Cranberries for Health…and Facials

Massachusetts has almost one third of all cranberry bogs in production in the U.S., and research suggests the berry can be used in new ways.

cranberry bogCranberry bog photo via Shutterstock

The entire cranberry industry is supported by approximately 47,000 acres, and 14,000 of them are located in Massachusetts, according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association. In fact, some producing vines in Mass. are 150 years old. Native Americans used cranberries for food, dyes, and medicine as early as the 1500s. Cranberries are only one of three fruits that can trace their roots to North American soil (the blueberry and Concord grape are the other two).

The health benefits of cranberries can be traced back to the Native Americans, who used the acidity of raw cranberries to fight infections. Pilgrims and American whalers thought the berry could prevent scurvy (caused by a lack of vitamin C). Cranberry juice has been used as a way to treat urinary tract infections in women for decades. Studies have suggested that the active compounds in cranberry juice are not destroyed by the digestive system, and work to fight against bacteria.

Scientists are currently working to see what else the cranberry can do. The USDA’s Food Composition and Methods Development Lab is using a technique called liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to detect what exactly is inside a cranberry. They are finding compounds scientists didn’t know about 20 years ago.

Scientists have proven the polyphenols in cranberries have an antioxidant effect, but so far, that science has only been proven in a test tube. They haven’t yet been able to determine how much these antioxidants work in the body. But how about, on the body? According to Prevention, the body only delivers a certain percentage of the vitamins we eat to our skin. If we really want to see results, we should be applying them topically. That’s why people can’t get enough of retinoid creams packed with vitamin A, or nighttime serums made with vitamin C.

The Spa at Equinox (131 Dartmouth St; 617-578-8918; now offers a cranberry facial for all skin types, particularly aging skin. With the help of experienced chemists, Nicole Vitale, senior director of The Spa at Equinox created the treatment that supposedly reduces the signs of aging, brightens and firms the skin, and reduces the appearance of fine lines, sun spots and wrinkles.

Can using the vitamin C and antioxidants in cranberries topically really help your skin? Scientists are still conducting tests. But it can’t hurt, and costs the same as that fancy face cream in your medicine cabinet that has all the same ingredients.

Have you tried a cranberry facial? Did you like it?