Pumpkins and cranberries in the supermarket signal the beginning of the holiday season. As it happens, these two festive foods also provide a feast for your skin.
Savvy spas and beauty product manufacturers are capitalizing on the autumnal bounty to help customers develop a fetching glow. For instance, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills offers a fruit and pumpkin enzyme peel, and Verabella Skin Therapy (also in Beverly Hills) is showcasing what it calls the "Fall on Your Face" facial with pumpkin. Skin-care brands including Eminence, Jason Natural and Kiss My Face make cranberry scrubs, lotion and body washes -- some organic -- that smell delightful.
For the spa-inclined, Verabella's "Fall on Your Face" facial is a thorough, customizable facial featuring a pumpkin enzyme peel that left my skin clean, bright and glowing. The extended facial massage and aromatherapy aspects of the procedure (so enticing that it provoked a pumpkin pie craving) were also pluses that more than made up for the painful extractions.
The results of the fruit and pumpkin enzyme peel at the Four Seasons weren't as immediate, but my skin showed improvements, thanks to the Arcona products used in treatments including the natural, aromatic, bright orange mask with pumpkin.
Repeated use of a pumpkin mask can be excellent for improving the skin, according to some skin-care experts. Pumpkins' bright orange color comes from beta carotene, a form of vitamin A. Retin-A, a related form of vitamin A, is lauded for its skin benefits.
"Topical vitamin A has skin-rejuvenating and skin-clarifying effects and may help to diminish fine lines," says Jim Hammer, a cosmetic chemist at Pharmasol Labs. He credits pumpkins' natural enzymes, alpha hydroxy acids and fiber for cleansing the skin, clearing away flakes and moisturizing.
Hammer attributes the glow that pumpkins can deliver to the beta carotene, which imparts a gold-orange color to the skin with repeated application or ingestion. "Which is why you can always tell which babies have been eating a lot of carrots," he says. "It could be just the thing for adding back some glow to that fading summertime tan."
Dr. Jeanine Downie, a board-certified dermatologist who is frequently featured in magazines and on TV shows, says pumpkin is a natural exfoliant that has some antioxidant properties to improve the skin's texture and tone. Still, she notes that the most dramatic results come from procedures and products such as a "glycolic acid peel, Fraxel, Retin A . . . that you get in a doctor's office."
Downie compares the effects of pumpkin to that of an over-the-counter microdermabrasion product such as Neutrogena Advanced Solutions.
Hammer and Downie agree that when it comes to holiday treats for the skin, cranberry also has antioxidant qualities that can improve skin texture and tone. "It invigorates the skin, and patients love it as a body wash and lotion due to the light fragrance," Downie says.
Like pumpkin, topical cranberry can have rejuvenating and skin-peeling effects. Hammer says that because the cranberry helps to kill bacteria, it can be useful for treating blemishes and breakouts. "Cranberry is a rich source of flavonoids, polyphenols, vitamin C and natural fruit acids," he says. "It has various antimicrobial effects, and has been used historically in folk medicine to help improve eczema and other skin rashes and disorders."
So what does this mean come Thanksgiving and the rest of the season's holidays? Can we use the leftover holiday pumpkin puree and cranberries in the fridge to beautify ourselves? The answer is yes. If you inevitably buy one can of pumpkin puree too many for your holiday cooking, it's good to know that it can be put to good use immediately rather than sitting on your shelf until summer.
And you can tailor the ingredients to your needs. For instance, "you can add lemon juice or milk to pumpkin as a face mask, boosting the alpha hydroxy acid content of the mixture," Hammer says. "Lemon juice adds citric acid and the antioxidant vitamin C, while the milk brings lactic acid, which is a proven moisturizer. Each will have similar peel effects on the skin."
But as for cranberries in homemade beauty treatments, avoid using canned cranberry sauce -- it could be a sticky mess. Try making a cranberry scrub by blending raw or frozen cranberries, a couple of drops of vegetable glycerin, almond oil, some sugar, orange essential oil and oatmeal instead.
"I guess the bottom line here is, enjoy your Thanksgiving, approach your feast with abandon, and don't be too quick to wipe that pumpkin and cranberry off of your face," Hammer says. "Your skin will thank you for it!"