There are only a few things in this world that are as good for breakfast as they are slathered on your body. Oats are one of those things. Utilized by brands like Aveeno and Lush, and beloved by DIY beauty mavens and poison-ivy victims alike, oats have some surprising skin care benefits. In fact, according to Aveeno, colloidal oatmeal is one of the few natural ingredients that the FDA cites as an effective, safe skin protectant.
According to Michael Southall, a research and development scientist from Aveeno, oats are a nearly perfect skin aid, all on their own. "If you look at an oat, it looks very dry," he says. "But, oats have the highest lipid content of any grain cereal, as well as the best nutrient sources with a ton of vitamins, proteins, sugar, and even oil."
So, what does that mean for your skin? Basically, oats can do three major things. First of all, they're extremely moisturizing. "The oils, starches, and sugars in oats provide emollient properties, while acting as a humectant to draw water into the skin," Southall says.
Oats also have cleansing properties because they're highly absorbent. The grain can absorb dirt and oil from the skin, which can then be simply washed away with water — exactly like soap. Lastly, and perhaps most famously, oats make a fantastic anti-irritant. Erica Vega, a Lush brand and product trainer, says, "Oats also contain a type of antibiotic, called avenanthramides, which acts as an antioxidant and may contribute to the topically soothing effect of the grain."
But, to access the magical properties of this grain, it takes more than going face first into your breakfast bowl. The colloidal oatmeal in most manufactured skin care is finely milled. "The size of the oat has to be small enough to interact with the skin," Southall says. If the oat particle is too big, it simply won't do much. "You can probably get a temporary moisturizing effect from a DIY mask that uses whole oats," Southall concedes, "but it's not going to last in the same way."
Lush steeps its oats in hot water to create a creamy milk for products, like the cult-beloved Dream Cream which is particularly great for irritated, sensitive skin. Vega says that this oat milk substance can be made at home, too: "Oat milk can be created in an oat bath," she says. "Almost anyone who had a run through a patch of poison ivy as a child probably remembers a cool oat bath."
While oats are used in many of our new favorite products, the ingredient's far from a flash-in-the-pan fad. Vega notes that oats became popular in cosmetics in the '30s, but both she and Southall say that there's evidence to suggest oats were used thousands and thousands of years ago for basically the same reasons they're used today. If that kind of duration isn't evidence of an extremely effective little ingredient, we don't know what is.