A History of Oat in Cosmetics: Ancient Remedy Turned Modern-Day Hero

Renowned for its unrivalled anti-inflammatory properties and exceptional nutritional profile, the humble oat has long been a staple ingredient in a variety of cosmetic and food applications. But did you know that one of ancient Rome’s most famous writers, Ovid, devised oat-based skin care recipes over 2,000 years ago? As it so often unfolds, we now know our ancient ancestors were onto something special. Today, thanks to significant technological advances, the oat’s impressive molecular make-up and mechanisms on the skin are well understood. This combination of history and science, alongside an exemplary safety record, has made the oat one of the 21st century’s most popular beauty ingredients. Not only has the oat withstood the ultimate test of time, therefore, but it has emerged stronger for it.

The Ancient World: Discovery of a Skin-Soothing Powerhouse

The first known use of oat in skin care dates back to as early as 2000 BC in Eygpt. Around this time, and in the subsequent period of ancient history that followed, people used oats to great effect as a treatment for skin irritation, eczema and other conditions. Indeed, so well regarded was the use of oat as a skin-soothing remedy that many of history’s most celebrated authors wrote enthusiastically of the fact. Ovid, in Medicamina Faciei Femineae (Cosmetics for the Female Face), recommended the use of oatmeal for skin care; Dioscorides, author of Materia Medica, wrote extensively on oats as a skin-healing agent. Given the lack of tools and technology available at the time, this pioneering oat literature remains nothing short of remarkable.

The 1900s: A Century of Oat Commercialisation

In contrast to its ancient glory, the oat’s skin benefits were largely overlooked between the 16th-18th centuries. Fortunately, this wane in popularity was fairly short lived as the 19th century saw the use of oat-based skin care grow once again. It wasn’t until the 1900s, however, that the oat’s fortune really changed for good. Literature published in the 1930s provided fresh insight into oatmeal’s ability to relieve itching and protect the skin. Naturally, this re-ignited general interest in the cosmetic use of oat and, well, the rest is history.

Developed in 1945, the first colloidal oatmeal hit the market just a decade after publication of the landmark paper. The powder’s ready-to-use design made it effective when dissolved in the bath or when mixed with oils for direct application. This ingenious innovation prompted major growth in the cosmetic use of oats. It also set in motion a more commercial-scale production of colloidal oatmeal in the years that followed. Notably, it wasn’t until the 1990s – some 4,000 years after its skin benefits were first discovered – that scientists identified the oat’s key molecules: avenanthramides, beta-glucan, and peptides.

Oat History Timeline
Timeline of Oat History

The 21st Century: Oat Hailed a Hero Ingredient

In a milestone ruling in 2003, the FDA approved colloidal oatmeal for use as a skin protectant in over-the-counter products. This served as the ultimate endorsement for the use of oat in the treatment of eczema and other similar conditions. What’s more, the ruling proves the remarkable accuracy with which the ancient Eygptian’s identified the oat’s most valuable characteristic.

Thanks to the FDA, oat currently remains best known for its impressive skin-soothing benefits. Oat innovation has continued at pace in recent decades, however, meaning we now know it has far more to offer. Indeed, today colloidal oatmeal is just one of many oat ingredients available to the beauty and personal care industry. The powerhouse flour now sits alongside a wide-ranging portfolio of highly effective oils, extracts, and other derivatives. These innovations have unearthed a multitude of forgotten – or as yet undiscovered – oat benefits including anti-ageing, microbiome-balancing and radiance-boosting effects. With such a wealth of claims to its name, it’s little wonder that the oat has become somewhat of a modern-day beauty hero. In 2020 alone, oat-derived ingredients featured in more than 20% of global beauty and personal care launches (Mintel GNPD, 2021). At the beginning of 2021, searches for ‘oat beauty’ were at their highest in over a decade (Google Trends, 2021). Evidently, not only does the oat’s reputation as a highly-effective cosmetic ingredient show no signs of abating, it appears to be strengthening with time.

It’s certainly fair to say that the future of oat is looking bright. Be the first to know just what it may entail by signing up to our monthly e-newsletter. We’ll keep you updated with the latest innovations, industry trends, hot-off-the-press oat research, and other exclusive insights.

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