Beauty Ingredient 101: Prickly Pear

Have you ever tasted a prickly pear?

I hadn't until a few weeks ago, when I finally found the juicy gems at a local produce market (see my first one about to be eaten, below). Prickly pears are not native to my area, so I had been searching for them for months. Finally found them out of the blue, and what fortuitous timing, since the prickly pear is skyrocketing in popularity as a natural beauty ingredient!

 

Here's what you need to know about the prickly pear, aka the cactus pear or barbary fig, and why it's a fabulous healthy skin ingredient, both inside and out:

The prickly pear is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which grows in large quantities in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. This desert is quite a harsh climate (it's one of the hottest deserts in North America— and one of the wettest) and so the fruit has a tough, protective outer skin, like the cactus from which it grows.

Remove the outer skin of the barbary fig (it peels away easily) and you'll find that the antioxidant-rich pink pulp is sweet, with a bit of a crumbly texture, and peppered with dark seeds. These seeds, when cold pressed, release a prized beauty oil (one of the most expensive on the market) known to be anti-inflammatory, packed with healing, anti-blemish zinc, skin-softening vitamin E, and vitamin K to banish dark circles.

This quick-absorbing oil can be found in one of my favorite undereye oils, Decouverte Under Eye Repair Serum, from natural beauty brand La Bella Figura. La Bella Figura also sells 100% pure organic prickly pear seed oil (they call it Organic Barbary Fig Seed Oil) to hydrate hair, nails, skin and body. Victoria Fantauzzi, co-founder of the brand, calls prickly pear a favorite beauty food:

"My must have beauty food are barbary figs (also called prickly pear).  Eating one barbary fig right before bed is my secret weapon for fighting dull skin and puffy eyes. They are full of betalains, which helps reduce inflammation and is a powerful antioxidant.  They taste like a cross between raspberries and watermelon.  The tiny seeds from the figs are cold pressed for barbary fig seed oil, which we use in our under eye repair serum to tackle puffy eyes.  If you haven’t tried them you have to and eat them at night to wake up to gorgeous skin.  I buy them at a fruit market in Chicago, but this summer I saw them at Whole Foods and was pretty excited they are making their way into the American diet."

I sampled my first few prickly pears alone, to experience their taste and texture, but I've heard lots of people recommend using the pulp or puree to flavor (and vibrantly color!) smoothies. Maybe a prickly pear & apple sauce is in order for fall?

Sia Botanics also makes a natural prickly pear-based skin care line, with a prickly pear seed serum that feels fantastic on the skin. And while I have yet to try it, a natural brand called Sweet P's also makes skin care with prickly pear. A friend swears by the Prickly Pear Antioxidant Sunscreen.

If you see them at your local produce market, or find them listed on the label of your latest natural beauty find, I hope you'll get adventurous and give them a try!

Top image: sporeflections