Marmur Medical Blog

Konjac is More Than Just “Yam Tofu”

With my skin obsessions, it’s no wonder that I get a little excited when new fads and crazes in skin care appear. The newest addition to my ever-growing collection is a konjac cleansing sponge. Now I don’t know about you, but the only time I ever hear of konjac is when I go to hotpot with friends. So I figure if something is that yummy, it must have special properties other than that of filling my tummy. With the slight trepidation that all I was about to do was rub a noodle-like substance all over my face, I sallied forth to my local Sephora and bought myself a sponge.

Konjac (known more exotically as “devil’s tongue”, “voodoo lily”, “snake palm” or “elephant yam”) is a plant that grows in areas of high altitude in eastern Asia. The root part of the plant is commonly used to the make “yam” cakes and noodles found in hotpot, though the actual konjac tuber does not remotely resemble a normal yam. As a dietary supplement, konjac is traditionally used in Asia as a “detox” substance. Though konjac as a skincare product has only recently hit North American shelves, the Japanese have been using konjac for the past thousand years or so as a beauty treatment.

Just like any other starch, konjac is alkaline (basic) and neutralizes the acidic substances that accumulate on the skin’s exterior such as oils, bacterial toxins, and environmental exposures that may settle on the surface. The konjac itself is rich in many vitamins, minerals and nutrients that improve skin health. For instance, vitamin A (derivatives include other skin care options such as retinoic acid) helps to flight blemishes and is anti-aging. The B vitamins have been implicated in assisting with clinical dermatological conditions such as rosacea, acne, eczema, sun damage, and dry skin. Folic acid, another member of the vitamin B family, has been scientifically shown to remodel the collagen network underlying skin creating firmer and younger looking skin. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant. Iron ensures that a deficiency is not present, therefore alleviating symptoms such as itchy skin (pruritus). Copper is essential for the production of many of the elements underlying skin such as collagen, elastin, proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans, allowing skin to regenerate more quickly and producing a youthful appearance. And this is just the beginning of a long list of ingredients that promote skin health by being anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-agers.

Personally, I find the sponge to be softer than a normal loofah or sea sponge, allowing for the removal of excess dead skin and the “dirt build-up” that causes blackheads, with gentle exfoliation. The fact that I can use the sponge anywhere on my face, neck and eyes is a testament to the gentle nature of these sponges. Some companies even advertise their sponges as suitable for use with elderly and newborns. Though these do not have the same lifetime as say a sea sponge (the average konjac sponges lasts anywhere from 1-3 months depending on frequency of use and care of the sponge), for their price it is not unreasonable to replace the sponge every couple of months (even on a student’s budget!). However, here are a few good tips that may help prolong the life of your konjac sponge:

– soak the sponge completely before use, it must become fluffy (if not, the sponge will be very rough feeling and will cause more damage than good)

– rinse the sponge thoroughly after each use to get rid of all the “nasties” that build-up after each wash

– make sure the sponge dries completely before each use (though you cannot wring the sponge out to get rid of excess water, I’ve found that placing it between my hands and squishing is quite effective, as well as drying the sponge on a metal rack between uses)

– sterilize the sponge in boiling water for three to five minutes, once a week (more frequent sterilization will break down the fibers in the sponge and cause it to fall apart much faster)

There you have it, the many reasons why we should take another page out of the Asian skin care book and add konjac to the regimen. There are many different types of sponges on the market from Sephora to the Konjac Sponge Company (this company makes sponges that are actually imbued with different types of naturally occurring French clay from red to green). As with any other skin product it’s important to find the one that works best with your skin type and provides the best results. With this in mind, and the onset of my nightly skincare regimen fast approaching, I think I’ll enjoy my time with my konjac sponge tonight. At this point, the name “voodoo lily” seems to be most fitting as the konjac is truly working wonders on my skin!

Written by:
Margit Lai Wun Juhasz
Mount Sinai Medical Student