Beauty botanicals: Which botanicals make promising skincare ingredients?

May 17, 2019

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Not long ago, the words organic and botanically based applied mainly to things we ate—or, like supplements, swallowed in pill or powder form. But lately, says Ramon Luna, marketing coordinator, Ecuadorian Rainforest (Clifton, NJ), “Store shelves are lined with more than just natural foods and supplements. There are natural cleansers, shampoos, body-care products, and more.”

And it makes sense: Given the inordinate energy we spend vetting what goes into our bodies, shouldn’t we devote the same scrutiny to what goes onto them—skin, hair, and nails—as well?

So with consumers “shopping more scrupulously,” as Luna puts it—even for ostensibly surface-level lotions and potions—“they’re more aware of what they use on their bodies, and they’re realizing that instead of using chemicals, they can rely on natural products to get the look they desire.”

The upshot: These are boom times for botanical beauty and plant-based personal care. And as suppliers refine their crop of botanical ingredients, the benefits both to consumers and to brands promise only to grow.


Better Botanicals

“Natural, sustainable, and plant-based beauty is taking a major stake hold in the market today,” declares Paula Simpson, nutricosmetics formulator and founder, Nutribloom Consulting (New York and Toronto; “Plant-based and botanical ingredients are a natural fit within this category.”

Of course, botanical ingredients have been standard in personal care since before it was even a category. So if you thought those green bottles of Clairol Herbal Essence were a throwback, consider that “we’ve relied on plants and botanicals for thousands of years to promote health and vitality, manage chronic conditions, and contribute to skin and beauty regimens,” Simpson says.

The difference is that science is finally catching up to the folklore, elucidating how whole-plant or isolated phytochemical actives work “either systemically or topically for natural beauty,” Simpson continues. “From large classed groups like carotenoids and polyphenols—with their effects on oxidative stress, inflammation, epigenetics, or even the microbiome—to isolated actives that target a specific mechanism of action, botanicals offer a multitude of benefits and a variety of claims that both nutricosmetic and natural skincare products can capture.”


Not Just Cosmetic

Even better, contemporary extraction and processing methods are improving ingredient quality, stability, and effectiveness, while granting consumers the transparency they prize. That’s giving botanical beauty ingredients more than just a cosmetic role in…err, cosmetics.

As Shaheen Majeed, president worldwide, Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), puts it, “Though botanical ingredients have been included in modern beauty products for years, they were present mostly in small amounts as ‘claim’ ingredients—people liked that the botanicals were there, so the ingredients helped sell the product.”

Now “there’s been a shift toward using botanicals as performance ingredients because they deliver benefits,” Majeed continues. “This advance happened as technology evolved to process them into stronger actives and to measure performance, thereby demonstrating benefits.”

Contemporary purification and standardization methods for natural ingredients also ensure performance consistency, too, Majeed adds, “which is important with a botanical that can vary from season to season.”


Work It

We also better understand how botanical ingredients act on skin, hair, and nails—enabling brands to fine-tune formulations to target benefits.

In most cases, says Brien Quirk, director of R&D, Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA), a botanical’s mechanism of action produces “a physical effect, such as moisturizing or enhancing the skin’s barrier function. But at a deeper level, the bioactive phyto-compounds exert effects on cell signaling and at the genetic level to modify inflammation, protein synthesis, cell growth and division—rejuvenation—and, ultimately, cell longevity.”

Majeed adds that some nutricosmetic beauty botanicals help inhibit formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which research implicates in exacerbating myriad age-related ills, including those that weaken skin. Meanwhile, other ingredients stanch free-radical and singlet-oxygen-induced lipid peroxidation and prevent the fragmentation and degradation of collagen and elastin fibers.

Applied topically, Majeed says, “Botanical extracts can even skin tone and provide antiaging properties by inhibiting tyrosinase enzyme and melanin production”—responsible for darkening skin—“and can protect cells from harmful UV radiation, act as antioxidants, improve hydration, and promote synthesis of fibrous proteins in the dermis.”


Inside or Out?

So are consumers better off ingesting beauty botanicals, or letting them work from the outside in?

“Beauty ingredients applied topically show more immediate effects compared to ingestion, which is more subtle and takes time,” Majeed says. “The activities are different. Oral ingredients are taken in milligrams, whereas for topical application they’re used in percentage levels.”

Ultimately, given that visible signs of aging like wrinkles and sagging skin result from both extrinsic and intrinsic factors, Majeed recommends a tag-team approach of topical application and ingestion to supply the optimum “synergistic potential compared to using either alone.”

And what’s next for botanical beauty? “Lately we’ve seen requests for multi-botanical formulas that deliver more therapeutic aspects, addressing such conditions as itchy scalp, hair loss, and antioxidant skin protection,” Quirk says. “Antiaging seems still to be trending strongly—probably never will let up—and moisturizing is always essential.”

Whatever perks consumers seek, they’ll likely keep looking for them in the garden. As Majeed says, “People like naturally derived ingredients, and they also like products that work. With today’s botanicals, they can have both.”

Read on to see which beauty botanicals experts think are sitting pretty.



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