"Herbalists and naturalists have recognized powerful botanicals for centuries," says Robert Saute, Ph.D., a chemist for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries and president of Saute Consultants in Bel Air, California, "but until recently their folkloric approach was too imprecise for the scientific community to take them seriously."
Because of technological advances over the past 20 years, though, many scientists who were once skeptics are now busily scouring woodlands and fields in search of new species that could contain beneficial ingredients.
Improved instrumentation now allows scientists to identify and classify plant substances that have everything from anti-fungal to anti-aging properties."It's really all about molecules," says Saute
."Through improved gas chromatography, scientists can now identify the type and amount of many beneficial substances in botanicals."
Superoxide dismutase, an enzyme known for its antioxidant qualities, is one example of a beneficial substance that scientists are now able to find in many different plants around the world.
"Superoxide dismutase has a relatively large molecular weight that creates a particularly effective barrier against free-radical activity," explains Saute
."Because we know what this substance looks like, scientists can check for this enzyme in every plant that's analyzed in their labs.The same goes for alpha hydroxy acids, vitamins and other botanical ingredients that are known to be beneficial to the health of your skin."
In recent years, scientists have also managed to prove that many botanicals are indeed absorbed by the skin, with some actually going deep into the dermis."In the past, most dermatologists believed that the skin was an effective barrier that couldn't absorb topically applied cosmetic preparations," says Saute
"When I talked about skin preparations, they always pointed out how lucky I was that my job only entailed treating the top layer of the skin.It's ironic that today many of these same doctors have their own skincare lines!
"Physicians changed their opinion about the skin's ability to absorb ingredients after instrumentation was developed that could detect minute changes in skin temperature, which can occur when certain substances placed on the skin stimulate microcirculation," continues Saute