Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Comfrey root

Comfrey extract can be derived from the roots, leaves, or entire plant, and we can find it at our suppliers in the form of a powder, an oil, or a liquid extract. I'll be concentrating on the powder, but some of this applies to the oil as well.

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!


Irene said...

A lot of thanks for your work !

Anonymous said...

Oh my god - another fantastic post. I can't keep up!! Am swotting day and night!!!

Anonymous said...

Just a quick question - the bit where you say "can stimulate skin cell proliferation, so it's a great exfoliant" - does this mean that it encourages new cells to form as well? Or does it just eliminate dead cells? Thank you :)

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thank you for the kind words. Yes, it can encourage new cells to come to the surface of your skin by sloughing off the old ones (I'll have a post on the biology and chemistry of your skin in a few weeks...not on your skin specifically, mind you!) So it is an exfoliant and a cell proliferator product. Pretty awesome, eh?

Anonymous said...

Is this the same comfrey root extract that is extracted and is in an alcohol base, and if so then does the grain alcohol detract from the comfrey roots properties? I have some of this and I wanted to mix it in a conditioner...it was the only kind that I could find aside from the roots themselves and I didn't want to boil and attempt to preserve that.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi anonymous. I'm talking about the oil or the powder in this post, not the type preserved in alcohol. Theoretically, the most of the properties are the same, but you'll be getting the water soluble properties, not the oil soluble properties. So you'll be getting the polyphenols and allantoin, not the phytosterols, in an alcohol based comfrey root product.

Anonymous said...

I bought a lotion that contained comfrey and my skin seems amazing. I am pregnant and have read that comfrey is poisonous. Is this true even if its just in a lotion. Should i not be using this lotion since i am pregnant?

Anonymous said...

Hey Susan

The post stated to dissolve the extract in hot water. It is okay to dissolve an extract in hydrosals to, correct? You just turn up the heat and melt or dissolve the extract, correct? I'm sure you have a post on this somewhere but I couldn't it. Thanks.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. I really don't want to comment on anything you should or shouldn't use when pregnant! Sorry I can't be more helpful! Although given the age of your comment, you could have a 16 month old running around the house!

Hi Anonymous. We add the extracts to the cool down phase. Take a little water from the product and add it to the extract to dissolve the extract, then add it back in. Or save a little water from your water phase, wait for it to cool, mix with the extract, then add back to the product. You can dissolve your extracts in any liquid - aloe, hydrosols, waters, and so on!