Plant-based ingredients in skin-care products do more than just smell nice or look pretty. Herbs and botanicals have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal and dermatological properties, and they're only getting more popular: A 2009 study from Tulane Medical School reported that botanical extracts were the fastest growing category of cosmeceuticals, thanks in part to consumers' demand for organic and all-natural products. "Many believe that if a product can be safely ingested, it will also be safe for topical application," the authors wrote. [Source: Stallings and Lupo]
These products are usually high in antioxidants, since plants are constantly exposed to sunlight and must build up defenses against the harmful ultraviolet rays that come with it. [Source: Stallings and Lupo] In addition, many are also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. To reap some of the best-known benefits of herbs and botanicals, look for the following ingredients the next time you're shopping for skin care.
This purple flower is known for its calm-inducing scent -- but when used in topical products like face wash, it can also act as a soothing antiseptic. In fact, the word lavender comes from the Latin word "lavare," which means "to wash." [Source: University of Maryland] It may help reduce inflammation, and is a good ingredient to look for if you have sensitive or irritated skin; it may also be helpful in treating burns or psoriasis. If you can't find lavender in a face wash, you can also add a few drops of lavender oil to a spray bottle of distilled water and spritz your face with the solution after washing.
Face washes containing petals of the calendula, or pot marigold, flower can help hydrate dry skin and clear up acne. The plant is also traditionally known for its wound-healing properties, as well, as it increases blood flow to the area where it's applied; this makes it a good choice for treating burns, bruises and cuts. In a study done on breast cancer patients, calendula was even shown to help reduce inflammation and prevent dermatitis, a common side effect of radiation therapy. [Source: University of Maryland]
This liquid is distilled from the bark or leaves of the witch hazel, or Hamamelis, shrub. It acts as an astringent, cleansing the skin and removing excess oil, leaving it tight and firm. Because witch hazel contains anti-inflammatory chemicals called tannins, it can also be used to provide relief to burns, bug bites or other mild skin irritation. [Source: WebMD] After using a face wash that contains witch hazel, you may feel a cool, refreshing tingle.
Oil distilled from the neem tree naturally inhibits the growth of bacteria. In skin-care products, it can be used to treat acne, dandruff, inflammation, and chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Neem oil also contains antioxidants, including carotenoids and vitamin E, as well as fatty acids that help skin retain its elasticity as it ages and may even help acne scars fade. [Source: JustNeem]
The leaves of this plant, a relative of sunflowers and chrysanthemums, contains compounds called parthenolides that can irritate skin. When used in face washes and other skin-care products, however, these compounds are removed -- leaving Feverfew PFE, or parthenolide-free extract. This type of feverfew can help reduce redness and inflammation caused by acne, rosacea or sunburn. The extract has also been shown to have one of the highest antioxidant concentrations of all botanicals, suggesting that it can protect against free radicals like cigarette smoke, UV rays, and car exhaust, to name a few. You should skip products with feverfew, however, if you have allergies to ragweed or chamomile. [Source: Skincare-News]
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- Irani, Sarah. "DIY Skincare Guide: 15 Essential Herbs for Natural Beauty." EcoSalon. (July 14, 2013) http://ecosalon.com/15-herbs-for-natural-beauty/
- Jirsa, Amy. "3 Must-Have Herbs for Skincare." MindBodyGreen. June 25, 2012. (July 14, 2013) http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5257/3-MustHave-Herbs-for-Skincare.html
- Kilham, Chris. "Great Herbs for Skin." FoxNews.com. May 25, 2011. (July 14, 2013)
- Skincare News. "A Few Facts on Skin-Soothing Feverfew." (July 14, 2013) http://www.skincare-news.com/a-7065-A_Few_Facts_on_Skin-Soothing_Feverfew.aspx
- Stallings, A. and Lupo, M. "Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care." Journal of Clinical Aesthetics and Dermatology. 2009 January; 2(1): 36-40. (July 14, 2013) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958188/
- University of Maryland Medical Center. "Calendula." (July 14, 2013) http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/calendula#ixzz2ZEkuEc1P
- University of Maryland Medical Center. "Lavender." (July 14, 2013) http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/lavender-000260.htm
- WebMD. "Witch Hazel." (July 14, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-227-WITCH%20HAZEL.aspx?activeIngredientId=227&activeIngredientName=WITCH%20HAZEL
- JustNeem.com. "4 Ways Neem Oil Will Improve Your Skin." October 12, 2012. (July 14, 2013) http://www.justneem.com/blog/4-ways-neem-oil-will-improve-your-skin/