As we have a strong trend towards natural cosmetics at the moment, I will try to give you some insight into certain plants, namely herbs and their use in cosmetics. They are the basis of natural cosmetics, which derive their power, as the name suggests, only from the mother nature. And since nature is so omnipotent and there are so many herbs, different in different parts of the globe, this is of course another topic, on which one could write a thesis. Notice that herbs are so versatile and popular that they are used in most cosmetics. Unlike animal fats, milk and egg proteins, collagen, lanolin, beeswax, honey, keratin, elastin, silk, chitosan (there may be a few other cosmetic substances of animal origin), they can also be used without any restrictions in vegan and vegetarian cosmetics. Because, remember this well, a natural cosmetic does not have to come from plants only.
What are herbs? Of course, plants, but not all of them. Only those that affect human health. Herbs have been used in cosmetics always, from the very beginning of its existence. It was mainly on them and other ingredients of plant origin, with a more modest share of animal fats and minerals, that the recipes for cosmetics were based until the nineteenth century, when, as a result of advances in science, humanity began to widely use chemical compounds. The use of chemical compounds in cosmetics turned out to be cheaper and yet cosmetic preparations were highly effective. Therefore, the use of herbs and natural ingredients began to be considered relics. Fortunately, however, in modern, good cosmetics chemistry goes hand in hand with nature, clinging to the best of both worlds. The area of cosmetics that deals with herbs is called phytocosmetics. Natural cosmetics are also named phytocosmetics.
Due to increasing health awareness and saturation of our organisms with ubiquitous chemical substances (allergic reactions, hypersensitivity of the skin), nowadays we are dealing with the reverse trend to the so-called organic products, that is, cosmetic preparations whose ingredients are natural and pure, that is, deprived of chemical ingredients obtained by synthesis. Thanks to their natural origin, herbal extracts are easily and well assimilated by skin, hair and nails. They help to cure skin diseases and beautifully nurture beauty. This does not mean that they do not cause irritation or allergy. Sometimes they cause, also have a shorter durability than their chemical counterparts (lack of preservatives), but despite this they return in style not only to the shelves of drugstores and bathrooms, but also to beauty parlors and SPA centers in the form of treatments for face and body, aromatherapy. Cosmetic organic products, the so-called natural cosmetics, can be distinguished by independent certificates such as Demeter, Ecocert, Cosmebio and information about their authenticity should be sought where? Of course, always and above all in their composition.
We can find many important biologically active compounds in plants. For cosmetic purposes, whole plants with their fruits are used, as well as individual substances isolated from them. The effect of these active substances on the skin depends on their chemical structure. We often find them in the descriptions of cosmetics, so it is worth knowing what is going on to choose the best cosmetic tailored to our needs.
In plants, the active ingredients responsible for the action are mainly the following active substances:
- Phytohormones – also known as plant hormones – are complex substances with a similar effect to female sex hormones. They act as free radical scavengers, delay skin ageing processes, stimulate epidermis regeneration and hyaluronic acid production to ensure proper skin hydration. They have soothing and anti-inflammatory effects. Under their influence, blood vessels expand, and the skin becomes better supplied with blood and nourished. Therefore, phytohormones are perfect for mature skin care cosmetics with reduced elasticity and prone to dryness of the epidermis.
- Flavonoids – act as colorants, antioxidants, protect blood vessels. There are many of them and they have very diverse properties. They are used as a natural sunscreen because they have the ability to absorb UVA and UVB rays. They have an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effect on the skin, especially in combination with vitamin C, which they prolong the effect of. They reduce the permeability and fragility of blood vessels, restore their elasticity, thus preventing their expansion and cracking, which is why they are an important component of cosmetics for vascular skin. They are also assigned a large role in capturing and removing free radicals, which in turn prolongs the skin’s youthfulness.
- Tannins – have strong astringent properties, combine with protein substances, forming a protective layer on the skin. They have an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect, shrink vessels and inhibit minor bleeding and penetration of toxins into tissues. They also reduce swelling. They are perfect for cosmetics used in excessive sweating or acne skin.
