When I was in Costa Rica a few weeks ago my mother treated me and my three sisters to a spa day. Feeling a bit adventurous, I chose a papaya body scrub and a hot lava rock massage – and it was absolute heaven (I am still dreaming about it). I emerged from my treatments in a trance-like state, but I quickly snapped back to reality when I looked at my body. It was glowing and luminous, and it looked years younger than it should. Usually I don’t expect transformative results from spa treatments, but this glorious experience got me thinking hard – about papayas. I always knew that papayas contain an enzyme called papain that can be used as a skin exfoliator, but I obviously didn’t understand its power and effectiveness. The truth is, I never bothered to go to the store and buy a papaya, mash it up and smear it on my face. Really kind of lazy, considering what I do for a living. So (in true Canadian fashion, I love to apologize), I am sorry that I didn’t share this with you sooner. What are the active compounds in papaya? Papayas contain a high content of beta-carotene (which converts to Vitamin A in the body), vitamin C, vitamin E, pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), folate, magnesium and potassium. But by far the most famous compound is a proteolytic enzyme called papain, which breaks down protein bonds in the body. This makes it an excellent digestive enzyme, immune modulator and wound-care supplement when taken orally. When used topically, papain can break down the bonds between skin cells and help exfoliate dead, dry skin from the face and body. What are the benefits of using papaya topically? It depends on the part of the papaya fruit that is used – the highest concentration of papain is contained near the rind/peel. When this part of the papaya is used the following effects can occur:
- Deep exfoliation – the high concentration of papain will yield a deep exfoliation, helping to clear out the pores and brighten the complexion
- Reduced hyperpigmentation – papain helps to break-down melanin deposits in the skin to reduce discolouration, including the marks left-over from acne blemishes!
- Reduced unwanted facial hair growth – a recent study as suggested that papain can actually inhibit the growth of facial hair, which is common in women with PCOS.
- Moisturizes and hydrates the skin – papaya hydrates and nourishes the skin when the flesh is applied. It can even be tolerated by many people with sensitive skin.
- Repairs aging skin – it has been suggested that papaya can reduce wrinkles by modulating collagen and elastin fibers in the dermal layer of the skin.
- Heals wounds – there has been a lot of research showing that papaya is a powerful wound-healer. This is ideal if you still have active acne lesions on your face.
- If you have sensitive skin or a latex allergy (unripe papaya does contain some latex) exercise caution and do a spot test before applying.
- If you have active acne, use the ripe papaya flesh only. Often when acne is active the moisture barrier is stressed, and applying a strong exfoliator (such as papaya peel) can cause irritation and further damage the moisture barrier. The papaya will exert a gentle exfoliating action, but it will also heal active blemishes while moisturizing and nourishing the skin. You can use this treatment 1-2x per week provided there is no irritation.
- If you no longer have active acne and your skin has healed, you may use papaya peel to exfoliate your face, reduce hyper-pigmentation and help reduce unwanted facial hair. At this point your moisture barrier should be able to tolerate a stronger exfoliating treatment. If irritation occurs, discontinue. This treatment should only be done 1x per week.