Urine therapy claims to clear up acne, eczema, and other bothersome skin conditions—but don't reach for a cup just yet

By Jenna Birch
June 01, 2015
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From mud masks at home to gold or caviar spreads at the spa, we put some pretty weird stuff on our skin-but perhaps none weirder than urine.

Yes, that's a real thing women are using as moisturizer these days-and, in fact, they've been doing it for centuries. "Urine therapy," as it's dubbed, has a long and storied history as a skin-conditioning treatment. Beginning in Indian culture at least five centuries ago, the practice made its way to the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, was popular during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and even found its way into the baths of 18th-century French women. (Adult Acne Is Popping Up Everywhere...so maybe this is worth checking out?)

But what exactly is urine therapy? This special skin treatment does actually use real urine to cure skin woes. "There are a variety of urine treatments people have become interested in recently, especially as we continue to look for more natural treatment options," says Monica Schadlow, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. "Urine therapy can be topically applied as fresh urine, and there are even some devotees who also promote ingestion of urine."

Those methods might make you raise an eyebrow, especially because that liquid is being excreted from the body as waste...or so most believe. Urine isn't really a toxic byproduct, but rather a distilled liquid, filtered from the blood, containing water and excess nutrients your body didn't really need at the time they were ingested. "Urine itself is sterile, unless you are ill and have a urinary tract infection, and there are other electrolytes and hormones excreted in the urine," says Schadlow.

These bonus nutrients are why people are applying and ingesting the hardcore stuff-AKA real pee. Devotees believe there's some extra magic in urine's varying concentrations of minerals, salts, hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. "Enthusiasts of urine therapy think that, when applied topically, this can have beneficial effects on the skin for things like acne, and can also improve suppleness and elasticity," she says. "But it's not clear whether these substances actually penetrate the skin's surface." (Try this trick to Make the Most Out of Your Moisturizer.)

Schadlow also notes a lack of scientific evidence-like rigorous, double-blind studies-to evaluate any real benefits of topical or ingested urine. "Given all the variables in substance concentrations, it might be difficult to conduct a study like that," she says.

So if the idea of ingesting your pee or applying fresh urine to your skin activates your gag reflex, here's a more palatable thought: You don't have to user your own pee to reap the rewards of urine therapy, according to Schadlow. "The benefits of topical application are not clear, however, the benefits of urea-the main active ingredient in urine-have been well-established," she says.

Urea is hydrophilic, meaning it's a water-attracting molecule that helps the skin hang on tight to hydrating H2O. Schadlow says it also has "keratolytic effects," which simply implies that cells are less sticky. This allows them to be broken up easily, enhancing cell turnover-and it's also why urea can be used to clear blemishes and brighten skin.

In fact, you might be using urine therapy in your regimen already, because it doesn't have to involve a straight-up urine sample. (Phew.) "Urea is incorporated in many skin creams," says Schadlow. "It functions as an exfoliating agent and a humectant, which is a great combination for dry, rough skin."

Moisturizers and creams in a variety of urea concentrations are available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms, so you can always ask your derm if this trend intrigues you. But actually using your own urine on your skin? Probably less effective. The amount of urea you'll grab from your own urine isn't that reliable, and ultimately depends on the time of day and your level of hydration at a given moment. "Today, there are so many choices of creams with known concentrations of urea that are not cost prohibitive and are more palatable," says Schadlow.

To start, check out DERMAdoctor KP Lotion, for soft, supple skin, or Eucerin 10% Urea Lotion, especially if you have a dry-skin condition psoriasis or eczema-and save peeing in a cup for the doctor's office. (Plus, check out these Skin Care Products Dermatologists Love.)