You’ve probably heard of applying cucumber slices to your eyes in order to reduce puffiness and hydrate the delicate skin around the eyes. But have you ever heard of creating your own DIY cucumber face mask? If this sounds even more refreshing than simply putting cucumber slices on your eyes, read on to learn 4 cucumber skin benefits supported by science and what you must know before trying a DIY cucumber face mask.
Top 4 cucumber skin benefits supported by science
Similar to the benefits of using cucumber slices on your eyes, a cucumber face mask is claimed to provide hydration and calm inflammation. In addition, cucumber face masks are said to help with sunburn, dark circles, dry skin, oily skin, acne, blackheads, wrinkles, skin whitening, and more. That’s a pretty impressive list of benefits! But are these claims true? Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence, we evaluated the research on the use of cucumber in skin care to give you the top 4 cucumber skin benefits supported by science.
1. High water content increases skin hydration
Did you know that most types of cucumber are composed of 95% water? Their high water content soothes the skin and helps to increase hydration. Plus, cucumbers contain a rich supply of polysaccharides. A polysaccharide is a carbohydrate composed of monosaccharides (simple sugars) bonded together. Polysaccharides are good water-binding agents. After topical application, they create a gel-like layer on skin that acts as a barrier to attract and keep moisture in. If your skin feels dry and tight, you may find a cucumber face mask to be beneficial.
Despite their high concentration of water, cucumbers actually contain a wide variety of beneficial nutrients. Specifically, cucumbers contain high levels of vitamin K, lignans, antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin C, B vitamins, cucurbitacins and their derivatives (triterpenoids), flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, and kaempferol), among other trace elements and minerals.
2. Vitamin K may help reduce dark circles
Cucumbers are an excellent source of vitamin K, providing about 16% of the RDI (recommended daily intake) per 100 gram serving. While the research is not conclusive, it is thought that vitamin K may help to minimize the appearance of dark circles underneath the eyes. Vitamin K is required to produce prothrombin, a key factor involved in blood clotting, which is why vitamin K is thought to speed the healing of wounds and bruises. Applied to the skin, vitamin K may help to improve dark circles under the eyes in the same way it helps bruises to heal when taken internally.
3. Cucumber antioxidants combat free radicals
As mentioned above, there are several antioxidants naturally found in cucumbers, for instance, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta carotene, and caffeic acid. Cucumbers also contain antioxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin, apigenin, luteolin, and kaempferol, which provide additional benefits. Antioxidants limit oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are dangerous because they are highly reactive and will try to become more stable by ripping electrons off all nearby molecules. This is problematic because free radicals can react with important cellular structures, like DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, or the cell membrane. Altogether, the damage to cells caused by free radicals is known as oxidative stress, which manifests as fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
So are the antioxidants in cucumbers enough to provide effective protection against free radicals? A 2011 study published in the Archives of Dermatological Research determined that the ascorbic acid found in cucumber exhibited significant free radical scavenging activity. The researchers concluded that cucumber fruit juice could be use to promote anti-wrinkle effects when applied to the skin. Thus, the claims that you can use a DIY cucumber face mask for wrinkles and anti-aging benefits may be valid.
4. Calm sunburn + reduce inflammation
We bet there’s a good chance at one point you’ve spent a little bit too much time in the sun on vacation or simply at home during the hot summer months, leading to a bright red, hot, inflamed sunburn. Most people turn to aloe vera gel to alleviate their sunburn, but did you know that a cucumber face mask may work just as well? There are several constituents in cucumbers that provide anti-inflammatory effects, such as lignans, cucurbitacins, flavonoids, and more. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, animal studies suggest that cucumber extract helps reduce unwanted inflammation, in part by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes (including cyclooxygenase 2, or COX-2).
Using a cucumber face mask will provide a cooling effect when applied to the skin, followed by a reduction in swelling, pain, and redness (all signs of inflammation). This is why cucumber face masks can be helpful when applied to sunburned skin. Decreasing inflammation may also help acne to heal faster. Blemishes form due to excess sebum and bacteria clogging pores, followed by inflammation and swelling. A cucumber face mask may help to soothe inflamed blemishes, which can help them heal faster. Therefore, it is often recommended to use a cucumber face mask for acne.
Read this before trying a DIY cucumber face mask
Now that you know all of the cucumber skin benefits supported by science, we want to give you a heads up on a few things before you try a DIY cucumber face mask. The first thing you need to know has to do with safety. You should use caution or avoid using a cucumber face mask if you have an allergy to ragweed or salicylates. If you have an allergy to ragweed, cucumbers may also cause allergic reactions due to cross-reactivity, according to American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Similarly, those with a salicylate allergy may have a reaction to cucumbers since they contain salicylates.
The next thing you must know before trying a cucumber face mask is that not all DIY cucumber face mask recipes are the same, and some could even be harmful to your skin! For example, it is commonly recommended to mix lemon juice into your cucumber face mask. Lemon juice is claimed to be a natural option for brightening the skin. However, there is no research demonstrating that lemon juice has a positive effect on brightening an uneven skin tone. Plus, lemon juice is highly acidic, with a very low pH that’s quite sensitizing to skin. Lemon juice is also known to cause photosensitivity (reaction causing redness and inflammation on patches of sun-exposed skin) due to the volatile fragrance chemical limonene, which is abundant in lemon juice.
Another popular ingredient in DIY cucumber face mask recipes is baking soda. Baking soda is claimed to be a “natural deep cleanser and oil remover”. While baking soda is abrasive and will exfoliate the skin, skin care experts consider it to be too harsh. Plus, baking soda has a high pH of 9, which is typically too alkaline for skin to tolerate since the skin’s normal pH is about 4.5 to 5.
DIY cucumber face mask recipes
Rather than just placing cucumber slices over your eyes during your next at home facial, you might be interested in trying a DIY cucumber face mask. While there are a ton of available recipes on the internet, you may want to first try a simple cucumber face mask. Start by blending several slices of cucumber in a food processor until a smooth paste is formed, then gently apply it to your face and neck. Leave the cucumber face mask on for 10 to 20 minutes, then rinse it off with cold water.
There are also DIY cucumber face mask recipes that include additional ingredients. However, as we mentioned above, it’s important to avoid adding in ingredients that will do more harm than good, such as lemon juice and baking soda. You can try adding in ingredients that are known to be beneficial to the skin, such as aloe vera, plain yogurt, oatmeal, coconut oil, avocado, or honey.
Final thoughts on DIY cucumber face masks
There’s no doubt that cucumbers can provide numerous benefits to the skin, such as increasing hydration, minimizing the appearance of dark circles, providing protection against free radicals, soothing sunburn, helping acne heal faster, and reducing inflammation. Plus, numerous research studies have been completed that support these claims. Our final thoughts are that while a DIY cucumber face mask is a natural and cost-effective skin treatment, you are going to see faster and better results by using an actual skin care product, such as a cream or serum, that is designed to specifically target your skin concerns.
References: Wikipedia “Cucumber”, JARCP “Evaluating The Potential Benefits of Cucumbers for Improved Health and Skin Care”, Dermatology News “Cucumber” 2012, Articles.mercola.com “9 Health Benefits of Cucumbers” 2014, Arch Dermatol Res. 2011 May;303(4):247-52.