‘Fracking’ the natural world

The growing interest in things ‘natural’, ‘organic’, and ‘green’ have long influenced the world of medical skincare, but the trend is definitely growing. Twenty years ago, you would have seen aloe and green tea extract and little else in ethical skincare products, but now there are literally hundreds of natural ingredients and plant extracts that have been shown to be efficacious as antioxidants, tyrosinase inhibitors, and agents to reduce inflammation.

However, like all natural substances, these entities are a bit of a mixed bag, bringing a lot of unnecessary components and potential allergens along with the beneficial agents. A great deal of research and advancement is being made at identifying the effective agent in the natural substance and extracting it, delivering only the fraction of the plant that has the positive activity. Not only does this decrease potential side-effects, but it also reduces the amount of material needed.

So lately we have seen fractions of green tea, aloe, bearberry, beta glucan, and other natural elements turning up in skincare products designed for redness relief and dyschromia in particular.


Continuing in the natural world, as medical science begins to understand and crack the code of the human microbiome, beneficial bacteria identified for internal intestinal health are showing up in skincare products. While research is still under way, Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, MD, PhD, a dermatologist in New York City, says, ‘emerging data indicates that these protective bacteria may be beneficial for common skin problems such as redness, flaking, and inflammation’2.

Maintaining beneficial active living organisms in topical skincare, while deterring the growth of the more nasty stuff will prove a challenge to cosmetic chemists; however, if history is anything to go by, there will be a proliferation of products touting the benefits, but with inactive agents long before the real McCoy is brought to market.


The world nutraceutical market was worth over $140 billion in 2010 and estimated to be growing at 6% a year, with the largest share in North America at over $50 billion according to Frost and Sullivan3. While evidence of efficacy for most of the items that make up this segment is sketchy, more and more research is being conducted on the positive results of systemic natural substances. From the antioxidant activities of gingko biloba to the sun protection properties of polypodium leucotomos extract, solid evidence from rigorous clinical trials4–5 are convincing dermatologists and other skincare providers of the value of providing or recommending items in this category as part of a comprehensive skin wellness programme.