Botanical Cosmeceutical Myths

Published on 15/03/2015 by admin

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Last modified 15/03/2015

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Chapter 30 Botanical Cosmeceutical Myths

There are numerous botanical cosmeceutical myths. This may be due in part to the aura that plants are natural, preservative-free, healthy, holistic, relaxing, restoring, healing, etc. Certainly, the plant kingdom is a rich source of active ingredients. Plants have adapted to thrive in an environment rich in UV radiation. It is for this reason that humans look to plants for solutions to oxidative insults. Plant extracts provide a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. However, a major dermatologic question is whether the plant materials are more effectively consumed or topically applied. Most of the botanicals used in cosmeceuticals have been highly processed to allow their efficient addition to moisturizers and other topically applied products. Cosmeceuticals typically take the form of creams, lotions, serums, and solutions. Botanicals must be liquids or powders to easily blend into an aesthetic formulation of this type. This chapter examines some of the more common cosmeceutical myths, providing insight into their fallacies.


Many products are now claiming to be better for the skin because they are ‘preservative-free’. This is a somewhat meaningless term, since all products must contain preservatives Fig. 30.2. Preservatives fall into several categories. There are preservatives that are classified as antioxidants. These are substances designed to prevent the rancidity of the oils in the formulation and prevent the breakdown of coloring agents. Common antioxidant preservatives that perform this function are tocopheryl acetate, retinyl palmitate and ascorbic acid. These are of the same family as the topical vitamin E, A, and C additives that many companies are claiming prevent skin oxidation. Oxidation is a universal event leading to aging of any living or biologically derived material. However, tocopheryl acetate, retinyl palmitate, and ascorbic acid in the concentrations used for product preservation do not have much biologic activity for the prevention of skin oxidation.

Another category of preservatives comprises those aimed at preventing microbe contamination, whether the source is a bacterium, yeast, or fungus. These are substances such as phenoxyethanol, Kathon-CG, Bronopol, parabens, etc. All formulations that contain water must contain some type of preservative to maintain purity on the shelf, whether it is called a preservative or not. Some clove extracts, such as eugenol, have preservative characteristics and ‘natural’ formulations may use ingredients for this purpose. Some traditional preservatives, such as phenoxyethanol, have a rose fragrance and may have their stated purpose as a fragrance, even though they are functioning as a preservative. Most companies use a preservative in anhydrous formulations, even though it may not be necessary.

In summary, there is no such thing as a ‘preservative-free’ formulation, unless it is pure petrolatum. Preservatives may have other functions or may be natural ingredients with preservative properties, but all products must be protected against contamination and oxidation.