Botanicals: A Skincare Ingredient Jungle

First Posted on April 21, 2021 in:antioxidantinflammationinsights & debunks

Our podcast episode 20 covered the troublesome world of botanicals… and why we chemists have a tough time talking about this group. But in case our silly humor and amateur podcast style isn’t your style (we’re working on it! promise!), we took to a blog article to highlight some of the ingredients we covered in the episode!

Why Botanicals are a Difficult Topic

First of all, there… are… just… so many botanicals. Hundreds of ingredients and each promising to be “so soothing, with so much antioxidant”. Not to mention the sexy origin stories they come with (think… rare exotic flower that blooms in harsh climates type of stories). Not surprisingly, the actual scientific data can vary greatly. It’s part of a chemists’ job to scrutinize the data and find what actually works.  Which… takes… forever… Our favorites are ones that have shown promising clinical evidence that have actually been tested on humans. So let's take a closer look at some of our favorite botanicals as well as a few trendy ones.

Centella Asiatica

All things centella asiatica have been all the rage these past 5 years or so. Just think of the number of times you’ve heard of a new “cica” something.

What do we know about centella skin benefits? Most of the data centers around the molecule madecassoside, with some around asiaticoside and asiatic acid. A lot of madecassoside studies come from rodent burn wound models, where madecassoside is effective in boosting collagen production and the healing process. One of the most relevant studies shows that 0.1% madecassoside with 5% ascorbic acid is able to reduce signs of photo-aging overtime. Another study shows that it is able to reduce laser-induced irritation alongside 5% panthenol. And it’s also being studied as a pigmentation fighter. 0.05% madecassoside was applied to skin twice a day on artificially tanned skin and found a significant reduction in pigment change.

While data on this guy being used by itself is sparse, it is a fantastic support ingredient. Definitely worth a try for those with sensitive, compromised skin. We include a heavy dose of it (0.5% madecassoside + asiaticoside) in our Aquafix so that it pairs well with aggressive actives. You can also checkout La Roche Posay’s Cicaplast Baume or Dr. Jart’s Cicapair for more centella asiatica goodness.

Milk Thistle

We would rank “comparison clinical studies” as five star, cream of the crop level in terms of clinical study . Nothing puts things into perspective more than answering “Is X better than Y?” Unfortunately, you rarely get studies that actually pit active ingredients against one another. This is why we think very highly of milk thistle extract (this is listed as silybum marianum extract). This botanical has actually been benched against pigmentation fighting gold standard hydroquinone! The clinical tested 0.7% and 1.4% milk thistle extract against 4% hydroquinone for 2 months and found that both concentrations of milk thistle were comparable to 4% hydroquinone.

The downside is this ingredient isn’t very easy to find. It’s featured in the latest rendition of Skinceutical’s Silymarin CF. (Keep an eye out for this guy to make an appearance in our upcoming launch as well.)


Bisabolol is the active component of German chamomile. It’s a classic soothing ingredient with efficacy on inhibiting the nf-κb inflammation pathway It has a really long use history. In fact, it’s even been tested in a mouthwash study to sooth postoperative pain! 

Acerola Cherry

This is a recently trendy ingredient you can find in products like the Farmacy’s Very Cherry Bright line. It’s a very classic “rich in antioxidant polyphenols” story. There’s an interesting study where researchers fed hairless mice acerola cherry juice and found that it reduces UVB-induced skin pigmentation. So how does that correlate to applying it on skin… on humans? Your guess is as good as ours. We’d consider this at most a helpful support ingredient, but wouldn’t recommend thinking of this as your skincare heavy-lifter. 

Grape Stuff

The two most common “grape stuff” in skincare are resveratrol and vitis vinifera extract and they are both very very popular

  • Resveratrol
    • A super popular antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compound (sounds familiar?) that has been studied in both oral supplement studies and topical studies. There are more studies of resveratrol as a supplement than in your skincare. One of the most notable products containing resveratrol is Skinceutical’s Resveratrol BE. 
  • Vitis Vinifera Extract
    • Turns out this actually has an interesting study where a cream containing 2% extract was tested on 40 patients after skin tag removal. Compared to the placebo cream, the extract group healed much faster. 2% is fairly high and we would definitely recommend giving the ingredient list a quick lookover and choose a product with this ingredient in the top half of the list!


  • Plant derived active ingredients can vary far and wide in both quantity and quality of clinical evidence despite very similar claims. 
  • Think of this category more as helpful support ingredients. It’s highly unlikely this category of ingredients would serve as the main active in a routine to correct more stubborn skin concerns such as wrinkles and acne.

Phew! This was a lot… but by no means a comprehensive list. Check out the podcast episode for more or the “Other Actives” chapter of our book Skincare Decoded!


Nofal, AIbrahim, A‐SMNofal, EGamal, NOsman, STopical silymarin versus hydroquinone in the treatment of melasma: A comparative study. J Cosmet Dermatol2019; 18: 263270.

Nofal, AIbrahim, A‐SMNofal, EGamal, NOsman, STopical silymarin versus hydroquinone in the treatment of melasma: A comparative study. J Cosmet Dermatol2019; 18: 263270.

Hemmati AA, Foroozan M, Houshmand G, Moosavi ZB, Bahadoram M, Maram NS. The topical effect of grape seed extract 2% cream on surgery wound healing. Glob J Health Sci. 2014;7(3):52-58. Published 2014 Oct 29. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v7n3p52


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