What pops up in your mind when I say “cranberries”? Did you think of cranberry sauce to go with your roast? Apple and cranberry chutney? Or did you already know about its stellar skin care benefits? Or you may think of how good cranberries are for your health.

Any way you look at it, cranberries are the super heroes: as an antioxidant powerhouse, they protect your cells, including skin, from damage. Applying cranberry-infused products offers a host of skin improving and anti-ageing benefits.

Just like a retinoid product, it’s bursting with vitamin A so they full of anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, meaning they not only have anti-ageing super powers but also help combat spots. And besides, not only are they beautiful with glossy red skin, they also make a dish more interesting. So, what’s not to like?

A little bit of background

The cranberry with its scientific name Vaccinium oxycoccos if on this side of the pond (Europe) and Vaccinium macrocarpon if on the other side of the pond (North America). It grows on vine-like plants similar to strawberries. On both sides of the pond, harvest season is usually between September and November. This is the reason why you mostly see it as a rational accompaniment at Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners.

Would you be surprised to know that these small, round, deep red berries are related to the blueberry? It’s also related to bilberry (whortleberry), lingonberry, and huckleberry. The cranberry plant is an evergreen shrub with beautiful dark pink flowers.

Cranberry plant, photo by Malin K.

You can find cranberry plants growing along the banks of marshes and wetlands. For commercial purposes, cranberries are cultivated in shallow beds. The beds are flooded when it’s harvest season and in winter to protect against low temperatures. When the fruit ripens, it takes on its beautiful, intensely deep red colour in autumn.

Traditional uses

Historically, cranberry fruits and leaves were used for bladder, stomach, and liver disorders.

The cranberry was also used to treat urinary tract infections (UTI) and the theory is that since it contains salicylic acid and is highly acidic, it can keep bacteria from sticking to the cells in the urinary tract. But they don’t seem to be able to get rid of bacteria already stuck. They do however reduce the risk of getting UTIs.

Why is it such a powerhouse?

Cranberries are what people call super food. Research has shown that they have a very high concentration of antioxidants – up there or maybe even outranking spinach, strawberries, and broccoli.

Besides their high levels of antioxidants, they’re also an excellent source of other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients including

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Phosphor
  • Fibre

Cranberries have a lot of phytochemicals including beta carotene, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and anthocyanins. These are chemical compounds produced by plants. You may have already heard of beta carotene or anthocyanins. These are pigments that give plants their colours.

Particularly rich sources of beta carotene are yellow and orange fruits, such as mangoes, pumpkin, and papayas, and orange root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Yellow and orange plants are the source of provitamin A. That means, your body will turn it into vitamin A.

Anthocyanins are also pigments. In contrast to beta carotene, they’re water soluble. They react to PH levels so that the fruit or veggies can appear, red, purple, blue, or black. Sources of anthocyanins are blueberry, dark grapes, black soybeans, and any others that are red, blue, purple, or black.

Both anthocyanins and beta carotene are powerful antioxidants. These are compounds that have a solid track record of proven effectiveness for your health as well as for your skin.

Research has found that eating cranberries is good for your heart health and can reduce the risk of cancer. But you surely want to know what cranberries can do for your skin.

Why are cranberries so good for your skin

It’s proven again and again that antioxidants are one active ingredient that can really help your skin. But in general, it’s the products that are formulated with vitamin C that people think of when it comes to antioxidants in skin care. Hence these are also more associated with citrus fruits.

Acne zapper

Thanks to all the goodies provided by the antioxidants, cranberries are both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. This means, they can help calm down the inflammation caused by zits and if not kill, dampen the activity of bacteria that cause the spots.

Since cranberries also contain salicylic acid which is a classic acne zapper, cranberries also help clear up spots.

Banish fine lines

First off, the antioxidants help to protect against damage caused by oxidation process. In this chemical reaction, free radicals can form. These are pesky molecules that can trigger a chain reaction which can cause damage to your cells. In regards to your skin, this translates into damage such as dark spots or loss of elasticity.

The antioxidants ward off this damage by neutralising the free radicals and hence protect your skin against premature signs of ageing.

They also can repair the damage done. Vitamin C for example is key to the production of collagen – a protein that helps your skin retain its strength and firmness. Vitamin C also helps lift and reduce dark spots on your skin. Which leads to the next point.

Glowing skin

Cranberries help promote healthy skin cells. The vitamin C contained in them helps reduce melatonin production in your skin. The result is reduced dark spots and more even skin tone.

Since cranberries also contain beta carotene that your body converts into vitamin A when it hits your skin, they help speed up skin cell turnover and regeneration.

How to use

Even if the harvest season is in autumn, it’s hard to find fresh cranberries in the months September to November. That’s because most cranberries (about 95%) are processed. The reason is that they are hard, taste sour and bitter and so are rarely eaten raw.

Cranberries are processed into cranberry juice that you can find all year round and sauces. You can also find dried cranberries, powders, and extracts.

The easiest way to use it is probably when it’s already formulated into a cranberry-based skin care product.

You can also try to use cranberry juice on your skin. For example, wiping your skin with a washcloth soaked in the juice. Or make DYI toners and face packs.

Danger zone

According to current data, cranberries are thought to be generally safe. Of course, as with many fruits, if you consume them in large amounts, they can cause upset stomach.


The cranberry is a veritable skin care hero. It can help you fight off the damage caused by free radicals and smooth out fine lines. Then it moonlights as an acne zapper. Ultimately, it helps you improve your overall complexion, as it also chases away dull skin.

In closing, I leave you with a “photoshop filter” mask that smooths out wrinkles and fine lines. You’ll need

  • 1 table spoon of cranberry juice
  • 1 table spoon of mashed banana

Mix the juice and the mashed banana together. If you find it too runny, you can add some ground oatmeal to get the consistency you want. Apply this mask to your face and relax for 10-15 minutes, then rush off.

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