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Growing Cosmeceutical Applications

Lakshmi Prakash, PhD

Botanicals, "Bioprotection" and Formulation Challenges

Botanical extracts that support the health, texture and integrity of skin and hair are widely used in cosmetic formulations. Plant materials from which these extracts are prepared have a long history of traditional "cosmeceutical" use, although the term itself is of recent origin. In most cases, these cosmetic applications are adequately supported by efficacy data from scientific literature, as well as documented safety. Among the more popular functional natural ingredients, several antioxidants used in cosmetics are scientifically proven to offer additional benefits in supporting skin texture, appearance and tone.

However, while in traditional cultures plant materials were used in crushed or dried and powdered form, their incorporation into contemporary cosmetic formulations presents unique challenges. Highly colored or gritty plant extracts need to be blended seamlessly into "milky" or clear creams, lotions and gels. This is where a judicious blend of art and science comes in handy. The goodness of herbs and botanicals is extracted out and the actives are tailored for use in conventional formulations with their biological activity remaining intact.

One example is the curcuminoids-rich turmeric extract, well known for its antioxidant properties, antimicrobial effects and beneficial effects on inflammation. Turmeric has been traditionally used by South Asian women in skin care since ancient times. However, its yellow color may be unattractive to contemporary formulators. An innovative patented colorless (white to very light tan) derivative, tetrahydrocurcuminoids address this drawback, and offer effective protection against sun damage. Its antioxidant action is of a comprehensive “bioprotectant” nature, efficiently preventing the formation of free radicals while quenching pre-formed ones as well, thereby protecting the skin cells from damage by UV radiation and the resultant inflammation and injury. This, in turn, has far reaching beneficial effects on overall health and well being, rendering a healthy glow to the skin. Additionally, the composition efficiently lightens skin tone.

Skin Lightening

Skin tone lightening functionality is a significant claim made for many cosmetic products. Hydroquinone, the chemical agent often used to lighten skin, is now subject to regulatory restrictions in several markets due to its potential carcinogenicity. Cosmeceuticals such as kojic acid and derivatives, bearberry extract (arbutin), paper mulberry extract, ascorbic acid derivatives, azelaic acid, licorice extract and other cosmeceutical actives are, therefore, being increasingly used in cosmetic formulations that claim skin lightening. These actives are safer and effective alternatives to hydroquinone and related materials. However, several natural materials, including kojic acid, may not be as effective in skin lightening as hydroquinone. In this context, the efficacy of ultrapure tetrahydrocurcumin as skin tone lightener was found to be several fold greater than that of kojic acid .

Natural Antimicrobials and Preservatives

Antimicrobials in cosmetics serve to address skin, hair and nail infections as well as to improve the shelf life of cosmetic formulations. In personal care formulations that target skin conditions such as acne, there is an increasing need for economical active ingredients with negligible side effects and a long history of topical use. With the increased occurrence of antibiotic resistant microbial strains and our expanding knowledge of deleterious side effects associated with prolonged antibiotic use, natural ingredients such as essential oils, probiotics and botanical extracts present attractive alternatives for use as topical antimicrobials. Innovative long chain alcohols, natural phenolic compounds and other natural extractives that inhibit microbial growth or possess bactericidal/fungicidal properties are potential options to parabens, and other synthetic preservatives in cosmetic formulations. Natural antimicrobials such as rosemary extract, sage extract, olive leaf extract, certain mushroom extracts, spice essential oils and probiotics are effective deodorants as well.

Natural Moisturizers and Conditioners

Natural topical moisturizers that nourish and tone the skin represent another innovative application of natural extractives in personal care products. One example is Coriander seed oil, a rich source of petroselinic acid, linoleic acid and related fatty acids. These fatty acids are constituents of ceramides that are inherently present in the stratum corneum and prevent moisture loss from the skin surface. Coriander seed oil, therefore, has a healthful role in personal care. Polysaccharides (such as chitosan and derivatives), low molecular weight glycans (tamarind seed polysaccharides, for example), tissue components (such as hyaluronic acid and complexes) and other actives are popular as natural moisturizers. Fats such as shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil derivatives are other naturals that support skin texture and hydration.

Enhancing Uptake and Utilization of Actives

Although a number of healthful ingredients may be present in a topical composition, these actives may not permeate through the stratum corneum. A number of chemical “permeation enhancers” have been used to improve permeation of active compounds. These include compounds such as dimethyl sulfoxide and alcohols that may sometimes damage the skin surface. Sophisticated active delivery technologies (such as liposomes/nanosomes) and natural materials (such as essential oils) are also used to enhance the delivery of actives. A natural patented spice extractive tetrahydropiperine, derived from black pepper, effectively enhances the uptake of bioactive compounds when included in very small amounts in formulations containing other actives.

The ingredients listed in this summary are only a very small selection from the plethora of cosmeceutical options available for personal care product formulations. The sources of these ingredients have a history of culinary, medicinal or topical use spanning centuries. Innovative technology helps to extract the goodness from these ingredients, adapting them for effective use in contemporary personal care formulations.


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