With new products, brands, and categories popping up every day, beauty can be a bit overwhelming. Back to Basics is our rudimentary beauty series that serves as your crash course on the science behind some of the best formulations in the game. This week, we investigate purslane and how it benefits your skin.
The world of anti-aging skin care is vast, and admittedly, it can be hard to keep up with — even for a beauty editor — as new of-the-moment ingredients and innovative technologies seem to launch at warp speed. Still, there are a few mainstays that have been proven time and time again to be effective, such as retinoids, vitamin C, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids. The one caveat? If you have finicky, easily irritated skin, these may prove to be too potent for you. While there are other equally buzzy ingredients out there more suited for sensitive skin — think niacinamide and peptides — purslane is a lesser-known yet exceptionally effective ingredient worthy of your attention.
Also known as portulaca oleracea, purslane is a type of succulent native to India and Persia. In the skin care world, its extract has been lauded for its anti-aging benefits and as a skin-soothing anti-inflammatory, but it’s a truly multifunctional powerhouse that can aid in everything from increasing hydration to fighting acne.
What’s So Special About Purslane?
According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, purslane makes for an effective moisturizer because it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially alpha-linolenic acid, and contains natural moisturizing factors. “It also provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits through vitamins C, E, glutathione, and beta-carotene,” she says. “It’s rich in vitamin A, which we know has benefits for regulating skin cell turnover and improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” She adds that because it also aids in wound healing, it's thought to help repair cellular damage.
But it doesn’t stop there. “Portulaca oleracea is highly effective at treating acne and scarring when used topically in skin care,” says Genesis Velazquez, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of Elitegen Innovation, thanks to its additional antibacterial benefits, which can aid in killing acne-causing bacteria. She adds that purslane is also be used to treat pigment concerns like hyperpigmentation and can even help boost the efficacy of vitamin C. “Research shows that adding purslane to a formulation with a derivative of vitamin C, such as ascorbic glucoside, helps boost the effectiveness of the product against hyperpigmentation,” she says.
While purslane is undoubtedly a jack of all trades, it’s most prized for its role in combatting signs of skin aging — and not just through cell turnover. What’s particularly unique about its anti-aging potential is its ability to mediate and up-regulate telomerase, an enzyme which Dr. Barbara Sturm, an aesthetics doctor and founder of her eponymous skin care brand, dubs the “youth enzyme.” Essentially, this enzyme has the power to slow down the aging process from a DNA level, which is why she formulates purslane into every single one of her science-based products.
“Most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, which carry our DNA,” explains Dr. Sturm. “At the ends of each chromosome is a protective cap called the telomere. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres are snipped shorter, until eventually, they stop working and the cell dies or goes into a suspended state.” Telomerase, she says, stops the telomere from shortening, thus prolonging the lifespan of our cells and helping slow down the aging process. Pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that the initial study on telomerase activity and aging earned itself the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
How To Use Purslane For Your Skin
Purslane can be found in a variety of skin care products, from moisturizers and serums to cleansers (listed as “portulaca oleracea” on the ingredient list). How and when you use it will depend on the product it’s formulated into; however, because it’s considered gentle and non-irritating, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marina Peredo says it’s safe to use daily, morning and night, as long as the formula doesn’t contain any potentially irritating actives.
Topicals aside, purslane can also be ingested (through food or supplements) to reap its benefits; after all, it’s considered a superfood by the Scientific World Journal. When taken orally, it’s thought to support heart health and reduce inflammation in the body, and according to Dr. Sturm, it can also promote healthier skin. “In one clinical study, oral purslane was particularly effective against the inflammatory skin disease oral lichens planus,” she says.
Also nice? Unlike retinol and hydroxy acids, purslane has no known reactive ingredient combinations, deeming it a pretty easy ingredient to incorporate into your existing routine. “It’s safe to use with all skin care products and ingredients — there aren’t any ingredients you should avoid when using it,” says Dr. Peredo.
Who Can Benefit From Purslane?
As a multifunctional ingredient that addresses a range of skin concerns, almost anyone can benefit from purslane in some way — in fact, Dr. Peredo says that it plays nicely with all skin types and tones. Because it helps reduce inflammation and can speed up the skin’s healing process, she considers it ideal for those with sensitive skin, acne, rosacea, or eczema.
Everyone will (eventually) deal with aging skin in one way or another, and purslane can be a beneficial ingredient to add to your preventative routine, no matter your age and other skin concerns. While Dr. Sturm doesn’t suggest a specific age to begin using it, she does recommend incorporating it into your routine “as soon as possible” through a hyaluronic acid product or face cream.
Overall, purslane may not be one of the buzzier ingredients in the world of skin care, but it’s one destined to make waves — and certainly, one worth giving a go. Take it from Velazquez: “It’s impressive to see research that proves its effectiveness; I think it’s something that folks should be incorporating in both their diet and skin care moving forward.”
Ready to try purslane for yourself? Keep reading for eight products worthy of a spot in your medicine cabinet — and your kitchen, too.
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