Herbal extracts have been used traditionally to help with all kinds of skin conditions and healing. Today many skin creams are sold that contain a wide range of extracts due to their multitude of beneficial actions on the skin. Mechanisms of action include anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, effects on a variety of enzymes that maintain and build skin microstructure, all of which protect the skin from sun damage and aging, so improving skin structure, elasticity and reducing wrinkles.

Many of these herbal extracts are from plants that grow in this country or can be found in health food shops for example, horsetail,  lady’s mantle, yarrow, plantain, milk thistle, bladderwrack, marigold, comfrey, milk thistle and chamomile.

Examples of recent studies:

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Skin elasticity is related to the protein elastin and several plants have been shown to inhibit elastases, enzymes that break down elastin. A plant complex was prepared using the following plants: milk thistle (Silybum marianum), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) and horsetail. In a cosmetic preparation at 5%, It was shown to inhibit elastases, improve elasticity of skin and reduce wrinkles by 36.7% (Benaiges et al., 1998).

Marigold (Calendula officinalis)

A cream containing marigold (Calendula officinalis) was shown in 21 people over  8 weeks, to improve skin hydration and firmness, compared to a base cream (Akhtar et al., 2011). Topical marigold extract reduced oxidative stress induced by UVB irradiation and inhibited changes in collagen (Fonseca et al., 2011; animal study). The SPF of Calendula oil in cream formulation was found to be about 15 (Mishra et al., 2012).

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)

Lady’s mantle was shown to increase skin cell growth topically, supporting its use in wound healing (Shrivastava et al.,2007). Also see Benaiges et al., 1998 – improvement in elasticity and reduction in wrinkles.

Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare)

A formulation containing fennel extract was shown to increase skin moisture, reduce water loss and reduce parameters of aging compared to placebo (Rasul et al., 2012) (Formulation containing 4% concentrated extract of fennel seed).

Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recucita)

A chamomile extract improved wound healing (Jarrahi et al., 2010; animal study)

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a plant that is used widely in herbal medicine for healing and a recent study showed that topical use of a compound called madecassoside, extracted from gotu kola, reduced wrinkles, improved skin tone and reversed damage to the network of skin fibres in sun-damaged skin (Haftek et al.,2008). A cream containing gotu kola extract and extracts from
frankincense (Boswellia serrata) and milk thistle (Silybum marianum) increased skin firmness and elasticity (Martelli et al., 2000). Gotu kola extract was shown to be effective as a photoprotective compared to other herbal extracts (Saraf et al., 2012)

Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus)

The common seaweed, bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) has also been studied for its effects on the skin and topical use was shown to reduce signs of skin aging (as measured by thickness and elasticity) (Fujimura et al., 2002). Topical bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) was shown to improve cellulite after 8 weeks compared to placebo and increase underlying processes that reduce cellulite such as pro-collagen 1 production and fat breakdown (Al-Bader et al., 2012)

Frankinsense (Boswellia serrata)

A face cream containing boswellic acids extracted from frankinsense were shown to reduce photoaging of facial skin compared to placebo in 15 females over 30 days, as measured by   features of photo-aging such as tactile roughness, fine lines, increase of  elasticity, decrease of sebum excretion and changes in structure via ultrasound (Calzavara-Pinton et al., 2010; Pedretti et al., 2010)See also frankinsense and increased skin firmness and elasticity above (Martelli et al., 2000).

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) and gingko (Gingko biloba):

A topical formulation containing green tea and gingko biloba exhibited photoprotective effects (Dal-Belo et al., 2011; animal study). Formulations containing ginkgo, tea and rooibos  extracts were compared after 28 days of topical application; the ginkgo  preparation best increased skin moisturization whereas the tea and rooibos showed the best efficacy on wrinkle reduction (Chuarienthong t al., 2010). Active principles EGCG and quercetin from green tea and gingko exhibited good skin penetration and retention in human skin (Dal-belo et al,. 2009)



Akhtar N, Zaman SU, Khan BA, Amir MN, Ebrahimzadeh MA. 2011 Calendula extract: effects on mechanical parameters of human skin. Acta Pol Pharm. 68(5):693-701.

