Like most things in life, the buzziest, sexiest ingredients in skincare tend to get the most attention. Think snail slime, probiotics, ceramides, algae, straight up gold, and precious gemstones. These ingredients definitely earn their place in your rotation, but their humble, tamer sisters deserve a little time in the spotlight, too.
Perhaps the most modest of them all is quinoa, an unassuming beige plant that has infiltrated the nutrition scene, but hasn’t received as much attention in terms of its skincare benefits. (Fun fact: quinoa is often lumped into the “cereal grain” category, but it’s actually in the starchy, dark leafy green family with spinach and kale).
For the DL on quinoa benefits, we hit up Dr. Sejal Shah, a NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist and the founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology. Turns out, quinoa is not messing around. Quinoa is loaded with vitamins, minerals, proteins, omega fatty acids and other compounds that basically make your skin sing with joy.
“These nutrients can potentially boost collagen synthesis, improve the appearance of fine lines and skin texture, reduce inflammation, hydrate and brighten the skin, and give it a more even tone,” she said. “Quinoa also contains antioxidants that can scavenge damaging free-radicals. It can even be used as an exfoliant by grounding the grains to make a scrub.”
She added that a 2015 study discovered “that some of these compounds block the activity of both matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) that cause collagen breakdown and an enzyme called tyrosinase that is required to produce pigment.”
To break it down for you, the MMP activity in quinoa has the potential to literally rebuild skin, which not only helps keep skin youthful, but also reduces hyperpigmentation and treats acne scarring. The tyrosinase does more of the same, while also brightening the skin.
Though quinoa has been used for a good five to 10 years, this recent 2015 study may be partially why we’re seeing a noticeable uptick in its inclusion in products. For example, just-launched Zue Beauty uses quinoa as its hero active ingredient across its entire product range.
“The native Quechua even refer to quinoa as ‘the mother of all grains’ — and we’d have to agree,” the brand states on their website. They later write, “Quinoa is a complete protein source as it has substantial amounts of these amino acids, especially lysine, which is a protein building block in the skin’s collagen production mechanism. Quinoa is also packed with calcium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, fiber, manganese (which helps to protect your skin from free radicals that cause cellular damage), and significant amounts of certain tocopherols (vitamin E family members) largely absent from most grains. Additionally, it has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients which make it a likely candidate for cancer risk reduction in humans.”
Their product range includes a Purifying Facial Cleanser, Soothing Facial Toner, Daily Facial Moisturizer, Restoring Night Cream, and Exfoliating Facial Scrub.
While Zue Beauty is the first skincare brand based around quinoa, this ingredient is also found in other brands’ products, as well. For example, Kiehl’s Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate contains quinoa husk extract to help exfoliate and boost cell turnover to reveal more radiant skin, and Skin Authority Beauty Infusion Quinoa & Avocado — a brand that’s popular among high end spas — utilizes quinoa protein to rebuild, tighten, and brighten skin. Osmia Organics, Pacifica, and 100% Pure also sell products containing quinoa.
“I consider this overall a gentle ingredient so it could be used any skin type,” said Dr. Shah. “Because of its hydrating quality, I think dry or sensitive skin types would benefit most. However, it also depends on the quinoa-containing product, as there are some that are formulated for normal to oily or combination skin whereas as others are more suited for dry to normal or sensitive skin.”
She added that it’s particularly beneficial to hair. Haircare brands Briogeo, Verb, Devacurl, Rahua all utilize quinoa.
At the end of the day, it’s important to determine what your skincare goals are and to incorporate a mix of beneficial, effective ingredients into your lineup. Based on the information above, which is backed up by scientific data, it’s apparent that quinoa has the potential to make a difference. By combining it with other proven ingredients and sticking to a regimen, you’ll be on your way to glorious skin!
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