Skip to main content

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

  1. blog
  2. > Skin Treatments

Botanical boost: The benefits of plant extracts for skincare

A look at the science behind some popular skincare ingredients.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 14, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Leaf Dripping Oils
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 14, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What are plant extracts?
More

Plant extracts are popular ingredients in skincare products, thanks to their wide range of benefits: Depending on which plant extracts are used in a product, these can include UV protection, antioxidant activity, inhibited tyrosinase (for brightening dark spots), and antimicrobial activity. 

Of course, not all plant extracts have the same impact on the skin—so it’s a good idea to have a solid understanding of what your products contain. Here, our skincare experts will explain what plant extracts are, the potential risks and benefits, and share a few of the most popular plant extracts used for skincare—including some used in Curology’s own products.

What are plant extracts?

Plant extracts are useful substances derived from various parts of plants, including leaves, flowers, bark, roots, and seeds. These extracts are derived by combining the chosen plant material with a solvent, a substance capable of dissolving the plant's components, to release its active ingredients. The extracted compounds could include secondary metabolites such as alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenes, saponins, steroids, and glycosides.¹

The method chosen to create a plant extract can vary and largely depends on the type of plant and the specific compounds desired.² Some techniques involve alcohol or water, others use oils, and some may even use methods like steam distillation or cold pressing.

Various botanical extracts have been used in medical treatments across many traditional cultures, and they continue to be a vital part of modern health and wellness routines. You can find plant extracts being used today in cleansers, moisturizers, astringents, and many other cosmetic products.³

Each plant has its own unique composition of beneficial compounds. Therefore, each extract carries the potential to offer distinct beneficial properties.

The benefits of plant extracts

Plant extracts are like nature's pantry: They are a rich source of vitamins, antioxidants, essential oils, proteins, and other bioactive compounds.⁴ These elements can work together to provide numerous health benefits for the skin.

Some plant extracts exhibit antioxidant activity.⁵ Think of antioxidants as little superheroes for your body. They rush to the rescue, combating harmful substances called free radicals. These free radicals are a bit like tiny villains that, if left unchecked, can damage cells and contribute to signs of aging. Botanical extracts with antioxidant properties may provide a line of defense against these harmful substances, contributing to skin health.

Other types of plant extracts may help manage skin discoloration issues.⁶ They do this by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase. In normal amounts, tyrosinase aids in the production of melanin, which gives skin, hair, and eyes their color. However, when tyrosinase gets overactive, it can lead to excess melanin production, causing conditions like melasma, freckles, and age spots. By inhibiting this enzyme, some botanical extracts may help control melanin production, promoting an even skin tone.

Another benefit of plant extracts for skin care is their antimicrobial properties. This means they can fight off harmful microorganisms, including certain bacteria that can cause skin infections.⁷

So, whether it's protecting our cells, helping to even out our skin tone, or warding off microbes, plant extracts offer a variety of skin health benefits.

Common plant extract used for skin care 

Various plant extracts are widely used in skincare products to support the health, texture, or integrity of the skin.⁸ Here are a few of our favorites.

Soy extract

Soy extract is a popular addition to a wide variety of skincare products. Topical application of soy may have a number of benefits such as:⁹

  • Reducing hyperpigmentation.

  • Enhancing skin elasticity.

  • Controlling oil production.

  • Moisturizing skin.

  • Delaying hair regrowth.

Soy also has the potential to decrease signs of photoaging of the skin.¹⁰

Oat extract

Oat extract, or Avena sativa, is well known for its health benefits. Oat extracts are rich in antioxidants, meaning they may help protect the skin from free radicals, which can cause inflammation and signs of aging. Medical studies have also shown that oats have anti-inflammatory properties and may help skin barrier function.¹¹

Oat extract is a featured ingredient in Curology’s The Cleanser to help balance and soothe skin. 

Shea butter extract

Shea butter is the solid fat extracted from the mature shea fruit. It’s a very common ingredient in skincare products, including anti-aging products. That’s because it has multiple properties that may make it beneficial for your skin.¹²

Two clinical studies showed that shea butter is able to reduce multiple signs of aging and even prevent photo-aging of the skin. It also has UVB-absorbing properties and can boost collagen production.¹³

Additionally, shea butter is an emollient. In fact, it has such a good ability to seal in moisture and soften skin that we included it as a featured ingredient in Curology’s Rich Moisturizer.

Green tea extract

Green tea extract is another popular ingredient in herbal skincare products. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the skin. Since inflammation and oxidative stress are reported to play a significant role in the aging process, green tea may also have anti-aging effects.¹⁴

When you use green tea extract on your skin, it has a photoprotective effect that can be combined with traditional sunscreens for additional effect.¹⁵

Are there any risks to using plant extracts for skin care? 

The term “plant extracts” encompasses a wide variety of ingredients. Depending on which specific plant extract you're using, there are different risks and benefits to be aware of.

Many people seek out skincare products made with plant extracts because they feel they are more “natural.” It’s important to know that the term natural isn’t regulated by any authority. Each company is free to have its own definition of the term and when it can be used on the label. There’s also no evidence that products labeled “natural” are more effective or safer than those without the label.¹⁶

One possible risk for any type of skincare product is allergic contact dermatitis. This unpleasant reaction causes red or itchy skin. If this happens after you use a new product, be sure to see your local healthcare provider. Allergic contact dermatitis is typically treated by removing the offending product and applying a topical corticosteroid to the affected area until symptoms go away.¹⁷

If you want information and recommendations for your unique skin type, be sure to talk with a licensed dermatology provider. 

