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The Great Pumpkin
Halloween unofficially kicks off America’s two-month long holiday season, and what symbolizes the season more roundly than the pumpkin?
After jack-o’-lanterns rear their pretty heads for trick-or-treaters, the pumpkin turns up in desserts, side dishes and Starbuck’s lattes for the remainder of the year. It is also a season when many of us are guilty of “feeding our faces” a little too much.
However, health experts, dermatologists and beauty specialists know that the hearty, humble pumpkin — when used both topically and internally (that is, ingested) — turns the concept of “feeding your face” on its head, so to speak. You can also think of pumpkin as a great all-purpose, naturally occurring beauty product straight from the heartland.
Michelle Noonan, born and raised in Iselin, N.J., swears by pumpkin. The TV host and science correspondent, now building her career in Los Angeles, battles acne and stresses through the zinc in pumpkin seeds. She insists pumpkin facial masks help her control acne flare ups the natural way, without the need for traditional treatment with harsh chemicals like benzoyl peroxide or prescription medications.
Noonan is not alone. Colorado-based dermatologist Dr. Richard Asarch and Nebraska dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger (creator of the Lovely Skin line; www.lovelyskin.com) freely handed out generous handfuls of sweet facts about the pumpkin during our search for tricks and treatments: Pumpkin contains vitamins A and C, Omega-3, antioxidants and minerals to nourish the body and help build tissue.
Applied topically, enzymes from the pumpkin gently exfoliate dead skin cells without scrubbing, which both doctors note can break capillaries and can be too harsh for sensitive skin.
Asarch adds that pumpkin seeds and oils have been used over many generations to make medicines, which, in turn, have been used for treating bladder irritation, kidney infections and intestinal worms.
“The use of pumpkin seeds as a remedy for parasites and kidney problems is well documented in Native American history,” Asarch details. “In the late 1800s, herbal doctors used pumpkin seeds regularly to treat urinary and gastric illness, and for parasite removal. “The pumpkin plant, along with its seeds, has been used in the traditional medicine of many countries, including India and Mexico.”
At the Asarch Center for Dermatology and Laser and DermaSpa (which attract visitors from throughout the United States), Asarch’s team offers a modern therapeutic pumpkin facial treatment. The special treatment package incorporates a skin purification with Pumpkin Cleanser, a facial massage with Pumpkin E Oil and a Pumpkin Enzyme Peel.
Schlessinger, meanwhile, is particularly sweet on his line’s LovelySkin Pumpkin Clarifying Mask not only because of the appealing and naturally occurring fragrance but also the antioxidant content, which he says improves the skin and protects against free radicals at the same time.
“The antioxidant makeup is the main reason for its success as a skin treatment externally, but the same can be said for ingesting it as well,” he says. “The level of antioxidants directly correlates with the benefits that will accrue for the skin.”
Dr. Ruthie Harper, a Texas-based physician focused on nutritional medicine, non-surgical aesthetic transformation and genetically based skin care, stresses that the enzymes and alpha-hydroxy acids in pumpkins draw out impurities and toxins lodged deep in the skin’s pores.
Those things are replaced with more beneficial vitamins, anti-aging enzymes and nutrients. Adding to this is the fact that pumpkin has naturally occurring UVA/UVB sunscreens thanks to the natural zinc content.
“We find that many people respond better to pumpkin peels than to glycolic peels, with immediate improvement in the clarity and smoothness of their skin,” says Harper. “People with sensitive skin and acne benefit because it is less aggressive than a glycolic peel. Pumpkin, like other plants that have a close relationship with the soil, are often great sources of mineral nutrients. In addition to zinc, they are also sources of phosphorus, magnesium, iron and copper” which support “every aspect of a healthy body.”
“Pumpkin also contains phenolic antioxidants and lingans, providing protection against cancer.”
Two-time Emmy Award-winning makeup artist and organic cosmetics expert Marianne Skiba aptly notes that pumpkins suffer from type casting thanks to their enduring association with jack-o-lanterns and autumn foliage displays. However, she says she believes it is a superfood for all seasons, as she recommends a pumpkin scrub to clients to remove dead skin cells damaged by too much summer sun, followed by a pumpkin masque and a pumpkin moisturizer.
While New York-based natural skincare expert Suki Kramer’s products (www.sukiskincare.com) have famous fans including Alicia Silverstone, Courteney Cox and Julianne Moore, Kramer says she truly values the opinions and feedback of customers undergoing cancer treatment or recovery who have discovered that ingredients like pumpkin have helped alleviate the after-effects of radiation and/or chemotherapy that leave skin parched and irritated.