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 crucially, stylish and Instagrammable as hell.
The once-tacky artificial plant may be coming back into vogue in the interior decor sphere – they'll never die (unlike even the hardiest succulent) and are more realistic than ever before – but now there's a new reason to remain loyal to real houseplants: our skin health.
Indoor greenery helps to increase moisture in the air and combat dry skin, according to a study by the Royal Horticultural Society. It's 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, Reading University 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."
"Thirstier" plants – those with high transpiration rates that require more water to grow well, and large canopies – can provide humidity benefits, Dr Blanusa added. "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."
Plants can lose as much as several hundred millilitres of water per square metre of leaf area depending on their type, size and condition within a room, she continued. Meaning a plant like the peace lily, which stands at about 50 cm tall and 30 cm wide, transpires around 100 ml of water and more in a day – equivalent to a small teacup evaporated.
The more the merrier when it comes to reaping the benefits of houseplants, she added. "Usually multiple plants in a room are required to have an effect. 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." 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," 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" – which looks great hanging from your ceiling, and moss. "Nothing smells as clean and outdoorsy as a jar of moss."
Freddie Blackett, founder and CEO of 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 "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," he added. "As you care and nurture them, they start to care and nurture you back." And you may end up saving money on moisturiser this winter.