Botanicals might be the latest buzzword in skincare, but they’re nothing new: Cleopatra used black cumin seed oil as a beauty treatment, and calendula has been used as a skin-healing poultice for hundreds of years. Whether we want to address concerns like pigmentation changes, redness or first signs of aging, botanical-powered skincare products can help us keep our complexion looking its best.
Botanicals are powerful plant extracts and oils derived from flowers, herbs, nuts, seeds, roots and berries. And when harnessed in the right way, they can do wonders for our skin. ‘Plants are the most amazing chemists and engineers,’ says Jennifer Hirsch, beauty botanist for The Body Shop. ‘It’s really exciting to understand how they work and the great things they can do for the skin.’
Fuelled by the natural food movement, the natural and botanical-based skincare markets have exploded. Laura Townsend, sales and marketing manager for The Detox Market in Toronto, says an interest in botanical beauty has spread like wildfire in the past year alone. ‘Knowledge of natural skincare is growing across Canada,’ she says. ‘Consumers that we see in our stores already know what they’re looking for.’
Popular product ingredients like rosehip and grapeseed oil have been proven effective over time ‘ as many have been used in cleansing and moisturizing routines for generations ‘ and in clinical research trials. For example, black cumin seed oil has been studied over 200 times, confirming that it holds a host of antioxidants to regenerate and repair aging skin.
In general, seeds tend to be botanical powerhouses because everything a plant needs to grow is in that seed, resulting in concentrated nutrition for the skin. ‘Concentrated inside each seed is the power to fuel new life,’ says Hirsch. ‘It provides fundamental nutrients, from antioxidants to vitamins.’
It’s no surprise that big name beauty companies are catching on to the power of plants. The Body Shop recently launched a new skincare collection called Oils of Life, a line of 99 percent natural products made with a unique blend of oils derived from three different types of seeds, including black cumin. The unique blend also contains camellia seed oil, naturally rich in nutritive oleic acids, which are important for putting moisture back into the skin. The addition of rosehip seed oil, which is rich in omegas 3 and 6, works to improve the texture and quality of skin.
Tapping these types of ingredients requires travelling well beyond the lab. This rosehip oil, for example, is sourced from the Andes foothills of Chile. ‘The Body Shop has always sourced ingredients from around the world and taken inspiration from traditional beauty rituals from different cultures,’ says Arnaud Jeanteur, general manager for The Body Shop International.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a botanical-infused cleanser, cream or serum. Focus on botanicals that have a lot of ‘buzz’ surrounding them or are recommended by skin professionals. Chances are, these are the botanicals that have the most studies backing their efficacy for skin conditions. But not all botanicals are created equal ‘ some work better when formulated with other ingredients.
Here’s another tip: Plant ingredients are often listed by their Latin binomials on ingredient panels, so it’s a good idea to know what these are if you’re looking for a specific botanical. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that the higher up an ingredient is on the list, the more of the product it contains.
For the most success, ask for advice at the beauty counter or from a skincare professional, especially if you have a significant concern, like sensitivity. ‘People with sensitive skin shouldn’t be putting botanicals on their faces necessarily,’ says Dr. Ashley James, a naturopathic doctor at Bay Dermatology Centre. ‘Sometimes we can’t assume that botanicals are the answer for our skin problems.’ You might need the advice of a doctor or naturopath, for example, to treat an underlying issue that’s manifesting as skin irritation or causing breakouts.
It’s important to note that those with rosacea or extremely sensitive skin should consult a dermatologist to confirm which products are compatible, as some botanicals can be irritating. And, as always, don’t forget to do a patch test before using a new product.
Whether you’re aiming to treat fine lines or banish dry spots, there’s a botanical to soothe what’s ailing your skin.