Comfrey has been used in many forms as a traditional medicine for inflammation, cuts and bruises, and skin soothing - does it live up to those expectations?
There are different levels of polyphenols and other wonderful ingredients in the root, leaf, or entire plant. For instance, the leaves contain about 13,000 ppm allantoin, whereas the root contains 6,000 to 8,000 ppm.
In comfrey we find all kinds of great polyphenols. Caffeic acid is one of the most effective anti-oxidants, and it offers anti-viral and good anti-inflammatory properties. Chlorogenic acid is anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-oxidizing. Rosmarinic acid is a good anti-inflammatory, it can behave like AHA on our skin, penetrating to help reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and it can reduce sebum production.
Comfrey contains a ton of phytosterols, like ß-sitosterol and stigmasterol, found mostly in the oil. These phytosterols are great anti-inflammatories offering an increase in skin's barrier repair abilities and a reduction in transepidermal water loss (TEWL), as well as a reduction in itchiness and redness. (Click to read more about phytosterols).
It also contains a ton of catechins, those wonderful condensed tannins that offer serious anti-oxidizing abilities as well as astringency to our creations. They are considered anti-septic, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal. They are also considered to be good for sun or post-sun exposure products.
We find two amino acids in comfrey - asparagine and GABA (gamma-aminobutryic acid). Asparagine offers moisturizing and soothing to the mix, while GABA offers anti-varicose and anti-water retaining features. It has been advertised as helping reduce fine lines in our skin.
We also find carotenes at the rate of 6,300 ppm in the plant. Carotenes can be converted to Vitamin A if our body requires it; if not, it's just a great anti-oxidant that roams our skin scavenging free radicals. (This is what gives the oil its yellow-y colour.) It can protect us against sun exposure if we pre-treat our skin before going outside.
And finally, we have allantoin (click here for the longer post). Allantoin used at 0.3% to 0.5% can stimulate skin cell proliferation, so it's a great exfoliant, and it can soften skin cells. It is approved by the FDA to treat weather damaged skin and is considered an anti-irritant. This is one of the main ingredients offering the anti-inflammatory and soothing claims of comfrey root.
Comfrey is poisonous if eaten, so restrict the awesome power of this extract to external use only (although you do have to eat quite a lot of it, more than you'd put in a lotion or other product!) And I have noticed personally that if I use an anhydrous stick creation (using comfrey oil) on an open wound, it stings, but I haven't noticed this if I use it in water based or lotion-y creations.
So how do we get comfrey root into our creations? We can use it at 0.5% (or the suppliers' suggested rate) in the cool down phase by dissolving it in warm water, or we can use the oil in our anhydrous or emulsified products in our oil phase. It is good for all skin types, but it is slightly astringent, so it might bother really dry skin. It's fantastic for wind chapped, cold burned, or sun burned skin, so you can include it in a summer or winter spray, facial moisturizer, or body lotion.
Join me tomorrow for fun formulating with comfrey extract!