The term phytotherapy was coined by a French physician by the name of Henry Leclerc. Phytotherapy means plant medicine, from the Greek word phyto, meaning plant. Phytotherapy is internationally-recognized to describe plant medicine, which is a synonym for herbalism. The abundance of nutrients vital for skin’s health and beauty found in plants are highly efficacious and synergistic with the skin’s renewal and rejuvenation processes, creating dramatic shifts and rebalancing most any skin condition one may encounter. Leaves, bark, dried flowers, seeds, fruit, roots of plants, plant extracts, and essential oil or hydrosols of plant material are all plant ingredients considered as phytotherapy. Plant or herbal ingredients are the most easily-obtained ingredients and botanicals applied to wounds and skin diseases are perhaps the oldest form of medicine. The use of plants for healing goes as far back as Biblical days and history shows that every civilization has been known to use pytotherapy. Thousand-year-old botanical treatments have been scribed throughout history and testimonials to the power of plants to cure and beautify are endless.
Plant extracts possess one or more of three mechanisms that makes them so valuable: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. Therefore, they accomplish what is expected from a skin care ingredient or product, including providing essential nutrients and emollients, protecting capillary fragility and improving circulation, reducing inflammation and calming redness, delaying the aging process while improving turgor, healing and preventing acne, balancing sebum secretion, maintaining proper barrier function, and moisture retention.
Phytotherapy generally aims to use the substances from a plant in their entirety, preserving the complexity from a given plant with less processing. Plant-derived medicines are used in standard pharmacology, but differ somewhat from phytotherapy, in that standard pharmacology isolates an active compound from a given plant. However, examples of isolating compounds or components from plants are also found in many skin care ingredients, such as bisabolol from chamomile, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the major catechin in green tea, and tetrahydrocurcuminoids (THC), which are derived from the turmeric root. THC offers multiple benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, accelerated wound healing, and sebum regulation. It has also demonstrated significant improvement in pigmentary changes. With all these attributes, it is an excellent ingredient in acne treatment.
Plant-based skin care products may contain isolated components or combinations. Combinations often offer more efficacy, as they induce different but synergistic mechanisms. Most plants, in general, smell wonderful. The aromatherapeutic value of using pure plant extracts has its place, as in aromatherapy, but fragrance is not skin care. It is important to consider product formulations that are using plant extracts principally for their specific action(s) and offer the secondary added bonus of a beautiful aroma.
Plant extracts, just as synthetic ingredients, have the potential to provoke undesirable or allergic reactions and several botanicals, especially essential oils, hold the risk of photosensitization. Bergamot oil, found in Earl Grey tea, is one of the essential oils that demonstrates phototoxic properties. Botanicals may cause phytodermatitis such as acute hypersensitivity, allergic contact dermatitis, or photoallergic reactions.
Because essential oils fall under the phytotherapy umbrella, it is crucial to research all essential oil contraindications before incorporating them into a practice, especially in pregnancy.
In acute and serious cases of skin disorders or diseases, botanicals may not be sufficient treatment but, nonetheless, have great value as adjuvants. For example, the astringent and wound-healing effects of certain plant extracts may complement medications or therapies to suppress infection, acute inflammation, or pain that require treatment with stronger remedies.
In the treatment of acne, there are many plant-derived ingredients that have been shown to outperform
commonly-used ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide. Cinnamon, for example, inhibits production of cyclooxygenase-2, a known pro-inflammatory agent, that has antibacterial, analgesic, antiseptic, antibiotic, and astringent properties. Origanum vulgare (wild marjoram) contains thymol and carvacrol, which have potent antimicrobials, antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Certain botanicals, such as gingko biloba and rosemary, affect microcirculation and stimulate blood flow and oxygen consumption in tissues to effectively allow nutrients to reach the skin. Even preservatives can be plant-derived, such as populus tremuloides (aspen bark) extract, a natural, organic preservative high in salicylates
The best product ingredients can come straight from the earth… from plants grown in rich soil, nourishing sunshine, and clean water, harnessing the power of nature that makes them so effective.