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The Blossoming of Naturals

Rachel Chapman November 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

Within the beauty and skin care industries, the term “natural” is controversial because products touted as such tend to fall on a scale of how natural they are. For example, if an ingredient is taken from its original source but altered physically—such as by crushing it into a fine powder—some individuals would argue that the ingredient no longer is natural. In addition, extracts derived from natural sources that also contain synthetic solvents or carriers may no longer be considered to be natural at all. On the other hand, some people view synthetic equivalents to naturally unchanged materials as being natural.

A recent report about research conducted at the New Zealand-based life sciences company HortResearch puts a different twist on natural products by introducing the concept of combining biofermentation techniques with genetic engineering to match the flavor and fragrance genes of natural ingredients. Biofermentation techniques—essentially the same fermentation processes that cause bread to rise or make wine from grape juice—could make it possible for the natural tastes and aromas of fruits and flowers to be re-created on a massive scale and with less environmental impact, the company reports. And because biofermentation uses the actual genes of plants, the resulting flavor or fragrance compounds are said to have the same molecular makeup. It is, as the report asserts, “nature-identical.” Would these ingredients be considered natural?

For the sake of this article, all levels of natural products will be considered—and this year has seen record-breaking launches of new naturals: from flower, fruit and vegetable extracts to herb and stone extracts, and more.

Delivering nature

Raw material suppliers of natural ingredients have been faced with the challenge of designing natural products that meet the demand of a growing green consciousness, yet are equivalent in performance to the strongest synthetic actives. One raw material supplier has gone so far as to mimic the natural chemicals in snake venom in order to induce the same paralyzing effects for use in anti-aging applications.

Another way to accomplish efficacy of naturals is through specialized delivery. For example, in the prestige market, Lancôme has introduced its Platinéum Hydroxy(a)-Calcium complex with a delivery system that includes cyclodextrins containing a bioassimilable—or easily absorbed—form of calcium, ginseng and yeast extract to reach targeted areas of the skin. Another form involves inducing microchannels into the skin for enhanced delivery of naturals.

Emotional investment

Natural ingredients are beginning to prove more effective, which only leaves consumers wanting more. So what is the next level of efficacy for ingredients? The answer moves from the physical to the emotional.

The latest concept being explored is the mind-spirit connection to beauty. Several recently launched ingredients claim to possess these feel-good elements and contain interesting properties. Many companies are selling “happy” toiletries derived from mood-elevating molecules. The specialty chemical manufacturer Croda, for instance, has promoted a blend consisting of butylene glycol (and) water (aqua) (and) laureth-3 (and) lydroethylcellulouse (and) acetyl dipeptide-1 cetyl ester that, according to the company, is based on a peptide found in the body that promotes the natural release of messengers to trigger happiness and feelings of well-being.

The trend in beauty of treating from the inside out also relates to this concept. Terms such as “holistic,” “chi,” “increased skin energy” and “euphorialike feelings” are new buzzwords in products and raw materials today. Therefore, along with the physical benefits of a product, consumers can expect psychological ones, as well.

Environmentally sound

The wellness concept is not limited to the body or the mind—it also can pertain to the soul and the wallet. Consumers feel good about buying products from sustainable resources—believing that they are giving back to the planet by supporting the reharvesting of crops and often by assisting local economies of impoverished countries. For example, Brazil-based Beraca Ingredients has developed a Rain Forest Specialties line of ingredients that contains a series of fruits, nuts, butters and vegetable oils; the applications are for dandruff, anti-acne and hair care products. But along with touting the benefits and properties of these ingredients, the company also prides itself on receiving certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and for Good Manufacturing Practices from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—both environmental seals of approval. Several other companies have jumped on board with harvesting sustainable resources that enrich the indigenous cultures affected in those regions.

Hot launches

Several recently launched ingredients not only are natural and offer feel-good benefits, but also have an interesting story to tell. Following are a few substances that are growing in popularity.

Algae extract. Algae extracts are potent cosmetic active ingredients that make it possible to create biologically active polysaccharides that demonstrate effectiveness in protecting microcapillary integrity. These extracts mainly target biochemical mediators that are upregulated in the skin during aging, as well as through exposure to UV light and environmental insults. They also are associated with the phenomenon of microcapillary dilation and hyperpermeability.

Emu oil. Reported as useful in transdermal delivery applications, data suggests that the delivery of nutrients by emu oil might be greater than other delivery systems. In addition, cosmetic companies are using it in cosmetic bases as a natural ingredient for moisturizers, lotions and lip balms.

