What You Must Know about Plant Extracts in Cosmetic Products


As living standards continue rising, China has become a major cosmetics consumer market. At the same time, consumer safety awareness is increasing, with “safe, natural, and green” gradually becoming a theme in the beauty industry.

With the implementation of China’s Cosmetics Supervision and Administration Regulations, Article 9 encourages and supports cosmetic manufacturers in adopting advanced technologies and management standards to improve product safety. It also promotes using modern science and technology, along with China’s traditional strengths and featured Plant resources, to research and develop cosmetics. This ushers in a new development phase for traditional Chinese plant ingredients.

* What are Plant Extracts?

Plant extracts refer to plant-based products, mainly composed of small molecule and macromolecule bioactive, obtained by separating and purifying certain effective components from raw plant materials using physical, chemical, or biological methods.


* What are the Functions of Plant Extracts in Cosmetics?

Plant extracts contain complex bioactive like flavonoids, polyphenols, terpenes, essential oils, amino acids, and more. Their specific composition and structures determine different benefits. For example, licorice and bearberry extracts can play a whitening effect; cactus, pomegranate, aloe, and other extracts can offer moisturizing; Centella Asiatica and macroalgae extracts have soothing properties.


* What are Common Plant Extraction Methods?

Here are some common plant extract preparation methods.

Extraction Method



Solvent Extraction

Use solvents to extract desired compounds from solid raw materials based on solubility.

Factors like solvent concentration, solid-liquid ratio, temperature and time affect extraction efficiency.

Ultrasonic-assisted Extraction

Strong ultrasonic vibrations and cavitation effects accelerate release and diffusion of intracellular contents into solvents.

Bioactive structures and properties are preserved.

Dramatically reduced extraction time, lower solvent consumption, high extraction rates and efficiency.

Supercritical Fluid Extraction

It typically uses CO2 as the extractant.

Unique solvating power and pressure/temperature-dependent solubility allow selective extraction and fractionation as supercritical conditions are tuned.

It provides both distillation and extraction capabilities.

The gentle process preserves labile actives.

It is considered a green separation technology well-suited for natural products.

Microwave-assisted Extraction

Selective heating of target compounds by microwave energy facilitates faster extraction and separation. Adjustable parameters like power, time, and temperature.

It features rapid extraction while avoiding the degradation of valuable extracts.

Ultrasound-Microwave Synergistic Extraction

It combines ultrasonic cavitation effects with microwave selective heating.

Microwave electromagnetic radiation causes molecular friction and rotation, generating rapid localized heating.

It is of high efficiency, energy saving, and no industrial pollution. Still, the penetration depth of the microwave is limited (in the same order of magnitude as its wavelength), and its mass transfer function is not significant in the enhanced extraction process.

Enzyme-assisted Extraction

It uses cellulase, pectinase, protease, etc. (mainly cellulase) to destroy the cell wall of plants, so as to promote the maximum dissolution and separation of plant active ingredients.

The selection of enzymes, enzyme concentration, pH value, enzymatic hydrolysis temperature, and enzymatic hydrolysis time will all affect the extraction rate of plant extracts. 


* What are Common Analytical Techniques?

To ensure quality standards and consumer safety in the cosmetics market, the National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) and China Pharmaceutical University have jointly summarized some common analytical techniques for testing plant extracts.

Analytical Techniques


High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)

A mature, efficient, sensitive, and selective technique capable of detecting one or multiple compounds in a plant extract.

High-Performance Liquid Chromatography-Tandem Mass Spectrometry (HPLC-MS)

Provides rich structural information, high selectivity, sensitivity, and speed.

Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS)

Suitable for analyzing lower molecular weight volatile compounds.

Widely used to identify volatile components in herbs, pesticide residues in foods/TCMs, and volatile fragrances in cosmetics

Capillary Electrophoresis

Rapid, efficient separations based on differential migration of analytes in a capillary column under a high-voltage DC field.

Direct Analysis in Real-Time Mass Spectrometry

Soft ionization technique coupled to high-resolution MS for rapid, efficient detection.


With the rapid increase in plant-based cosmetics, potential safety issues from Plant extracts due to factors like variable compositions, phototoxicity, and sensitization cannot be ignored.

Therefore, cosmetic product filers and registrants should further strengthen the analysis of bioactive compounds in Plant extracts and their mechanisms of action. Testing for adverse reactions and safety should also be enhanced to ensure consumer protection.

In conclusion, while plant extracts offer many benefits, they can also pose risks like synthetic ingredients. A science-based, proactive approach to safety assessment, quality control, and vigilance is essential as the natural cosmetics market continues expanding in China.

Post a Comment