Among the dozens of acne-friendly fruits, like apples and bananas, papaya has successfully risen above them all to become the most popular topical fruit.
Papaya is one of the most popular home remedies for acne, recommended in countless recipes. It’s said to be a gift from nature, a natural way to clear acne.
Is this true? The answer is no – papaya is a complete failure, and among the most overrated natural topical treatments ever. The theories have an ounce of truth to them, but the shocking downsides are forgotten.
The consensus is completely wrong – papaya will inflame and irritate your skin, sucking the moisture away and leaving only a desert of dryness and flakiness.
Here’s why you should never use topical papaya and its wondrous enzymes for acne.
Topical papaya – the theories
There’s many so-called gifts from nature out there. Cinnamon and turmeric increase collagen production when applied topically, while in this obscure study, a basil cream improved signs of ageing like moisture loss.
There’s opportunities everywhere in herbs and fruits, but papaya is an exception.
The main claims revolve around papaine, an enzyme found in the flesh of the papaya fruit. Papaine is a protease, an enzyme that breaks down proteins, just like natural proteases secreted by your stomach. It’s similar to bromelain from pineapple; both papaine and bromelain can be found in natural meat tenderisers to soften the texture naturally.
Firstly, papaya and papaine are said to dissolve dead skin cells clogging your skin pores, giving p.acnes bacteria less room to multiply and cause acne constantly. The powers come without the dryness and harshness of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
Papaine also has natural exfoliating properties, which gently but effectively remove the outer layer of dead skin cells and leave your face smooth and fresh. Papaya achieves enzymatic exfoliation, dissolving dead skin cells, rather than harsh mechanical exfoliation with grainy creams or a brush.
Papaya and papaine even stimulate the generation of new skin cells. After exfoliation is complete, you may experienced a hot red flush, a tingly rush of blood. This is a sign that your skin’s layers are restoring themselves, with a healthier, sleeker and smoother new layer. Papaya is also miraculous for acne scars, by effectively dissolving the dark marks.
There’s no doubt that papaya is rich in papaine. If papaine achieved those things, so would papaya. The recommendations are fairly normal – creams or masks in combination with ingredients like yogurt, honey, and lemon juice.
Topical papaya – the truth
Papaya sounds excellent at first. It has the natural appeal, and the theories make complete sense on paper. The reality is that applying proteases to your skin, including papaine and bromelain, is a foolish idea. Considering that your entire skin is a giant layer of protein, a combination of collagen, keratin and structural compounds, what would you expect to happen? You are effectively dissolving your skin.
Your skin actually produces its own proteases, such as small amounts of collagenase to break down old, weak collagen to form new and strong collagen. However, these enzymes are targeted very specifically. Applying papaine to your face en masse is a foolish move, and the inevitable result is irritation, inflammation and reddening. Such irritation has been reported from the acne underground. Surely the fact that “pain” is in its name is a clue?
Papaine has more complex dangers too. In particular, papaine can wreck your skin barrier, the buffer of defence against external threats.
Firstly, applying papaine topically degrades the tight junctions in the skin barrier. You have tight junctions in your digestive system which permit or deny the absorption of nutrients into the blood, and skin tight junctions act similarly. Degraded tight junctions increase “barrier permeability”, making your skin more vulnerable to air pollution, chlorine, cigarette smoke, and other villains.
Papaine also increases trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), the quantity of moisture being lost through your skin’s outer layers. This power is almost certainly connected to the proven skin barrier damage. Papaine increases TEWL within just 30 minutes, and interestingly, papaine molecules with the glorious enzymatic powers deactivated were once shown to not increase TEWL. The power that attracts many is behind papaya’s downfall.
There’s also bonus pro-inflammatory properties. The immune system seems to recognise this protease as a threat, since papaine stimulates a surge in pro-inflammatory chemicals, particularly neutrophils. Acne prone skin was proven here to be overloaded with neutrophils.
