Saffron, The World's Most Expensive Spice, Is Also Amazing for Your Skin

Here's why you should be using this ancient spice.

saffron

Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

Out of the many, many skincare ingredients that constantly flood my inbox and Instagram, saffron is one that I’ve personally noticed popping up more often. Yes, I'm talking about the same bright red spice that your favorite Indian joint uses to season their rice. This somewhat sweet and nutty-tasting spice also happens to be the most expensive in the world, and it’s been lauded for its medicinal properties for centuries—and it turns out that some of the same properties that give this spice its total-body benefits can also brighten, calm and protect your skin. 

To find out more about the skin-boosting benefits of saffron, including whether or not I should be slathering it all over my complexion (or if I can even afford to), I spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali and Shrankhla Holecek, founder of Ayurvedic skincare line Uma Oils.

Meet the Expert

  • Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. He is internationally recognized as an expert in cosmetic and medical dermatology and is a media advisory member for the American Academy of Dermatology.
  • Shrankhla Holecek is the founder of Uma Oils and an expert in Ayurvedic and holistic medicine.

Saffron

Type of ingredient: Antioxidant

Main benefits: Anti-inflammatory, brightens skin, reduces hyperpigmentation, protects against UV radiation

Who should use it: In general, saffron is helpful for all skin types but is especially beneficial for sensitive skin

How often can you use it: It's safe to use up to two times a day

Works well with: Hyaluronic acid, omega oils, flower extracts

Don't use with: In general, saffron is safe to use with most (if not all) skincare ingredients.

What is Saffron?

Saffron is a very rare Ayurvedic spice, which is precisely what makes it so costly. “Saffron is actually the tiny stigmas, or stems, from the crocus sativus, a flower in the Iris family,” explains Holecek. “Approximately 170,000 flowers yields about one pound of saffron, which speaks to why it's so expensive.”

Another reason for its high price tag: The plant can only be harvested for two weeks out of the year, and each saffron flower has to be hand-picked.

Typically, saffron is used in cooking, wherein it gives food a bright yellow-orange tint, but it's also used around the world in fabric dyes and perfumes. 

Benefits of Saffron for Skin

small bowl of saffron on marble countertop

CARA BROSTROM / Stocksy

When eaten, saffron’s health benefits are impressive and wide-ranging—and the same goes for your skin. This tiny red flower has so many beneficial properties that it’s challenging to list them all.

  • A powerful antioxidant: Saffron is chock full of antioxidants, including vitamin C, and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Bhanusali told me, "As an antioxidant, it can protect against UV damage and pollutants that produce free radicals.”
  • Brightens skin: As an antioxidant ingredient, saffron brightens the skin without harsh side effects. “It’s a calming ingredient and provides great brightening properties," Bhanusali explains.
  • Helps skin recover from environmental stressors: Saffron is rich in minerals and contains two types of powerful carotenoids: crocin and crocetin. Holecek explains that these carotenoids "are believed to be effective in damage repair and ensuring overall cellular health, so they'll help skin recover from daily environmental, oxidative, sun damage [stress], healing everything from photodamage to loss of suppleness.”
  • Heals cuts, scrapes, and other wounds: Early studies have shown that saffron has the ability to increase cell turnover and production, which can potentially help wounds heal faster.
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation: When used topically, saffron not only brightens skin tone, but also improves and reduces pesky hyperpigmentation, thanks to its high vitamin content.
  • Great for sensitive skin: Anti-inflammatory ingredients like saffron are perfect for those with sensitive skin.
  • Calms inflammation: Saffron's healing powers can help tame redness, inflamed skin, and even acne.
  • Anti-aging: Speaking of that carotenoid called crocin, according to studies, crocin is potentially helpful against aging, thanks to its rich antioxidant power.

In other words, saffron is an all-around healing powerhouse, both internally and externally.

Side Effects of Saffron

In general, saffron doesn't pose any significant issues or side effects on the skin. As with any new skincare product or ingredient, make sure you patch test it to make sure you don't have any adverse reactions.

Who Should Use Saffron Skincare Products?

person making a face

OHLAMOUR STUDIO / Stocksy

Saffron boasts beneficial properties for all skin types, but certain types may benefit just a bit more. “Like most Ayurvedic ingredients, I like saffron for sensitive skin and those who need more calming products,” Bhanusali says, noting that oily skin types “may benefit from stronger acids and other high-powered ingredients.”

How to Use It

You’ll find saffron formulated into many different types of products, from masks to cleansers to serums, but per Holecek, you’ll reap the most benefit from a leave-on product (or at least a product that's left on for a few minutes, like a mask). “Given its preciousness and miraculous benefits, saffron is most used in skincare intended for leaving on the skin to promote ongoing repair,” she says. “It'd be cost-prohibitive, and perhaps a little wasteful, to use it in a cleanser as it won't be on skin long enough to have all the impact it can have.”

The Best Products with Saffron

korres saffron
Korres Golden Krocus Ageless Saffron Elixir Serum $98
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Suitable for all skin types, this facial serum is packed with hand-picked saffron that helps even skin tone, fade fine lines, and boost elasticity. It's also formulated with low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (for better absorption), peptides, and amino acids.

uma oils brightening mask
Uma Oils Ultimate Brightening Face Mask $70
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The saffron in this fast-acting mask helps fade the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation for a brighter, more even-toned complexion. It also contains clarifying bentonite clay and sandalwood, which is said to calm the skin.

Sisley saffron
Sisley Velvet Nourishing Cream with Saffron Flowers $235
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This super hydrating cream is ideal for those with dry or extra dry skin. In addition to saffron, it also contains a trio of omega oils (6, 7, and 9).

ysl or rouge
Yves Saint Laurent Or Rouge Eye Crème $210
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If you're in the market for an ultra-fancy eye cream, look no further than this saffron-infused option from YSL. The entire YSL Or Rouge collection features saffron extract.

akar saffron toner
Akar Balance Toner $55
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This lightweight misting toner contains saffron flower stem cells, plus rose and orange blossom to keep skin hydrated.

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