In the 16th Century, tomatoes were given the name ‘love apples’. The story goes that the Spanish conquistadors, returning home from Peru, brought with them a new and delicious plant from which could be harvested the most luscious, juicy, vibrantly coloured fruit. Some Europeans thought it poisonous. (It is, after all, a member of the same family as ‘deadly nightshade’…) Other, braver souls – who dared to bite into the rich red flesh – declared it an ‘aphrodisiac’. Before long, the ‘tomata’ (as the people of Peru originally called it) had earned the name ‘love apple’ – ‘pomme d’amour’…
What’s being discovered now is that it isn’t just our tastebuds that love the sweet tanginess of tomatoes: they’re miraculous for skin, too, packed with antioxidant lycopene and gentle, complexion-brightening fruit acids. Fresh tomato fruit – and yes, the seeds are a clue that it’s a fruit, not a vegetable – is mildly acidic, and can help rid your skin of any excess oil that can lead to breakouts, while tightening pores. For the would-be ‘natural beauty’, skin treatments using tomato are simplicity itself to create (see below).
The Ayurvedic beauty guru Monisha Bharadwaj, author of Indian Beauty Secrets, positively swears by tomato’s skin power: ‘My never-fail trick to keep blackheads at bay and tone my skin before a night out is to rub a wedge of juicy, red tomato over my face and neck for about five minutes and rinse it off.’ Tomato, explains Monisha, ‘is very rich in vitamins A, C and E and contains amino acids and salts, which make it a good astringent for our skin.’ Spas are waking up to the potential of tomatoes, too: at the renowned Equinox Spa in the USA, they harness tomato goodness in a glow-boosting cleanse-scrub-mask combination, while in sun-drenched Anguilla, you can lie back while your skin enjoys a top-to-toe Antioxidant Tomato Wrap, to help fight signs of ageing.
But for those of us who have too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time – and rarely chop vegetables to feed ourselves, let alone to nourish our skins – the good news is that the cosmetics industry is now harnessing lycopene, the most potent element in tomato, to create state-of-the-art treatment skincare. Its magic? Readily absorbed by the skin, lycopene helps leave it radiant and boosts firmness, while its turbo-charged antioxidant power helps fight damage from pollution and sun exposure. (Check out the Yes to Tomatoes range – especially the haircare, which has wowed Beauty Bible testers.)
Tomato’s tanginess, meanwhile, is even being explored in contemporary fragrance. The New York ‘cult’ fragrance line Demeter has a highly nostalgic, bestselling scent based on tomato leaf – which in the most Proust-like way, takes you right back to rubbing those hairy leaves between your fingers as a child. The French bathcare line Roger & Gallet has created a new Cherry Tomato collection, and we can all breathe in tomato’s aromatic magic in Donna Karan’s bewitching DKNY – alongside other ‘edible’ notes of blood orange and vodka, as well as the more traditional orchid, daffodils and water lily.
But the real bonus of tomato, of course, is that it’s a ‘double-duty’ beautifier – working to improve health and wellbeing from within. Be sure to pick those saturated with the most brilliant shade of red: they have the highest levels of betacarotene and lycopene. And tomatoes aren’t just vitamin-packed: from the Italian oval Roma tomato to the classic, perfect-for-cooking Beefsteak, they’re mineral-rich: a serving contains 7% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of iron, as well as vital potassium.
It’s really that lycopene, though, that gives tomatoes their health power and you will want to know that cooking releases their benefits: lycopene is concentrated in the cell wall of the tomato – so that by heating them in a touch of oil, this healing compound is more easily released. (That dash of olive oil also allows the body to absorb the lycopene better.) Best of all? Canned tomatoes and ketchup, it seems, are just as good for us as fresh…
For any 21st Century beauty, this 16th Century discovery is one of the greatest health and beauty-boosters nature has to offer. So enjoy…
LOVE APPLE MASK
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon French green clay
1 tablespoon fresh tomato juice
1 tablespoon still mineral water
In a glass or ceramic container, mix together all the ingredients and stir well until you have a smooth paste. To use, spread the mixture onto clean skin, gently massaging with your fingertips. This will help exfoliate dead skin cells and any other skin impurities. Leave the mask on your skin for 10-15 minutes, then rinse with warm water. (Throw any remaining mask away; this won’t keep.)
TOMATO FACIAL MASK
1 ripe tomato
This couldn’t be simpler – and it’s ideal for any dull skin but especially for oily skintypes: the fruit acids in tomato are great for getting rid of blackheads (to which oily skins are prone), at the same time brightening lacklustre skin by gently loosening surface cells. Slice the tomato thickly, then lie down and apply the sliced tomato to the face. (Cut into shapes or thin slices that make it possible to cover the nose with the tomato.) Rinse, then pat dry. Do not apply moisturiser to the nose zone (or other affected areas), if you have oily skin, as you’ll only block the pores again.