- Essential oils – accelerate regeneration processes, which means that the exchange of old cells for new ones takes place in a shorter time. All oils, although to varying degrees, also have disinfecting, bactericidal and anti-inflammatory properties. They also improve blood supply to the skin, thanks to which it gains a beautiful, fresh colour. Moreover, they have a strong effect on the sense of smell and, if properly selected, they can stimulate, calm down, improve mood – so they are used, among others, in the perfume industry.
- Pectins – they have soothing and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Saponins – a large group of compounds with various properties – inhibit inflammatory processes, have an anti-swelling effect, improve blood supply to tissues, which results in their oxygenation and skin tone. But most of all, they reduce the surface tension of water, creating foaming aqueous solutions, increase the permeability of cell membranes, facilitate the penetration of nutrients into the skin. Saponins are not only a component of soap, but also facial cleansers, make-up remover, tonics or shower gels.
- Mucus – show anti-inflammatory and softening properties.
- Tannins – water-soluble polyphenols. They have properties of binding with skin proteins. This effect causes pores to tighten and skin tension to increase. Catecholamines also have the ability to reduce the permeability of capillaries, which gives them anti-inflammatory properties.
- Anthocyanins are oxidised molecules that form red pigments in acidic and blue pigments in alkaline environments. They seal capillaries and reduce permeability.
- Lecithins – polar lipids. Partly they are ionic surfactants of natural origin. As phospholipids they have affinity to epidermal lipids. They also have a technological function because they occur in emulsion systems or liposomes and a physiological role because they rebuild the skin lipid binder. They also have a moisturizing effect.
- Sugars – simple, complex and polysaccharides. These are hydrophilic large molecules that swell in water. They remain on the surface of the skin as a hydrated layer and thus moisturize the skin. Pectin is a combination of sugars and pectinic acid, which is a polymer of galacturonic acid, are building components of plant cell walls, can be used as soothing and softening factors for the skin. Plant mucilage is a combination of simple sugars and uric acid, which in contact with water swell and form colloidal solutions, prevent dryness of the skin through film-forming action and high capacity to bind water.
- Amino acids – occur in plants in the form of amides (asparagine, glutamine), amino acids and proteins. They participate in the process of nutrition and cellular renewal. They are not absorbed directly. First, they are hydrolyzed by enzymatic means and in some cases metabolized by the skin, which uses them as amino acids and small peptides. Recently, spirulina algae (Spirala platensis) cultures have been used because of their very high protein content.
- Carotenes – fat-soluble vegetable dyes, yellow, orange or orange, or part of the body. They are precursors to vitamin A. The best known is β-carotene.
How to obtain cosmetic raw materials from plants? An overview of the methods, some of them can be done at home.
One of the best methods of obtaining high purity plant substances is extraction with high pressure carbon dioxide (300 bar) under supercritical conditions at low temperatures (approx. 30°C). Quite a low temperature of the process does not degrade the active ingredients of the plant and thus does not reduce their quality. A very important stage of the described extraction under supercritical conditions is the last stage of the process – the expansion phase, in which the pressure is reduced. At this stage, the liquid phase of carbon dioxide changes into a gaseous phase, so that the whole solvent can be freely evaporated from the extractor. This results in 100% pure plant extract.
Other popular methods:
- Broth (stock): this is usually obtained from hard parts of plants (roots, bark, rhizomes) and containing heat-resistant ingredients; enough herbs are poured over with water and brought to the boil over low heat, boiled for 5-15 minutes depending on the hardness of the raw material; it is allowed to cool down and consumed after cooling down.
- Infusion: obtained by flooding the herbs with boiling water and leaving them to cool under a lid, consumed as soon as prepared, thus releasing the active substances into the water extract; prepared from raw materials containing volatile oils or substances that can no longer tolerate prolonged cooking.
- Conditioner-steam – first prepare a decoction of herbs requiring cooking and then pour this decoction over the herbs requiring a form of infusion.
- Macerate – cold extract from mucous plants. The prescribed amount of raw material is washed with a small amount of water, then poured in with the prescribed amount of cold or lukewarm water and left for 3-10 hours. The macerate is then filtered through a gauze and topped up with water from the rinsed material to the desired amount through a gauze; it must be used within 24 hours.
