Botanicals in Dermatology

An Evidence-Based Review

Abstract

Botanical extracts and single compounds are increasingly used in cosmetics but also in over-the-counter drugs and food supplements. The focus of the present review is on controlled clinical trials with botanicals in the treatment of acne, inflammatory skin diseases, skin infections, UV-induced skin damage, skin cancer, alopecia, vitiligo, and wounds. Studies with botanical cosmetics and drugs are discussed, as well as studies with botanical food supplements. Experimental research on botanicals was considered to a limited extent when it seemed promising for clinical use in the near future.

In acne therapy, Mahonia, tea tree oil, and Saccharomyces may have the potential to become standard treatments. Mahonia, Hypericum, Glycyrrhiza and some traditional Chinese medicines appear promising for atopic dermatitis. Some plant-derived substances like dithranol and methoxsalen (8-methoxypsoralen) [in combination with UVA] are already accepted as standard treatments in psoriasis; Mahonia and Capsicum (capsaicin) are the next candidates suggested by present evidence. Oral administration and topical application of antioxidant plant extracts (green and black tea, carotenoids, coffee, and many flavonoids from fruits and vegetables) can protect skin from UV-induced erythema, early aging, and irradiation-induced cancer. Hair loss and vitiligo are also traditional fields of application for botanicals.

According to the number and quality of clinical trials with botanicals, the best evidence exists for the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases, i.e. atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. However, many more controlled clinical studies are needed to determine the efficacy and risks of plant-derived products in dermatology. Safety aspects, especially related to sensitization and photodermatitis, have to be taken into account. Therefore, clinicians should not only be informed of the beneficial effects but also the specific adverse effects of botanicals used for dermatologic disorders and cosmetic purposes.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Dr Ute Wölfle for the critical reading of the manuscript. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. Christoph M. Schempp has conducted studies for pharmaceutical companies manufacturing botanical products: Birken, Cassella-Med, Kneipp, Riemser, Tom’s of Maine, WALA, Weleda. He is also involved in patents on botanical extracts from H.perforatum, Reseda luteola, and Usnea barbata. The other authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Reuter, J., Merfort, I. & Schempp, C.M. Botanicals in Dermatology. Am J Clin Dermatol 11, 247–267 (2010). https://doi.org/10.2165/11533220-000000000-00000

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Keywords

  • Psoriasis
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Acne
  • Vitiligo
  • Betulin