• Rajani Katta MD

Ten Great Skin-Saving Spices and Herbs

Updated: Jun 5


Spices and herbs are incredibly rich and valuable sources of phytonutrients. While they may be seen as the “extras" in a fantastic recipe, they really should be considered the stars.


They add fantastic flavor but, even more importantly, they add great power. They serve as a rich source of powerful phytonutrients. So powerful, in fact, that I consider them to be a triple threat when it comes to protecting your skin. Spices and herbs combat the three major forces that challenge your skin:

  1. They are a great source of antioxidants.

  2. They act as anti-inflammatory agents.

  3. Some spices and herbs can even combat glycation, a process that results in collagen damage. Certain compounds found in spices and herbs have been shown to inhibit glycation, which means they act as collagen protectors.


Alongside these benefits, herbs and spices also have bonus powers:

  1. Some spices and herbs, such as cinnamon and fenugreek, may help lower blood sugar levels. This helps protect collagen, since sugar is so damaging to the collagen framework of our skin.

  2. Many spices and herbs even exhibit anti-microbial effects, which help to reduce food spoilage.


When it comes to spices, think "seed to bark“. Spices are obtained from a number of different plants, both woody and non-woody. Plant parts that make up spices include stems, seeds, bark, berries, and flowers. Spices are dried, and you can purchase them either whole (such as whole cloves or cumin seeds) or ground (such as ground cumin).


Herbs, on the other hand, are the leafy parts of plants that have non-woody stems, such as basil and mint.


As a group, herbs and spices contain thousands of phytochemicals. Keep reading for a short list of the spices I recommend for their powerful skin protective powers.


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#1: Garlic Organosulfur Compounds: Collagen Protector


Garlic reduces the formation of wrinkles following UVB exposure by protecting against collagen damage. Compounds in garlic reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.



#2: Ginger Gingerols: Blocks the Scissor Enzyme Elastase


One of the reasons that UV radiation is so harmful to the skin is that UV exposure activates scissor enzymes in the dermis. These scissor enzymes, including collagenase and elastase, then proceed to snip away at the collagen and elastic fibers that provide strength and elasticity to the skin.


Ginger is such a potent skin-saving spice because it protects the elastic fibers in your skin. Phytonutrients in ginger, called gingerols, are able to block the activity of elastase.



#3: Oregano Apigenin: Blocks the Scissor Enzyme Collagenase


The polyphenol compound apigenin reduces ROS (reactive oxygen species) and inhibits the activity of collagenase, an enzyme that damages collagen.



#4: Paprika Beta-carotene: Increases Vitamin A Levels


Beta Carotene in paprika is a powerful antioxidant that helps increase Vitamin A levels.


#5: Peppermint Apigenin: Activator of DNA Repair


Laboratory studies have shown that the compounds in peppermint activates DNA repair systems and reduced inflammation after exposure to UV radiation.


#6: Rosemary Carnosol: a Powerful Antioxidant


Carnosol is a phytonutrient (terpene family) which has powerful antioxidant properties.



Herbs such as rosemary are extremely beneficial to overall skin health.


#7: Thyme Luteolin: Protector of Fibroblasts


Luteolin protects fibroblasts (cells which aid in collagen repair) from UV radiation.



#8: Turmeric Curcumin: the Anti-inflammatory Spice


Curcumin inhibits the nuclear factor, Kappa Beta, which is a major contributor to inflammation.



#9: Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar


Studies have shown that daily intake of ¼ to ½ tsp daily of cinnamon can have significant impacts on lowering blood glucose levels by increasing the sensitivity of insulin receptors.



Small amounts of cinnamon are known to decrease glucose levels.


#10: Cloves the Most Powerful Antioxidant


In a study, cloves were shown to have the highest antioxidant capacity (per 100g) of all foods studied.




Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.



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