Emilie Davidson Hoyt: Happy National Gardening Month! Why Getting Dirty Is Good For Your Skin

April is National Gardening Month, and Lather is kicking off an initiative to help establish a community garden in our home city of Pasadena, Calif. Community gardens have been shown to improve a neighborhood’s quality of life, offering a number of environmental, health, and cultural benefits, but did you know that they can also contribute to better-looking skin? Here are the top ways gardens can help skin glow:

Cleaner air — In a 2010 study, air pollution from traffic was correlated to extrinsic skin aging signs, commonly appearing as pigment spots, lines, and wrinkles. Gardens, including community gardens commonly located in areas of heavy traffic, help restore oxygen to the air and can help reduce air pollution. Of course, if you are outside enjoying the fresh air, don’t forget to wear a hat and slather on the sunscreen, which can further help prevent visible skin aging.

Physical activity — Exercise increases blood flow throughout the body, including to the body’s largest organ: the skin. Blood flow delivers oxygen and other nutrients to cells while helping carry away waste and debris, which may result in clearer skin. In a 2012 study conducted by scientists at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researchers found that exercise reduced the risk of psoriasis in women. Gardening activities such as raking leaves, turning compost, digging holes, and weeding get the heart pumping, giving skin a natural glow.

Reduced stress — You don’t have to break a sweat to reap this garden benefit: Simple exposure to green space has been shown to help reduce stress and increase a person’s sense of wellness and belonging. Lowered stress levels can help lead to clearer skin, as studies show that psychological stress can exacerbate the inflammation of psoriasis and induce or exacerbate atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema). Additionally, evidence suggests that emotional stress may stimulate the sebaceous glands, which produce oil in the skin, causing acne breakouts. Science aside, reduced stress may lead to fewer worry lines, though smile lines seem like a fair trade off.

Better nutrition — Various studies have shown that gardeners eat fruits and vegetables more frequently than non-gardeners. Want to know the best veggies for your skin? A 2012 study concluded that consuming a diet rich in B-carotene and lycopene — found in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and pumpkin — increases the skin’s defense against UV irradiation and contributes to the skin’s overall health and appearance. Sun protection through diet alone is still considerably lower than that achieved by using topical sunscreens, however, so don’t throw out the SPF. But for added protection, fill your garden with richly-pigmented fruits and vegetables, such as the suggestions above, or papayas, red peppers, sweet potatoes, oranges, or kale.

Natural ingredients — There’s a German proverb: The garden is the poor man’s apothecary. I’ve already opined on the beauty benefits of rose, but there are a number of other skin saviors that may be growing in your garden right now! You’ve probably heard that cucumber slices soothe tired, puffy eyes, but did you know why? Cucumber extract contains ascorbic and caffeic acids, which help prevent water retention in the skin. Pumpkin is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, enzymes, and other beauty boosters, which help nourish and balance skin, so is often used in facial masks to brighten and soften aging skin. Hair can benefit from garden growth, too. Avocado yields an oil rich in vitamins A, E and D, and lecithin, essential for hair growth and nourishment. Avocado’s highly emollient properties make it ideal for conditioning hair, increasing moisture retention and soothing dry skin. Gives a new meaning to the term “green thumb!”

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