The recipes for some do-it-yourself and commercial face masks include ingredients that seem more suited to salads and appetizers than to skin care products. For example, masks might include familiar food items like oatmeal, egg yolk, cucumber, pineapple and milk. Or they can be concocted from more exotic ingredients, like chamomile, red algae and quail eggs [sources: Wells, Pepper.
Many of these foods contain nutrients that are good for your skin when eaten. Low-fat yogurt, walnut oil, green tea, whole grains, strawberries -- all can promote healthy skin in various ways when included in a balanced diet [source: Bouchez: Foods]. The question is, are these foods' nutrients absorbed into the skin if you apply them to your face?
The answer, for the most part, is no. Your digestive system is designed to break down foods and absorb nutrients. Your skin serves as a barrier to prevent substances from entering your body [source: Bentley]. Of course, the skin can absorb things -- some medicines are administered topically, and research has demonstrated beneficial effects of applying lotions containing a different form of vitamins A, C and E than what's in your food [source: Bouchez: Nutrition]. But don't expect to get the vitamins and minerals that your skin needs directly from food ingredients used in a face mask.
That doesn't mean, however, that face mask treatments can't be good for your skin. Some formulas can remove dirt and cleanse your pores [source: Winegar]. Others can moisturize your skin and temporarily minimize the appearance of aging signs. Also, the coolness of some food items from the refrigerator -- like sliced cucumbers -- can be soothing when applied to swollen, puffy skin.
On the other hand, some face masks that include food ingredients might not include what you would eat for skin health -- but that doesn't mean you necessarily have to worry. For example, coffee, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine, which tends to dehydrate you and dry your skin when consumed. But caffeine is not absorbed through the skin, so you needn't worry about dry skin after such a treatment [source: Ohlendorf]. In fact, studies have shown that the caffeine from green tea may even reduce the risk of skin cancer when drunk or applied to the skin [source: Katiyar].
Be careful when applying anything to your skin. It's easy to trust ingredients that are labeled "natural" or "organic," but even plants like poison ivy are natural, and you wouldn't want to put that on your skin. Allergies can also be a risk. If you react to a food when you eat it, you may well react when it contacts your skin. When in doubt, dab the item on your arm and wait for a day to see how your skin responds before covering your face with it. Be cautious with some acidic foods, as they may irritate sensitive skin.
When it comes to food, the best way to maintain healthy skin is generally to eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water to keep your skin from drying out.
For lots more information about healthy skin, see the links below.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bentley, Rosalind. "Botanically based cosmetics have companies seeing green." Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 27, 1991. Page 1E.
- Bouchez, Colette. "Foods for Healthy Skin" (accessed May 28, 2010).http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/skin-food
- Bouchez, Colette. "Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out." (accessed May 28, 2010).http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/skin-nutrition
- Katiyar, Suchitra. "Green tea and skin cancer." (accessed May 28, 2010).http://www.thaiscience.info/Article%20for%20ThaiScience/Article/1/Ts-1%20green%20tea%20and%20skin%20cancer%20photoimmunology,%20angiogenesis%20and%20dna%20repair.pdf
- Ohlendorf, Cory. "Promises of Beauty Treatments." (accessed May 28, 2010). http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/shopping/2006.html
- Pepper, Tara & Adam, Karla. "The New Science of Cosmetics." Newsweek. Sep 11, 2006.
- Wells, Linda. "Food for Thought." New York Times. Jul 30, 1989. Page A.28.
- Winegar, Karin. "The Pampered Epidermis." Minneapolis Star Tribune. December 16, 1987. Page 1C.
- Zamosky, Lisa. "The Sensitive Skin Myth." WebMD. (accessed May 28, 2010).May 28, 2010http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/the-sensitive-skin-myth