Cosmetic chemists may work in sterile labs, but these days they're playing with a farmers market's worth of plants as they concoct our beauty products. That's because extracts from grapes, green tea leaves, pomegranates, aloe, and more are research-proven anti-agers. Tap into eight plant-powered wonders and grow younger.
THE REDNESS REDUCER
Herbalists have traditionally used this white-flowered plant to bring down fevers — hence the name. It's got powerful anti-inflammatory benefits for your skin, too. "Feverfew is used to counter redness, like rosacea," says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD.
"This could prove to be a promising way to protect skin, but it's not a replacement for sunscreen," cautions Joseph Fowler Jr., MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Louisville.
THE ANTI-AGING POWERHOUSES
The fruit's juicy red seeds are used in ayurvedic medicine to help with digestion, but science has learned that they're also packed with powerful antioxidant compounds called polyphenols.
"These help prevent and repair UV damage," says Macrene Alexiades, MD, PhD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. "Pomegranate extract also has lots of vitamin C, which can help brighten the complexion and prevent brown patches — and it boosts collagen production," says Alexiades.
Where to Find It: The Body Shop Pomegranate Firming Night Cream ($19, thebodyshop.com), Sephora Collection Pomegranate Face Mask ($6, sephora.com), Weleda Pomegranate Firming Eye Cream ($33, usa.weleda.com)
3. Green Tea
The health benefits of green tea, whether you drink it or put it to work on your skin, are off the charts — and extensively studied.
"Its high concentration of antioxidant polyphenols help repair environmental damage from sun and pollution," says Alexiades. "It also can neutralize free radicals that injure a cell's DNA and destroy collagen and elastin."
What's more, green tea is an anti-inflammatory, so it shouldn't irritate your skin — in fact, it's even been shown to help reduce redness, she says. (Looking for green tea on the label? It might be listed by its official plant name, Camellia sinensis.)
Where to Find It: John Masters Organics Green Tea & Rose Hydrating Face Serum ($26, johnmasters.com), Origins Eye Doctor ($37, origins.com), Alba Botanica Hawaiian Oil Free Moisturizer with Aloe & Green Tea ($15, target.com)
The skin of red grapes is a source of resveratrol, an antioxidant compound that's "even more powerful than green tea," says Alexiades. "It's probably the most potent plant-derived antioxidant we've identified thus far."
In grapes, it helps protect the fruit from sun and pollution, and it could do the same thing for your skin. Resveratrol also could have an important youthifying edge over other naturals: "Studies on mice have found that resveratrol in high doses stimulates proteins called sirtuins in the cells to make them live longer," says Baumann. "It's preliminary, but it could mean that the skin will age at a slower rate." We'll drink to that!
Where to Find It: Philosophy Anti-Wrinkle Miracle Worker ($22, philosophy.com), 100% Pure Red Wine Resveratrol Antioxidant Serum ($45, 100percentpure.com), Caudalie Resveratrol Lift Eye Lifting Balm ($62, sephora.com)
THE BROWN SPOT FIGHTERS
5. Licorice Root
Some derms use licorice as a topical ingredient because it can calm irritation and help fade brown spots. The two often go hand in hand.
"Any type of inflammation can trigger the skin to make extra pigment, especially in people with darker complexions," says dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, the director of Ethnic Skin Care for the University of Miami Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery. "That means a pimple or a bug bite can end up leaving a dark mark."
Hydroquinone, the gold-standard treatment for hyper pigmentation, can cause side effects with long-term use, so Woolery-Lloyd often recommends licorice root products to her patients in order to maintain results: "I've found it to be extremely effective."
Where to Find It: Eucerin Redness Relief Soothing Cleanser ($11, amazon.com), Burt's Bees Radiance Serum ($18, burtsbees.com), Skin Medica Lytera Skin Brightening Complex ($130, skinmedica.com), which Baumann loves for its excellent lightening effects.
How did soy get discovered as a skin-care ingredient? Workers in the tofu industry noticed that soybean paste made their skin smoother and more even-toned, the story goes, and somewhere a beauty lightbulb went off.
Not only is soy rich in moisturizing amino and fatty acids, but research has shown that it can reduce sun-induced brown patches by blocking melanin from reaching the skin.
"In multiple studies, soy has been proven to lighten dark spots," says Woolery-Lloyd. It's also a well-researched antioxidant that helps combat fine lines and wrinkles.
THE SKIN SOOTHERS
The gooey gel inside the leaves of the aloe plant is made up of water and fatty acids, so it's a natural hydrator. (No wonder it can survive in an arid desert.) It also helps heal wounds, which is why people have put aloe on burns for eons — plus, it has anti-inflammatory components that can calm the skin, says Baumann. "In fact, in one study, it worked better than 1 percent hydrocortisone."
You can slice off a piece of an aloe leaf and apply the gel directly onto your skin, but — full disclosure — the ooze is a little sticky and stinky, so you may want to try our product picks.
Where to Find It: Dr Dennis Gross Skincare Hydra-Pure Oil-Free Moisture ($78, drdennisgross.com), Key West Aloe Cucumber Under Eye Gel ($25, keywestaloe.com), Bare Republic Milk & Honey Daily Recovery Serum ($12, target.com)
8. Colloidal Oatmeal
The ancient Egyptians knew their beauty treatments and added oats to baths as a skin softener. Colloidal oatmeal isn't the same thing as the oats you cook up for breakfast; the pulverized grains are boiled to make an extract rich in proteins and lipids. These can moisturize and strengthen the skin barrier, says Fowler.
"This is probably my favorite natural ingredient, especially for people with dry skin and eczema, because it has potent anti-inflammatory components that calm irritated skin," he says.
He suggests colloidal oatmeal baths for acute poison ivy or chicken pox and a lotion with the ingredient for chronic conditions like eczema. It's one of the few natural remedies that has the FDA's seal of approval as a safe and effective way to relieve skin irritation.
This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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