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1 Step to Better Skin

July 30, 2014

1 Step to Better Skin

July 30, 2014

Photo: Levi Brown/Trunk Archive

No offense to in-depth beauty treatments or luxurious spa experiences (which we love), but sometimes a quick fix is all you need — and we do mean quick. It turns out there are some familiar ingredients that can work wonders for your skin. “Before we had fancy prescriptions, this is what people used, so there are some benefits,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Here, some of the best (and most effective) one-ingredient superstars for skin and hair that you may already have in your kitchen.

Honey just might be Mother Nature’s premiere treatment for skin; the sticky stuff has a host of benefits. Along with improving skin hydration, the antioxidant-rich nectar attacks bacteria (including Propionibacterium acnes, the strain that causes acne) and can even help heal infections and prevent new ones. Before spreading it on your face for ten minutes, Dr. Engelman says to “make sure that the label says raw, unheated, and organic.”

“I like apple cider vinegar as a toner,” says Dr. Engelman. “Harsh detergents affect the skin’s acid mantle, and apple cider vinegar helps restore the skin’s pH.” What’s more, this naturally acidic treatment can help dissolve dead skin cells, revealing a brighter and smoother complexion. Be sure to dilute the vinegar—one part vinegar to three parts water—before dabbing it on freshly cleansed skin. “Otherwise,” Engleman says, “it’s too drying, especially for sensitive skin.”

Got dry hair? Grab an avocado, says Michael Dueñas, celebrity hairdresser and founder of Hair Room Service. “Avocado oil is really hydrating and can add a ton of moisture to your hair,” he says, and advises to make a puree of avocado and water, then apply it as a deep-conditioning treatment. Rinse with cool water, and enjoy your lustrous locks.

For oily, blemish-prone skin, a nightly lemon can lead to improvements. Not only can the citrus fruit dissolve blackheads as a spot treatment, but it’s also chock-full of antibacterial properties that can calm a dry scalp. And, says, Dr. Engleman, it can even lighten the dark spots left over from a big pimple. “Apply it for five minutes, then rinse,” she says. (Don’t leave it on for too long, because it can actually burn the skin.) 

Remember taking oatmeal baths as a kid? Turns out it was a smart idea. “This is a really good one,” Dr. Engelman says of oatmeal. Its anti-inflammatory qualities have long been known to calm angry skin. “It’s been around for years—this is what people used to treat sunburn, poison ivy, and eczema before prescriptions.” In addition, this natural cleanser removes dirt and oil from pores while also creating a barrier to lock moisture into skin.

Whether you apply oatmeal as a mask or adding it to a bath, Dr. Engelman recommends using colloidal oatmeal, which is finely ground, for an easy cleanup. Or, if you’re raiding the pantry, choose steel-cut oats over processed and flavored varieties. “Just as you should eat the best, most whole versions of oats,” she says, “you should put the best on your body.”

Papaya is teeming with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) — the same exfoliating acids found in many skin care formulations. “Papaya, because of its AHAs, is a natural skin exfoliator,” Dr. Engelman explains. “It’s an anti-inflammatory, too, so it can help with eczema or inflamed acne.” Ready to give your skin a tropical treat? Cut papaya into one-inch chunks and apply them to your skin (avoiding the eye area). In 15 to 20 minutes, you should see the start of a gorgeous glow.

Olive oil is rich in vitamins A and E, and vitamin E is especially good for antiaging,” Dr. Engelman says. “It helps restore skin’s elasticity, and the polyphenols and phytosterols neutralize free radicals.” Olive oil’s antioxidants are all the more powerful because they’re delivered in oil form, she adds. “The oil can go deeply into pores instead of sitting on the surface of the skin,” she says. “Some of my patients even use it for stretch-mark therapy.”

There’s a lot of buzz about the probiotics in yogurt, but that’s just the beginning of its beautifying properties. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science found that yogurt-treated skin had improved moisture, brightness, and elasticity. Credit the lactic acid, an AHA found in milk products, for encouraging younger-looking skin, but skip the fruit flavors — your skin prefers plain.