Plant ladies are the new cat ladies among the millennial generation, and not only because so many of us are living too frugally and precariously to be able to look after an animal: They're low-maintenance, affordable, good for our mental health, and, most importantly, make for a great Instagram photo.
Indoor greenery actually helps to increase moisture in the air and therefore combat dry skin, according to a study by the Royal Horticultural Society — a welcome finding as winter draws near, when the contrast between freezing air and indoor heating can wreak havoc on our largest organ. The recent research, a collaboration between the RHS, the UK's University of Reading, and PhD researcher Curtis Gubb, found that houseplants can reduce dry-skin symptoms through evapotranspiration, whereby they lose water through their soil and leaves.
Tijana Blanusa, principal horticultural scientist at the RHS, described houseplants as "a simple and affordable way to reduce air dryness indoors and alleviate symptoms of dry skin, while providing multiple other benefits — for human psyche and physical health."
Dr. Blanusa added that "thirstier" plants — those with large canopies and high transpiration rates that require more water to grow well — can provide humidity benefits. "In our study of seven varieties, the best performing were peace lily (Spathiphyllum) and ivy (Hedera), but there are likely to be many other species whose characteristics lend themselves to the job and need to be tested still," she said.
Plants can lose as much as several hundred milliliters of water per square meter of leaf area depending on their type, size, and condition within a room, Dr. Blanusa explained. That means a plant like the peace lily, which stands at about 20-inches tall and 12-inches wide, transpires around 100 ml of water and more in a day — equivalent to a small teacup evaporated.
Dr. Blanusa also said that the more the merrier when it comes to reaping the benefits of houseplants. "Usually multiple plants in a room are required to have an effect," she added. "Studies have found that a mix of shapes, sizes, and colours influences positively parameters like self-reported productivity and wellbeing, and even some physical parameters such as pulse rate."
Plants also capture dust and particles from the indoor air, meaning that plants with leaf areas are particularly beneficial. "A number of chemical compounds, such as those found in paints and furnishings, as well as gasses emitted in cooking and burning can be removed by houseplants," Dr. Blanusa said. But more research is needed into the exact number of plants, and their combinations, required.
The skin-boosting benefit of plants is no secret among professionals who work with greenery every day. Emma Sibley, owner of London Terrariums, believes working around plants all day has changed her skin for the better. "I notice such a big change in my skin as we go into winter and since working surrounded by plants. I'd like to think the plants have played a pivotal role in hydrating my skin [and health]," she told Refinery29. "My colleague and I have never been ill since we opened the shop."
Her personal favourites are the peace lily, for its air-purifying qualities and responsiveness to being watered, the fishbone cactus — "a fun hanging succulent with wavy leaves like a Matisse cut-out" — that looks great hanging from your ceiling, and moss. "Nothing smells as clean and outdoorsy as a jar of moss," Sibley said.
Freddie Blackett, founder and CEO of UK-based plant delivery service Patch, said it was great to see the benefits of houseplants for both the skin and respiratory system being discussed more widely. His favourites include the company's Rapunzel, or Golden pothos (which he said looks wonderful tumbling from a bookshelf and was found by NASA to filter the air of many common household pollutants), and — again — the peace lily.
"The best thing about living with plants, and the driving force behind what we do at Patch, is that they help create a relaxing, natural environment," Blackett said. "As you care and nurture them, they start to care and nurture you back." And you may end up saving money on moisturizer this winter.