Curology Future-Proof Rx

Curious about ingredients? Curology can help 

Plant extracts have a wide variety of uses in skincare. Many that were introduced here show properties that may help to minimize the visible signs of aging. The exact risks and benefits will depend on the specific types of extracts you’re using. For individualized recommendations about anti-aging ingredients or other skin care products, it's best to consult a licensed dermatology provider such as the ones at Curology.

To fight signs of aging, Curology providers generally recommend Future-Proofᴿˣ. This is a customized prescription-strength formula, which can include anti-aging ingredients like tretinoin, niacinamide, and more. Future-ProofRx helps you to prevent early signs of aging while also helping promote healthy, glowing skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

curology bottle
curology bottle

Getting started is easy! Just take a quick skin quiz along with a few photos, and one of our licensed medical providers will evaluate your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a 30-day trial* of your personalized formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended products. 

FAQs

Are plant extracts good for your skin?

Plant extracts can indeed be beneficial for your skin, but their effects depend on the specific plant used and your skincare goals. These extracts capture the health-boosting properties of various plants, helping support the health, texture, and integrity of your skin, hair, and nails. In fact, various plant extracts have been in use since ancient times and are still used today in cleansers, moisturizers, astringents, and many other skincare products.¹⁸

Remember that everyone's skin is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another. Always patch-test new products, use them as directed, and consult with a dermatologist or skin care professional to determine the best plant extracts for your specific skin needs.

Is there a difference between extracts and oils?

Plant extracts and oils, which include essential oils,¹⁹ both offer a variety of health benefits. Plant extracts are derived from different parts of a plant—leaves, flowers, roots, bark, or seeds—and can be presented in multiple forms, like powders, liquids, or oils. Essential oils, a type of plant extract, are produced through methods like steam distillation or cold pressing. The main difference lies in their concentration and form.

Are extracts better than essential oils?

Plant extracts and essential oils are both valuable products derived from nature, offering numerous health and wellness benefits. Essential oils are actually a type of plant extract.²⁰ Plant extracts, including essential oils, come in various forms and harness beneficial compounds from different parts of a plant. Whether one is better than the other depends on your specific needs and uses. Different plants offer different benefits in different forms.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to:

  1. Abubakar, A.R. and Haque, M. Preparation of Medicinal Plants: Basic Extraction and Fractionation Procedures for Experimental PurposesJ Pharm Bioallied Sci. (January-March 2020).

  2. Abubakar, A.R. and Haque, M. Preparation of Medicinal Plants: Basic Extraction and Fractionation Procedures for Experimental Purposes. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. Ibid.

  3. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (January 2009).

  4. Ribeiro, A.S., et al. Main Benefits and Applicability of Plant Extracts in Skin Care Products. Cosmetics. (June 2015). 

  5. Ribeiro, A.S., et al. Main Benefits and Applicability of Plant Extracts in Skin Care Products. Cosmetics. Ibid.

  6. Ribeiro, A.S., et al. Main Benefits and Applicability of Plant Extracts in Skin Care Products. Cosmetics. Ibid.

  7. Ribeiro, A.S., et al. Main Benefits and Applicability of Plant Extracts in Skin Care Products. Cosmetics. Ibid.

  8. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  9. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  10. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  11. Song, S., et al. Oat (Avena sativa) Extract against Oxidative Stress-Induced Apoptosis in Human Keratinocytes. Molecules. (2021, September 13).

  12. Ferreira, M.S., et al. Trends in the Use of Botanicals in Anti-Aging Cosmetics. Molecules. (2021, June 11).

  13. Ferreira, M.S., et al. Trends in the Use of Botanicals in Anti-Aging Cosmetics. Molecules. Ibid.

  14. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  15. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  16. Congressional Research Service. FDA Regulation of Cosmetics and Personal Care Products(2022, March 9).

  17. Murphy, P.B., et al. Allergic Contact Dermatitis. StatPearls. (2022, September 19).

  18. Stallings, A.F. and Lupo, M.P. Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  19. Ribeiro, A.S., et al. Main Benefits and Applicability of Plant Extracts in Skin Care Products. Cosmetics. Ibid.

  20. Ribeiro, A.S., et al. Main Benefits and Applicability of Plant Extracts in Skin Care Products. Cosmetics. Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

Related Articles

How to change your Curology formula Skincare tips for dry skin, according to dermatology providersThe best moisturizers for dry skin, according to dermatology expertsNavigating the world of oil-free moisturizers: Our top 4 picksCan I use both retinol and vitamin C on my skin?

Popular Articles

Ask Curology: Is my cold breaking me out?Slugging: The dermatologist-approved skincare hack going viral on TikTokTretinoin vs retinol: What’s the difference?How to create a self-care routine that actually sticksYour 2023 skincare horoscope
Try prescription skincare
30-day trial. Subject to consultation. Cancel anytime.
Get routine essentials
A display of Curology Custom Formula bottles on a white shelf.

Good skin days ahead

Join the 1M+ patients who’ve tackled everything from acne, to fine lines, to hair thinning with prescription-powered treatments, personalized by a Licensed Dermatology Provider.
Ingredients proven to tackle
  • Breakouts
  • Redness
  • Fine lines
  • Dark spots
  • Hair thinning
$29.95/month
*Subject to consultation. Cancel anytime.
Get StartedShop ProductsWhy CurologyGuidesOur StoryCommunity
All Rights Reserved 2014-2024 Curology Inc.
Terms of ServicePrivacy Notice
Do Not Sell My Personal Information