If you’re the type of person who looks at the little bottles of serums and mists and tonics on the shelves at Sephora and sees legit magic potions (pffft, “skin care products”), then you know the thrill of discovering a secret new substance that supposedly delivers life-changing results. Naturally, those secrets don’t keep for long; right now, everybody’s singing the praises of food-based skin care ingredients for such superpowers as the ability to fight everything from wrinkles to redness to blemishes and more… but do they really deliver?
When it comes to believing that a certain product is as miraculous as it claims to be, I’m probably a little too willing to suspend disbelief… again, probably because in my mind mascara wands are right up there with Harry Potter wands (if HP weren’t fictional, that is). So while the science behind why such wholesome, even ingestible ingredients like Vitamin C and turmeric are good for your skin seems pretty solid, I wanted to consult with a skin care professional to find out if my hopes were wildly misplaced. So I reached out to Dr. Richard Torbeck, board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, for his take on five food-based ingredients that are currently super trendy.
I’ve had good results with taking probiotics internally for a number of issues (mostly digestive), so I assumed all the new fermented skin care products on the market were probably fairly promising. As Dr. Roshini Raj (gastroenterologist and founder of skin care line Tula) told New York magazine, research suggests that the “skin responds as well to probiotics as the gut does;” the article even cited one study from NCBI which found that topically applied lactic acid bacterium increased the ceramides in the skin.
“Moisturizing with these creams may help reduce dry and irritated skin,” agreed Dr. Torbeck.
That said, Dr. Torbeck thinks that more definitive research needs to be done before any claims can be substantiated, though he does see a potential benefit in their use, particularly for those with eczema or acne-prone skin.
“It has been shown that people with eczema can colonize staphylyococcus on their skin,” he explained, and a product with properties similar to a gut probiotic could help “push out those potential colonizers.”
Tula Skincare Kefir Moisture Repair Pressed Serum, pictured above, contains 4 powerful strains of probiotics sourced from kefir plus arctic winged kelp for elasticity and firmness. ($65, Dermstore)
It’s pretty easy to understand the concept behind superfood-infused skin care: Just like that green juice you grab on the way to work when you’re trying to kick a cold, leafy greens and berries infuse products with a range of important nutrients.
“Both kale and spinach are rich in a variety of potent antioxidants that help reduce skin inflammation,” Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told Allure. “Superfoods provide our body with the building blocks it needs to function optimally, and now their benefits are being delivered directly to the skin topically.”
“Kale and leafy greens do provide a load of antioxidants that are great for reducing and repairing UV damage from free radicals,” Dr. Torbeck confirms. However, he notes that just because a product has the term “superfood” in it doesn’t mean that a more clinical product with the same antioxidants wouldn’t deliver those ingredients as or more effectively, so make sure the product you’re buying actually has a high concentration of the things you want in there.
Sunday Riley JUNO Antioxidant + Superfood Face Oil has antioxidant-rich Blueberry, Red Raspberry and Cranberry Seed Oils to help repair free radical damage, hyperpigmentation, dryness and more. ($72, Dermstore)
Surely Vitamin C lives up to the hype, you’re thinking. It’s of the only defenses against cold and flu season that’s been consistently recommended for decades… it’s gotta be legit. Good news: You were right!
“Vitamin C is a very important component of collagen synthesis and maintenance,” says Dr. Torbeck, adding that dermatologists love Vitamin C products for patients following laser or resurfacing treatments.
“This helps even skin tone, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy collagen,” he says.
Korres Wild Rose 15% Vitamin C Spotless Serum is a “brightening bi-phase serum” that helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, dark spots, dullness, and skin discolorations. ($76, Sephora)
Whether or not you’ve been able to get used to the idea (and taste) of a turmeric latte, you’ve probably added at least a little bit more turmeric to your diet lately (it’s supposed to help prevent cardiovascular disease and other bad things). So should you start putting it on your face, too?
“Studies have shown that curcumin, a chemical compound found in turmeric, can decrease UV damage (it’s a natural antioxidant) and clear up acne (it’s also antibacterial) when applied to skin,” according to Allure; as NYC-based dermatologist Rachel Nazarian told the publication, it may also reduce collagen breakdown (when taken orally).
While Dr. Torbeck agrees that studies have been promising (active ingredient curcumin works by “decreasing inflammatory pahtways,” he says), he is a little bit skeptical about topical turmeric for a (sort of funny) reason: “Liposomal formulations are improving topical uptake, but a major side effect is that this can lead to yellow-orange skin pigmentation … I think let’s give turmeric-based products time to figure out some of the side effects before using them on a daily basis.”
Of course, if these many popular products were giving people carrot skin, they probably wouldn’t be quite as popular (full disclosure: I have a few turmeric-infused skin care products myself, and even though I’m super pale, I’ve never had any issues).
Priori TTC fx320 Illumination Treatment is made with a triple turmeric compound as well as green tea, grape seed and licorice root to treat sun damage, age spots, and fine lines, and more. ($79, Priori Skincare)
Another ingredient that’s often made into a latte but apparently belongs on your face as well: Matcha (or just straight-up green tea). Again, the studies are promising. As Science Daily reported, research led by Dr. Stephen Hsu, a cell biologist in the Medical College of Georgia Department of Oral Biology, helped to determine that compounds in green tea called polyphenols (specifically the polyphenol EGCG) actually “reactivated dying skin cells.”
“Cells that migrate toward the surface of the skin normally live about 28 days, and by day 20, they basically sit on the upper layer of the skin getting ready to die,” Dr. Hsu said. “But EGCG reactivates them. I was so surprised.”
Winky Lux Melting Matcha Face Mask is a dissolving powder mask to brighten and soothe that will pretty much feel like putting straight-up latte mix on your face in the best way possible. ($23, Winky Lux)
If matcha has the power to actually resurrect dead skin cells (or even just a tiny bit of that power), it certainly seems worth a try. Though Dr. Torbeck (and countless other experts) will always advise caution and common sense when it comes to anything you put on your skin, food-based skin care seems to be some of the most effective and safest out there (particularly when compared to harsh chemicals and acids). Do you believe in magic? If it comes in a pretty enough bottle, I usually do.