Fruits and vegetables have been used in personal care products for thousands of years. Across different cultures and times, a huge body of folklore has been created about the health and beauty benefits of foods.
More recently, new research on the health benefits of naturally occurring compounds found in plants has revitalized their use in personal care products. ?There has been more technological advancement with regard to cosmetic ingredients from 1990 to 2005 than from the time of Cleopatra to 1990,? says Susie Galvez, beauty expert and spa owner whose skin care line, Hello Beautiful, launched this fall. ?The use of fruits and vegetables in personal care has been around since the beginning of time, but now we?re realizing that some of these foods and food extracts penetrate the skin more than we thought they did.?
In some cases, the whole fruit or vegetable is used, though more often companies work with a particular extract known to have benefits to the skin. The extract may be in liquid or powder form, depending on the type of product in which it will be used. ?Each particular fruit and vegetable that we use has a particular benefit for the skin,? says Linda Miles, doctor of oriental medicine, vice president of derma e Natural Bodycare, based in Simi Valley, Calif. ?For example, lemon is extremely cleansing and tends to bleach the skin slightly because it?s an acid, so we incorporate it into cleansers for that reason. Papaya has a natural enzyme that is excellent for exfoliating the skin and milder than [alpha-hydroxy acids], so we tend to use it in masks and cleansers.?
Alpha-hydroxy acids are probably the best known and most widely used fruit-derived ingredient in natural personal care. This umbrella term includes malic acid from apples, glycolic acid from sugar cane and lactic acid from milk. ?With each of these ingredients, we have to decide if it?s more beneficial to have the whole thing or a specific extract,? Miles says. ?Papaya enzyme is extracted, but with AHAs, we ferment the fruit and use the whole fermentation.?
?We use numerous fruits and vegetables in our formulations,? says Angella Green, associate brand manager for Jason Natural Products, based in Culver City, Calif. ?Our alpha-hydroxy, anti-aging line features orange peel and lemon peel extracts to cleanse, purify and tone the skin. Mango is an ingredient in our mango lotion, satin soap and body wash as a skin soother and hydrator. Cucumber extract, which has calming properties, is used in our eye-makeup remover.?
Green also points out that just because an ingredient is plant-derived doesn?t necessarily mean it?s good for your skin. For example, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, both surfactants derived from coconuts, are common skin care ingredients. But many companies in the natural products industry reject them because they are drying and can cause skin irritation.
Where do companies come up with new uses for fruits and vegetables? Some of the products are research-driven, but many companies look at traditional uses of fruits and vegetables when brainstorming new offerings. ?We use a lot of old almanacs and folklore for our formulations in addition to new science,? says Mandy Lozano, assistant product manager for Burt?s Bees, based in Durham, N.C.
?We try to decide what fruits and vegetables to use based on their actual attributes,? says Celeste Lutrario, science director for Burt?s Bees. ?Take wild lettuce. We knew wild lettuce was a natural sedative and had a lot of both folklore and research associated with it, but no one else had tapped into it. We discovered that for skin therapy it had a calming effect and was extremely mild, as well as high in antioxidants, so it was perfect for sensitive skin products.?
In addition to a wild lettuce toner and soap, the company also produces a tomato toner and soap and a line of carrot-based products. ?The lycopene that makes tomatoes red is a very strong antioxidant, and its activity is increased when mixed with oils,? says Lutrario. ?Carrot is high in beta-carotene, which has been shown to decrease damage caused by sun, and is a really good healer of rashes and burns.?
Galvez believes that a combination of traditional knowledge and research is the right approach in formulating products. ?Science and nature really need to work together,? she says. ?Consumers want active natural ingredients they can feel good about because they?ve heard about it all their lives. If they can?t pronounce it, they don?t want to put it on their faces.?
Fruit and vegetable extracts aren?t necessarily more difficult to work with than other natural botanicals commonly found in personal care. But all formulations using natural ingredients—instead of the chemicals found in mainstream brands—face certain challenges.
?It?s extremely difficult,? says Lutrario. ?Every time we get a new batch of material in, it might be a different color or even a different chemical makeup, depending on the weather and how well the plant has grown. Using only natural ingredients, not derived from something else or chemically altered, makes our job harder.?
But fruit extracts also hold promise in helping to keep natural personal care products shelf-stable and well preserved without the use of parabens and other artificial ingredients. ?Fruits can help in the antibacterial process,? Green says. ?As part of our paraben-removal process, Jason has been using grapefruit seed extract as part of our preservative system.?
Nature?s cupboard, it appears, is full of beauty secrets, and consumer demand has helped bring those secrets into the light of day and onto naturals store shelves.
Mitchell Clute is a writer in Crestone, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 11/p. 30, 32