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Editor's note: This is the edited version of an article titled "Botanical Ingredients for the Medical Spa" that originally ran in the November 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. Reprinted with permission, and all rights reserved.
Compared with some of the skin care treatment options and products of the past, skin inflammation is less prevalent and less severe than it has been—yet it does still occur. Plants, and the phytochemicals they contain, are an important source of raw materials specific to the skin recovery process.
Primary and secondary metabolites. Plants have two kinds of active constituents: Those they use to thrive and those that appear to be secondary to growth. These are known as primary and secondary metabolites, respectively. Primary metabolites include starches, amino acids, fixed oils and fats. Secondary metabolites are other plant chemicals that, only a few years ago, were thought to be useless by-products of metabolism. Researchers now know that living organisms wouldn’t produce anything superfluous. Whatever a plant’s secondary metabolites, you can be sure that they have a purpose, either for the plant directly or for the benefit of humankind. Of the 900 plants and herbs used in skin care preparations, it’s estimated that approximately 25% of them contain natural plant steroids and salicylates, compounds that have very potent anti-inflammatory properties. The versatile actions of botanicals indicate how perfectly aligned they are with the natural skin care products segment.
Using high-quality, botanically based products that are concentrated with essential fatty acids and lipids, vitamins, minerals and amino acids delivers a restorative action to the skin. Whether irritation is the result of mechanical or chemical means, botanically rich products can support the skin through the inflammatory and repairing stages. Optimizing skin health involves hydrating, soothing, protecting, nourishing and rejuvenating actions, and plant extracts are active in each of these areas.
Arnica (Arnica montana). This has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s to reduce inflammation and heal wounds. Part of the sunflower family and rich in polyphenols—the pigmented parts of plants—its main constituent is thymol, a highly antiseptic component. Arnica is also very effective at neutralizing the negative energy of free radicals.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Derived from the German chamomile plant Matricaria recutita, the active ingredient is alpha bisabolol, which is highly significant in anti-inflammatory and skin-healing effects. Alpha bisabolol is a viscous, colorless-to-somewhat-yellow liquid that is nontoxic and nonirritating to the skin, and is also known for its antimycotic, antiviral and antibacterial effects.
One study noted in the book Cosmetic Dermatology Products and Procedures (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), edited by Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, demonstrated that alfa bisabolol has an anti-inflammatory effect in the skin equal to that of 0.25% hydrocortisone. Because of this, it can also sedate the inflammation associated with acne.
Candeia oil (αlpha biosbolol). The medicinal properties of alpha bisabolol are also richly concentrated within the essential oil of candeia. Candeia oil is produced by steam distilling Vanillosmopsis erythropappa, a tree from the Asteraceae family that grows in the southeast and midwest regions of Brazil. Candeia oil is used in many beauty and skin care formulas for its soothing, anti-irritating, wound-healing, antibacterial and deodorizing properties. It is also a safe penetration-enhancer for dermal and transdermal therapeutics.
Oat extract (Avena satvia). Minor skin reactions also can be quieted with oat extract, which has been approved by German Commission E, a governmental regulatory agency, for the treatment of inflamed skin. The active constituents include polysaccharides, such as beta glucan, steroid saponins, flavonoids and polyphenols. Oat is considered a versatile skin care herb for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and UVA-blocking capacity.
Today’s consumers are better educated and seek out reliable anti-aging products to keep their skin young and vibrant.
Hibiscus flower. Lightweight serums that are concentrated in natural hibiscus flower peptides boost the skin’s natural reconstruction process by acting on fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF-2). Growth factors are regulatory proteins that mediate signaling pathways between and within cells. FGF-2 is found in DNA, promotes cellular renewal and the proliferation of fibroblasts, the cells responsible for the collagen type III and glycosaminoglycan’s synthesis. A tissue-friendly extract processed from the seeds of the flower, hibiscus peptides help firm and redensify the skin and its contours.
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are present throughout the entire body. They are responsible for breaking down worn out proteins and facilitating a second phase of wound-healing, essentially clearing the pathways so immune cells can act.
Skin aging is like a chronic wound that does not completely heal. The thinning and fragility of elderly skin is the result of an imbalance of degradation from MMPs and regeneration. In healthy or younger skin, the neosynthesis process and degradation of the matrix are in balance.