OATstanding Beauty

25th August 2017

Lisa Botwright investigates the therapeutic benefits of the humble oat…

Not only does it provide us with a satisfyingly smug breakfast, but it’s also the unsung hero of the beauty world. The humble oat may not be much to look at, but its ability to be both gently soothing and powerfully anti-inflammatory means it’s a surprisingly popular go-to ingredient.

“As somebody who has an ongoing battle with eczema, I couldn’t do without oaty goodness on my skin,” explains Samar Fazil, co-founder of natural beauty brand soapNskin. “I have a jar of ground oats in the shower which I form into a paste and apply daily on my face. When I get flare-ups, I use it on the affected areas too. Oats are so soothing when applied to irritated skin as they contain ingredients that help to alleviate redness, soreness and itchiness: all common symptoms of eczema.”

Tipper Lewis is a Natural Herbalist for Neals Yard Remedies, and echoes Samar’s enthusiasm. “Oatmeal has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, making it an ideal ingredient to protect and soothe all skin types.” She suggests using ground oatmeal as a face scrub to gently remove dead skin cells. “Oats are rich in healthy fats and antioxidants,” she continues, “making them a nutrient-rich treat whether eating or applying them.”

Oats have been used for thousands of years to soothe and treat the skin topically. Their cultivation as a food crop started in Europe around the Bronze Age and then spread throughout the world. Oat baths were popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the poet, Ovid, who wrote Medicamina, a kind of instruction manual for Roman housewives, promised any woman who used his oatmeal concoctions on her face that she would ‘shine smoother than her own mirror’.

Increasingly seen as peasant food, the cereal began to fall out of favour and in the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson, writing his newfangled Dictionary, defined oats as ‘eaten by people in Scotland but fit only for horses in England.’ Nevertheless, he went on to recommend them mixed with brandy for colds and other ailments.

During the early 19th century, nearly all oatmeal available in the UK was imported from Scotland and sold almost exclusively in pharmacies. In the 1930s, literature on the cosmetic benefits of oatmeal formulated in facial masks and bath oils was published, and in 1945 a ready-to-use colloidal oatmeal became available commercially, which signalled the significant growth of the use of oats in cosmetics. Today oatmeal is one of the few botanical ingredients considered as an effective skin protectant, and is a recognised treatment for dermatitis, burns, inflamed, itchy and sensitive skin.

As an ingredient, it comes in several forms and you might see it listed as colloidal oatmeal, oat oil or oat kernel extract on the packaging of your favourite products. Cuderm have used colloidal oatmeal in their range of creams especially formulated for eczema prone skin. Colloidal is a technique where oatmeal is ground into an extremely fine powder and then suspended in a liquid or gel to prevent the oatmeal from settling too rapidly. Cuderm point out that with daily-use ‘the finely-milled oatmeal, will also provide a natural, gentle exfoliation to help maintain brighter, healthier skin’.

Cosmetics retailer Lush, who is known for its impeccable ethical credentials, sources its oatmeal from a UK oat-milling company based in Cheshire, which has been milling oats for more than four hundred years. Lush has chosen to use fine oatmeal, as well as fair trade bananas, in its ‘oatifix’ face mask, which is so fresh it needs to be kept in the fridge. It smells so delicious that you could easily imagine taking a spoon to it if you’re hungry, and has such a natural, homemade feel that I imagine Ovid would have approved. Paula’s Choice, on the other hand, has extracted the oat peptides from the oat kernel to complement its high-tech Retinol Treatment. Retinol is an effective anti-ageing product, which increases cell turnover, but can sometimes cause redness in sensitive skin. Oat extract, with its skin-soothing and antioxidant properties, brings a perfect balance.

Oats are nature’s multi-tasking cleaner, toner and moisturiser in one. They contain saponins, which remove dirt and excess oil from pores leaving skin clean and soft “without feeling dry and taut,” according to Samar. Oat milk can also be used after cleansing as an effective toner which leaves skin supple. Samar makes her own by soaking oats in boiling water and allowing to cool overnight, then straining through muslin the following day. “Just see the milk flow,” she enthuses.
Oat oil, used in soapNskin’s Honey and Oat range, contains polysaccharides, which become gelatinous in water and form a fine protective film when applied on the skin, making an extremely effective emollient.

Those clever oats also act as an natural foaming agent, and REN have added aminoacid complex in their Oat and Bay Conditioning Shampoo to avoid the need for chemical sulphates.

So, if you’re not already getting your share, it’s time to change your oat-look. These groovy grains are potent powerhouses.

• www.nealsyardremedies.com – £21.50
• www.renskincare.com – £16
• www.soapnskin.com – £12.50
• www.paulaschoice.co.uk – £53
• www.cuderm.co.uk – £6.99 100ml
• www.uk.lush.com – £7.25

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