It’s not an exaggeration to call oats a skin-loving superfood, as many types of oats are used in food, medicine, and personal care products to treat everything from insomnia and anxiety to skin conditions including eczema, burns, and other irritations. And oats have been used in these ways since 2000 BC in Egypt!
Oats come from the Avena sativa plant and are naturally capable of soothing dry or irritated skin. Colloidal oatmeal ingredients contains sugars, amino acids, proteins, lipids, and fibers. They all work together to make oats anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antipruritic (anti-itch), and antifungal.
Ancient Roman poet Ovid (the “father of medicine”), Greek physician Hippocrates, and natural philosopher Pliny all made references to oats in skin care. Hippocrates is often quoted as saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Ovid, in Medicamma, strongly recommended the use of oatmeal for skin care, while Pliny advised using them as treatment for moles.
Colloidal oatmeal is the term used for finely milled oats and this is the type used most often in skin care. The FDA approved colloidal oatmeal as a skin-protective substance in 2003. But in fact, oats have a long history of use in treatment of itch and irritation, some of the uncomfortable symptoms of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Oats aren’t just a natural superfood to solve skin condition, they’re considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet, with many internal health benefits. People consume oats for everything from managing weight to stabilizing blood sugar. Because they’re so packed with fiber, they relieve digestive problems and act as an excellent detoxifier. For skin though, they work by targeting oxidants, nourishing skin, and soothing irritation.
Oats contain saponins, natural substances that possess detergent-like qualities that foam. Saponins are mainly found in plant-based foods and they are abundant in oats.
Dietary benefits of ingesting saponins found in oats include: detoxifying the body, supporting healthy digestion by accelerating the body’s ability to absorb calcium and silicon, supporting bone density, and promoting balanced blood sugar.
Topically they hold benefit too, because unlike chemical detergents, saponins are a natural way to cleanse gently without stripping away skin oils. It has also been found that saponins are a major part of the plants’ active immune system and function as a “natural antibiotic” for plants.
As humans, we get to enjoy the many beneficial properties of saponins including anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and antioxidant effects, among others.
Beta-glucan is the soluble fiber found in the cell walls of oat kernels, but it was been long believed that such a large molecule as beta glucan was too big to penetrate the skin. According to a study reported in The International Journal of Cosmetics, beta-glucan does indeed penetrate the barrier skin. When oats combined with water are applied topically, the actives soothe dry and sensitive skin.
Oats also contain polysaccharides, which have a gel-like texture when combined with moisture. This leaves a protective layer over the skin that seals in natural moisture while also providing additional nutrients. Many with sensitive skin have compromised skin barrier function, and this layer acts like a protective, second skin. The proteins also increase the production of filaggrin, an essential building block of the skin barrier function.
Some skin conditions, such as acne and eczema are stress-related, inflammatory diseases. Inflammation is also blamed for the itchy, red plaques of psoriasis. Inflamed skin can be red, irritated, and sensitive to the touch.
The National Institutes for Health (NIH) found the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in colloidal oats to be effective in treating dry-irritated skin; again, we have to mention magnesium, since one of its many jobs is to reduce stress and induce calm.
Oats are also antimicrobial because of the phenolic acid extract they release. These are substances that kill bacteria and other microbes, making oats very effective in treating acne and psoriasis.
Skin renews itself in approximately a month’s time, but as we age that process can slow to about a month and a half, and that means that the number of new and broken cells becomes unbalanced.
In addition, collagen and elastin production starts to decrease by age 25. UV rays, free radicals, and even oxygen will damage the skin so it becomes less elastic. Wrinkles and lines appear and sagging occurs.
Amino acids, such as arginine and carnitine, support natural skin function to produce collagen and elastin and repair damaged DNA. A “complete protein” contains all of the essential amino acids. Not only do oats have all of them, but they have been found to have more than twice the amount of protein than other grains!
Just as freshly cut fruit can turn brown when exposed to oxygen, our cells can oxidize or “rust” when exposed to free radicals. Free radicals are rogue cells responsible for aging (i.e. wrinkles, sagging, and dryness), and they can be caused by pollution, poor dietary habits, frequent sleep deprivation, stress, etc.
The process of cell damage is called oxidative stress. Free radicals are fought by antioxidants which also calm and soothe irritated skin. Oats contain vitamin B1 (also called thiamine), a powerful antioxidant, important for skin care because it keeps our skin youthful.
Oats are also a rich source of avenanthramides, a group of antioxidant compounds not found in other plant sources. Avenanthramides are the main actives in oats that reduce redness and inflammation (especially irritation from excessive sun exposure/UV radiation), calm skin and act as a gentle exfoliator, excellent for removing dead cells and revealing brighter skin that lies beneath. Avenanthramides are potent antioxidants that have 10 to 30 times the antioxidant activity of other oat phenolic compounds.
Milled oats have excellent exfoliating effects. While over-the-counter facial scrubs can sometimes be harsh and leave you dry, red, and irritated, oats are gentle because they contain several minerals important to skin care including:
Magnesium: sometimes called the “miracle mineral.” When you don’t have enough magnesium, you’ll have a reduction in fatty acids, elasticity, and moisture - the perfect storm for dryness and inflammation.
Manganese: supports collagen production and helps fight free radicals, keeping skin healthy and resilient.
Copper: aids in the production of melanin. Its peptides and copper gluconates are a promising treatment in skincare. Copper aids in collagen production and skin regeneration and increases the effectiveness of antioxidants.
Given all of these unique benefits, it's no wonder that oats have earned the reputation as a staple ingredient in cosmetics as well as the countertop. Thanks to a powerhouse combination of actives, oats can:
Armed with these insights, you can see the myriad abilities that make oats incredibly beneficial! There are dozens of reasons to add these valuable grains to your diet and include oat-enriched products in your skincare routine!