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Decoding Ingredients: 5 Powerful Plant Extracts to Know

by Deborah Duffey, Chief Product Development officer and President  Nov 1, 2021

Skincare products can sometimes seem like little science experiments. A long list of ingredients of multi-syllabled chemicals, claims of skin transformations, and even clinical studies testing the efficacy of anti-aging creams. Most of us, when it comes to skincare, trust whatever the label says without really knowing how and why something called Porphyra umbilicalis extract will hydrate our skin.

While you can take the claims of a product at face value, it can be helpful to understand how to read a product’s ingredients label and to have a basic understanding of how certain ingredients interact with skin. There’s no need to have a chemist’s knowledge of skincare, but having the ability to know what ingredients work best with your skin can be helpful when building your routine.

Plant extracts are a good place to start. They are powerful ingredients that are used across a number of product types and treat a wide array of skin concerns. If you use any skincare at all, it’s likely many of the products you use have a number of plant extracts in them. Now you can begin to learn what those many plant extracts are doing for your skin.

How to Understand an Ingredients List

First, let’s briefly talk about what you should be looking for when reading the ingredients list of your skincare products.

The ingredients are listed from highest concentration to lowest concentration, so you can begin to get a clear picture of how much of an ingredient is in the formula just by looking at the ingredients list. The most abundant ingredients will be the first few names on the list, while the least abundant ingredients will be at the bottom. There are some exceptions to this, however. Once an ingredient’s concentration is less than 1% of the formula, it can be listed in any order. This means that the last few ingredients don’t necessarily have to be ordered by concentration.

Keep in mind this doesn’t mean these ingredients aren’t effective—there are plenty of ingredients that need to stay below 1% in order to be tolerable to skin! Plant extracts, for example, can be too strong at higher concentrations, so you’ll find them at the bottom of the list despite them being highlighted as an active ingredient in a formulation.

One way understanding the concentration of ingredients can be helpful is when a product uses an ingredient your skin is sensitive to. Sometimes, skin can handle low concentrations of a certain additive, while higher concentrations cause irritation. Seeing where an ingredient falls on the list can be helpful for determining if a product is okay for you to use.

Are Chemicals Bad?

Another point that is important to highlight is the idea that “chemicals” are bad.

Some ingredients lists are long, with seemingly endless names of unpronounceable chemicals. Some brands play into the fear that somehow this is a bad thing. Brands will brag about having only a few ingredients, or that their ingredients are safe enough to eat. While this can initially sound appealing, it’s far from the reality about what makes a product safe to use.

The way ingredients are named on a label can make them seem more foreign than they actually are. For example, seeing tocopherol in your product just means it has vitamin E in it, while ascorbic acid is just a form of vitamin C. Seeing dihydrogen monoxide on a label might have some people putting the product back on the shelf, but dihydrogen monoxide is technically just the scientific (and rarely used) name for water.

And remember, although a product may have a long list of complicated-sounding names, each has a specific role—anything from being an active ingredient, to emulsifying the ingredients, to improving the texture, to preserving the formula. When you buy from a reputable brand, the ingredients used are extensively studied and designed to be safe to apply to skin. Don’t be afraid of chemicals!

What Are Plant Extracts?

In short, plant extracts are a concentrated essence with all the benefits of the specific plant. They can be created in various ways, usually by using a solvent like water or alcohol and using heat or infusion to pull phytochemicals from the plant. This process makes the benefits of the plant more readily available and easier to use than rubbing the leaves of an herb on your face, for example. Plant extracts can come from anywhere on the plant: the roots, leaves, flowers, or stems. 

How Do Plant and Flower Extracts Benefit the Skin?

Plant extracts contain antioxidants, vitamins, oils, proteins, and other elements, all of which provide benefits to the skin. Plant extracts are also microbial, meaning they can act as preservatives in skincare products as well as treat skin infections and target bacteria that cause acne.