Hematite extract. Stone extract derived from hematite reportedly is rich in iron. Tests conducted on human fibroblasts claim to indicate that the ingredient has a dose-dependent action that is four to 16 times more powerful than TGF ß—a benchmark growth factor that promotes synthesis of collagen. Its stimulating action on collagen synthesis is useful in filling in wrinkles for a plumping effect on the skin.

Marula oil. Also known as “the wonder oil,” marula oil is extracted from the seed kernels of the golden fruit of the marula tree. A rich source of oleic acid—which helps in preserving the health of the skin and in minimizing moisture loss—this oil is excellent in applications geared for dry skin and may be used in aromatherapy products, as well as in massage lotions and oils. It is a perfect example of an ingredient that can make consumers feel as good about their purchase as it does about its results. The harvesting and extraction process of this botanical provides both social and economical benefits to impoverished rural women in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Monk’s pepper. Berries from the monk’s pepper shrub—also known as the chaste tree from the Mediterranean region—are said to contain an endorphin-based ingredient that returns natural ingredients to the happy toiletry concept. In natural medicine practice, this berry has been used for centuries to regulate women’s menstrual cycles and to relieve PMS, which supports the endorphin statements. It also is suggested that the berry stimulates cell growth. In fact, Mibelle AG Biochemistry of Switzerland has formulated a compound that includes monk’s pepper and has termed it Happybelle.

Rooibos extract. A quote about rooibos extract from one industry source offers an impressive claim: “New spa treatments for anti-aging use rooibos extract from South African red bush that has powerful antioxidant ingredients—50 times more effective than green tea.”1 The rooibos shrub is a new and hot ingredient in skin care. It first was used centuries ago by the indigenous Khoisan tribe as an herbal remedy and healing tea. The extract from this shrub is said to be brimming with flavonoids and, as previously mentioned, is more potent than green tea.

Rooibos grows in arid conditions in the Cedarburg Mountains of the Western Cape of South Africa. Its production assists in boosting the economy of that region, which suffers from an 82% unemployment rate. As international demand for rooibos increases, nonprofit organizations have assisted farmers in implementing methods of cultivation in order to compete in the world market. Most products containing rooibos originate outside of the United States in places such as Japan, South Korea and South Africa.

Seabuckthorn oil. Seabuckthorn oil appears to be an ideal ingredient for skin care. Derived from a wild bush that grows in poor arid soils, such as those found in the Gobi Desert, Tibetan and Mongolian legend has it that Genghis Khan considered the oil and berries to be the key to making his army stronger than his enemies. Seabuckthorn oil traditionally has been used in wound healing and is said to counter the effects of sun damage. The oil is processed from seeds and berries, and is the best-known source for a bevy of vitamins, including vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene. It also contains essential fatty acids; amino acids; flavonoids; and omega-3, -6 and -9, as well as more potassium than sodium. The high content of its fatty acids is important to the claim that it can restore skin tissue. This ingredient is useful in anti-aging and sun care products.

Tomato extract. New active ingredients are being derived from colorless carotenoids in tomatoes—the precursors to phytoene and phytofluene—by extracting them before the plant can convert them into red pigment. These colorless carotenoids are said to have antioxidant, UV-protective, anti-inflammatory and anti-mutagenic properties.

Circling back

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) program, recently introduced legislation in Europe, could force the beauty industry back to basics of all things being truly natural. According to one industry expert, raw materials suppliers are afraid of what is coming next in regard to the new REACH program. Essentially, the approved bill requires anyone manufacturing or importing more than 1 ton of any chemical substance per year to register it in a centralized database. The intent is to protect the environment and European citizens, as well as to boost competitiveness and innovation within the European chemical industry.

For the beauty industry, this means that more responsibility will be put on the companies in regard to chemical risks, and the industry will have to provide information about the safety of all chemical substances. The legislation also could require the substitution of some chemical products, even if they are safe for use. For now, this act is active only in Europe, but it has the potential to shift the industry away from synthetics and back to nature. As the law becomes established, a prediction could be made that naturals will be relied on increasingly in the future.

It’s a craze

From the depths of the sea to the highest mountain ranges, Mother Nature provides a plethora of natural ingredients that further enhances the landscape of the skin care industry. With growing client interest in holistic wellness and sustainability, what’s happening on the product development horizon soon will impact the treatment room.


1 M Morgan, Advances in anti-aging spa treatments, Spa 20/20 (January/February 2005)

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