- Tincture: liquid, non-concentrated preparations prepared by digesting crushed dry raw materials with appropriate solvents – a mixture of ethanol and water or a mixture of water ethanol and ether; e.g. ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’, ‘Liquor’,’ and ‘Liquor’. e.g. herbs are flooded with 70% spirit at a ratio of 1:The tincture can be prepared by maceration (the process of extracting aromatic substances from plant raw materials with spirit of various strengths at ambient temperature, used to prepare semi-finished products used to flavour sets of quality vodkas) or percolation (the process of extracting valuable substances – extract from plant raw materials by washing out with hot water, steam or spirit flowing continuously through the raw material layer).
- Extract – extract: preparations obtained by etching vegetable matter with a suitable solvent and partially or completely removing the solvent (evaporation at 50 °C). A distinction is made between dry extracts, from which the solvent, powder or powderable mass, has been completely removed, and liquid extracts, which are characterised by the fact that in most cases one part of a liquid extract corresponds to one part of the plant material. Extracts contain 10 times more active substances than tinctures.
- Wrapping – liquid wrap of herbs (poured with boiling water, left to cool and applied warm).
- Cataplasma – like the wrap – the so-called herbal wrap, based on herbs with a mucous activity (linseed, flax, lime, wheat bran, oatmeal, salmon root), also from herbs containing rubber and plant clays, as these herbs retain heat and moisture. The herbs are poured in enough water to form a pap. Depending on the type of added herbs, cataplasm can have bactericidal, anti-inflammatory, anti-seborrheic, stimulating, astringent and thus can be applied to different skin types. Most often it is prepared from such herbs: linseed, hedgehog seed, fenugreek, root and leaves of moose, lime quail, potato, etc.
- Compressor – the first step is to make a brew, soak a gauze in it and place it on the affected area.
- Herbal oil – crushed herbs are flooded with sunflower oil, covered and left for 3-4 weeks, stirring daily, the activity is repeated several times to reach a strong concentration.
- Herbal vinegar – as above, flooded with apple or wine vinegar.
- Herbal baths – 200 – 300 grams of herbs in the gas are put into the bath, temperature between 25 – 30 degrees C, bathing time 15 – 20 minutes; the type of raw material is adjusted to the cosmetic problem.
- Cold extract – obtained by flooding the herbs with distilled or boiled lukewarm water and etching at room temperature within 2 – 3 hours; used if only some easily soluble or sensitive material is to be extracted from the raw material.
Fresh herbal spirit extract – lump is tinctures made from fresh plants using boiling spirit; it is obtained by throwing freshly harvested herbs into hot alcohol, heating the mixture to boil within 20 to 30 minutes, leaving it to stand for a few days, then squeezing and straining the extract.
Examples of plants commonly used in cosmetics:
- Aloe vera – among 360 species of aloe vera, of which 20 are considered to be medicinal, two species were used in dermatology and cosmetics: aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis Mill., also known as Aloe vera L.) and woody aloe vera (Aloe arborescens Mill.) Aloe vera was known in antiquity and already then its comprehensive therapeutic and cosmetic properties were used. The Egyptians used aloe vera to embalm corpses, the Greeks and Romans attributed it to inhibiting hair loss, and the Indians believed that aloe vera flesh has rejuvenating properties. The authors of the oldest medical textbooks, Dioskurydes (Materia Medica) and Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia), mentioned aloe vera as a source of medicinal materials, where skin diseases were among many indications.
- Arnica – strengthens and makes the walls of capillaries more flexible.
- Elderberry – its action can be described as improving metabolism. In case of skin prone to eczema, it can be used for cosmetic wraps. It reduces permeability and fragility of blood vessels. It is a part of herbal masks for oily, acne and seborrhoeic skin. Flower infusion and fruit infusion are drunk with psoriasis.
- Pansy – a common ornamental plant that contains flavonoids (rutin, quercetin, rutoside), anthocyanins, carotenoids, saponins, tannins, rutin and vitamin C. This herb has a rich composition, but is insufficiently used in cosmetics. When taken internally with nettle, it has a “blood-cleaning” effect. Drinking this tea is particularly recommended for acne. Brother powder is good for the care of mixed and sensitive skin as well as for capillary skin due to its routine content. It seals the walls of small blood vessels and improves microcirculation and metabolism in cells.
