While the magic beans cited in "Jack and the Beanstalk" aren’t real, the skin-soothing benefits of the tiny-but-mighty adzuki bean are anything but a tall tale. Also known as red mung beans, the ingredient is well-known in the food realm as a rich source of low-fat protein and fiber, but these also pack major benefits for your complexion, particularly if you’re dealing with excess oil and breakouts. The concept isn’t exactly new—legend has it that, since around the 18th century, women in Japan would grind the adzuki bean pod into a powder, place the powder into a silk bag, then scrub said bag onto the face and body while in the bath. And while the DIY route is effective, with many skincare brands realizing the power of adzuki beans, it’s even easier to incorporate the do-it-all ingredient into your daily routine.
Here, dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung and nurse Jennifer Kennedy, director of skincare at PFrankMD, school us on everything we need to know about the highly effective ingredient. Keep reading to learn everything from what adzuki beans are to how they benefit your skin.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Jessie Cheung is a New York City-based dermatologist with a focus on beauty, wellness, and regenerative medicine.
Jennifer Kennedy is a registered nurse and the director of skincare at PFrankMD.
Type of ingredient: Exfoliant and cleanser
Main benefits: Contains saponin, a natural exfoliant that's been shown to draw out sebum and dirt, soothe the skin, and has both antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Who should use it Those with oily or acne-prone skin, enlarged pores, or dry and dehydrated skin types.
How often to use: Up to two times a week, or however often you exfoliate.
Works well with: Other botanical extracts, enzymes, and oils.
Don't use with: Avoid additional physical exfoliants, chemical exfoliants like lactic, salicylic, or glycolic acids, and retinol.
What Are Adzuki Beans?
Adzuki beans are small, red beans that are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and protein. “They’re typically found in Asia, and are popular in Japanese and Chinese cuisine,” says Dr. Cheung. “They contain an ingredient called saponin, which, when used in skincare, is a natural exfoliant that also foams in a similar way to a cleanser.” According to Dr. Cheung, saponins are stable, making them an ideal pairing for formulas rich in botanical extracts, enzymes, and oils.
Benefits of Adzuki Beans for Skin
Because the saponin can do such heavy lifting, Dr. Cheung notes that adzuki beans are a common ingredient in natural skincare formulas, particularly those targeting oily or acne-prone skin. Thanks to their ability to gently exfoliate skin, they also play well with dry and dehydrated skin types to slough away flakiness from the surface without disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. “You can expect a tighter, brighter complexion with continued use,” says Kennedy.
- Gently Exfoliates Skin: Whether you opt for a physical exfoliant or a chemical formula, Kennedy notes that the saponin in adzuki beans acts as a natural exfoliant, helping to remove dirt and dead skin cells sitting on the surface. Because adzuki beans are also entirely biodegradable, they’re a more Earth-friendly alternative than the plastic microbeads that were once the norm.
- Kills Acne-Causing Bacteria: Because adzuki beans have antimicrobial properties, Dr. Cheung notes that using a formula rich in the ingredient packs benefits for acne-prone skin, as the saponin can help to kill bacteria that triggers a breakout.
- Draws Out Sebum, Oils, and Dirt: Consider saponin a magnet for excess oil. “It helps to draw out sebum and dirt, leaving the skin tight with a fresh-faced glow,” says Kennedy.
- Protects Against Sun Damage and Pollution: Rich in antioxidants, Dr. Cheung notes that adzuki bean-infused formulas can help to protect your skin against sun damage and pollution. The manganese in the bean, in particular, works to find free radicals created by the aforementioned environmental aggressors and neutralize their impact on your skin.
Side Effects of Adzuki Beans
Because many adzuki bean-rich formulas come in a powder-based exfoliating formula, both Kennedy and Dr. Cheung suggest opting for finely ground versions, as anything too coarse can irritate your skin. “Larger pieces of adzuki beans can cause micro-tears in the skin, which causes quite a bit of damage,” Kennedy says. “Additionally, if you have very sensitive skin, or are prone to rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema, you might not be able to tolerate chemical or physical exfoliation.”
Avoid areas where you have flare-ups, and keep the “less is more” mantra in mind. On the days you’re using adzuki beans, pull any other physical or chemical exfoliants out of rotation (here’s looking at you, retinoids, salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids) to avoid irritating skin.
How to Use Adzuki Beans for Skin
While taking a nod from 18th century skincare practices and finely grinding your own adzuki bean powder is an option, a few beauty brands on the market already create their own exfoliating powders rich with the ingredient—as well as some glow-boosting extras. Pick the powder formula of your choosing (we’ve selected a few below for you), mix a small amount with a few drops of water, then gently work in using circular motions over damp skin. Aim to exfoliate twice a week at maximum to avoid over-scrubbing.
After exfoliating with adzuki beans, always make sure to apply a generous amount of moisturizer. “Since the beans are ground up into a powder, and can be a little irritating, use a gentle moisturizer after, containing niacinamide, to calm the skin,” Kennedy says.