Adding botanicals to skincare regimen addresses anti-aging needs

February 1, 2011

Combining botanical products with prescription medications may provide patients with the best chance to slow down and reverse signs of aging skin. Not all botanical products are created equal, however. Formulation of the products can be as important as the ingredients themselves, according to a Miami cosmetic dermatologist.

Miami - Combining botanical products with prescription medications may provide patients with the best chance to slow down and reverse signs of aging skin. Not all botanical products are created equal, however. Formulation of the products can be as important as the ingredients themselves, according to a Miami cosmetic dermatologist.

Leslie Baumann, M.D., says she finds that a number of ingredients are beneficial in fighting aging skin, and recommends using them as a supplement to prescription medicines that also address aging issues.

Leslie Baumann, M.D.

“If you want to take a botanical approach toward anti-aging, antioxidants should be the first line of defense. Some antioxidants are fat-soluble, others are water-soluble. Both should be included in your regimen,” she says.

Radical idea
Antioxidants are recommended for their ability to block free radicals.

“Antioxidants neutralize free radicals caused by sun damage, cigarette smoking or pollution. They are destructive oxygen molecules that harm the skin and cell membranes and you want to turn those off.”

Antioxidants include pomegranate and blueberries, green tea, curry, coffee berry, feverfew, vitamin C, resveratrol and grape seed extract.

“Some antioxidants, such as blueberries and pomegranate, are better taken orally, because their colors don’t combine well with creams,” Dr. Baumann says. “Others, like curry, resveratrol and grape-seed, are used both topically and orally. You can drink green tea, use it in creams, or as a powder on food - you can do anything with green tea.”

Anti-inflammatory botanicals include cucumber, feverfew, green tea, aloe, oatmeal, licorice extract and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which work to calm redness.

“When people have rosacea, we need to put them on anti-inflammatory regular skincare in addition to their prescription medication,” Dr. Baumann says.

Depigmenting botanicals include aloesin - a component of aloe - mulberry extract and soy. They help block the formation of dark spots associated with aging skin.

Hydrating botanicals
In order for skin to hold on to water and keep it from evaporating, Dr. Baumann says the skin needs cholesterol, fatty acids and ceramides.

“If you’re on cholesterol-lowering drugs, skin can be dry because you don’t have enough cholesterol. You can put it on topically, using creams that have cholesterol,” she says. “The skin needs linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that is concentrated in natural things like safflower oil and olive oil. Putting those oils on the skin or in a bath hydrates the skin and helps the body make ceramides.”

Dr. Baumann says botanicals are also categorized as organic, natural or naturally-derived. She considers “naturally-derived” to be the most important.

“I don’t think whether a product is grown organically is nearly as important as the way companies tweak the ingredient to make it better,” she says.

Some product manufacturers make adjustments, Dr. Baumann says, to reduce or eliminate chemicals that can cause skin irritation.

“Soy can block the production of brown spots on the skin. The problem is that soy contains a lot of estrogen, which can actually turn on melanocytes to produce more color. So if you just put soy milk on your skin, you would probably worsen the brown patches,” Dr. Baumann says. “Companies remove the estrogen component from soy, leaving the part that blocks the receptor that creates the darker pigments.

Some products containing feverfew are produced without parthenolide, an irritating component, allowing the anti-inflammatory benefits to remain, Dr. Baumann says.

“Although grape seed extract is a strong antioxidant, you can’t just crush grape seed and put them on the skin, because it may not be the optimal pH or be the optimal size to penetrate the skin, so formulation of all these things really matter.”

Clinically tested
Dr. Baumann says doctors should recommend products labeled as clinically tested.

“There are a lot of copycat brands that look like the brand names that have been clinically-tested. They may even have the same ingredients, but it’s like Julia Child’s beef bourguignon. The result will be different if you sauté the mushrooms, the onions and the beef separately, than if you throw them all in the pot together,” she says. “The same is true of botanical manufacturing - it’s not just the ingredients, it’s the order they’re put together, the pH levels, the temperature; it’s all important. Choosing products that are clinically tested will generally give you the more effective product.”

Dr. Baumann says botanicals and prescription medications each play a role in anti-aging care.

“I’m a big fan of retinoids and there are beneficial rosacea medications. Botanicals act as supplements to medications.

“I tell patients that you can’t find anything better than a retinoid as a preventative for aging,” she says. “When you are using medications, you still need to use cleansers, so you might as well use a cleanser that has ingredients that will help you.”

Disclosures: Dr. Baumann has performed clinical trials with at least 55 manufacturers.