Your skin, the largest organ in your body, is exposed to environmental toxins and pollutants every day. What you eat has a lot to do with the appearance of your complexion, but you also have options to protect your skin from the outside. Although your skin may seem relatively impenetrable, it has an incredible capacity to absorb small molecules from your personal care products and even air pollution.
In a society that values youth, many work hard to retain a youthful complexion, using personal care products filled with toxic chemicals polluting the environment and your body. From fighting free radicals to stimulating natural collagen production, many antiaging products make promises they can’t keep.1 Unfortunately, consumers continue to spend billions of dollars every year on creams and lotions without sufficient evidence they work.
The term antiaging has a number of different meanings. In the scientific community, antiaging refers to the prevention or reversal of the aging process,2 whether of your skin or your internal organs. Air pollution has had a significant impact on health and wellness across the world and now research has demonstrated a specific plant leaf extract may offer protection against pollution, and therefore, reduce external signs of aging.3
What Is Moringa?
Moringa oleifera (Moringaceae), also known as the drumstick tree, the miracle tree, the ben oil tree or the horseradish tree, has been used for centuries for medicinal properties and health benefits.4 The tree grows in semiarid, tropical and subtropical climates, and while the leaves, seeds and flowers are eaten, the bark sap and roots are used in traditional medicines in many countries.5
The leaves of the tree are reported to be rich in phenolic and antioxidants such as vitamins C, B and A.6 Nearly all of the tree is edible and has been used in traditional herbal medicines.7 The leaves and the pods are commonly part of Indian and African dishes. In Western cultures, the dried leaves are sold as supplements either in powdered or capsule form. Each part of the tree has different levels of antioxidants.
For instance, the pods are generally lower in vitamins and minerals, but richer in vitamin C than the leaves. Although used in many developing countries as an important source of essential nutrients, the leaves also contain high levels of antinutrients, which may reduce the absorption of minerals and protein.8 While the raw form of the plant has high levels of antioxidants, the amounts in supplement form are negligible compared to what you already eat in a balanced, real food diet.
Technically, there are 13 different species of the tree, but the most commonly studied is the moringa oleifera.9 It is important to tell your physician and pharmacist your intention to use products with moringa if you take medication. Avoid moringa products, especially those using the roots and/or stems of the plant, if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant.10 There’s some evidence to suggest the roots and stems act as a natural contraceptive and may cause miscarriage.
Moringa May Protect Your Skin From Pollution
Exposure to ultraviolet light and air pollution are two main causes of skin damage.11 The damage occurs through the initiation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) leading to skin imperfections and roughness from damage to collagen.
Through the development of skin revitalization methods using natural products such as moringa and Manuka honey, it is possible to restore this damage, including age-associated changes characterized by a loss of elasticity and collagen, which increases wrinkling and irregular pigmentation.
As a teenager growing up in Asia, Nicholas Travis struggled with acne, ultimately prompting his interest in developing a skin care product to treat the most fundamental aspect of skin health, developing a healthy barrier.12 After studying biomedical and pharmaceutical science in the U.K., he launched a skincare company aimed at utilizing antioxidant properties of natural products, including moringa.13
Dr. Chan Yung, a dermatologist practicing in Hong Kong where his patients struggle with rampant air pollution, advises the use of an antioxidant to reduce oxidative stress from free radicals. He believes a topical product is best to target skin cells.14 Exposure to traffic-related air pollution may cause the formation of dark spots on the skin, with the most pronounced changes in cheeks.15 Another study in China16 found indoor air pollution from smokers and cooking fuels significantly sped up skin aging.
Moringa oil, pressed from the seeds of the tree, keeps for years without turning rancid and is easily absorbed into the skin.17 Although the product has not gained widespread popularity as yet, there is evidence that it helps to clear acne and reduce wrinkles.18 The oil is also naturally moisturizing and nourishing, as well as an excellent cleanser.19
Moringa leaves contain nearly 30 antioxidants contributing to healthy skin. The leaves also contain sulfur, a key ingredient in the development of collagen and keratin. Skincare companies are incorporating it into their products as it has the ability to detoxify and rejuvenate the skin while balancing natural skin color and tone.20 The antioxidants in moringa oil work by combating the effects of pollution on the skin and help to build a barrier against pollution.21
Health Benefits Beyond Your Skin
Foods gain the designation of superfoods when they are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Many classify moringa as a superfood as this nutrient dense plant contains a number of amino acids, protein, vitamins and minerals, including:22,23,24,25,26
Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B7, C, D, E, K
Along with protecting your skin, the high content of vitamins A, B and E and zinc promotes hair growth and the reduction of hair loss. Regularly massaging your scalp with moringa oil may help reduce split ends and dandruff, as well as improve the health and strength of your hair.27 Moringa may also have the following positive health effects:28,29,30
Balances sugar levels
Control cholesterol levels
Protects against arsenic toxicity
Increased mental clarity
Improves wound healing
Reduces age lines and wrinkles
Strengthen immune system
Stimulate hair growth
Balancing blood sugar levels and lowering inflammation in your body can have a significant overall effect on your health and wellness. Over time, high levels of circulating blood sugar may increase your risk of other serious health conditions, including chronic inflammation, heart disease and stroke. Moringa’s property of helping to keep your blood sugar levels within healthy limits, found in smaller animal and human studies, may help to reduce these effects.31,32
Another small trial found moringa had no effect on blood sugar, but helped reduce blood pressure in those with diabetes.33 It is also important to remember high levels of blood sugar are only a symptom of diabetes and the condition is the result of insulin resistance at the cellular level, which must be addressed through dietary changes.
Inflammation is your body’s response to a negative influence, including infection, injury or poor lifestyle choices. A sustained inflammatory response may trigger many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Moringa leaves, pods and seeds have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties, although research has thus far been limited to laboratory and animal studies.34,35
Caution Must Be Used With Moringa
As with all herbs and plants, it’s important to remember they are bioactive and therefore may interact with medications and supplements you may be taking. Although the leaves of the moringa tree are generally considered to be safe and edible, there is slight controversy about the roots and stems, especially in women as parts of the plant may act as a temporary or permanent contraceptive leading to miscarriage.36 Women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant should not use moringa.
Early studies also demonstrated an immunosuppressive effect of the seeds or extracts containing the roots and seeds.37 The plant may also have a mild laxative effect. Since the addition of moringa to your nutritional plan may have a an effect on your blood sugar, inflammatory response and interact with other medications you may be taking, it’s important to first check with your pharmacist, inform your physician of the addition and monitor your blood sugar frequently if you are a diabetic.