Papaine also pushes up vascular permeability, the ability of molecules to flow through capillary walls and into the bloodstream; this might be why the immune system targets it with fury. Once more, non-enzymatic papaine does not increase neutrophils, as found in this study.
Papaya will achieve many of the theoretical objectives. You will dissolve dead skin cells within your pores, and you will exfoliate your skin’s outer layer. But papaine is such a blunt instrument that you cannot control the impact. Your entire skin will experience enzymatic degradation.
Papaine’s powers might sound tempting, but beneath the surface, more subtle changes will occur, resulting in much weaker skin. Papaine is NOT a good home remedy for acne.
The story changes when eaten
However, that doesn’t mean that papaya is useless either, because as a food, both papaya and papaine behave completely differently. Like bromelain in pineapple, papaine can join forces with existing proteases in your digestive tract and enhance nutrient absorption. Any acne-friendly nutrient from protein based foods will more bioavailable.
Examples include high amounts of zinc in meat and fish, which clears acne by controlling the immune system’s pro-inflammatory assaults. Papaya will help you access selenium’s antioxidants powers for acne, from nuts, eggs and salmon. Magnesium from meat and nuts will improve your sleep quality, decrease stress, and lower insulin levels more effectively. Some bonus benefits of papaine include treating acid reflux and stomach ulcers.
A more advanced benefit is that papaya can allow you to eat nuts without getting acne.
Nuts are the most annoying food group in the acne world. Most are extremely nutritious; almonds are rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, while pistachios feed your healthy gut bacteria. The problem is their antinutrients, and one is protease inhibitors, enzymes which disrupt the action of natural proteases in your stomach.
Protease inhibitors are one reason why nuts must be restricted, but by supplementing your own proteases with external ones like papaine, these villains can be neutralised. Furthermore, the nutrients within nuts will no longer be hidden behind a wall of defences. Nuts like almonds are excellent sources of magnesium in particular, so combining nuts and papaya is a smart and secret nutritional trick for acne. Nuts are also very rich in protein, which is why vegans love them, and this makes proteases particularly useful.
The reason for their protease inhibitors? Nuts like almonds are actually seeds, and require protection against digestion from predators so that, if their plan succeeds, they can survive and cover every inch of earth with their trees.
A tenet of the failed raw food diet is live, natural enzymes in foods like papaya, mango, raw honey, pumpkins and raw dairy. This particular theory is correct, because countless people in the 21st century have weak digestive systems.
Proteases are churned out by your stomach itself, but also by beneficial gut bacteria, which people lack. Grains and soy consumption is off the charts, and both contain protease inhibitors without the benefits of nuts. We’re designed for real food rather than ready meals, so it’s also possible that we’re adapted to supplement our own enzymes with fruit and vegetable versions.
Papaine and papaya are double edged swords. Topically, they’re a disaster. As a food, they’re an excellent secret to know about. Papaya joins the club which already consists of olive oil and lemons, and almost certainly pineapples.
Papaya as a fruit – how does it compare?
- Vitamin A – 22% of the daily allowance.
- Vitamin E – 4%.
- Vitamin C – 103%.
- Vitamin B6 – 1%.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) – 2%.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) – 2%.
- Zinc – 0%.
- Calcium – 2%.
- Magnesium – 2%.
- Selenium – 1%.
- Manganese – 1%.
Papaya is a monstrous source of vitamin C, a hidden one. Most people recommend strawberries and blueberries, but papaya beats them both. Let’s compare vitamin C foods: the top fruits per 100 grams include pineapple (79%), strawberries (97%), and oranges (88%). Among vegetables you have broccoli (143%), kale (200%), and brussel sprouts (141%).
Papaya is almost the best fruit source of vitamin C. Guess which fruit beats it? The kiwi fruit, with 154% of the daily allowance.
