Does breast milk do any good for your skin? The properties, effectiveness and benefits as told by a Singaporean dermatologist
Baby smooth skin
There's been an emerging number of eccentric beauty trends that have made their way into the hands (and faces) of beauty enthusiasts as of late. See: vampire facials, for one; salmon sperm facials, for another. Therefore one shouldn't be too surprised (or disgusted) at the rise in popularity of yet another dubious-sounding beauty trend: breast milk facials. Yes, you read that right.
When it comes to playing word association with the phrase 'breast milk', you'd probably expect to only hear 'for babies' after, and not 'on your face'. Odious as it may sound, topical use of breast milk is the next beauty fad touted as a miracle wonder treatment. Goodbye botox, hello breast milk facials. Reportedly, the antibacterial properties in breast milk can help treat acne, soothe eczema, heal conjunctivitis, and uh, even act as a natural and organic lubricant for sex. Enthusiastic breast-feeding moms and maternity blogs aside, there hasn't been scientific evidence proving the claims of breast milk on our skin. To iron out the controversial use of this 'liquid gold', we asked Dr Teo Wan Lin, dermatologist and founder of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, for her opinion.
What is a breast milk facial?
First things first — breast milk facials are facials that incorporate organically-obtained breast milk as a core ingredient. Mud Facial Bar, seemingly the most popular salon abroad for such a facial, mixes breast milk obtained from a breastfeeding mother with white kaolin clay for their facials. Besides salon facials, at-home facials with breast milk can also be achieved by slathering on pure breast milk onto the skin, before leaving it to dry and washing it off after. Other enthusiasts have also used breast milk as a facial cleanser or an ointment on spots.
What are the properties of breast milk?
"For the general antibacterial properties of breast milk, there are a few studies which shows that there are anti-microbial effects. One study suggested that it could be incorporated into acne treatment in 2010," says Dr Teo. "I think for a while, a specific researcher was quite excited about its antibacterial properties and how it could potentially be used to treat acne, but that's for the component of lauric acid, which is also found in alternatives such as coconut oil."
So, are there any actual benefits to topical use of breast milk?
"I would say that if you dig into the literature, there will be a couple that states that there are these anti-microbial effects with bio-active components that can stimulate, for example, fibroblast, which are the collagen producing cells that produce more collagen," Dr Teo states. But, don't be too hasty to throw out your serums and moisturisers just yet. Dr Teo has her doubts on the lasting benefits of breast milk. "As a dermatologist who also formulates cosmeceuticals, I really don't think that it is going to hold much promise — either in terms of efficacy; in terms of beating the antioxidant powers of botanicals; or even in terms of our existing synthetic molecules that mimic certain proteins in our cell pathways to stimulate collagen growth."
Does this mean you should skip out on the dairy facial? "I do not recommend it," Dr Teo points out. "First of all, there is this ethical concern, and I've found that a lot of people may just be uncomfortable with the idea. Those who are very into it, they probably should realise that the research in this is very, very limited."
Dr Teo then further elaborates. "There is a real reason why this never took off. From both a dermatologist as well as an end-user point of view, I think colostrum-derived products are always a little bit controversial, whether you're talking about human colostrum, or bovine colostrum — especially now with increasing awareness of animal-appropriate behaviour towards other species. I personally feel that this is something that will not take off with today's climate. The thing with biological products and fluids — when you analyse them, they're going to have a lot of different bio-active content and we consider them nutrients. But, the thing with nature is that there is a logic. So, breast milk or colostrum, which is the first breast milk from any species, is meant for babies and their nutritional needs."
On swapping out your usual cleanser and face masks for the breast milk variations, Dr Teo weighs in. "I wouldn't go down the route of using it as a cleanser or a face mask. As a dermatologist, I really don't think I would ever recommend any individual to perform such a practice, until there is enough motivation from either research groups. Or, for some reason, this gains the attention of the scientific community and more work is done, and it is proven that it is first of all a sustainable skincare ingredient."
TL;DR: Ultimately, the beneficial properties that you read online are claims from well-meaning devotees but have not been scientifically proven as of now. Exercise caution and do lots of research when it comes to new beauty fads, otherwise it could do more harm than good to your skin. Besides, obtaining this 'skincare elixir' is another battle altogether: you can't march into Watsons hoping to purchase breast milk off the shelves, and not many of us will have breast milk at our ready disposal at any moment. So, to use or not to use breast milk as a skincare ingredient? To that, we say: goodbye breast milk facials, hello normal skincare routine.