- Hops – flower and cones have astringent and bacteriostatic effect. It contains phytoestrogens. Hops extract is a part of regeneration creams, masks, hair shampoos.
- St. John’s wort – has astringent, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps in the treatment of liver and regulates metabolism, which determines a healthy complexion. Besides, it refreshes, calms and relaxes.
- Chestnut trees – chestnut flowers contain a mixture of triterpenoid saponins, called escin, flavonoids, coumarins, tannins, polyphenolic acids, sugars. Escin has an anti-inflammatory and anti-edema effect on the skin, sealing and elasticity effect on the walls of blood vessels. Stronger vessel walls do not cause blood clearances through the skin. Chestnut extracts also improve microcirculation and prevent blood stasis in blood vessels. It is also a natural sunscreen that absorbs UVB radiation. Chestnut blossom powder is effective in caring for circulatory eye areas, erythema, capillary skin and in alleviating cellulite symptoms. They are used in masks, mixed with rose petals, horsetail and pink clay.
- Oak bark – contains water-soluble tannins, has astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. Oak bark broths are used for bathing, excessive sweating of legs, frostbite. It is used for herbal baths, production of toilet waters, masks and medicinal ointments.
- Lavender – tones, accelerates skin regeneration, soothes skin irritations.
- Linden – contains flavonoids, essential oil (farnesol, geranium), mucus compounds, organic acids, phytosterols, triterpenes and others. Linden inflorescence powder is used for peelings and masks for dry and sensitive skin. It has a cleansing, softening and protective effect on the skin (prevents infections). The linden flower infusion is a well-known “sweat remedy”. It inhibits hair loss.
- Burdock – has a soothing effect, reduces seborrhea, it prevents not only hair loss but also dandruff. Burdock infusion regulates metabolism and is used externally to wash purulent pustules on the face. Root broth and fresh juice were used for ulcers and eczemas. It has an astringent and disinfectant effect. Suitable for cosmetics for oily hair.
- Melissa /leaf/ – in cosmetics used for infusions and lotions for oily and combination skin in order to normalize the work of sebaceous glands. Due to the presence of volatile oil, it gives the skin a pleasant, fresh, lemon scent.
- Dandelion (root) – dandelion is commonly called milk. The whole plant has a therapeutic significance because of the presence of juice in it, which looks like rare milk. The bitter-tasting juice contains the bitter substance taraxacin, as well as protein and resin. The dandelion leaves contain tannins, organic acids, vitamins and zinc salts. It is used to cleanse oily and tired skin. It accelerates scarring and disappearance of skin damage, for example in the case of acne skin. It also has brightening properties.
- Hake is a brown algae found in the Atlantic and North Sea. It is used for medicinal purposes. It contains mineral salts (iodine, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, potassium, sulphur, chlorine) and specific polysaccharides (laminarin, fucoidin), alginic acid and vitamins. It regulates metabolism and stimulates circulation. Reduces fat deposits, eliminates excess water from tissues, improves the structure of the skin.
- Marigold / petals/ – an ornamental plant with dark orange flowers, which are a valuable medicinal and cosmetic raw material. Marigold petals contain a mixture of triterpene saponins and carotenoids (up to 3% provitamin A), flavonoids, phytosterols, resins, polyacetylenes, volatile oil. The use of marigold is wide. It is used to care for dry, rough and cracked skin in order to soften, smooth and heal small mornings. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, healing acne lesions.
- Witch Hazel – Witch Hazel is also called a Mexican magic tree, and its action has been appreciated in cosmetics for a long time. Pharmacy and cosmetics use extracts from the bark and leaves of this herb, which contain tannins, flavonoids, gallic and ellagic acid, leukoanthocyanins, saponins and tannins. Witch hazel extracts and enchanting water have astringent, anti-inflammatory, antihemorrhagic and soothing properties, soothing redness of the skin as a result of excessive exposure to the sun. Witch hazel extracts and enchanting water have a shrinking effect on blood vessels, they also narrow down dilated pores and are used in the care of oily and mixed skin, vascular and erythema skin.
