In my nearly two decades as a spa director, the process of seeking out high-quality, healthy face and body products was a constant, ongoing project for me. My ambition was to find formulations that delivered on three essential fronts: high quality, high performance and healthy (for you and for the environment).
Since then, there's been enormous growth in sophisticated, plant-based skin care products and a virtual movement by indie skin care formulators that are making magic with nature's assets, leaving behind cheap lab-produced shortcuts and opting for the real thing. When distilled, pressed and extracted for their essence, these ingredients make powerful friends with your skin.
Here are a few of the latest skin superstars you should be on the lookout for:
1. Argan Kernel Oil
Argan oil, harvested primarily in Morocco, is pressed from the hard argan fruit kernel to yield a golden oil rich in Omega-6 and -9 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Familiar enough in the realm of supplements, when applied to the skin in this whole food form, they help retain optimal moisture levels and promote a healthy anti-inflammatory response. The EFAs in argan oil also work as natural absorption enhancers, making it a popular ingredient to apply to dry and brittle hair to restore its healthy shine.
2. Algae/Kelp Extract
Algae and kelp are sea plants with mineral profiles nearly identical to our own. They deliver a healthy dose of nutrients (potassium, magnesium and calcium) which spur cellular detoxification, reduce water retention and alleviate puffiness. Rich in collagen-building zinc, iodine and copper, algae and kelp extracts are effective in eye, face and body skin care products to combat dryness and increase elasticity. Apply a mineral-rich seaweed face mask once a week to clarify skin.
3. Carrot Seed Oil
Carrot seed oil is distilled from the tiny, dry seeds of the wild carrot plant commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace. An underappreciated essential oil, it leads the way in plant extracts that deliver Vitamin A which is excellent for skin repair and collagen production. Look for carrot seed oil in face serums and oils — it'll provide a strong dose of antioxidant vitamins C and E that will work to counteract the effects of free radical damage.
4. Green Coffee Extract
One of the most potent forms of natural antioxidants comes from green, unroasted, cold-pressed coffee beans. With more than ten times the antioxidant power of green tea, green coffee's high levels of polyphenols, chlorogenic acid and ferulic acid actively fight free radicals. These antioxidants allow skin to reduce free radical damage, heal scar tissue and promote rapid cell regeneration, making green coffee extract a great ingredient to target dull skin. Look for green coffee extract as a superstar ingredient in anti-aging eye and face serums.
5. Reishi Mushroom Extract
You may have seen this anti-inflammatory workhorse on the supplements shelves of your health food store, but reishi mushroom extract is so powerful it's also being used in cancer and AIDS treatments. Proving what's good for the inside is also good for the outside, this anti-aging ingredient is showing up in skin care — mostly face serums — because of its high concentration of polysaccharides and antioxidants. When smoothed on the skin, this medicinal mushroom extract treats puffiness and inflammation while stealthily increasing cell regeneration.
6. Rose Oil
Rose oil is blooming with essential fatty acids that when applied topically, help skin cells absorb and retain moisture, leaving the surface hydrated, healthy and smooth. Look for it in moisturizers, serums and eye treatments to plump delicate skin and smooth fine lines. Rose is among the most treasured essential oils due to its holistic ability to gently soothe and clear the skin. Rose hydrosol — the liquid left over from rose oil distillation — has similar properties and can be used on its own and throughout the day as a skin-quenching facial toner or mist.
Turmeric root, one of my personal favorites, has a long history of use in Chinese and Indian medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent, one as potent as hydrocortisone and Motrin. The orange pigment found in the root is called curcumin, which works as a melanin production inhibitor for the natural treatment of hyperpigmentation, acne scarring and other skin damage. Turmeric has finally made its way into indie skin care products and is now used in a variety of skin care solutions. It's most effective as a treatment face mask that can be left on long enough for the skin to absorb its healing and brightening benefits.
Which one of these up-and-coming skincare ingredients are you going to add to your beauty regimen?