You probably know that humans have relied on nature for food, clothing, and medicines for thousands of years. In fact more ancient cultures relied on nature for the cure of their ailments before modern medicine evolved. What we are learning now is that often the mixture of compounds that occur in nature are more effective than single compounds alone. Health foods are much better than taking isolated supplements, as all the chemical compounds present in the food act synergistically to improve absorption and effectiveness of each substance present. Modern pharmacology studies single compounds for toxicity, medicinal effects and more complex studies of bioavailability and pharmacodynamics.
What we are relearning now is that often mixtures of ingredients are more effective than individual compounds. (1). This is a major shift in how we see medicine and is beginning to get some traction in mainstream science. We are not suggesting that you give up going to your doctor for your regular check-ups and medical care. We are talking about integrating old wisdom with modern medicine. Why not get the best of both worlds?
We often hear of phytochemicals (plant chemical compounds) and sometimes it is hard to know what they mean. Some phytochemical families and their function in nature are:
Terpenes: inhibit accumulation of toxins and help discharge existing toxins from the body.
Esters: can have antifungal properties and calming and relaxing effects.
Aldehydes: anti-infective properties with a sedative effect on central nervous system. They can also be irritating to the skin.
Ketones: stimulate cell regeneration and liquify mucus
Alcohols: antiseptic and antiviral activities.
Phenols: responsible for the fragrance of oils and have antimicrobial properties.
Oxides: anesthetics (local) and antiseptics.
Cosmeceutical is a term we hear more and more often and was in fact coined by Dr. Albert Kligman, 1984. It is a mixture of cosmetic and pharmaceutical agent but does not need to follow stringent regulation as a medicine as long as a product is not claiming medicinal properties (in the United States, cosmetics cannot claim to treat acne nor to have SPF (solar protection factor). Regulations are different in each country, but in general cosmeceuticals do not have a legal definition despite taking the world of personal care by storm. For Dr. Kligman, cosmeceutical represented “a topical preparation that is sold as a cosmetic but has performance characteristics that suggest pharmaceutical action.” Even dermatologists use cosmeceuticals. Generally, cosmeceuticals are less irritating than medications and do not require a prescription. For example, Bakuchiol (a terpene), an ingredient from the babchi seed (Psoralea corilifolia), that has similar effects to retinol as an anti-aging ingredient. (2)
One notable example is Tea, Camellia sinensis. It has more than 500 phytochemicals, including: tannins, flavonoids, amino acids, vitamins, etc. The flavonoids (which are also known as polyphenols) have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-allergic effects. Tannins have antiseptic and antioxidant effects. Not everything is a bed of roses, however. Not because things are natural that they are necessarily all safe and with no consequences if used or taken in excess. Even water in copious amounts can be dangerous! Tannins when taken excessively can bind to iron that we ingest with our foods, making it unavailable for absorption.
Oat is another fitting example of an important plant for us. Avena sativa * its scientific name. Oat plays a key role as a moisturizing agent and emollient. The brand name Aveeno is based on oat as its hero ingredient. Other studies show promise as skin protectant against pollution, smoke, free radicals and inflammation. (3)
Another interesting plant is red clover, Trifolium pretense, has anti-inflammatory effects, and is rich in isoflavones and is used in cosmeceuticals as an anti-aging product.
There are so many botanicals, so many types of formulations and so many uses that we will talk about some in future blogs.
Beauty is evolving. Before it used to be a stereotyped beauty where women in particular had to fit a certain mold. Fortunately for us, and thanks to us, the concept of beauty is maturing to now meaning wellbeing, self-care, and health. Even our diet influences the new concept of beauty. Healthy eating, good restoring sleep and exercise are imperative for a beautiful skin and body.
(1) Lee, C.H., Huang G.C., CHen, C.Y., Bioactive Compounds from Natural Food Product Extracts in Taiwan Cosmeceuticals-Mini Review. Biomedical Research. 2017;28(15):6561-6566.
(2) Chaudhuri, RK, Bojanowski, K. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2014 Jun;36(3):221-30. Epub 2014 Mar 6
(3) Aburjay, T Natsheh, M. Plants used in Cosmetics. Phytotherapy Research.2003;17 (9):987-1000.