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March 15, 2011

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Beauty brands search beyond the lab

SAMANTHA Critchell discovers some of the unusual sources brands are seeking out to obtain ingredients for their skin-care products.

They do not quite stumble upon them, but high-tech, skin-care researchers and developers sometimes find new ingredients in unexpected places: under a rock, behind a tree, in the garden.

The tips to look outside the laboratory box can come from traditional medicine, alternative medicine, folklore and history.

Just in the world of botanicals, where many beauty ingredients emerge, there is so much more exploring to do, says Dr Marcus McFerren, a dermatologist and ethnobotanist based in Danbury, Connecticut, the US, who recently consulted with Origins on a new anti-aging, plant-based product called Plantscription. McFerren says fewer than 5 percent of plants have been tested, and fewer, of course, are used for cosmetic purposes.

"Sometimes with plants, you'll find something that's good, but you can't use it commercially because it's too rare or too hard to get, so you look for plants with similarities," adds Lieve Declercq, a plant physiologist and molecular biologist for the brand.

Dr Andrew Weil, a leading proponent of integrative medicine, says he has stumbled upon new ingredients in his travels or from his broader network of natural-product enthusiasts.

He promotes use of evening-primrose oil, black currant oil and Japanese medicinal mushrooms, for example, in the treatment of the skin, particularly to reduce inflammation.

"I look for novel ingredients with useful properties that meet specific needs," he says.

Sibu Beauty, a Salt Lake City-based family business, basically bet the farm on the sea buckthorn berry from the mountains of India. Real-estate developers by trade, Peter McMullin had to stir their entrepreneurial spirit when the housing market turned sour, and he put faith in this berry that his father had been told about years ago during a business trip to India. A family friend who studied ayurvedics led the McMullins to the Himalayas and to the berry that is the base for all 10 of its products.

It has been harvested and used locally as a healing ingredient for centuries, McMullin says, and Western companies, including Kiehl's, are having it hand-harvested in the early morning hours 13,000 feet above sea level and bringing it to medicine cabinets in the West.

"At first, the story about sea buckthorn made us roll our eyes, but the ancient uses got our interest. You can use the cream made from oils topically, and people took oil internally," he says. It is a source of the fatty acid omega-7, which macadamia nuts also have, and is used for skin blemishes, dryness, wrinkles, elasticity, as well as fuller, shinier hair.

"We know there are a lot of other great ingredients out there," McMullin says. "It's our intention, our planning, to find something that isn't necessarily sea buckthorn as its key ingredient. We pay as close attention as we can to what's out there that's cutting edge. We don't quite travel to remote areas picking up things off jungle floors and testing them, but we're always listening for what's being used in that part of the world.

Origins' big new launch, Plantscription, is being sold as a botanically based anti-aging serum that taps into the extract of the African Anogeissus tree, coupled with extracts from the herb rosemary and the Asian shrub siegesbeckia.

The serum, designed to diminish wrinkles, also features star anise, an antioxidant from Asia, and geranium native to Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, used for anti-irritant properties.

Anogeissus' most traditional use was in healing wounds, says Declercq, but Anogeissus can be used to dye cloth, and twigs of this tree were used as brushes.

Origins' initial interest in Anogeissus was a hunch that it might help protect collagen production in the skin. Initial results showed, however, that it boosts natural production of fibrillin, which enhances the structure of the skin.

"It was serendipity," said Origins' Declercq. "It was a fortunate discovery. In research, you don't know what you're going to find. You might test 100 things before you find one thing that might work."

Shoppers are hungry for plant-derived products, says Jane Lauder, global president and general manager of Origins. "We're listening to the consumer who has concerns about prescriptions, and we're looking for products that will match those results. We're putting plant against prescription."

Weil says researchers might not always have to look as far as they do.

"I love to make people aware of the beneficial properties of common foods, herbs, spices and weeds."


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