Skin Care: Is Herbal Really Better?

With the myriad herbal skin care products now available, are they effective or a fad.

The latest craze in skin care is also the oldest: herbal products. Once considered merely the eco-friendly choice of hippies, these plant derivatives are now found everywhere. The most highly reputed manufacturers have recently added herbs to their skin care lines, from cleansers to moisturizers and everything in between. Still, those who have not tried them may be concerned about their effectiveness. After all, "must have" products come and go, from infomercial fads to weight loss gimmicks. For those who are skeptical, here are the facts about herbal skin care's benefits.

The use of herbal beauty products dates back to ancient times. As far back as 3000 BC, the Egyptians were employing herbs like fenugreek and roses to prevent wrinkles. Cosmetics containing mint were favored by Greeks from the time of the first Olympic Games. In fact, virtually every ancient culture recorded the use of native herbs for a beautiful healthy complexion. This evidence supports herbal skin care's efficacy, with recipes once highly reputed being lost for a time and rediscovered in recent history. Furthermore, modern science has evaluated and confirmed the cleansing, healing, and protective qualities of many herbs. For instance, studies have found that aloe vera has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating actions as well as large quantities of vitamins E and C, zinc, and amino acids. Thus, the healing properties of this traditional plant have finally been isolated.

Although America has only recently begun investigating the benefits of cosmetic herbs, research has identified beneficial constituents in numerous herbs. For instance, rose geranium contains chemicals that make it a proven antimicrobial product, lending the plant to use on acne and other skin infections. Grapeseed extract, another common cosmetic additive, contains powerful antioxidants called proanthocyanidins. The anti-aging benefits of the plant are not yet proven, but its wound healing abilities have been. A popular cleanser ingredient, green tea, has been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties. Numerous other herbs have been studied in this manner to reveal beneficial ingredients. With thorough testing, it is inevitable that truly effective cosmetic herbs will be isolated from "fad" plants so that the cosmetic industry can reap their full benefits.

Unfortunately, the scientific community has yet to study the claims of many cosmetic herbs. Because of limited funds and the time-consuming process of examining complex botanical specimens, it will likely be many years before every plant has been researched. Still, trial and error lend some help to herbal skin care products. For example, roses have been cherished for centuries for their skin benefits as well as their enchanting fragrance. Likewise, chamomile has been reputed for its soothing properties since the Middle Ages. Today the biggest companies are adding plants to their products: there is lavender and chamomile baby powder, acne cleanser with the willow bark derivative salicylic acid, and peppermint lotion for tired feet. While manufacturers are likely to follow the latest trend, it is doubtful that they would tarnish their reputation by selling ineffective merchandise.

Beyond this evidence, there is the growing hunger of consumers to buy and make herbal beauty products to consider. While cosmetics containing herbs are being bought off store shelves at a remarkable rate, so are how-to books on creating homemade skin care goods. In fact, the "do-it-yourself beauty" industry is booming, with even the least environmentally aware craving a natural experience. Essential oils, concentrated herbal extracts, are gaining popularity as people incorporate them into their skin care regimens. Herb gardens once devoted to culinary staples like oregano and thyme are now sharing space with cosmetic plants like elderflower, fennel, and yarrow. Not only are we willing to pay for herbal skin care, but we are also now devoting precious time to creating it. If herbs do not improve the skin, this is a puzzling trend.

In the end, any evidence or lack thereof means little compared to personal experience. Those who support herbal skin care do so because they tried it and found that it worked for them. Whether you buy the latest chamomile night cream or make your own from scratch, you can see for yourself what all the hype is about. Above all, do not pass judgment on these cosmetics until you have used them. You may just find that they do everything your grandmother always said they could.

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