Natural ingredients offer a myriad of possibilities for developing effective cosmetic products. Their popularity has greatly increased over the past two decades in part due to a major shift in public opinion about the environment, human health, and wellbeing. Plant ingredients have been shown to be effective treatments of the skin for a number of conditions including erythema, hyperpigmentation, photoaging, photocarcinogenesis, and photoimmunosuppression. Nowadays, botanical ingredients are found in almost every type of cosmetic product for the skin. In addition to plants, minerals are also natural ingredients. Some of the most common ones found in modern-day cosmetic products consist of iron oxides, zinc oxide, and titanium oxide, which are mostly used in sunscreen formulations.
Historical Perspective of Natural Ingredients in Cosmetics
Natural ingredients have been used in cosmetic products since antiquity. The early Egyptians were renowned for their makeup preparations and other cosmetic ingredients used to cleanse and scent the body. The most common cosmetic potions consisted of eye paints, facial paints, oils, and solid fats (ointments) . As an example, kohl is a paste/powder that was commonly used as eye shadow and is reported to have been made with galena ore, which contains lead sulfide. A paste made from malachite, a green ore of copper, was also used to color the eyes of Egyptians. Some of these ingredients probably caused adverse reactions, or could have led to serious disease after prolonged use.
Hair and nail dyeing in ancient Egypt was achieved using henna, which was extracted from the plant Lawsonia inermis, also known as the Egyptian privet. Henna was also popular in ancient India and China as a hair dyeing agent. In India, henna was also used to paint designs on the hands and feet in the art known as mehndi . The early Egyptians also used fats and oils to apply to skin and hair, protecting them from the powerful sun rays and arid climate. The Egyptians were also very astute on the use of fragrances. They used many different types of herbs and oils, such as aloe, chamomile, lavender, myrrh, olive oil, peppermint, sesame oil, and thyme .
Turmeric, a traditional Indian spice from the root of Curcuma longa, was commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as a therapeutic agent. It contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. In recent years, turmeric has become an extremely popular cosmetic ingredient for skin care preparations. In traditional Chinese culture, skin was treated oils and herbs. Panax ginseng is one of the most popular ingredients in ancient herbal therapy, and is still widely used today. Rice powder was also popular and used to paint the face, serving as a form of makeup that provided a whitish appearance and had the benefit of removing excessive oils. The use of nail polish dates back to ancient China, using egg whites, flowers, and beeswax . Unfortunately, not all members of society were permitted to paint their nails. It was reserved for royals, who painted their nails gold and silver, and other members of the upper echelon of society.
Natural ingredients were also used in cosmetics in other periods of history as well. In biblical times, the Hebrews used oils obtained from various plant and animal sources as emollients to protect the skin from the arid environment and intense solar radiation. In addition, red ochre (an iron oxide) was used for painting the lips, ash and beeswax for painting the nails, and herbal perfumes were applied to the skin and clothing . During the early Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus), who was a prolific author, naturalist, and philosopher, wrote about the control of perspiration using a mixture of rue, rose oil, and aloe vera .
In the western tradition, the use of natural ingredients in cosmetics continued through the Middle Ages and Renaissance all the way to the 19th century, although the overall use of cosmetics fluctuated throughout history most likely due to sociological and economic factors. Curiously, at the dawn of the 20th century, color cosmetics were not very popular in western societies, and even frowned upon for women to wear in public. In the United States and many other western cultures, this attitude began to change significantly as movie stars began wearing makeup products in Hollywood films. During this period, there was a flurry of activity in the development of highly functional synthetic ingredients that enjoyed widespread use in cosmetic products. However, the most recent natural ingredient movement began to take place in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the population became more concerned with health, wellbeing, and global environmental conditions.
The increasing awareness of the health benefits of phytochemicals has led to a transformation in the cosmetic industry . The recent explosion of the use of herbal ingredients in cosmetic products began with ingredients that offered improvement in the physiological condition of the skin by treatment with formulas containing plant ingredients . This movement evolved to include a greater effort to replace conventional synthetic ingredients that carried other functions in the formula, such as rheology modifiers, emollients, cleansing agents, etc. . Today, there are even some forms of cosmetic packaging that are based on natural or naturally derived ingredients.
