A dermatologist and an Ayurvedic expert explain why you should be using this ancient spice.
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Out of the many, many skincare ingredients that constantly flood our inboxes and Instagram feeds, saffron is one that we've noticed popping up more often. Yes, we're talking about the same bright red spice that your favorite middle eastern joint uses to season its rice. This somewhat sweet and nutty-tasting spice also happens to be the most expensive in the world, and it's been lauded for its medicinal properties for centuries. And it turns out that some of the same properties that give this spice its total-body benefits can also brighten, calm, and protect your skin.
To find out more about the skin-boosting benefits of saffron, including whether or not we should be slathering it all over our faces (or if we can even afford to), we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali and Shrankhla Holecek, founder of Ayurvedic skincare line Uma Oils.
MEET THE EXPERT
- Dhaval G. Bhanusali, M.D., FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. He is internationally recognized as an expert in cosmetic and medical dermatology and is a media advisory member for the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Edris Naseri is the founder of Orzala Beauty and an expert in middle eastern spices.
What Is Saffron?
Saffron is a very rare Ayurvedic spice, which is precisely what makes it so costly. “Saffron is actually the tiny stigmas, or stems, from the crocus sativus, a flower in the iris family,” explains Holecek.
Another reason for its high price tag? The plant can only be harvested for two weeks out of the year, and each saffron flower has to be handpicked.
Typically, saffron is used in cooking, wherein it gives food a bright yellow-orange tint, but it's also used around the world in fabric dyes and perfumes. When eaten, saffron's health benefits are impressive and wide-ranging—and the same goes for your skin. This tiny red flower has so many beneficial properties that it's challenging to list them all. In other words, saffron is an all-around healing powerhouse, both internally and externally.
Benefits of Saffron for Skin
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- A powerful antioxidant: Saffron is chock-full of antioxidants, including vitamin C, and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.1 Says Bhanusali, “As an antioxidant, it can protect against UV damage and pollutants that produce free radicals.”
- Brightens skin: As an antioxidant ingredient, saffron brightens the skin without harsh side effects. “It's a calming ingredient and provides great brightening properties,” Bhanusali explains.
- Helps skin recover from environmental stressors: Saffron is rich in minerals and contains two types of powerful carotenoids: crocin and crocetin. Holecek explains that these carotenoids “are believed to be effective in damage repair and ensuring overall cellular health, so they'll help skin recover from daily environmental, oxidative, sun damage [stress], healing everything from photodamage to loss of suppleness.”
- Heals cuts, scrapes, and other wounds: Early studies have shown that saffron has the ability to increase cell turnover and production, which can potentially help wounds heal faster.2
- Reduces hyperpigmentation: When used topically, saffron not only brightens skin tone but also improves and reduces pesky hyperpigmentation, thanks to its high vitamin content.3
- Great for sensitive skin: Anti-inflammatory ingredients like saffron are perfect for those with sensitive skin.
- Calms inflammation: Saffron's healing powers might help tame redness, inflamed skin, and even acne.
- Anti-aging: Speaking of that carotenoid called crocin, according to studies, crocin is potentially helpful against aging, thanks to its rich antioxidant power.4
Saffron boasts beneficial properties for all skin types, but certain types may benefit just a bit more. “Like most Ayurvedic ingredients, I like saffron for sensitive skin and those who need more calming products,” Bhanusali says, noting that oily skin types “may benefit from stronger acids and other high-powered ingredients.”
Side Effects of Saffron
In general, saffron doesn't pose any significant issues or side effects for the skin. As with any new skincare product or ingredient though, make sure you patch test it first to make sure you don't have any adverse reactions.
How to Use It:
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You'll find saffron formulated into many different types of products, from masks to cleansers to serums, but per Holecek, you'll reap the most benefit from a leave-on product (or at least a product that's left on for a few minutes, like a mask). “Given its preciousness and miraculous benefits, saffron is most used in skincare intended for leaving on the skin to promote ongoing repair,” she says. “It'd be cost-prohibitive, and perhaps a little wasteful, to use it in a cleanser, as it won't be on skin long enough to have all the impact it can have.”