Al-Bader T, Byrne A, Gillbro J, Mitarotonda A, Metois A, Vial F, Rawlings AV, Laloeuf A2012 Effect of cosmetic ingredients as  anticellulite agents: synergistic action of actives with in vitro and in vivo efficacy. J Cosmet Dermatol. 11(1):17-26

Benaiges A, Marcet P, Armengol R, Betes C, Gironés E. (1998) ‘Study of the refirming effect of a plant complex’. Int J Cosmet Sci.  20(4):223-33.

Calzavara-Pinton P, Zane C, Facchinetti E, Capezzera R, Pedretti A. 2010 Topical Boswellic acids for treatment of photoaged skin.  Dermatol Ther.23 Suppl 1:S28-32.

Chuarienthong P, Lourith N, Leelapornpisid P. 2010 Clinical efficacy comparison of anti-wrinkle cosmetics containing herbal flavonoids. Int J Cosmet Sci. 32(2):99-106.

Dal Belo SE, Gaspar LR, Maia Campos PM. 2011 Photoprotective effects of topical formulations containing a combination of Ginkgo biloba and green tea extracts. Phytother Res. 25(12):1854-60. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3507. Epub 2011 Apr 25.

dal Belo SE, Gaspar LR, Maia Campos PM, Marty JP. 2009 Skin penetration of epigallocatechin-3-gallate and quercetin from green tea and Ginkgo biloba extracts vehiculated in cosmetic formulations. Skin Pharmacol Physiol.22(6):299-304. Epub 2009 Sep 25.

Fonseca YM, Catini CD, Vicentini FT, Cardoso JC, Cavalcanti De Albuquerque Junior RL, Vieira Fonseca MJ. 2011 Efficacy of marigold extract-loaded formulations against UV-induced oxidative stress. J Pharm Sci. 100(6):2182-93. doi: 10.1002/jps.22438. Epub Dec 23.

Fujimura T et al., (2002) ‘Treatment of human skin with an extract of Fucus vesiculosus changes its thickness and mechanical roperties’.J Cosmet Sci. 53(1):1-9.

Haftek M et al.(2008) ‘Clinical, biometric and structural evaluation of the long-term effects of a topical treatment with ascorbic acid and madecassoside in photoaged human skin’. Exp Dermatol. 17(11):946-52.

Jarrahi M, Vafaei AA, Taherian AA, Miladi H, Rashidi Pour A. 2010 Evaluation of topical Matricaria chamomilla extract activity on linear incisional wound healing in albino rats. Nat Prod Res. 24(8):697-702.

Martelli L et al., (2000) ‘Topical formulation of a new plant extract complex with refirming properties. Clinical and non-invasive  evaluation in a double-blind trial’. Int J Cosmet Sci. 22(3):201-6.

Mishra A, Mishra A, Chattopadhyay P. 2012 Assessment of In vitro Sun Protection Factor of Calendula Officinalis L. (Asteraceae) Essential Oil Formulation. J Young Pharm. 4(1):17-21.

Pedretti A, Capezzera R, Zane C, Facchinetti E, Calzavara-Pinton P. 2010 Effects of topical boswellic acid on photo and  age-damaged skin: clinical, biophysical, and echographic evaluations in a double-blind, randomized, split-face study. Planta Med. 76(6):555-60. Epub Nov 16.

Rasul A, Akhtar N, Khan BA, Mahmood T, Uz Zaman S, Khan HM. 2012 Formulation development of a cream containing fennel extract: in vivo evaluation for anti-aging effects. Pharmazie.67(1):54-8.

Saraf S, Chhabra SK, Kaur CD, Saraf S. 2012 Development of photochemoprotective herbs containing cosmetic formulations for improving skin properties. J Cosmet Sci. 63(2):119-31.

Shrivastava R, Cucuat N, John GW. 2007 Effects of Alchemilla vulgaris and glycerine on epithelial and myofibroblast cell growth and cutaneous lesion healing in rats. Phytother Res. 21(4):369-73.