one study even suggests it has similar topical effects as ceramides, an ingredient often used in luxe skin care products.
Try it at home: It's a thicker texture, so if you'd like to use it topically, we’d suggest as an intensive hand cream or on your legs post shave. You can also make pretty wonderful lip products with the butter as a base (read about them here).
This is the classic go-to for sunburns and soothing gels for a reason. It is high in vitamins A, C, E, and B12, which help reduce damage done by free radicals; it also contains inflammation-reducing enzymes. But the reason most people love it is how easily it sinks into skin (which is likely due to the high water content; the gel is about 90% water).
Try it at home: Why mess with success—the most popular (and easy) way to use the plant is simply by slicing open a leaf and applying the gel topically. Use it on a fresh burn, along with one drop of pure lavender essential oil. And don’t be surprised by the odd smell of raw aloe—it’s more pungent than you’d expect.
Oat, oat extract, and colloidal oat is a favorite ingredient in sensitive skin care products, as it is found to be very calming for irritated skin. Research shows that this is due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antihistamine effects, which is why it's so often used to soothe atopic allergic reactions.
Try it at home: Try drawing a colloidal oat bath (or oats ground to a fine powder, so it mixes in with the water), which is especially effective for any itchiness caused by dry skin. Mix in one cup to your warm bath water as it's running.
7. Avocado and avocado oil
This mealtime essential is a skin care savior thanks to the plethora of nutrient waxes, minerals, proteins, and vitamins—with studies suggesting it can be a nourishing antioxidant treat for the skin. Also of note: Avocado oil, which is extracted from the pulp, has been shown to increase collagen synthesis in one study.
Try it at home: There are plenty of at-home avocado masks out there—many including other items on this list, like honey, yogurt, and oat. To get you started, a half avocado, mashed, is a good base.
8. Sunflower seed oil
Studies have shown that this will likely be one of your best natural options for improving barrier function: The oil, high in linoleic acid, improves skin's hydration and lipid synthesis, without causing irritation. It's also shown to be noncomedogenic.
Try it at home: If you want a lighter oil for a face wash, especially if you are acne-prone, sunflower seed oil will be ideal for cleansing—in fact, many of the popular oil face washes contain the ingredient. You can also use it as a light body oil, applied to wet skin.
There might not be as much research for the vegetable's skin care benefits, but there is a reason it's used so often in spas: It can be highly soothing for tired or inflamed skin. Not only is the high water content hydrating, but studies suggest the other nutrients in the juice can help reduce swelling as well.
Try it at home: If you have time in the morning, skip the jade rollers or refrigerated spoons, and opt-for this old-school technique—simply place two chilled slices over your eyes to de-puff and energize skin.
10. Almond oil
Here's a great body moisturizer: The emollient has been shown in one study to help reduce the appearance and formation of stretch marks. It's been shown to have photo-protective effects on the skin as well, as it can help reduce the damage of photo-aging.
Try it at home: You can make pretty great body oils with just a few simple ingredients—like this luxe, yet inexpensive, recipe.
11. Buttermilk or yogurt
Fermented dairy products contain lactic acid, a favorite among estheticians and dermatologists due to its gentle exfoliation and hydration properties. They also contain tons of good-for-your-skin-microbiome probiotics, which recent research shows can be beneficial for acne-prone skin when taken orally or even topically. The combo of these two actives make for a great skin treatment: One study found that natural yogurt masks improved the moisture, elasticity, and brightness of the skin.
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