The use of oats in skin care dates back to around 2000 BC in Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. In various forms, (food, tea, baths) oats were used to treat insomnia, anxiety and skin conditions including eczema, burns and other inflammatory eruptions. The oldest cultivated oats were found in caves in Switzerland, dating to the Bronze Age, around 3,000 years ago.
Some of the most famous ancient authors in the world made references to oats, including Ovid, Pliny the Elder, Hippocrates and Dioscorides. Interestingly, all refer to their medicinal properties, especially in the field of skincare, while only (if at all) making passing references to oats as a food source. Ovid, in Medicamma, strongly recommends the use of oatmeal for skin care, while Pliny advised them as treatment for moles. Dioscorides, the Greek author of Materia Medica, the first to write on medical botany as an applied science, writes extensively on oats as a healing agent .
Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, oats lost popularity almost everywhere except Scotland and Ireland. They became known more for food than as a medicine, and a boring and tasteless food at that! Samuel Johnson (1709-1791) defined oats in his dictionary as “Eaten by people in Scotland but fit only for horses in England”. To which his companion and biographer, the Scotsman James Boswell retorted “That’s why England has such good horses and Scotland has such fine men!” Johnson’s tongue-in-cheek dictionary entry is evidence of the poor reputation oats had developed, and were thought to be fit mainly for the old and infirm. However, even then, oats were often recommended mixed with brandy for all sorts of minor colds and other ailments.
Fortunately, more recent evidence and research continues to echo the older trend of oats as having beneficial medicinal and cosmetic properties. During the early 19th Century almost all oatmeal available in the UK was imported from Scotland and Canada and sold almost exclusively in pharmacies. In the 1930s, literature on the cosmetic benefits of oatmeal formulated in facial masks and bath oils was published, including information about oatmeal relieving itching, its cleaning action and its function as a skin protectant. By 1945 a ready-to-use colloidal oatmeal became available. This signalled the significant growth of the use of oats in cosmetics, and colloidal oatmeal began to be produced on a more commercial scale .
In 2003 colloidal oatmeal was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA] for use as a skin protectant, and it is one of the few botanical ingredients considered as an effective skin protectant by the FDA . Today colloidal oatmeal is available in various forms such as bath treatments, cleaning bars, body washes, shampoos, creams, lotions and shaving gels and is a recognised treatment for dermatitis, burns, inflamed, itchy and sensitive skin.
By the 1990’s, scientists had been able to identify the key active ingredients within oatmeal which contributed to its effective healing process. Specifically, a unique group of polyphenolics, the avenanthramides had been identified which were able to protect skin from lipid peroxidation, relieve itching, alleviate redness and reduce inflammation and swelling . A long chain polysaccharide, oat beta-glucan, was identified as a deep hydrating agent, capable of reducing fine lines and wrinkles, improving skin elasticity and accelerating tissue healing . Oat peptides were also found to give thin film barrier protection, stimulate collagen ‘1’ synthesis and reduce skin roughness .
Recently Oat Cosmetics had recognised the consumer’s increasing recognition of the healthy aspects of oats as a food product seen as substantially increasing sales, and felt that there was a growing opportunity to transfer this interest into cosmetics Oat Cosmetics has launched a range of sophisticated oat ingredients which demonstrate measured activity, whilst retaining the provenance, traceability and safety profile that certified natural products must maintain.
Multi-functional ingredients for today’s skin products must perform two key functions. Firstly to heal and repair damaged skin from intrinsic signs of ageing (genetics, chronological ageing), extrinsic signs such as chemical irritants (soaps, chemical peals, dyes) or environmental factors (UV exposure, allergens). Secondly to maintain good skin health through controlling skin hydration, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin elasticity. Oat ingredients have a good capability to do both.
Oat Cosmetics’ Oat COM, is the worlds most advanced colloidal oatmeal, extensively used within leading cosmetic, beauty and personal care products. Oat COM is clinically proven to reduce redness, soothe skin disorders and impart reparative properties. Oat COM is also rich in hydrating beta glucan (each batch contains 4-6% Beta Glucan) which makes it a cost effective moisturizing agent .
Oat Lipid e is a rich, natural oat oil with a unique lipid profile. It is readily absorbed into the skin leaving a non-greasy feel, minimizing lipid loss. Oat Lipid e is extracted from whole oat kernels by a gentle process that retains all of the important biologically active components. It contains 1-2% of moisture regulating ceramides and a very high level of important natural antioxidants, including tocols and a class of alkyl phenolates unique to oats. Rich in essential fatty acids and natural emollients, this product provides excellent softening, smoothing and hydrating actives for both skin, cosmetic and hair products.
Oat Lipid e is also proven to be non-comedogenic and studies showed it offers statistically-significant reduction in papules, blackheads and lesions (inflamed, non-inflamed and total number). Oat Lipid e is therefore the perfect emollient and active oil for use in anti-acne products.