Vitamin C helps to defeat acne by decreasing stress, increasing collagen formation, and being an antioxidant. The minerals are all weak, but that’s normal for fruits. The vitamin A, in its plant form beta-carotene, is also above average for fruits, though beaten easily by kale (200%), sweet potatoes (283%) and spinach (187%).
As for the all-important sugar content, papaya contains just 8 grams per 100 grams. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries beat papaya, with just 5 grams each, but papayas are much safer than bananas or grapes. They’re an excellent way to flood your skin with vitamin C.
Papayas are also a confirmed low-FODMAP food, unlike apples or apricots. Last but not least, papayas ranked as the 7th cleanest food for pesticide and insecticide contamination in 2017. They nearly always appear in the clean fifteen, unlike celery or apples.
A strong source of lycopene
The strange thing about papaya is that for such a popular fruit, very few studies have been performed on it. Papaya’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities are highly mysterious. The ORAC antioxidant score of papaya is 300, but that’s beaten easily by strawberries or raspberries at 4000 plus.
Where papaya excels is with its lycopene content. Lycopene is the red-pigmented signature antioxidant of tomatoes, with 3041mg, which is actually beaten easily by watermelons at 4532mg, while payaya contains 1828mg. Lycopene is a carotenoid antioxidant, which unlike beta-carotene, cannot be converted into vitamin A. Instead, it’s left behind to be one of the healthier antioxidants known to mankind.
In the watermelon article, we discussed how strongly anti-inflammatory lycopene is. This study discovered that lycopene supplementation lowered pro-inflammatory TNF-a and stimulated anti-inflammatory interleukin-10. Lycopene also inhibits the inflammatory regulator COX-2, which is behind red and painful acne and is also inhibited by painkillers, making papaya one of the natural painkiller foods.
However, a more recent 2017 study got a bunch of mice addicted to cigarettes, which elevated levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals like interferon-y and TNF-a in their lungs. Lycopene supplementation reversed all of these increases. Another 2017 study found that tomatoes and lycopene decreased inflammation to an equal extent, suggesting that lycopene is the killer compound in tomatoes. Studies on lycopene are pouring in monthly.
Then there’s a power we haven’t covered before: this, this, and this study found that lycopene consumption increased glutathione, both the antioxidant and detoxification forms. The evidence for this is fairly weak, but promising. Finally, lycopene is a strong fat-soluble antioxidant itself – that’s its main purpose.
Lycopene is a weaker source of lycopene than guavas (5204mg), watermelons, and tomatoes, but easily contains enough to calm your acne.
Even though scientists haven’t bothered to test papaya itself on inflammation, the lycopene will indirectly reduce it. The form of lycopene in watermelons is also stronger than tomato lycopene, so maybe papaya will enjoy the same advantage, or the reverse.
Papaya is not a gift from nature; it’s a topical treatment which you need to avoid. A short and intense blast might dissolve dead skin cells, but for your living cells, there’s nowhere to run, literally. Papaya is a failed topical treatment – say no to the recommendations!
Papaya also illustrates that natural topical treatments have dangers too, despite being easily superior. Papaya is ]worse in some ways than benzyl peroxide or topical antibiotics, which will clear acne well for about two months before side effects kick in. Papaya is known to irritate the skin instantly, and trans-epidermal water loss increased within 30 minutes. The benefits, such as unclogging skin pores, will take longer to materialise than the side effects.
Papaine’s enzymatic properties were first discovered in 1873, but I would have recommended against it even then, a century before the moisture loss was discovered. Applying an enzyme which dissolves proteins to your face was never going to be a smart idea.
Like olive oil, however, papaya is much more acne-friendly as a food. How does it rank among fruits? In the top quarter, because of the very papaine which is deadly topically. The best time to eat papaya is alongside nuts and seeds, or protein sources.
Elsewhere, papaya is almost the best fruit for vitamin C, but very weak for antioxidants, the opposite of pomegranate. Overall, papaya is a terrific fruit to eat for acne. Just resist the home remedy urge at all costs!
Thanks for reading!