Rooted in Nature: Botanicals for Hair and Responsibly Sourcing Them


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There is a rich history of botanical extracts being utilized as hair products. For thousands of years, plant oils were commonly used across all ancient civilizations to cleanse, condition, color and scent hair. The choice of oil varied depending on the availability of materials entering trade routes: in ancient Egypt, almond, palm and sesame oils were used; in ancient Greece, olive oil was common; and in Europe during the Middle Ages, flax and hemp oil were popular.

Natural color: Plant oils also were used for hair coloring. During the Roman Empire, walnut shells were steeped in olive oil to turn it brown, which was then used to hide gray hair. In China, oil from tea seeds was used to make hair as black as possible.1 Perhaps the best-known example of a plant extract to color hair is henna, which was used by many civilizations for more than 6,000 years. Derived from the plant Lawsonia inermis, its shoots and leaves were first dried, then crushed to form a paste that, when mixed with water, could coat hair to give it a red color.

Other plants to color hair included indigo dye extracts, from plants of the genus Indigofera, for a black color; and saffron flowers, which were mixed with lye to create a red-gold dye in Europe during the Renaissance period. This became known as “Titian red” after the famous Italian artist who painted beautiful women with red-golden hair during the late 1500s.1

Cleansing and care: Botanical extracts have also been used historically for hair cleansing and scalp treatments, such as citrus plants in ancient Egypt; the peel of quince fruit for cleansing alone in Arabia; and an extract of nettles to combat dandruff in Europe during the Middle Ages.1

Natural oils, butters and waxes such as argan, coconut and shea are commonly used to add a smooth feel and shine to hair in rinse-out products and treatments.

During the 1800s, synthetic ingredients first became available. In the 1930s, the first synthetic surfactant-containing shampoo was commercialized, at which point the use of botanical extracts significantly decreased. However, since the 1990s, the popularity of botanical extracts as added ingredients in hair products and all-natural products has been growing and continues to do so.

Today’s demand: Today, the global naturals hair care segment is worth ~$8 billion and is expanding at an average of 8%—with all regions seeing growth. This is driven by a consumer desire to live a healthier lifestyle that involves caring for oneself by eating less processed foods, exercising more and using natural in place of synthetic products, wherever available. In addition, there is an increased sense of social responsibility to protect the environment for future generations.

Natural oils, butters and waxes—such as argan oil, coconut oil and shea butter—are commonly used to provide conditioning benefits including smooth feel and shine to hair via rinse-out products and treatments. Natural dyes such as henna and indigo are also gaining popularity in the color space as the naturals segment increases, building off ancient traditions.

The readily available information on the internet is enabling naturals’ growth, in addition to influential bloggers, who in many cases highlight naturals as the preferred option. Meanwhile, the industry is seeking superior botanical extracts to provide better-performing product solutions and meet these consumer needs. However, in sourcing botanical actives, there are several elements that must be considered.

Sourcing Strategies

The first consideration is whether the supply of a botanical ingredient is sustainable for both the environment and the community in which it is grown. Second, if the extract is of a good and consistent quality. The third is the extract’s safety. Finally, the extract must meet consumer expectations for functionality; here, knowledge about plants and their chemistry enhances the ability to select the best sources of sustainably grown, quality plants for optimum bioactivity.

Another issue facing suppliers and manufacturers that want to acquire and develop new botanical extracts is to ensure compliance with the Convention on Biodiversity and associated policies such as the Nagoya Protocol. These entities have an objective for the “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.”2 This relates to obtaining prior consent for the commercialization of an extract from the country in which the plant originates.

Sourcing strategies for botanical extracts are crucial for both new and existing extracts to ensure supply is sustainable. This is especially true for extracts produced on a large scale or in places where the market is rapidly growing. Take citrus oils as an example: they are not only used in cosmetics, but many other industries including flavors for baked goods and beverages, plus in the health industry for aromatherapy and phytomedicine. The market revenue of orange oil production, alone, in 2017 was $1.8 billion,3 and the cumulative annual growth rate is predicted to be 4.7% over the next 10 years—driven mainly by an increased use in cosmetic products.

Continue reading in the June 2019 digital edition...


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