Oat Beta Glucan
Oat beta glucan is the soluble fiber component in oats responsible for lowering cholesterol levels and attenuating blood sugar levels in the body. It is an unbranched, linear glucose polymer with ß(1-4) and ß(1-3) glusosidic linkages in a ratio of 4:1. Other natural sources, such as yeast can yield beta glucans, but have a different branched structure (ß(1-3), ß(1-6) linkages) and typically much lower molecular weights. The key difference between yeast and oat beta glucans is that oat beta glucan is completely water soluble. Yeast and mushroom beta glucans must be either chemically/enzymatically modified or mechanically sheared to produce a water soluble material. Consequently, functional performance can be compromised.
Oat beta glucan also has the characteristics of not only being a natural film former but also being able to penetrate deep into the dermis. The exact mechanism of penetration is not fully understood, however it is clear from microfluorimetry studies that oat beta glucan migrates through the skin cells in an intercellular manner through the lipid bilayers . This characteristic may account for the fact that in one study, oat beta glucan was shown to have better short and long-term hydration benefits compared to hyaluronic acid .
Oat Beta Glucan is a known cytokine inducer, particularly of interleukin-1 (IL-1). Cytokines are proteins produced by the immune system, lymphocytes, and other cells, that regulate cellular processes such as proliferation and differentiation. In the skin, oat beta glucan helps with infection control and collagen stimulation. It stimulates fibroblasts and production of pro-collagen, as well as the healing process.
In the anti-aging field, anti-wrinkle effects from topical application of oat beta glucan have been demonstrated. A 2005 publication in the IFSCC Magazine, by Dr Pillai, and colleagues, investigated skin penetration and anti-aging effects of oat beta glucan . A half-face design, anti-wrinkle study used 27 subjects with 0.1 % topical beta-glucan, and a placebo, applied twice a day for eight weeks. By the end of the study, the digital analysis of silicone replicas of the beta-glucan treated areas showed significantly reduced roughness and wrinkling (of up to 15%) versus the placebo. Skin firmness was also increased.
For hair care, oat beta glucan strengthens the hair, increases combability, improves elasticity and works to protect against brittleness and damage .
In the nutritional field, it is has been shown that avenanthramides interact with vitamin C to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol as well as interrupting binding of adhesion molecules, one of the first stages of atherosclerosis . Thus oats have gained the reputation of being able to protect against heart disease. These same oat antioxidants are being studied for their prevention of cellular oxidation .
Avenanthramides in oats have been shown to be the main group of active polyphenol antioxidants responsible for their anti-inflammatory, anti-pruritic (anti-itch), and anti-histamine properties. Many mothers know the benefits of adding a handful of oatmeal to the baths of children suffering from chicken pox, eczema, and other inflammatory skin conditions [2,12]. Ceapro scientists were the first to identify the link between the traditional symptomatic relief from oatmeal and the clinical activity of avenanthramides . Recently studies suggest oat avenanthramides may be beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer 
An amazing property of these antioxidants is the very low concentration at which they are active. In fact, sometimes less really is more! Since the material is sold at a standardised concentration of 100ppm, this equates to around a 5% use level, making these materials highly cost effective. In fact, good activity has been seen at as low as 0.5%.
Another highly pertinent benefit of oat avenanthramides is their ability to protect the DNA of skin cells against external environmental aggression. In one study, an electrophoresis assay called a COMET assay was used to detect cellular DNA damage caused by UV irradiation. The small comet-like tails indicate DNA damage, which is significantly reduced by the addition of oat avenanthramides . Thus, these materials make an excellent addition to sunscreens and post-sun treatment products as they penetrate very effectively into the skin thereby protecting sensitive skin cells from damage.
The anti-itch properties of oats are another interesting area of research. In a recent study using a human mast cell model, avenanthanthramides and purified oat extracts containing avenanthramides were shown to significantly inhibit both an allergic response (using c48/80 to stimulate degranulation) and a non-allergic response (Substance P). Figure 10 clearly demonstrates that concentrations as low as 315 ppb were statistically shown to effectively suppresse histamine release and concentrations of 31.5ppm virtually suppressed all histamine release. A pleiotropic effect was observed where a natural oat extract containing purified avenanthramides showed higher activity compared to a synthetic mixture of avenanthramides . Photographs in Figure 11, illustrate the statistically significant (P<0.05), rapid relief from allergy symptoms following avenanthramide treatment. After 30 minutes, itching was reduced by 50%, after one hour redness was reduced by more than 85%, and after two hours the wheal area (redness circle) was reduced by 90% . Although products making anti-itch claims would be classified as drugs in most countries, the inclusion of avenanthramides in cosmetic products for sensitive, or easily irritated skin, would appear to be highly beneficial .
In hair care, oat avenanthramides have been effectively shown to prevent hair lipid peroxidation and relieve scalp itching and sensitivity. Thus, this material would seem an ideal active ingredient for scalp care formulations.
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- Ceapro Inc. Unpublished results.
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- Ceapro Inc. Unpublished results.