Spicing Up Personal Care … Healthfully

by Lakshmi Prakash, Ph.D



Spice extracts have a long history of use in personal care products as aroma constituents, facilitating brand identity and aesthetic appeal. It is only recently that mainstream personal care products have started to focus on the cosmeceutical and nutritional benefits of such ingredients.

The goodness of ginger, mint, cinnamon, pepper and other spices is no longer limited to their sensory characteristics alone. Such spices represent the new healthy and natural ideal in personal care, both as cosmeceuticals and nutricosmetics.

Several manufacturers of personal care products are active in cosmeceuticals, with some leading niche markets. The phenomenal growth of the cosmeceuticals industry is nurtured by the aging baby boomer generation seeking natural alternatives to cosmetic surgery. Anti-aging cosmetics are therefore the most popular category in cosmeceuticals. The anti-aging cosmetics market encompasses a range of functionalities afforded by natural ingredients that heal, soothe, replenish nutrients, and rejuvenate tired skin, hair and nails.

Although spice extracts are being used increasingly in mainstream personal care products for their cosmeceutical benefits, they do pose numerous formulation challenges. A color that is too dark, a gritty texture or a flaky appearance could seriously hamper consumer acceptance. Technological innovation is the key to natural spice extracts that seamlessly blend into mainstream formulations.

Application-oriented research goes a long way toward ensuring the efficacy and acceptability of natural spice extracts in anti-aging formulations. For example, turmeric root, a well-known culinary spice, has long been used by women in South Asia for its anti-aging benefits. However, the brilliant yellow color of its healthful constituent, a mixture of curcuminoids, may not be aesthetically appealing in contemporary cosmetics. Consumer acceptability is compromised by the possibility of a yellow stain on the skin. Innovative research served to eliminate this problem. Yellow turmeric root extract, when derivatized to yield light cream colored tetrahydrocurcuminoids, retains all the goodness of curcuminoids, even providing superior antioxidant and anti-aging benefits. Additionally, this composition has a “bioprotectant” action and does not irritate the skin.

Rosemary, another conventional culinary spice, is similarly an excellent source of polyphenolic antioxidant compounds that helps to replenish natural antioxidants in tissues. In addition, sage extract, lemon balm extract and mint extract are natural antioxidant additives in anti-aging formulations.

Cleaning & Conditioning

In personal care formulations that target skin conditions such as acne, there is an increasing need for economical active ingredients with negligible side effects and a long history of topical use. With the increased occurrence of antibiotic resistant microbial strains, and the expanding knowledge of deleterious side effects associated with prolonged antibiotic use, natural ingredients such as tea tree oil are attractive alternatives. An essential oil extracted from the roots of Coleus forskohlii was found to be effective against Propioni bacterium acnes, the microorganism associated with acne, at lower concentrations than tea tree oil—approximately 0.5 percent to 1 percent in a topical cream or lotion (CosmeticsToiletries Manufacture Worldwide. 2004;215-219). The oil was also effective in oral care formulations against Streptococcus mutans, the microorganism associated with dental caries.

Coleus forskohlii roots are also the only known plant source of forskolin, a diterpene compound activating cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), an important second messenger hormone for biochemical reactions in the body. This extract from Coleus forskohlii roots is a valuable skin conditioning agent in personal care formulations for smoothing and toning the skin.

Texture Techniques

Natural topical moisturizers that nourish and tone the skin are another application of spice extracts in personal care products. One example is coriander seed oil, a rich source of petroselinic acid, linoleic acid and related fatty acids. These fatty acids are constituents of ceramides inherently present in the stratum corneum and prevent moisture loss from the skin surface (Int J Cosmetic Sci. 2003;25(1-2):63).

Fresh ginger has been used for thousands of years in traditional and folk medicine as an astringent, and is valued for its analgesic, aromatic, nervine (calms the nerves) and stimulant properties. It is also a common Ayurvedic treatment for inflammatory joint diseases, such as arthritis and rheumatism. Ginger oleoresin is a common ingredient in anti-inflammatory, circulatory-stimulant and antiseptic preparations. The antiinflammatory effect results from ginger’s vasodilatory action, which may be beneficial in supporting the management of cellulite and improving poor circulation. Applied topically, ginger creates a warming sensation on the skin, which is soothing and also imparts a healthy glow. Ginger could potentially be used as a tonic to stimulate the hair follicle, and as an astringent, skin toner or massage cream, based on its role in supporting healthy blood circulation.

It is also important to remember that although a number of healthful ingredients may be present in a topical composition, these actives may not permeate the skin surface. Tetrahydropiperine, an extract derived from black pepper fruit, effectively enhances the uptake of such actives (AGRO FOOD. 2001;19(1/2):53). When added at low levels (0.01 to 0.1 percent) to compositions containing poorly absorbed actives, this ingredient safely and effectively enhances uptake and bioavailability.

These ingredients are only a small selection from the range of spicy options available for personal care product formulations, each with a history of culinary and topical use spanning centuries. Innovative technology is helping suppliers extract the goodness from these ingredients, adapting them for effective formulation and use in contemporary personal care products.

Lakshmi Prakash, Ph.D., is vice president of innovation and business development for Sabinsa Corp. She received a BSc (Honors) degree in chemistry, and BSc(Tech) and MSc(Tech) degree in food technology from the University of Mumbai, India. Her doctorate is in food science from Rutgers University. Dr. Prakash has more than 25 years of combined research and management experience, and is also a registered patent agent. At Sabinsa, her responsibilities include identifying and developing innovative health applications, delivery systems and intellectual property pertaining to natural actives and nutritional raw materials.


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