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Saffron is a vibrant red spice that comes from the plant saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). It’s made of the flower’s dried stigmas (the tops of the female part).

The plant is thought to have originated in Greece. These days, it grows in many countries, including Iran, Spain, and China. Traditionally, saffron has been used to color and flavor food. It’s also used as an herbal remedy for ailments like back pain, wounds, and abscesses.

Saffron is a valuable ingredient in the cosmetics industry. Many people claim that saffron can relieve common skin issues, including inflammation and acne.

Some of these claims are backed by science. Let’s explore what the research says, along with how to use saffron on the skin.

Saffron has a variety of proven skin-friendly properties. Here’s what it can do for your skin:

Protects against UV radiation

When it comes to skin health, protecting against ultraviolet (UV) radiation is one of the best things you can do.

UV radiation promotes the production of free radicals, which causes oxidative stress. This damages your skin cells and accelerates skin aging.

Crocin, the active compound in saffron, might help. A 2018 lab study found that crocin has potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are molecules that reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.

The study also found that crocin protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which are responsible for premature skin aging.

Another 2018 lab study found that crocin also works against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which also contribute to early skin aging.

Fights inflammation

Inflammation, which can be caused by oxidative stress, is the root of many diseases. This includes inflammatory conditions involving the skin.

The antioxidant properties of crocin can help fight this oxidative stress and inflammation. According to the 2018 lab study mentioned above, crocin suppresses the expression of various inflammatory proteins.

Additionally, a 2018 animal study found that crocin improves atopic dermatitis in mice. The atopic dermatitis was caused by Dermatophagoides farinae (house mite) extract, which commonly causes the condition in humans.

Supports wound healing

Proper wound healing is key for healthy skin. It lowers your risk of developing complications, including skin infections and scarring.

In a 2008 animal study, a cream with saffron extract improved wound healing in mice. It increased the growth of skin cells, which is necessary to close wounds. The researchers credited this effect to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of saffron.

A 2017 lab study also found that saffron stimulates wound healing by promoting cell multiplication.

Although more human research is needed, these benefits show promise for saffron’s role in wound healing.

Reduces hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation occurs when parts of your skin become darker than the surrounding skin. It’s caused by excess pigment, or melanin. You can develop hyperpigmentation due to scarring, sun exposure, or hormonal changes.

A 2013 human study discovered that saffron’s active compounds, including crocin, can decrease melanin. The compounds work by suppressing the tyrosinase, an enzyme that’s essential for melanin production.

Like the dried spice, saffron oil comes from the C. sativus flower. It’s made by extracting the oil from the stigmas.

Saffron oil also contains crocin, the active compound responsible for the skin benefits of saffron. Therefore, saffron oil has potential for improving the skin as well.

In terms of skin care, there are some claims about saffron that have been debunked. Saffron:

Doesn’t hydrate skin

Many people claim that saffron can hydrate and moisturize the skin.

A 2010 study determined that this isn’t true. In the experiment, a lotion with saffron was applied to a group of people. Another group received lotion without saffron.

The researchers found no difference in skin moisture between the two groups, suggesting saffron lacks hydrating benefits.

Doesn’t fight acne

Theoretically, the anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties may help treat acne.

No studies prove this benefit, though. A 2016 study found that saffron has antibacterial properties, but it involved foodborne bacteria instead of those that cause acne.

More specific research is necessary before saffron can be considered an acne treatment.

If you’re interested in using saffron for the skin, try the methods below.

Note that while saffron is generally well tolerated, it may still cause an allergic reaction. If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, such as redness or irritation, after using saffron in any of the treatments below, discontinue use.

Saffron face mask

For a soothing skin treatment, make a saffron face mask. Crush 3 strands of saffron with a mortar and pestle. Mix with 1 tbsp. of honey, then apply the mixture to your skin. After 10 minutes, rinse off and pat dry.

Saffron gel for face

The cooling effect of saffron gel is ideal for inflammation. With a mortar and pestle, crush 4 or 5 strands of saffron. Mix with 2 tbsp. each of aloe vera gel and rose water. Apply a small amount to your skin and rub until absorbed.

Saffron face toner

Witch hazel and rose water are excellent toners. However, you can infuse them with saffron for added skin benefits.

Pour 1/2 cup of witch hazel or rose water into a spray bottle. Add 3 or 4 strands of saffron and soak for 1 to 2 days. Spray on your skin or apply with a cotton ball.

Saffron oil moisturizer

Saffron oil can be added to base oils to create a moisturizer. Fill a 1-ounce bottle about two-thirds full with a carrier oil, like almond oil or grapeseed oil. Add 3 to 5 drops of saffron essential oil. Apply to your skin with clean fingers.

Saffron is generally well tolerated. It usually isn’t associated with side effects or issues.

Yet, like all plant substances, saffron can cause allergic reactions. A 2015 study found that saffron workers in India developed contact dermatitis caused by saffron.

A 2007 study also found that saffron pollen can cause allergic reactions involving the skin or respiratory system.

Possible signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • itchy, red eyes
  • dry skin
  • skin rash (redness and swelling)
  • itchy or burning skin
  • hives

Avoid using saffron in any form if you’re pregnant. According to a 2014 study, saffron can promote uterine contractions, which increases the risk of miscarriage.

Here’s where you can buy dried saffron or saffron skin care products:

  • health markets
  • grocery stores
  • spice shops
  • herbal medicine shops
  • apothecaries

Shop for saffron skin care products online.

If you’d like to enhance your skin care routine, try using saffron. Its active compounds work against inflammation, hyperpigmentation, and UV radiation. It also offers protection from UV radiation, a common cause of premature skin aging.

Be cautious if it’s your first time using saffron. It’s possible to develop an allergic reaction, so do a patch test first. Avoid saffron if you’re pregnant.

You can use saffron in homemade moisturizers, masks, and more. Alternatively, you can buy saffron skin care products at apothecaries or health markets.