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Herbal Principles in Cosmetics: Properties and Mechanisms of Action


Herbal Principles in Cosmetics: Properties and Mechanisms of Action by Bruno Burlando, Luisella Verotta, Laura Cornara, and Elisa Bottini-Massa. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2010. Hardcover; 426 pages. ISBN 9781439812136. $149.95.

The Italian authors of Herbal Principles in Cosmetics comprise university professors, experts in cell physiology, botanical research, ethnopharmacology, and cosmetic science. The majority of the book is focused on strictly scientific information covering more than 70 plants, supported with full research citations.

The book begins with a useful overview of the structure and function of the skin, including thorough descriptions of the layers of the skin. Within these pages, the authors cover skin disorders and the mechanisms involved, defining common complaints such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, fungal and bacterial infections, inflammation, vitiligo, hair loss, and skin aging.

Chapter 2 is most useful, as it addresses the dermatologic and cosmetic uses of the individual botanical compounds of lipids, essential oils, saponins, retinoids, phenols, flavonoids, alkaloids, and much more. The chapter provides cosmetic chemists, especially those without an extensive botanical background, a shortcut to the activities of functional constituents.

Chapter 3 pays brief but relevant homage to the historic roots of herbal ingredients in cosmetic care. These 11 pages explore the history of cosmetic preparations—from simple formulas to complex pharmaceutical preparations aimed at therapeutic effects—and take on the functionality of cosmeceuticals. Most of this credible chapter is dedicated to botanical delivery systems and individual ingredients for surfactants, thickeners, penetration enhancers, preservatives, and the effects of irritating ingredients that are best avoided.

Chapter 3 and the 320 pages that follow are dedicated to 70 monographs on individual botanicals, including mushrooms, lichens, and algae, with 1 exception for methlyxanthines as a class of ingredients. There are 32 small-color plates identifying the most common of the plants discussed, and black-and-white photos accompany each monograph for broad identification. The layout of this section follows a template for each plant, noting Features (description, early origins, historic uses, habitat and native region); Constituents (individual compounds and functional groups such as flavonoids, resins, waxes, etc.); Properties (the largest of the sections, focused on functionality, effects on a broad range of body systems, and research); Dermatologic and Cosmetic Use (uses related to skincare products, sometimes categorizing functionality such as for psoriasis, hair loss or cellulite); and lastly, Side Effects and Toxicity (contraindications, physiological problems, or external skin reactions).

The Properties segment sometimes moves far afield from references to skin application, with the authors discussing all aspects of research, occasionally unrelated to cosmetic care or product development—such as a specific plant being useful as a laxative, nervine, liver tonic, digestive, or anti-tumoral aid. In some cases, more than 3 pages are spent on this type of information, with as little as 2 sentences relegated to the relative dermatologic and cosmetic uses.

This book is curiously lacking in coverage of the most basic cosmetic herbs that have significant skin research, as well as a long history of use, such as calendula (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae) flower, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Lamiaceae) flower and/or its essential oil, or sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnaceae) seed oil, though some are mentioned in passing. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng, Araliaceae) root is mentioned only as a source of saponins, making it an expensive surfactant—the context in which it is discussed. However, the book does cover other noteworthy plants with cosmetic relevance such as gotu kola (Centella asiatica, Apiaceae) herb, aloe (Aloe vera, Liliaceae) gel, chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Asteraceae) flower and its essential oil, pomegranate (Punica granatum, Punicaceae) fruit, neem (Azadirachta indica, Meliaceae) (seeds, leaves, flowers, bark are all mentioned; dermatologically, the bark, leaves, and pressed oil from the seeds), linden (Tilia cordata, Tiliaceae) flower, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Lamiaceae) leaf and/ or essential oil, sweetbriar (Rosa rubiginosa, syn. R. canina, R. moschata, Rosaceae) fixed oil pressed from seed, horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum, Hippocastanaceae) seed extract, European elder (Sambucus nigra, Caprifoliaceae) fruit, and others.

There is also coverage of some very obscure plants, such as sausage tree (Kigelia africana, Bignoniaceae) fruit (for skincare, but bark and leaves are used medicinally), sacha inchi (Plukenetia volubilis, Euphorbiaceae) seeds (also known as Inca peanut), mafura (Trichilia emetica, Meliaceae) seeds for skin (but leaves and bark are mentioned for medicinal use), purple tephrosia (Tephrosia purpurea, Fabaceae) seeds (root used medicinally), and others. It is admirable that new plants are being researched, but the fact that they are rare on the commercial market also implies they may not be readily available, and subsequently not easy to include in formulations.

The discussion of DNA repair focuses mostly on apoptosis and free radical scavenging; while this is useful for overall health, it is not always tied to uses for skincare or defined whether it is for internal or external use. Though there are 5 references to how specific plants are helpful for DNA, there is little mention of the most current spotlight of cosmetic research—tying the use of botanicals for DNA repair of the skin into slowing the aging process.

This comprehensive book is imperative for formulators, cosmetic chemists, researchers, and the botanical esthetician, and it fills many gaps left within previous tomes on this subject. It is somewhat disappointing that the book is less centered on cosmetic uses within the materia medica than the title suggests, though it is still quite useful and thoroughly researched, with each chapter meticulously referenced, in some cases with over 60 citations per plant.

—Mindy Green, MS
Owner, Green Scentsations, LLC
Associate Editor, American Herb Association Newsletter
Blaine, MN