It may not be exotic or exciting, but oatmeal in its plain, unassuming way provides a tremendous benefit to skin care. In fact, the very aspects of oatmeal that makes it so good for people’s insides also makes it great for their outsides. Skin care products containing oatmeal can help soothe, heal and protect skin, and improve the appearance of skin complexion. It’s a “secret” skin care ingredient that you can also have for breakfast!
Oatmeal is, of course, a product of oats. This plant (Avena sativa) first began to be cultivated in the area of the world known as the Fertile Crescent approximately 5,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age. The Fertile Crescent, which can be described as an arc from the Nile River valley, north and east along the Mediterranean coast and then down into Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), was the cradle of agriculture in ancient Western civilization. Originally, wheat and barley were first grown in this region, but the first farmers found that grasses also grew as weeds in the fields. These grasses were the ancestors of modern oats, and were selectively bred and eventually grown as a separate crop.
It is fortunate that oats were developed, since they have features unlike any other grain crop, or cereal. Even the name is odd: The plant and the crop are referred to in the plural, as “oats” and not “oat.” Unlike wheat and barley, oats not only tolerate but seem to prefer cooler, wetter growing seasons, which makes the plant well suited as a crop in northern Europe, as far north as Iceland and Greenland. Structurally, the seed is similar to other cereals (grains), having an outer hull and the seed (called the “groat” in oats), which itself is comprised of an outer protein and inner starch layers. To get from oats to oatmeal is simply a matter of physical processing: The harvested grain is dehulled, which is act of removing the outer protective shell or husk. The groats are then baked in a kiln, to dry out and “fix” the grains so that they do not spoil. These groats can then be flaked or milled to provide a variety of forms of oats, from coarse flakes to fine flour.
It is the constituents – the chemical make-up – of oats that make it very special. To begin with, oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, specifically beta-glucans, which help (when eaten) lower LDL cholesterol, but it also has other benefits in topical skin care. Oats also have the second-highest lipid content, after corn, of any grain, measuring at more than 10% of its weight. It is also the only cereal which contains globulin proteins, normally only found in legumes. The majority of these globulin proteins are of a type called avenalin (80%), while the other is avenin. All types of proteins, globulin and others, taken together amount to 12% to 24% of the groat; this is the highest total protein content of any cereal.
What this means, in practical terms for skin care, is that oatmeal is able to provide a wide range of benefits. The fiber and the lipids provide a soothing, healing therapy for skin when added to a bath. Inflammation and soreness associated with dry skin, eczema, dermatitis, burns and cuts can be treated with this method. Creams and salves containing oatmeal can also achieve these results. The lipids and proteins also provide moisturizing benefits, helping to provide needed moisture for skin tissue while improving the cell barrier function. The beta-glucans not only act as emollients, but help improve the skin barrier function to prevent the loss of moisture. The physical granules of oats also act a gentle exfoliants, helping to loosen and remove old, dead skin cells from the surface and allow new, healthy cells to present themselves. This process provides a fresh, youthful appearance to the skin. Oatmeal is often included in skin scrubs, face masks and soaps, valued for its gentle nature.
As beneficial as oats can be for skin care, users should be aware that it does contain gluten, which can be absorbed through the skin. Individuals with celiac disease, which causes the body to react negatively to gluten, may not be able to tolerate skin care products which include oats.