Botanical beauty

We take a look at some of the best plants for natural beauty

We asked a range of natural beauty experts to pick their favourite plants and explain why they work so well in natural beauty products. Here are their top picks.

Calendula

“Calendula has been used since ancient civilisation, with both the Romans and Greeks using the plant for its healing properties,” Rebecca Goodyear, marketing consultant for Kinetic Natural Products distributors (www.kinetic4health.co.uk). “Calendula is rich in several skin-benefiting compounds including glycosides (a type of flavonoid antioxidant) and saponins. Calendula flowers have also been used on battlefields to treat open wounds due to their antiseptic and anti-hemorrhagic properties, and the extract has come to be known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, although research is limited as to the effectiveness of this treatment. That said, you will find calendula extract in many balms designed to treat scrapes, cuts, insect bites, burns and bruises, as well as products formulated for kids and babies. Calendula has also been shown to have a protective effect against UVB-induced oxidative stress in skin. Due to its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, calendula is often found in oral care products, and has been proven to be effective at killing bacteria in the mouth.”

Lavender

“The plant name lavender is taken from the Latin word ‘lavare’ which means ‘to wash’, indicating that the plant has been used for centuries in beauty rituals,” says Rebecca Goodyear. “Lavender oil helps to soothe and nourish the skin and can be effective at reducing the appearance of dark spots and scars caused by acne. It is thought that acne breakouts in adults can be caused by stress, and lavender is known to help reduce stress and anxiety. Lavender also has antibacterial properties, which is useful in helping keep the skin’s surface clean and spot-free.

“When it comes to eczema, lavender oil helps to calm irritation and reduce itchiness, while also working as a humectant and thus accelerating the healing process. The anti-inflammatory properties of lavender oil, coupled with its antiseptic capabilities, means that the oil is very beneficial in the treatment of burns, helping to heal them and reduce scarring. Lavender oil is also antibacterial and has been proven to inhibit the growth of certain types of skin bacteria. When it comes to hair, lavender can be found in haircare products that help promote hair growth and treat hair loss, thanks to its power to boost circulation, and tackle dandruff and psoriasis, due to its anti-inflammatory and healing properties.”

Argan

“In the drought-prone areas of Morocco, where it is endemic, the oil pressed from the kernels of the argan tree has been used for millennia to moisturise and protect the skin and give hair shine and strength,” explains Jennifer Hirsch, Beauty Botanist on behalf of 97 per cent natural Noughty Haircare. “Plant oils like argan are naturally nurturing for hair, trapping in moisture to improve condition and reduce frizz – why you’ll find natural haircare brands like Noughty using it in moisturising ranges. Argan oil is mainly comprised of linoleic and oleic fatty acids and almost twice as rich in antioxidant tocopherol (aka vitamin E) as olive oil. Argan’s antioxidants and unusual phytosterols, schottenol and spinasterol, have made argan leaf extracts a hot ingredient for firming and protective skincare…but the tree is still best known for its nuts.”

Coconut

“Coconut’s having a well-deserved moment in the sun, and not just for its topical benefits for improving the condition of skin and hair,” says Jennifer Hirsch. “Its fat-burning boost of healthy saturated fats have made it a food for health, too. What is not so easy to see is all the work it’s doing behind the scenes in natural formulations. Coconut is a raw source material for ingredients like hydrating coco-caprylate (a natural alternative to silicones) and the gentle natural surfactant coco-glucoside that gives formulations bubbles and cleanses without stripping. These plant-derived substitutes for synthetic materials are helping brands like Noughty achieve 97 per cent natural formulations without compromising on performance. Courtesy, in part, of the humble coconut.”

Rose

“Rose is the ultimate beauty herb,” says Pamela Spence. “Nothing else quite has the indulgent, luxurious, ultra-feminine scent of the rose. Used since ancient times as a perfume and skin purifier, it is the one herb that really makes people feel extra special – and what better way to complement a beauty regime? Many different types of roses are used – from the heady scent of the damask rose to the more humble dog rose. The key ingredients responsible for the relaxing properties of the rose are in the scent itself, so stopping to smell the roses really is medicine! The petals of the damask rose are used to make attar of rose or rose absolute. Both can reduce inflammation in the skin and are very hydrating and nourishing. The tannins in the petals mean that rose can also make a great toner to refine pores. Rosehips, on the other hand, yield an oil rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants that are essential for skin cell regeneration. This means it can help the skin to heal, reduce scar tissue and even remedy fine lines and wrinkles.”

Chamomile

“If I had to take just one herb with me to my desert island it would definitely be chamomile,” says medical herbalist, writer and educator Pamela Spence (pamelaspence.co.uk). “We know that it can be used as a tea to reduce anxiety and support the digestion but it is also a very helpful skin herb. It contains an antihistamine component that can combat rashes and irritation, it is anti-inflammatory and soothing and if that wasn’t enough it’s anti-microbial as well. Chamomile can be simply used as a wash made from infusing the tea bags in hot water and letting it cool. The used tea bags left in the fridge overnight are heaven for sore eyes particularly if you have hay fever because of the antihistamine component. Traditionally the cold tea was also used as a rinse to bring out the highlights of blonde hair. You can add the essential oil into creams and body lotions. The essential oil is unusual because it is bright blue in colour. This is due to the presence of chamazulene which is strongly anti-inflammatory. Just mixing a few drops into a base cream will transform it into a nourishing, soothing balm that can take the heat out of itchy, irritated skin.”

Nettle

“While it might be odd that something that itself causes inflammation and itchiness can be used so effectively against similar symptoms, nettle has been used for centuries to treat allergic reactions, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and itchy, inflamed skin,” explains Lucy Gulland, PR manager for Balmonds Skincare (www.balmonds.com). “It seems that the tiny stinging hairs of the nettle actually contain histamine, serotonin and other compounds that are usually linked to allergic reactions, and that these can actually inhibit the release of inflammatory compounds within the body. Nettle leaves are steeped in alcohol or oil to extract their properties and can be used in salves to soothe itchy, inflamed skin.”

Chickweed

“The leaves, stems and flowers of chickweed have long been used by herbalists in topical preparations to treat inflamed or sore skin, whether the problem is caused by eczema, rashes, insect bites, stings or chafing,” explains Lucy Gulland.

“Chickweed is rich in vitamins and minerals which support healing, and research has shown that it has significant anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, by mediating the release of histamine and increasing the production of mucosal fluids. It even has antimicrobial properties, making chickweed a perfect herb to use on broken or fragile skin, and especially on eczema, which is characterised by a compromised skin barrier.”

Safflower

“A relative of the sunflower, safflower was valued both for its flowers (which were used in the dyeing trade as a cheap version of saffron – hence its name), and for the oil which could be pressed from its seeds,” explains Lucy Gulland. “This nutritious oil is rich in fatty acids – oleic, linoleic, palmitic, stearic, linolenic, and palmitoleic – which between them have a host of beneficial properties for hair, skin and overall health. Used topically in salves or creams, these omega-rich EFAs can boost immunity, reduce inflammation, support the repair and regeneration of skin cells, facilitate wound healing, as well as nourish, soften and smooth dry or damaged skin.”

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