Interest in the use of “natural” ingredients to combat skin diseases and signs of aging remains strong. These ingredients are sought either as first-line options prior to scheduling an appointment with a physician or as adjunctive treatments alongside traditional medical interventions. They have also served as alternative options for patients and providers in cases where standard therapies have proven ineffective, intolerable, or less desirable. Natural ingredients are commonly perceived as being gentler and safer than prescription therapies, and patients often turn to their dermatologists for an expert opinion on which ingredients might best meet their particular skin care needs.
As consumer and patient demand for such products continues to increase, our scientific understanding of how these ingredients work has also deepened. Just in the last few decades, several naturally-derived ingredients have been subjected to rigorous scientific study. Carefully designed clinical and bench studies have begun to provide sound scientific evidence supporting the role of certain natural ingredients in skin care, turning what used to be home remedies into scientifically-sound medicaments. Dermatologists are also learning more about the important roles of inflammation and oxidative stress on skin behavior, and naturally-derived ingredients tend to possess potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Consequently, even though natural/botanical compounds have been used for centuries for purported medicinal and healing properties, the science is just now becoming sophisticated enough to explain the mechanisms behind these healing effects.
In this supplement, a select group of natural ingredients will be reviewed in the context of both cosmetic and medical concerns. Data supporting the use of certain natural ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal and avenanthramides in the treatment of atopic dermatitis and a defective skin barrier is discussed by Dr. Dohil. Dr. Alexis focuses on skin of color, and the use of natural ingredients such as soy and niacinamide in the management of hyperpigmentation. Finally, I address the cosmetic benefits of natural ingredients such as mushrooms, feverfew, and tea on the skin, and discuss the benefits that wheat can have on damaged hair. The goal of this supplement is to arm practitioners with the knowledge they need to discriminate potentially effective over-the-counter products from those that lack any scientific basis for their claims. When patients turn to their dermatologists asking for guidance, we will be equipped to provide evidence-based counsel.
Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology
SUNY Downstate College of Medicine