One major way plant extracts are beneficial to the skin is because of their high antioxidants. Antioxidants play a huge role in the health of your skin. While there are several different types of antioxidants, each with its own specialities, in general all antioxidants protect skin from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by UV radiation, pollution, stress, and other factors. This can lead to premature aging—wrinkles, dull skin, discoloration, and loss of firmness. Using antioxidants can prevent this from happening and help heal any damage that has already occurred.

Plant extracts also contain vitamins, all of which provide their own specific benefits—vitamin C is wonderful for brightening skin tone and increasing collagen production, while vitamin A is helpful for reducing fine lines and wrinkles. To learn exactly what a plant extract can help with, it’s helpful to study that particular extract and the ways in which it can interact with skin.

How to Use Plant Extracts in Skincare

When it comes to using plant extracts, you as the consumer don’t need to put too much thought into which products contain plant extracts, or when in your routine to use them. For one, they are extremely versatile, allowing them to be used across all products. This means you can harness the power of plant extracts in everything from your cleanser to your serum to your sunscreen.

It can be helpful to learn about specific types of plant extracts, not only because this can help you find skincare products that work for you in the future, but it can also help you narrow down any skin allergies or irritation that a particular plant extract might cause for you.

Plant Extracts You Should Know

There’s a seemingly endless list of plant extracts used in skincare, so instead of covering them all we’ve chosen some of our favorites. Kara Vita products incorporate so many botanical extracts and volatile oils because of how powerful and effective they can be. Thanks to Kara Vita’s patented nanotechnology, plant extracts can be delivered deeper into the skin, where they can be more effective.

Witch Hazel Leaf Extract

The most common application of witch hazel is as an astringent in toners. It can be a great option for tightening pores, reducing inflammation, and clearing skin of excess oil. But witch hazel is also softening and healing, and its antioxidant content makes it effective against free radicals. It is sometimes listed as Hamamelis virginiana leaf extract on labels.

You can find witch hazel in Kara Vita Eyewish!™ Bioserum, in which it soothes tired eyes and firms skin.

Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract is a very popular skincare ingredient due to its potent abilities. It’s a fantastic option for healing inflammation and irritation, and its strong antioxidant properties protect skin from sun damage.

Because it contains caffeine, it can reduce puffiness and dark circles, making it perfect for use in eye creams. You can find it in Kara Vita Eye Tender, where it has both immediate and long-term benefits. Green tea extract is often listed as Camellia sinensis leaf extract on ingredient labels.

Porphyra Umbilicalis Extract 

This complicated-sounding botanical is better known as algae extract. Algae extract supports skin’s moisture content and is anti-inflammatory. Like other plant extracts, it has antioxidants, too. It contains astaxanthin, a carotenoid and a type of antioxidant that protects skin from UV damage from the sun. It’s beneficial for many skin types, but those focusing on anti-aging will especially appreciate its capabilities.

You can find Porphyra umbilicalis extract in Kara Vita Balancing Complexion Mist (which is full of other plant extracts, too!).

Althaea Officinalis Root

Althaea officinalis root, also called marshmallow root, has health benefits whether it’s applied topically or ingested. But when it comes to skincare, Althaea officinalis root excels at soothing skin. It calms redness and irritation, providing relief to stressed skin. For this reason, those with sensitive skin can especially benefit from marshmallow root.

You can find this plant extract in Kara Vita Secret Code DNArescue™.

Althaea Officinalis Root

Honeysuckle extract is another option for sensitive skin as it is also very soothing. It’s anti-inflammatory, so those with eczema or rosacea may find it calms their skin. Like other plant extracts, it’s full of antioxidants, in particular flavonoids and saponins, that gently protect skin from UV radiation.

Honeysuckle extract can be found in Kara Vita Eyewish!™ Bioserum, where its antioxidants help keep premature aging at bay.

Lightweight Anti-aging eye serum
Lightweight Anti-aging eye serum

Eyewish!™ Bioserum

anti-aging eye cream
Anti-aging eye cream
anti-aging eye cream
anti-aging eye cream
Anti-aging eye cream
anti-aging eye cream

Eye Tender®

DNArescue™ Anti-aging Serum
DNArescue™ Anti-aging Serum

DNArescue™ Anti-aging Serum