Plant extracts 101

Green Lifestyle

Put 'names' to faces with our guide to some of the most effective, soothing, plant-based cosmetic remedies.


clockwise from top left: Rose hip, Argan, Jojoba, Beta-glucan, and Calendula.


clockwise from top left: Sandalwood, Shea, Manuka, and Aloe.

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We often see their names on the labels of moisturisers, cleansers, shampoos and the like but do we really know what calendula, jojoba or manuka are?

What about beta-glucan, argan oil and the curiously named shea butter.

They’re the ‘wonder’ ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products that help soothe and smooth, and they come to us courtesy of the plant world. But many of us wouldn’t know them if we feel over them.

We decided to take a closer look at ten of the most common ones to find out exactly what makes them so desirable.

Rose hip

Botanical name: from the Rosaceae or rose family – common varieties are Rosa rubignosa, R. canina, and R. Eglanteria
Origin: various Aka: rose haw
What it is: the fruit of the rose plant, which is left when the flowers finish.
The good bit: the oil from the seeds inside the hip is used in many skincare products, for moisturising, wound healing and promoting elasticity, as well as for conditions such as eczema and acne. Some rosehip oils have a distinctive smell that dissipates after application. Rose hips are high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants. They contain pectin, so jams and jellies can be made from them. The oil also has anti-flammatory properties and is used in internal treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.


Botanical name: Argania spinosa
Origin: Morocco, Algeria and western Mediterranean
What it is: a thorny tree that lives for up to 200 years.
The good bit: the tree produces small fruits with oil-rich seed kernels. Essential fatty acids and Vitamin E in the oil makes it good for skin moisturising and hair treatments.


Botanical name: Simmondsia chinensis
Origin: deserts of Arizona, California and Mexico
Aka: goat nut, deer nut, pignut
What it is: a shrub, growing up to 2 m with waxy grey-green leaves, tiny yellow flowers and acorn-shaped seeds.
The good bit: the seeds contain a wax ester similar to the sebum in human skin. It’s often used in moisturising oils and, due to the shape of the molecules in the ester, it will penetrate the skin quickly. It’s also used as a nail hardener, in hair treatments, before waxing and as a soothing aftershave.


What it is: a kind of soluble fibre found in the cell walls of cereal grains – oats and barley are rich sources.
The good bit: it’s an anti-flammatory and you’ll see it in soothing skincare products – it’s said to reduce redness. Oats have long been used in baths and poultices for reducing itchiness and skin irritations. You can even find it in toothpaste.


Botanical name: Calendula officinalis
Aka: marigold
Origin: Asia, Europe, Mediterranean
What it is: a herbaceous plant that’s a member of the daisy family.
The good bit: extracts of the flowers are used for their anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties, and for nourishing dry skin.


Botanical name: Santalum genus
Origin: India, Sri Lanka, Hawaii and Australia (Santalum spicatum) among others
What it is: a tree with sweet, spicy-smelling wood.
The good bit: essentials oils extracted from the wood (often by steam distillation) are used to add fragrance to many cosmetics. Illegal logging has damaged wild sandalwood growths in Western Australia where sandalwood production is a prime industry. It is now a protected species in India where high prices lead to illegal logging.


Botanical name: Vitellaria paradoxa
Origin: Africa
Aka: karité (French) or Ori (African)
What it is: a tree
The good bit: a yellowish fat extracted from the nut of the shea tree, called shea butter. Traditionally used by African women to protect their skin against harsh sun and wind, you’ll find it in moisturisers, lip balms and hair conditioners.


Botanical name: Leptospermum scoparium
Origin: New Zealand, southeast Australia
Aka: manuka myrtle, NZ teatree
What it is: an evergreen shrubby tree with small, prickly leaves and white or pink flowers.
The good bit: oil is distilled from the leaves and small stems for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s used in skin and hair care products. Manuka honey, from bees that have gathered nectar from manuka flowers, is prized for its antifungal, anti-inflammatory properties. It’s claimed to have cured infections from the deadly drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, though not scientifically proven. Manuka is in the same plant family as teatree.


Botanical name: Aloe barbadensis
Origin: northern Africa
What it is: a succulent plant that has thick, fleshy, grey-green leaves.
The good bit: the gel from inside the leaves has long been used for its soothing properties – you’ll find it
in skin creams formulated to relieve sunburn and other irritations.