It's well after Thanksgiving and yet, we've still got marshmallows on the brain. No, not the gooey kind that bubbled over our sweet potato casseroles and floated in our cups of hot cocoa, rather, an extract that's cropping up in many of the latest hair and skin care products. Though its beauty benefits are pretty sweet, consider marshmallow extract the guilt-free version of its sugary namesake. Here's why.
Marshmallow extract is the essence of the Althaea plant native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. According to New York-based holistic dermatologist Alan M. Dattner, M.D. of Holistic Dermatology & Integrative Medicine, the extract is a substance with various health benefits. "Marshmallow extract is antimicrobial and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties," says Dr. Dattner, author of Radiant Skin from the Inside Out ($20, amazon.com). "What I like about it is that it's very mild. You don't smell the essential oils and almost no [skin type] gets irritated by it—though, if you have very oily skin, you may not need it. As a polysaccharide, it acts as a humectant, which helps hydrate the skin."
"Its high mucilage gives the extract the ability to moisturize, soften, and protect skin and hair as well as sooth skin irritation," agrees skin care specialist Kristina Holey. With frigid winter temperatures right around the corner, an emollient chock-full of nourishing properties is just what you need to prevent the cold weather from taking a toll on your skin and hair. And if the temperature change is already zapping the moisture out of your skin causing dry patches or crepiness, turn to the do-all extract for the fix. "Studies show that marshmallow extract has the ability to repair skin by stimulating epithelial cell proliferation," says Holey. "I apply it at the beginning of my treatments during the cleansing phase to facilitate the penetration of active ingredients [in the products that I use]. I also add it to masks."
In addition to its hydrating and healing abilities, marshmallow extract is also known for its miraculous anti-aging powers. Human + Kind, the Ireland-based skin care brand that recently launched its line of natural products in Sephora, often uses the extract in many of its moisturizers including the Day + Night Cream ($35, sephora.com). "The extract is known to plump the skin, smooth out fine lines, and help rejuvenate dry skin," says Human + Kind director and co-founder Rene van Willigen. Additionally, the extract can be found in the brand's Apple & Herbs Shampoo + Body Wash ($10; sephora.com) to help detangle and add shine to dull hair.
The takeaway? Marshmallow extract does it all. "Combined with other natural ingredients, it has the power to fight the aging process, heal, rejuvenate, moisturize, and treat some of the world’s most predominant skin ailments, such as eczema and rosacea, to change someone’s life for the better," says van Willigen. Known to guzzle a marshmallow root tea, Dr. Dattner praises the ingredient for its internal benefits as well. "When taken orally, marshmallow root can also coat your gut, protecting it from acids and anything that might disturb the gut lining," he says. "It's been used as far back as ancient Ayurvedic times."
So, when shopping for your next hair or skin care product (or tea!), make sure that marshmallow extract is in the mix. Here, five of our faves.