From the common cold to cancer, medicinal plants are used to treat and provide relief for various health conditions. Each region of the world has its own traditional plants and uses for them. Modern science has begun to study individual chemicals in these plants to explain some ways they function to keep us healthy. Here, we discuss some of the general uses for botanical extracts that are specific to the skin.
Specific Herb Uses for Skin
Sun Protection: Antioxidant Activity and Beyond
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is detrimental to the skin in several ways, including burns, edema, hyperpigmentation, photoaging, and skin cancer. Several natural compounds, many of which are organic molecules, may be taken orally or applied topically to the skin to reduce damage from UV radiation. Many of these compounds can absorb UV radiation, while also acting with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities.
Research suggests that UV radiation suppresses our immune system in many ways. This immune suppression is a risk factor for developing skin cancer in humans. Certain botanicals, including green tea polyphenols and grape seed proanthocyanidins, reduce this UV-induced suppression of the immune system and skin cancer development.
Many botanical extracts have antioxidant properties. They hold the ability to fight or prevent damage from reactive oxygen species, otherwise known as free radicals. Antioxidant activity can help prevent premature aging caused by solar UV radiation (photoaging) or other effectors. For this reason, many plant extracts are used in formulas to help protect the skin from UV radiation.
In other research studies, botanical antioxidants have been associated with reduced incidence of skin cancer and photoaging. One such example of a botanical antioxidant with this capability is pomegranate fruit (Punica granatum). Researchers found that polyphenol-rich pomegranate fruit extract exhibited protection against ultraviolet light type B-induced oxidative stress and photoaging. These results suggest that it could be a useful supplement in skin care products and should be further tested in more clinical studies.
Many herbs provide strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities. These combined properties of the phytochemicals within an herb exhibit a strong wound healing effect when applied to the human body. One research group assessed an extract from Artemesia campestris, commonly known as Wormwood, on the skin of rats. The study found that the extract provided strong anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant activities against the carrageenan-induced edema on the neck skin of the rat subjects. These effects were shown by an improvement in wound healing progression as well as an improvement in oxidative stress damage in the rats.
Dry skin, one of the most common dermatological complaints, is associated with disrupted skin barrier and decreased formation of proteins and lipids on the outermost layer of the skin. Some specific botanical extracts have been shown to possess properties that reinforce the skin barrier, leaving the skin with improved hydration and growth ability.
One review study found that the following botanical extracts have been shown to increase skin hydration, reduce water loss across the skin, or promote maturation of the skin cells involved in forming the skin barrier: Aloe vera (leaf gel), Betula alba (birch bark extract), Helianthus annuus (sunflower oleodistillate), Hypericum perforatum (St. John's wort extract), Lithospermum erythrorhizon (root extract), Piptadenia colubrina (angico-branco extract) and Simarouba amara (bitter wood extract). Another trial showed that extracts of Curcuma longa (turmeric) applied topically improved skin hydration and sebum content of skin.
Many antioxidant constituents found in botanicals help restore skin homeostasis and balance. One particular antioxidant, the carotenoid zeaxanthin, works in the eye and skin to decrease the formation of destructive free radical molecules in the body caused by UV radiation. In one study, researchers studied botanical extracts of zeaxanthin, algae extracts, peptides, and hyaluronate for their use orally and topically on skin wrinkles and discoloration. The results of the study showed that a combined oral intake and topical application of the botanical extracts significantly improved facial lines and wrinkles and improved skin hydration.
Herb Constituents vs Whole Herbs
Many herbs employ a wide variety of uses and effects. Research on botanical medicine presents challenges due to the potentially thousands of compounds contained within one herb. Herbalists harness the concept that all of these constituents interact synergistically to provide the whole herb’s medicinal effects.
Many research studies choose to focus on one component of a plant at a time, instead of using a whole herb. This makes it easier for scientists to assess the mechanisms of action these constituents may have in our bodies. However, this can skew our understanding of how these herbs work, since individual constituents are not found in isolation within nature. The challenge in scientific research is to continue to build our knowledge from single compounds to move toward research that focuses on the network of compounds that typically make up an herb or botanical extract.
Naturopathic and herbal medicines incorporate using both whole herbs and herbal constituents as therapeutic interventions. Most historical data of plant medicine consists of using whole herbs therapeutically. Thus, it is crucial to keep in mind that when we study only one element at a time, it may make it challenging to understand how these herbs work as a whole, thus affecting our ability to interpret traditional uses of herbal medicine.
* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.
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