Adult acne is an epidemic, with an estimated 17 million adults who are looking for relief. And, boosted by a growing number of people over the age of 40 more interested in overall health and naturals, than solely a quick fix for their skin issues, an equally growing number of acne-fighting skincare products are incorporating traditional phytomedicines—herbs and plants with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-microbial properties, as well as the highly refined actives from those plants like salicylic acid from wintergreen or white willow bark or collagen from yeast, for instance. More and more, researchers are turning their attention to scientific studies that compare traditional herbal treatments with synthetic chemical ingredients. And as it turns out, in case after case, there is mounting evidence that these botanicals are just as effective in reducing redness, and clearing up acne lesions. Here are some of the most interesting studies we’ve come across recently:
Green Tea Extract
Green tea consumption has skyrocketed due to its antioxidant properties, and by extension, the use of tea extracts as cosmeceuticals in skin care formulations is well on the rise. A recent study in the Archives of Dermatological Research found that polyphenon-60, also known as green tea catechin compound, reduced the levels of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), an acne-inducing factor that produces inflammation, one of the primary causes of acne. When researchers used polyphenon-60 topically on acne patients, they found it suppressed inflammation and that patients had had fewer breakouts and pustules. Another group of researchers studied the effect of green tea’s (-)epigallocatechin-3-gallate (ECGC) and (-)epicathechin-3-gallate (ECG), known as potent photoprotectants and antioxidants. The 2010 study, published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, tested the effects of green tea on 20 moderate-to-mild acne patients. In the course of the six week trial, patients had fewer lesions and the severity of their acne decreased.You can maximize the release of(-)epigallocatechin-3-gallate in your tea, by choosing loose leaves instead of tea bags and by letting the tea steep for at least five minutes.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used for centuries to treat inflammatory and viral diseases.
The active part of the root contains glycyrrhizin, (a triterpene saponin), at concentrations ranging from 7-10%. It is converted to glycyrrehetic acid (GA) in the body. This herb has been used extensively in Europe as an anti-inflammatory agent, and in Japan as an antiviral agent with success in treating chronic hepatitis. In addition its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also been proven to inhibit melanogenesis (the production of melanin). One recent study found significant improvement in skin redness after just eight weeks. Licorice root is showing up in more and more skin care brightening formulations, especially when combined with other proven botanical actives like lemon peel, resveratrol and vitamin C for those for scarring and for overall lightening because it does not bleach the skin as does the ingredient hydroquinone, but provides an overall evening of skin tone.
Vitamin C has been a staple in skin care for many years, but lately, there has been an increased interest in the use of natural antioxidant vitamins to help restore dermal antioxidant activity. Vitamins A,C, E, and B3 have been shown to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but to achieve optimal effectiveness, the delivery system (peptide, liposomal) of these vitamins to the skin cells is very important. These vitamins are effective in the treatment of inflammatory dermatoses, acne, and pigmentation disorders and wound healing, but again, the method and types of vitamins or sources are always something to consider. Vitamin C is a natural compound produced in most plants and animals; however, humans lack the enzyme (L-gulono-[alpha]-lactone oxidase) necessary for its production.So, we must obtain vitamin C from dietary sources like citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables. Since it’s water-soluble, Vitamin C is found in the skin. Because L-ascorbic acid is oxidized and becomes yellow when exposed to air, topical formulations are usually esterified to form a more stable product, or one may use the stable forms of the vitamin like the peptides in formulas to make preparations stable and make the formulas impactful. Preparation of topical formulations in the optimal pH (3.5) is also essential for absorption of active vitamin C. When these formulation criteria are met, a topical application is a more effective method for delivering vitamin C to the skin compared to taking the vitamin internally.
White Willow Bark
Salicylic acid (salix) in this case obtained from the bark of the willow tree is a monohydroxybenzoic acid, a type of phenolic acid and a beta hydroxy acid. Colorless, crystalline, and widely used in organic synthesis functioning as a plant hormone. In addition to being an important active metabolite of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) it is probably best known for its use in anti-acne treatments. The salts and esters of salicylic acid are known as salicylates. Salicylic acid (SA) is a phenolic phyto-hormone and is found in plants with roles in plant growth and development, photosynthesis, transpiration, ion uptake and transport. It can also be prepared by the hydrolysis of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid, or methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen) with a strong acid or base.
Salicins have long been extracted and utilized from willow bark for their ability to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers, and as with other beta hydroxy acids, is a key ingredient in many skin-care products for the treatment of seborrhoeic dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, calluses, corns, keratosis pilaris, and warts It works as a keratolytic, bacteriocide and comedolytic agent by causing the cells of the epidermis to shed more readily, opening clogged pores and neutralizing the bacteria living within, preventing pores from clogging up again by constricting pore diameter and allowing room for new cell growth. Because of its effect on skin cells, salicylic acid is used in several shampoos used to treat dandruff. And it works by several means - producing its anti-inflammatory effects via suppressing the activity of cyclooxygenase (COX), an enzyme which is responsible for the production of pro-inflammatory mediators such as the prostaglandins and topically, as a beta-hydroxy acid (and unlike alpha-hydroxy acids) salicylic acid is capable of penetrating and breaking-down fats and lipids. That’s packing a lot of punch for one little plant!
Oatmeal has been used for centuries as a simple, but stunningly powerful soothing agent, relieving and hydrating red, itchy and irritated skin. However, few studies have sought to identify the active phytochemical(s) in oat that mediate this anti-inflammatory activity.One interesting study in the Archives of Dermtalogical Research found that avenanthramides, which are the phenolic compounds found in oats, are the key to oatmeal’s potent anti-inflammatory properties.
From just these ingredients, we begin to see that a rose is not, in fact, just a rose. Like most things, scratch beneath the surface and you will see that botanicals aren’t just stems and leaves, but refined actives, and using them at their highest percentages makes them truly potent and rivals of any synthetic ingredient. Luckily, the industry is changing, and fast, because of such increased consumer interest in naturals, but there was a time I would say a natural product could never come close to solving any acne issue, nor any other serious skin problem for that matter. These days though, a plant-based skin care product doesn’t have to mean just infused oils and a loion that sits separating on the shelf. No, natural skin care and clean eating don’t have to mean, “crunchy.” We know that botanicals are complex systems capable of providing us with the kinds of benefits synthetics can’t touch, both for our skin and our overall health.
Andthe studies being done just begin to scratch the surface of the science behind botanical’s role in acne therapy. Phytomedicines show tremendous potential to replace standard chemical therapy in mild to moderate acne cases. Andas naturalscontinue to grow in dollar value, the bigger studies (backed by more research dollars) will follow, not just for acne, but for anti-aging, the biggest money maker of all.
About the expert
Suki Kramer founded Suki Clinically-Proven Natural Solutions Skincare with a commitment to education, empowerment and 100% natural beauty products that work like they should. Suki’s vision for the brand is without fail reinforced by an open and honest belief that every beauty product should guarantee efficacy and longstanding benefits to its users. Her passion for effective, natural products and ingredients has made her a leader in the health skin movement.