- Oat – due to its strength and versatility, it is considered a European equivalent of ginseng in cosmetics. Fresh oat herb extract contains saponins, flavonoids, mineral salts with a large amount of silica. It has a soothing effect. It is a component of cosmetics intended for aging skin care.
- Nettle – it has toning and regenerating properties, prevents dandruff, inhibits hair loss.
- Rosemary leaves – rosemary leaves are used in cosmetics due to the presence of volatile oil. They also contain tannins, bitterness, saponins and resins. Infusions, lotions and rosemary masks stimulate microcirculation, accelerating metabolic processes.
- Rose /flakes/ – belongs to the delicate cosmetic raw materials highly valued since time immemorial. Rose petals contain volatile oil, fats, flavonoids, vitamin C, organic acids, sugar compounds. Flavonoids and vitamin C show synergy in the interaction, increase the resistance of the epidermis to the aging process. Rose petals powder serves as a peeling and a component of moisturizing and regenerating masks for dry, mature and sensitive skin. They have a nourishing, toning and rejuvenating effect.
- Chamomile /basket/ – excellent herb in terms of cosmetic effect. It contains volatile oil (up to 1,3 %), flavonoids, coumarins, mucilages and carotenoids. The main components of the volatile oil are azulenes and bisabololol with high biological activity. Chamomile has an anti-inflammatory effect and soothes irritations. It is suitable for oily and sensitive skin. Camomile powder is also used in softening masks to cleanse contaminated skin.
- Horsetail – from a cosmetic point of view, the plant has a rich composition and is widely used in care. It contains flavonoids, saponins, organic acids, vitamin C, up to 10% mineral salts, including a lot of silica with properties regenerating connective tissue. Widely used in the care of oily skin with dilated pores and mature skin. Also popular in hair care. Horsetail extracts strengthen the hair shaft and reduce hair loss.
- Sage – has an antiseptic and astringent effect, inhibits hair loss, prevents dandruff. Sage – in cosmetics roots, leaves and flowers of sage (commonly known as mallow) are used. The main active ingredient of these parts of the plant is mucus. In addition to mucus, the flowers of the mallow contain organic acids, volatile oil, flavonoids, amino acids, mineral salts and lecithin. The flowers of the black mallow cultivar are rich in blue-violet anthocyanate dyes, which positively influence tissues and improve their blood supply. Powdered slime is recommended for lifting and toning masks.
- Thyme – contains essential oil (thymol), tannins and phenolic acids. It has a bacteriostatic (stabilizes the “good” bacterial flora, which prevents the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria) and astringent effect. Thyme powder is used as an ingredient in therapeutic masks for acne skin.
Examples of uses of herbs for specific skin problems:
How can herbs help oily skin? What cosmetic ingredients should people with oily skin look for?
Recommended are camomile, sage, rosemary and witch hazel extracts that have a purifying, astringent and anti-inflammatory effect, and antiseptic essential oils such as tea tree, juniper, petitgrain, lemon, bergamot, cedar, lavender, camphor and sandal that limit the production of sebum. Essential oils from eucalyptus leaves or cardamom seeds have a toning and purifying effect.
What herbs care for the delicate eye area? What to look for in eye phytocosmetics?
Extracts from skylight, parsley, chamomile, aloe vera, marigold and arnica are used to prevent swelling and brighten shadows under the eyes. Chestnut, lime and cypress extracts make blood vessels more flexible, preventing them from cracking and reducing swelling. Similarly, flavonoids are present in chamomile flowers and grape seeds.
Which herbal ingredients lighten skin discolorations?
It is also worth reaching for herbs if we have discolourations of the skin. Hydroquinone was considered one of the most effective depigmentation agents since the 1930s. However, due to the spread of information about the dangers of its use and possible side effects (it is suspected of carcinogenicity, darkening of the skin instead of brightening during long use), since 2001 it has been banned in EU countries for use in cosmetics. On the other hand, its plant derivatives are used, e.g. arbutin, which can be found in bergen, bearberry and blueberry leaves. Research confirms that in case of skin brightening they are a safe and effective alternative to hydroquinone. Birch extract containing betulin also has a brightening effect.
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