Wednesday, 23 October 2019 02:15

Plant Protection: Preventing Photodamage with Botanicals

Written by   Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos

It’s no secret that daily ultraviolet exposure can wreak havoc on skin. Consumers today are increasingly aware of the extrinsic aging and long-term skin damage that can be caused by the sun. In partnership with Burt’s Bees, we conducted a clinical study to explore new mechanisms to protect the skin against sun damage, turning to ingredients in nature that face daily ultraviolet exposure themselves – plants.



Many plants are exposed to the sun all day long and have consequently developed sophisticated mechanisms to protect against ultraviolet damage. Specifically, botanical oils, which represent concentrated plant materials grown in ultraviolet-rich environments, are full of antioxidants that can inhibit oxidation and help minimize the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. By harnessing these powerful plant materials, we can confer this same oxidative protection to humans through the application of botanical oils to the skin.



To better understand how botanical antioxidants may protect against photodamage and potentially prevent wrinkles and inflammation, we conducted a study of 10 Fitzpatrick skin type I 30- to 70-year-old females. Study participants were irradiated with 2MEDs (minimal erythemal dose) of solar simulated radiation on both buttocks. One randomized buttock served as the untreated control, while the opposite buttock was treated twice daily with the application of botanical oil. Twenty-four hours after the ultraviolet radiation, the amount of erythema was measured with a dermatospectrophotometer on the erythema scale, and the numbers of apoptotic cells were counted in skin biopsies fixed in formalin and H&E stain.


The results demonstrated the ability of a nature-based botanical oil to decrease oxidative stress, including a reduction in redness and sunburn cell development following exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Specifically, the results showed less erythema on the botanical oil treated test site in 88.89% of the subjects. This finding was further confirmed by the skin biopsies, which demonstrated decreased sunburn cell counts on the treated test site in 66.67% of the subjects, indicating a protective effect.


The botanical oil studied was formulated with a blend of beneficial skin ingredients, including:

  • Rosa canina oil, which is rich in the essential fatty acid linoleic acid, to improve skin barrier function
  • Borage, evening primrose, and sunflower oils to provide essential fatty acids
  • Jojoba oil to deliver unique fatty alcohol esters
  • Hazel seed, wheat germ, and soybean oils to provide antioxidant capabilities
  • Tocopherol, retinyl palmitate, ascorbyl palmitate, and beta-carotene to provide oxidative protection for the botanical oils, ensuring their ability to function as antioxidants


Antioxidants function in the skin to protect proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids from ultraviolet damage. Thus, botanical antioxidants have profound effects on protecting skin from damage and can additionally be used as a protectant against inflammation and photoaging. At a time when clients and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of protecting their skin from ultraviolet exposure, botanical oil can be an essential, nature-based tool to complement their sun protection regimen.


Zoe Draelos Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, is a research and clinical board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She is in solo private practice in High Point, North Carolina and is a consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University. In 1988, she founded Dermatology Consulting Services, PLLC, to initiate and perform research in aging skin, acne, rosacea, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, actinic keratoses, eczema, and aesthetic procedures in the cosmetic, over-the-counter drug, and pharmaceutical arenas. A member of Sigma Xi research honorary and Alpha Omega Alpha medical honorary, Draelos is the author of 14 books.



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