Herbal Extracts for Skin Repair - A Scientific Perspective

We spent a bit of time examining some of the more recently published scientific studies which support the chosen herbal ingredients. The extracts used are: rosemary (R. officinalis), plantago (P. lanceolata), rumex (R. obtusifolius), ginkgo (G. biloba) and olive (Olea europaea) — all grown locally in sunny Marlborough, New Zealand.

Five Elements Herbal Extracts

All of the above are included to some extent in all Five Elements products but are used in the highest concentration in our Skin Tonic range, which has been specifically formulated to help soothe inflamed skin conditions. The active components in these herbs were selected to benefit the skin. A summary of this, as shown through published scientific research, is presented below.

So what are the benefits?

The above list of plant chemical compounds might seem like gobbledygook for the non scientifically inclined. However, the benefits they provide are real and measurable. I've done my best to explain the main benefits below.

Anti-oxidant effects

Free radicals are reactive molecules that damage cells and can contribute towards aging, inflammation, and disease. These free radicals occur inside our bodies during normal metabolic processes but may also originate externally, e.g. through X-rays, ozone, cigarette smoke, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals. Antioxidants help stabilize free radicals by sharing electrons with them.

The herbal extracts we use contain the following classes of molecules, which are also antioxidants: Iridoid Glycosides, Phenylethanoids, Flavanoids, Sterols, and Terpenes. In addition, some of the beneficial fatty acids discussed in the previous article are present and also act as antioxidants. For example, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) can be found in olive oil, which is well known for its health benefits, and rumex extract, which is less well known but valuable nonetheless. 

Anti-inflammatory effects

Inflammation is the process during which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.  Inflammation plays a big role in the aging process and the term "inflammaging" has been coined to reflect this. (Read our thoughts on aging and the skin here). An anti-inflammatory agent is a drug or substance that reduces inflammation in the body. 

Several studies have demonstrated the strong anti-inflammatory effects of plantago leaf extract. Flavonoids such as baicalein and hispidulin and iridoid glycosides such as aucubin may help alleviate inflammation of the skin which occurs during inflammatory conditions like eczema and may contribute towards anti-aging effects.

Wound healing effects

When the skin is injured the body initiates a series of events in order to repair the injured tissues. The immune system kicks into play and inflammation occurs at the site of the wound. Cells called fibroblasts are recruited to help remodel the wound site, and deposit collagen and elastin to help heal the wound. 

Polyphenols and triterpenes, which are found in high concentrations in our herbal extracts, have demonstrated strong wound-healing effects. They expedite the wound healing process, increase the rate of success of healing, the rate of epithelialization (the process by which a new layer of cells at the surface of the skin are formed), and collagen deposition in tissue. Ursolic acid, present in rosemary has also been shown to assist wound healing in laboratory studies.

Anti-microbial effects

A major function of this skin is to act as a physical barrier between the inside of your body and the outside world, keeping microbes at bay. Skin infections can occur when the skin's barrier is compromised, or hair follicles become blocked, as is common with acne. Prolonged use of treatments for bacterial skin infections, like corticosteroids, may actually weaken the skin and result in premature aging. Prolonged use or misuse of antibiotics may result in bacterial resistance.

For the reasons described thus far, there is need for natural alternatives or complements to existing treaments. Both rosemary and plantago extracts have shown to be effective at inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria commonly involved in skin infections, including Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeroginosa. 

Synergystic effects

In addition to the individual beneficial effects which plant extracts may have when applied to the skin, they may provide further benefits by acting synergistically when applied together. For example, active components in Ginkgo may help increase blood flow; which may in turn help improve the availability of other constituents at the site of application.

Another example of synergy may occur through a class of compounds known as "permeability enhancers". These components may help improve the uptake of other beneficial molecules by the skin, such as anti-oxidants, further boosting their effects.

Summary of Benefits

The schematic below shows the medley of complex interactions that may occur when the effects of different beneficial plant extracts are combined.

Take Home Message:

  • Multiple skin healing effects have been scientifically demonstrated with the application of the herbal extracts found in Five Elements products. These include anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, wound-healing, and anti-microbial effects.
  • When acting together, these components may have synergistic effects, meaning they may help reinforce each other.
  • Antioxidants present in plant oil extracts present in the Skin Tonic range help protect skin from damage by free radicals, which may, in turn, help counter inflammation.
  • The same effects which help prevent inflammation are also likely to prevent premature aging.

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