When I think of cucumber in skincare, a scene from Legally Blonde comes to mind, in which the lawyers walk in on the ex-wife “at the spa” and she’s wrapped in a space blanket, looking like this:
And if you ever Google about the practice seen above, you’ll read: “cucumber slices are placed on the eyes, though their use is not readily apparent.”
That’s how I’ve always felt about cucumber: it smells cool, but can it really work as a “cooling” agent (anti-inflammatory)? Today, we’re exploring just that.
Research Review: Cucumber (Cucumis Sativus) in Skincare
Here I’ve broken down the proposed or suspected benefits of cucumber extract and the research behind it, either confirming or disproving those suspected benefits:
Anti-oxidant and Analgesic Effects
In a 2010 study of the Cucumis Sativus fruit extract, researchers compared the anti-oxidant (free radical scavenging) properties of Cucumis Sativus fruit extract compared to ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and BHA, and the analgesic properties compared to diclofenac sodium in vivo. They found that Cucumber extract was a decent free radical scavenger, but still ~40% less so at it’s optimal concentration than Vitamin C or BHA (table). They also found cucumber extract to be a decent analgesic, but less so than diclofenac sodium (table 3, table 4). Overall, researchers attributed cucumber fruit extract’s anti-oxidant and analgesic properties to the presence of flavanoids and tannins in the extract.
This 2012 research review states that cucumber has a cleansing action within the body by removing accumulated pockets of old waste materials and chemical toxins–which is probably where the mask I’m about to review below’s “detoxifying” claims come from–but I have yet to see this backed up in the research.
For me, however the most important thing I’m looking for in the cucumber research is cucumber’s ability to reduce redness, inflammation, et al. Is it truly cooling and soothing, or is that made up? An analgesic is a “relief from pain,” but in the study above, it was quite literally relief from pain, not irritation.
While cosmetic reviews tend to focus on cucumber extract’s lack of irritation or inability to sensitize skin. Although the reviews are extensive, they simply serve as a safeguard against ill effects, not proof of beneficial ones. I was unable to find any research demonstrating anti-inflammatory benefits of cucumber fruit extract, but it’s safe to say that it’s not likely to inflame the skin.
Takeaways: Cucumber Fruit Extract’s Benefits
The research review was a little disappointing: there’s not much I can say for cucumber fruit extract, except that it is anti-oxidant and analgesic in nature, and that it’s natural flavanoids, tannins and even its natural ascorbic acid content makes it potentially beneficial as an “anti-wrinkles” cosmetic ingredient.
Common sense and experience also tells me that cucumber has a cooling effect on the skin–whether or not that’s a lasting effect, I’ll let the research be the authority. We’ll see how the product lives up to the cooling claims!
Product Test & Review: Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask
Sporting a thick, green gelée, this mask looks like it will deliver everything it promises, as “an ultra-gentle refreshing gel mask to help soothe, hydrate, and detoxify the look of dry, irritated skin with botanical extracts.”
Product Claims Check:
This ultra-gentle gel helps soothe, hydrate, and detoxify the look of dry, irritated skin with botanical extracts of cucumber, papaya, chamomile, pineapple, sugar maple, sugarcane, orange, lemon, bilberry, and aloe vera. It’s ideal for helping to calm and soothe the skin’s appearance after sun exposure, peels, waxing, facials, and extractions.
-Cucumber Extract: Helps to nourish, hydrate, comfort, soothe, calm, and de-puff the appearance of skin.
-Aloe Vera: Helps calm and hydrate the appearance of skin.
-Sugarcane and Sugar Maple Extracts: Help improve the look of skin dullness.
-Papaya Extract: Rich in vitamins, this natural enzyme helps soften the appearance of skin.
As much as this is supposed to be a cooling, hydrating and soothing mask, the papaya extract suggests the inclusion of AHAs and/or BHAs. They may be gentle, but that was a surprising addition to me.
Aloe vera has been considered a healing, anti-inflammatory agent for centuries and recent research–albeit limited–suggests that it may live up to it’s long-historied claims (source). There have been several studies (see here for a review), but evidence is mostly anecdotal.
Personally, I considered aloe vera to be a shoe-in for anti-inflammatory and burn/wound healing, until I tried coconut oil for my sunburn and realized that while it wasn’t cooling on contact like aloe vera, it sped up healing even more so than aloe vera. Coconut oil is a proven burn-healing agent, to boot.
Strange to think that aloe vera is still an ingredient on the fringe of the natural cosmetic industry, no?
Internally, sugar is one of those tricky foods that will actually age the appearance of your skin because it inhibits collagen from repairing itself properly (source). But we know that diet and skincare aren’t the same. So what happens when sugarcane/maple syrup is applied to the skin itself?
Guess what! Processed sugar and sugarcane aren’t exactly the same thing. Raw sugarcane juice is a natural source of the AHA glycolic acid, which we covered extensively in the last post, but the AHAs need to be extracted from the sugarcane juice to be stable and for us to know the concentration, and therefore whether or not they are concentrated enough to be effective (source).
Claim Check Takeaways: So what’s really at work in this mask looks like questionable anti-inflammatory/cooling effects of Cucumber and Aloe, working together with questionably concentrated/bio-available resurfacing AHA in sugarcane and papaya.
As for the ingredients:
Water, Butylene Glycol, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Ananas Sativus (Pineapple) Fruit Extract, Vaccinium Myrtillus Fruit/Leaf Extract, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Acer Saccharum (Sugar Maple) Extract, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Fruit Extract, Sodium Pca, Allantoin, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Disodium Edta, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Polysorbate 20, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, Yellow 5 (Ci 19140), Blue 1 (Ci 42090).
Nothing that we haven’t already covered in the claim check sticks out here, except that one should note the high level of moisturizing butylene glycol. While I don’t really like butylene glycol or propylene glycol in my skincare products, one cannot disagree that they are highly moisturizing.
For once, I really have nothing to write home about. I tried this mask several years ago, so then again this wasn’t my first time.
After trying the blue marine algae mask in this set–which was surprisingly hydrating–cucumber gel just didn’t go it for me.
And knowing how fall the ingredients fell short of the claims, I just felt.. cheated.
Others have had great experiences–just look at the Sephora reviews!–but not me. Other review outlets have also been more critical of the mask and their experience.
Takeaways: Cucumber (Cucumis Sativus) in Skincare
Man, this was a disappointing way to end the review of Peter Thomas Roth’s mask vault. Overall, the masks just weren’t quite worth it. My favorite ended up being the Moor Mud mask followed by the Blue Marine Algae mask. I loved the Pumpkin Mask, but am too scared to continue using it.
That being said, I’d rather find a brand where I love all the ingredients and can know the concentrations of the active ingredients inside. The only way I typically find both of those requirements is in small handmade brands.. or if I do it myself.
Cucumber fruit extract just doesn’t live up to the historical hype ..yet.
I am hopeful for cucumber fruit extract’s future, it just needs to be further reviewed. It’s a good analgesic, but known analgesics still outperform it. It’s also a decent anti-inflammatory, but Vitamin C and BHA still outperformed it.
So, it’s not the best, but it’s also cheap, widely available and hey–it’s FUN to put a few cucumber slices on your eyes every now and then!
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