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Health & Wellness: Natural skin remedies and the science behind them

By Darren Whitmore - DO, PathologyWatch | Sep 18, 2021

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Young woman enjoying coffee at home. (Shutterstock photo)

Over a third of Americans report getting sunburned each year. After boating at Bear Lake or hiking the “Y” this summer, you might be one of them — gingerly stepping into a cool shower before dousing yourself in aloe vera gel or lavender oil.

There are lots of natural remedies for skin problems out there, from olive oil for dry skin to egg whites for oily skin. But how do they work? Will your skin actually improve from using these remedies? Here are some natural remedies for dry skin, oily skin and sunburned skin and the science behind them.

Dry Skin Remedies

Olive oil is a known superfood, and some people use it topically as part of their skin care routine to combat skin dryness. Does it work?

“Olive oil’s main benefit is to moisturize the skin by reducing water loss,” said Ee Ting Ng, cosmetic chemist. “This moisturization increases the water content of the skin, improving its health and appearance.”

While olive oil itself won’t add moisture to your skin, it does help you keep the moisture you already have. Here’s a recipe for an olive oil cleanser to get those moisture-trapping properties into your skin care routine:

  1. Rub olive oil into your skin.
  2. Drape a warm, damp cloth over your face until it cools.
  3. Wipe away the excess oil.

Oatmeal isn’t just a hearty breakfast — it can also help with your dry skin. One study “suggests that colloidal oatmeal has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that could help improve skin dryness, scaling, and roughness. It also may reduce itchiness.” Try adding a cup of oatmeal to a warm bath to help your skin hold onto the moisture from the bath.

Oily Skin Remedies

Honey has an impressive list of benefits for skin. It has antibacterial, antiseptic, and antimicrobial properties and is a natural humectant, keeping the skin moist but not oily. Additionally, a 2017 study on the honey of the stingless bee found that “raw honey has a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Another review of studies supports this, finding that most honey varieties have anti-inflammatory properties.”

If you’ve got oily or acne-prone skin, give honey a try. Spread a thin layer of raw honey onto your face. Leave it for about 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

You may have seen egg whites and lemons touted as a remedy for oily skin. While lemons have been found to have antibacterial abilities, lemon is extremely acidic, which can lead to dryness, redness, and peeling of the skin. If you have sensitive skin, it’s best to stay away from topical applications of lemon juice.

Egg whites are a safer option (unless you’re allergic to eggs, of course). They contain the protein lysozyme, which can break down the bacteria that causes acne and help absorb excess oil. Egg whites do not, however, shrink or tighten your pores. In fact, according to the Derm Review, “this is not possible because pores do not have muscles around their opening to allow them to open and close.”

Here’s how to make and use an egg white face mask:

  1. Whisk an egg white until it is frothy.
  2. Wash your face.
  3. Apply a thin layer of the mixture with a facial brush or cotton pad, avoiding the mouth (you don’t want to accidentally ingest raw egg).
  4. Leave the mask on for 10 minutes.
  5. Rinse the mask off with cold water and apply your normal moisturizer.

Sunburn Remedies

Aloe Vera is a classic sunburn remedy. A small study “found that 97.5% aloe vera gel could reduce skin redness caused by UV light exposure,” and other research has found that “aloe vera may be more effective than petroleum jelly and the topical antibiotic silver sulfadiazine in healing burns.” You can mix aloe vera gel, white vinegar, and cider vinegar to ease the sting and redness of a sunburn, according to Dr. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, a dermatologist.

Rich in probiotics, Greek yogurt may help decrease skin sensitivity and redness. The lactic acid in this yogurt means it has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to soothe and moisturize skin. You can apply plain Greek yogurt to your sunburn as a mask and rinse it off after 15 minutes.

Cooled chamomile tea can assist with wound healing and help with eczema and mild inflammatory skin conditions, studies have found. Apply chamomile directly to your sunburn to help it heal and feel better in the meantime.

Even as the temperature cools as the summer turns into fall, the sun will continue to give our skin grief. If you have eggs in your fridge or chamomile tea or honey in your pantry, then you may have the ingredients for better skin protection regardless of the season. Give them a try, and never hesitate to reach out to your doctor or dermatologist if you have any concerns.

Darren Whittemore, DO, is US board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology and dermatopathology. He serves on the clinical team at PathologyWatch, a full-service dermpath lab.

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