There are numerous plant ingredients that are used in cosmetic products for their cosmeceutical properties. Some of the most common ingredients include Aloe vera, Camellia sinensis (tea polyphenols), Capparis spinosa flower buds, Culcitium reflexum H.B.K. leaf, Curcuma longa (curcumin), French maritime pine bark (pycnogenol) Gingko biloba, pomegranate fruit, red orange, Sanguisorba officinalis L. root, Sedum telephium L. leaf, and Silybum marianum (Silymarin). Extracts of natural products contain polyphenols and other phytonutrients that have beneficial effects for the skin. Plants evolved to produce these ingredients to protect themselves from environmental insults, including harmful UV radiation.
Many botanicals have been used for millennia in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. Nowadays, there is a flurry of activity in the skin care market with similar types of ingredients, due to a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating their utility as skin therapeutic agents. Among other things, botanical ingredients have shown promise as anti-inflammatories for skin to treat rosacea, preventative agents against melanoma, bioactives for the treatment of skin aging, and protective agents against UV-induced immunosuppression and photocarcinogenesis .
Incorporating plant ingredients into cosmetics can also present challenges to the formulator in terms of stability and delivery . For this reason, there have been many efforts focused on developing carrier systems for botanical ingredients [10, 12]. Most of these carriers are emulsions, vesicular systems, or lipid particulate systems. Emulsions for this type of application usually are microemulsions, nanoemulsions, micro-nanoemulsions, multilayer emulsions, or Pickering emulsions. Common vesicular systems consist of liposomes, ethosomes, phytosomes, and transferosomes. The two most popular lipid particulate systems are solid-lipid nanoparticles and nanostructured lipid carriers.
Polysaccharides from many natural sources are used in cosmetics. They are often added to formulas as rheology modifiers, but may also be used for a variety of other functions, such as providing moisture to the skin or enhancing the styling properties of hair. The most common polysaccharides found in cosmetic products are agar, alginate, carrageenan, derivatives of cellulose (e.g., hydroxyethylcellulose), chitin, chitosan, dextrin, guar gum derivatives, gum arabic, hyaluronic acid, pectins, starch derivatives, and xanthan gum. In addition to the applications already mentioned, polysaccharides are also found in masks and shampoos/body washes (coacervate agent). A number of different polysaccharides may also be included in personal care products for their antibacterial, antiviral, anticoagulant, anticancer, antioxidant, and immunomodulating activity . Overall, they have a long and safe history of use in cosmetic products.
Essential oils enjoy widespread utility in cosmetic products due to their pleasant odor and biological activity [14-16]. They are highly concentrated liquid mixtures of small molecules (mostly aromatic compounds, terpenes, and terpenoids) extracted from the bark, buds, flowers, fruits, leaves, rhizomes, roots, and seeds of plants . Some of the most common essential oils found in cosmetic products are citronellol, citrus, eucalyptus, geraniol, lavender, limonene, linalool, and tea tree . If formulated at low concentrations, essential oils are relatively safe. However, at higher concentrations their use may result in skin sensitivity reactions and even the development of allergies . In addition to their aromatic characteristics, essential oils have analgesic, antibiotic, and antiviral properties. For this reason, there is a great deal of interest in aroma therapy and its positive health benefits.
There is some concern about the safety and toxicology of natural ingredients. This mostly stems from the presence of ingredients that are not listed on the labels of cosmetic products. For example, citral, farnesol, limonene, and limanol—fragrance compounds present in many natural ingredient products—can illicit allergic reactions . Furthermore, there could be many molecules in the formula that are only listed as one ingredient. On the other hand, it has been argued that exposure to natural toxic substances in personal care products is probably not the principal route of exposure. Rather, direct exposure to vegetation and agricultural crops is considered the most dominant pathway . Skin sensitization is another concern with the use of botanical ingredients . As an example, the Feverfew plant (Tanacetum parthenium), known for its anti-inflammatory properties, contains parthenolide, which is a potent skin sensitization agent. Therefore, being able to produce parthenolide-free bioactives is a key challenge to provide a non-sensitizing product for skin care [20, 21].
Natural ingredients have a long history in cosmetics products. Overall, there has been a great deal of renewed interest in their inclusion in contemporary personal care formulas. Combined with modern analytical and process technology, today’s cosmetic chemist has the opportunity to participate in the large-scale transformation of the personal care industry.
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