Grains have long been used for their antioxidant, soothing, and protective properties, but they are becoming more popular today in part because of the increasing consumer interest in more natural and sustainable skincare formulas. What’s more, grains offer an effective and safer way to exfoliate skin. Ever since some U.S. states began banning plastic microbeads as part of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 due to their role in polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans, consumers have been in search of safer ways to exfoliate, including using grain-based products. “As public awareness grew about the environmental effects of plastic beads, there was a rise in popularity of skincare products that were microbead-free,” says Szilvia Hickman, owner of Szep Elet, exclusive distributor of Ilike Organic Skin Care. “This trend opened the door for many skincare brands to develop or promote their own microbead-free formulations.”
Grains fill the void left by microbeads while also serving as an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and proteins that help maintain skin’s protective barrier. “Grains are a treasure trove of skin-loving nutrients,” says Janel Luu, founder CEO of Le Mieux Cosmetics. “For example, grains contain minerals like calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium, which are sometimes overlooked in skincare. These minerals are essential, because they communicate with skin cells to boost skin’s natural functions, help transfer nutrients across cell membranes, provide antioxidant protection, and promote collagen and elastin synthesis. Ferulic acid is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound that is found in many grains and provides anti-aging benefits, such as promoting skin repair and neutralizing free radicals that cause damage to cells and DNA.”
Here, Luu explains some of the most common grains found in skincare today. She recommends checking product labels thoroughly and learning to recognize the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) name of the grain, which is a scientific or Latin term that could be easily overlooked.
- Barley (hordeum vulgare)
Vitamins and Minerals: Barley contains copper, magnesium, selenium, and zinc, which help to neutralize free radicals while boosting cell renewal, collagen synthesis, and overall elasticity.
Common Uses: Barley is known for its antioxidant and inflammatory benefits to help inhibit environmental damage and reduce the appearance of skin aging. Barley is a source of azelaic acid, which is used in exfoliants and to treat rosacea, clogged pores, and acne-prone skin, because it helps eliminate dead skin cells and reduces redness and inflammation.
- Corn (zea mays)
Vitamins and Minerals: Corn is an antioxidant-rich grain containing vitamins B, C, and tocopherol (vitamin E), which helps relieve skin irritations, eczema, and blemish-prone skin. Corn oil is rich in magnesium and potassium.
Common Uses: Corn oil is a common ingredient in face oils and moisturizers to help prevent skin dryness and boost antioxidant activity to keep skin cells hydrated.
- Oats (avena sativa beta glucan)
Vitamins and Minerals: Oats are a source of anti-inflammatory minerals such as copper, magnesium, and selenium.
Common Uses: Oats are known for soothing, softening, and moisturizing sensitive skin. Derived from oats, beta glucan promotes hydration while maintaining the integrity of the skin’s moisture barrier. Oat extract is found in exfoliants, masks, creams, and serums to help calm skin irritation, stimulate collagen production, and promote healing.
- Quinoa (chenopodium quinoa)
Vitamins and Minerals: Quinoa is rich in minerals like copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc, which help prevent environmental damage and support collagen production.
Common Uses: Quinoa seed extract enhances moisture retention and helps to firm skin, so it is found in some face and eye creams.
- Rice (oryza sativa)
Vitamins and Minerals: Minerals in rice include magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, and phosphorus, which provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits for stressed and photo-damaged skin.
Common Uses: Rice water can be used in cleansers, toners, and exfoliants to help minimize pore size, smooth rough texture, and brighten skintone. Rice oil is often added to serums, cream masks, and lightweight moisturizing creams to help protect skin’s protective barrier and lock in moisture.
- Rye (secale cereale)
Vitamins and Minerals: Rye has high levels of ferulic acid, magnesium, manganese, and vitamin E, which help improve cell function and blood flow and maintain moisture levels.
Common Uses: Rye is found in some anti-aging serums and moisturizers to help smooth fine lines and wrinkles.
- Wheat (triticum vulgare)
Benefits: Wheat is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps prevent discoloration and dark spots.
Vitamins and Minerals: Wheat germ oil contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, and E, and minerals including selenium and zinc, which improve skin radiance, promote elasticity, and protect against free radical damage.
Common Uses: Wheat is commonly found in brightening products and serums.