Donkey Milk For The Skin: Benefits, Cautions & Products
I've been encouraged to put a laundry list of ingredients on my skin throughout my time as a beauty editor. As someone with once acne-prone and current sensitive skin, I do pause with each new product. Will this throw my complexion into chaos? I think as I scoop out a bit of cream or a pump of serum. So when I hear of ingredients that are effective at their intended purpose—be it brightening, exfoliating, or hydrating—without being irritating, I listen up. And such is the case with donkey milk.
It has a long and fascinating history of use. It's rumored that Cleopatra bathed in donkey's milk for her soft, supple skin. Centuries ago, it was used medicinally in parts of India and Africa. It's been an ingredient used by Greek homeopathic practitioners for years, both topically and internally. It's even been used as a substitute for breast milk, as structurally it most closely resembles human milk. Most recently, it was a K-beauty trendy ingredient formulated into sheet masks and the like. This is all to say: If time and history is any indication, there's something here.
Now, beauty brands are starting to wager the rest of us will join in: In fact this past year, it was the most Googled ingredient, with over 27 million results.
What is donkey milk's benefits for the skin?
The ingredient gets its acclaim from its dense nutrient profile. Called a "natural elixir of youth," it contains several special actives: vitamins A, D, and C; as well as proteins and fatty acids. This blend of nutrients is significant for several reasons.
First up, vitamin A—or what retinol is derived from. Retinol is beloved for its ability to encourage skin cell turnover and help skin cells act younger; however, it is notoriously difficult on skin. But natural alternatives, like vitamin A or bakuchiol, don't have the same issues of irritation. (That being said: They're also not as potent, nor do they all work in the same ways, which is a good thing for many of us with sensitive skin!) Donkey milk contains a surprisingly high amount of the antioxidant, so one of the main functions of the ingredient is skin cell renewal. Expect to see younger, brighter-looking skin with regular use.
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for our skin—as it can help deter premature aging and has major anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies suggest it can help ease inflammatory skin conditions1 like eczema, rosacea, and acne. However, vitamin D's relationship with the skin is a complex one. The primary way humans get it is through UV exposure, but we also know that too much of that has adverse effects on the skin. It's vital to take it as a supplement for your overall health, yes, but you can also help soothe stressed-out skin with it when you use it topically. Donkey milk naturally contains the vitamin, unlike other milks.
Then we have a host of other ingredients, like vitamin C. ("Vitamin C is one of the few active ingredients that can benefit all skin types," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.) This can help improve collagen production in the skin, as well as fight free radicals and help overall tone. Then there are the proteins and fatty acids to help moisture skin as well.
It should go without saying that this is not a vegan product, as it contains an animal byproduct. So if avoiding that is important to you and your skin care standards, skip this trend. However, Liz Folce, vice president at Korres, who uses the ingredient in their new line, explained to me over a Zoom call, donkey milk is collected humanely—with the baby and mother being kept together, unlike typical cow's milk extraction in which they are separated, as the mother donkey literally cannot produce milk without the child present. This also tends to mean the ingredient is created in small batches (much like goat's milk), so it tends to be a rarer, harder-to-find ingredient.
Other than that, it's a fairly mild ingredient and should be suitable for most skin types. Do be sure to do a patch test prior to applying it on your face, as we recommend with any new product or ingredient.
Some of the best ingredients are those that are used time and again, by cultures all across the globe. Donkey milk checks all the boxes, as it's soothing, encourages skin cell renewal, and protects skin with its antioxidant properties.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.