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The Pampering Pumpkin

By Bess Hochstein

The delightful gourd has made its way from the holiday table to the treatment table.

There are few scents that convey the warmth and comfort of fall as well as the aroma of pumpkin pie baking in the oven. That sweet, spicy smell wafting through the home is enough to calm even the most hurried holiday hostess. And the taste of warm pumpkin pie, with or without ice cream, evokes powerful sensory memories.

For those who recognize the benefits of pumpkin, this orange gourd is more than the key ingredient of a seasonal dessert or the raw material for a jack-o'-lantern. The pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse; it's rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, as well as such other cancer-fighting carotenoids as lutein and zeaxanthin. Pumpkin also boasts B vitamins, niacin, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, and vitamins A and C. The seeds are laden with zinc, a natural sunblock and antioxidant. And now pumpkin has made its way from the holiday table to the treatment table and into the medicine cabinets of skin-savvy consumers.

As a certified nutritionist, Myra Michelle Eby was well aware of pumpkin's nutritional benefits when she created her own all-natural, plant-based skincare line, MyChelle Dermaceuticals. Faced with pumpkin's short harvest season and her determination to eschew chemicals in her products, Eby struck upon the idea of naturally preserving pumpkin by freeze-drying the flesh and reconstituting it as needed with fermented extracts, or pumpkin wine. She claims her Incredible Pumpkin Peel harnesses and concentrates the benefits of pumpkin; the fermentation aids the skin's absorption of pumpkin's profusion of nutrients and promotes cellular renewal.

And the seeds don't go to waste; explains Eby, "Pumpkin seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids. They're very effective in regulating your skin's own sebum production. So pumpkin seed oil is great for oily or acne-prone skin, and it also balances dry skin"

Pumpkin is most commonly used in facial treatments; its active enzymes provide a natural chemical exfoliation. Explains Laura Hittleman, corporate director, spa services at Canyon Ranch Health Resorts explains, "[Pumpkin] act[s] like Pac Man, eating away the dead cells off the surface layer of the skin." She introduced the Phyto Pumpkin Enzyme Peel as an enhancement to facials at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts, in her pursuit of treatments indigenous to New England. Though hesitant to introduce a trendy food-based service, she was swayed by pumpkin's power. "It's a really nice exfoliator. It's not as aggressive as a glycolic peel."

While pumpkin inspires thoughts of autumn in New England, Half Moon Bay, California, calls itself the pumpkin capital of the world. Guests at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay can indulge in such treatments as the Pumpkin Hydrotherapy Bath and Pumpkin and Brown Sugar Body Scrub.

Combinations of pumpkin and fruit are common, as the gourd's enzymes and fruit acids combine to create a potent peel. Pacifica Natural Skincare's Apple Pumpkin Renewal & Detoxifying Treatment complements pumpkin's cellular renewal with apple's purifying and toning properties. Jennifer Jaqua found inspiration for Jaqua Pumpkin Papaya Pure Enzyme Face Masque in the East. "It was based on an experience that I had in Bali where fresh fruits and nuts were ground up and put on my skin for my facial", she explains. "Nothing came out of a jar or a bottle. That inspired us to create a product in my mom's kitchen, using fresh ingredients that we sent to our lab to [have them] make the product stable. The lab found a way to make it work and our pumpkin papaya face mask [contains more than] 50% real pumpkin!" 

Dermatologist Adam Bodian, owner of Bodian Dermatology and Medical Day Spa in Great Neck, New York, cautions that not all products deliver pumpkin's full bevy of benefits. "Are you actually getting that antioxidant through topical use?" he asks. "Your skin is a barrier. You can't just smear pumpkin on your face. Serum-based products can deliver it into the skin." However, he extols pumpkin for exfoliation and skin renewal due to its high levels of glycolic acids. "The enzymes stimulate a reaction; they take off the top layer of dead skin cells."

Some products enhance pumpkin's enzymatic exfoliation with a mechanical boost. On top of fermented pumpkin extract and pumpkin seed oil, Lamas Pumpkin Spice Polish adds gentle buffing with walnut and apricot seed powder.

Should you leave the spa smelling of pumpkin, you may experience one of the great gourd's most surprising attributes. In his book Scentsational Sex, psychiatrist Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, revealed that the aroma of pumpkin pie is one of the most arousing scents for men. Nevertheless, a tempting autumnal aroma in a jar does not necessarily guarantee the full benefits of pumpkin. Some products that proudly proclaim pumpkin in their names are actually devoid of pumpkin in their ingredients. So just as you would when shopping for natural pumpkin pie filling, be sure to read the label.

DIY Pumpkin Skin Care

In recognition of pumpkin's bounty of benefits, New York's Sea Change Healing Center recently added a Pumpkin Whip Facial Peel as an add-on to its menu of natural facial treatments. If you can't make it to Manhattan, try this recipe at home. In addition to applying this mask once a week, Sea Change recommends regular professional facials to properly cleanse the skin and address internal and external problems that may surface.

Fridge-Fresh Pumpkin Whip Mask

1 cup pumpkin puree (Fresh puree is recommended, but canned puree will do in a pinch.)

1 cup fresh plain soy yogurt (preferable) or regular plain yogurt

1 tbs. honey

1 tbs. brewed green tea

1 tbs. carrot juice

1 tsp. grapeseed seed extract (found at your local health food store.)

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and use immediately!

Warm a damp face cloth in a crock-pot, a microwave, or by soaking it in hot water. Wrap the cloth around the face and press, don't wipe, the cloth to dampen the skin.

If blackheads/whiteheads are visible, steam your face for 10 minutes over a pot of boiled water. Do not do this over the stove! Place a towel over your head to capture the steam, and be careful not to get too close to the water.

Apply the mask to your face with a pastry brush or new paintbrush. Avoid the eye area.

Let dry for 15 minutes. Take the time to sit and relax with your eyes closed while listening to soothing music.

Gently wipe your face clean with a washcloth soaked in tepid water.

Courtesy of Sea Change Healing Center, (212) 889-7300,

Pumpkin Products

Jaqua Pumpkin Papaya Pure Enzyme Face Masque,

June Jacobs Spa Collection Perfect Pumpkin Peeling Enzyme Masque,

Lamas Cosmeceuticals Pumpkin Spice Polish 3-in-1 Instant Facial,

MyChelle Dermaceuticals Incredible Pumpkin Peel,

Pacifica Natural Skincare Cosmecueticals Apple Pumpkin Renewal & Detoxifying Treatment,

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