The darlings du jour of the grocery department, superfruits are jumping the aisle to become the next personal care star. The same nourishing qualities that these superfruits and plants offer when eaten also boost the skin’s health and beauty when used topically. Here’s a look at how seven rediscovered exotic botanicals are changing the face of personal care products.
Acerola fruit is remarkably high in vitamin C as well as antioxidant carotenoids and bioflavonoids. In two studies comparing 14 tropical fruits from Brazil (acai was not on the list), acerola came out tops in antioxidant activity, ascorbic acid content and total phenols. A 2008 study found acerola extract significantly lightened the UVB-irradiated skin pigmentation of brown guinea pigs.
Buriti oil is extracted from the fruit of the moriche palm, or buriti tree, that grow in the swamps of the Brazilian Amazon. The red-orange oil has rich emollient properties making it excellent for body butters, shampoos and cleansers. It is high in beta-carotene,oleic and essential fatty acids, and antioxidant tocopherols. A 2009 study found buriti oil possesses a naturally occurring SPF that filters and absorbs ultraviolet rays, helping to prevent UV-induced skin cancer. It can be applied directly to the skin to treat burns, and anecdotal evidence indicates that it promotes the formation of scar tissue and foster collagen production.
Cupuacu is called a “pharmacy in a fruit” by indigenous Brazilians who use it for pain relief. It’s full of antioxidant-rich polyphenols, especially theograndin I and II, as well as nine known flavonoid antioxidants including quercetin. Cupuacu butter is softer and creamier than cocoa butter, making skin feel ultrasmooth. Its phytosterol content gives it a high water-absorption capacity and water-loss reduction—it retains 240 percent more moisture than lanolin, making it useful as a carrier for other ingredients and helping stabilize emulsions. Recent in vivo studies have demonstrated its excellent anti-inflammatory activity, which together with the high level of essential fatty acids and phytosterols, makes it an exceptional natural treatment for dermatitis and eczema.
Murumuru butter made from the fruit of an Amazonian palm, is a fatty solid, off-white to yellowish in color and with potent moisturizering properties. Rich in oleic and linoleic oils and a high vitamin A content, it creates a protective film that makes it an effective skin-barrier repair agent. Used in cosmoceutical products, murumuru butter is touted as being able to work beneath the surface of the skin to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and loss of elasticity.
Urucum oil, which comes from the fruit of the urucum tree, is also known as annatto oil. Its reddish color is indicative of a high carotenoid content that protects against UV rays and have other antioxidant properties. Rain forest tribes have used the entire tree medicinally for centuries. A tea made from tree shoots is used as an astringent to treat skin problems. In Brazil, a leaf decoction is used topically to treat burns. It’s also used in Peruvian herbal medicine as a wash for skin infections and wounds. Underutilized until now, it is found increasingly in personal care products for its skin nourishing benefits and it also adds a rich, sunny color to creams, lotions, soaps and shampoos.
Sea buckthorn is a curiously named orange superfruit with more than 100 studies backing its medicinal uses. It has experienced rapid recent growth in the beauty sector, according to the Mintel New Products Database. Grown mostly in Asia,, it is high in vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, phytosterols and a comprehensive fatty acid profile including omega-3s, -6s, -7s and -9s.
Yerba mate is a popular stimulant drink in South America, with double the phenolic antioxidants than green tea. The potent plant boasts 196 active compounds, including 11 polyphenols, vitamins A, Bs, C and E, 15 amino acids, minerals, choline and inositol. It protects the omega-3 fatty acid DHA from oxidation and also serves as an anti-inflammatory that may help treat skin disorders. One study showed that water extracts of yerba mate contained more potent antioxidants than ascorbic acid.
Board-certified and licensed dermatologist Jeanette Jacknin, MD, is a holistic cosmetic dermatologist, author of Smart Medicine for Your Skin (Penguin Putnam, 2001) and founder of J.J.M.D. Botanical Dermatology Skin Care .This feature was adapted from a seminar at the Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas in October 2009. Functional Ingredients Senior Editor contributed to the reporting on sea buckthorn.