Cosmetic Functional Ingredients from Botanical
Sources for Anti-Pollution Skincare Products
Claudia Juliano * ID and Giovanni Antonio Magrini
Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy, University of Sassari, Via Muroni 23/A, 07100 Sassari, Italy;
*Correspondence: email@example.com; Tel.: +39-7922-8729
Received: 30 December 2017; Accepted: 23 January 2018; Published: 6 February 2018
Air pollution is a rising problem in many metropolitan areas around the world.
Airborne contaminants are predominantly derived from anthropogenic activities, and include carbon
monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ozone and particulate
matter (PM; a mixture of solid and liquid particles of variable size and composition, able to absorb
and delivery a large number of pollutants). The exposure to these air pollutants is associated to
detrimental effects on human skin, such as premature aging, pigment spot formation, skin rashes
and eczema, and can worsen some skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis. A cosmetic approach to
this problem involves the topical application of skincare products containing functional ingredients
able to counteract pollution-induced skin damage. Considering that the demand for natural actives
is growing in all segments of global cosmetic market, the aim of this review is to describe some
commercial cosmetic ingredients obtained from botanical sources able to reduce the impact of air
pollutants on human skin with different mechanisms, providing a scientiﬁc rationale for their use.
Keywords: plants; plant extracts; anti-pollution ingredients; antioxidant
Nowadays air pollution is a global environmental and health problem of growing concern.
While some kinds of air pollution are produced naturally (forest ﬁres, volcanic eruptions, dust
storms), anthropogenic activities are the main cause of the emission of chemical pollutants into
the atmosphere [
]. Most of air chemical pollutants of human origin are produced by the combustion of
fossil fuel to produce heat and energy, major industrial processes, exhaust from transportation vehicles
(aircraft, cars) and agricultural sources (livestock farms, application of fertilizers, herbicides and
pesticides in crop production). Air pollution is composed of a heterogeneous mixture of compounds,
categorized into two broad groups: primary and secondary pollutants [
]. Primary pollutants are
emitted directly from pollution sources, and include gases (CO
, CO, SO
, NO, NO
), low molecular
weight hydrocarbons, persistent organic pollutants (e.g., dioxins), heavy metals (e.g., lead, mercury)
and particulate matter (PM). Secondary pollutants are formed in the atmosphere through chemical
and photochemical reactions involving primary pollutants; they include ozone (O
acetyl nitrate, hydrogen peroxide and aldehydes [
]. Gaseous pollutants are mainly produced by fuel
combustion (CO from incomplete combustion and SO
from combustion of sulfur-rich fuels), while
dioxines are produced when materials containing chlorine are burned. Airborne particulate matter
(PM) is a major concern especially in the air of densely populated urban areas; it consists of mixtures
of particles of different size and composition. Depending on their aerodynamic diameter, they are
commonly referred to as PM
(coarse particles, 2.5–10
m) and ultraﬁne particles (UFP, <100 nm) [
]. The composition of PM varies, because they
can absorb and carry on their surface a great variety of pollutants, such as gases, heavy metals,
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Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 2 of 18
organic compounds, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, directly related to their toxicity. In countries such
as Northern India and China, particularly high levels of PM
are detectable (annual average over
], subject to seasonal ﬂuctuations and higher than the World Health Organization (WHO)
2. Effects of Air Pollution on Human Health
Exposure to air pollution is associated with increasing morbidity and mortality worldwide.
Airborne pollutants may penetrate the human body through multiple routes, including direct
inhalation and ingestion, as well as dermal contact, and they cause well-documented acute and
long-term effects on human health. Once inhaled, airborne pollutants can affect respiratory system,
with airways irritation, bronchoconstriction and dyspnoea, lung inﬂammation and worsening of
conditions of patients with lung diseases [
]. Epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that
air pollution is also associated with cardiovascular diseases, and a relationship of exposure to air
pollutants with the risk of acute myocardial infarction, stroke, ischaemic heart disease and increase in
blood pressure was reported [
]. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that outdoor pollution may
have a signiﬁcant impact on central nervous system and may be associated with some neurological
diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and neurodevelopmental disorders [
Air pollution is also considered a risk factor in the incidence of some other pathological conditions,
such as autism, retinopathy, low birth weight and immunological dysfunctions .
3. Pollution-Induced Skin Damage
Being the largest organ of the human body as well as the boundary between the environment
and the organism, the skin unsurprisingly is one of the major targets of air pollutants. Air pollution
has considerable effects on the human skin, and it is generally accepted that every single pollutant
has a different toxicological impact on it. Recently, many Authors reported potential explanations for
outdoor air pollutants impact on skin damaging, focusing their interest especially on PM and ozone.
PM are essentially combustion particles formed by a core of elemental carbon coated with a variety
of chemicals, such as metals, organic compounds, particularly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(PAHs), nitrates and sulfates [
]. PM induce in skin oxidative stress, producing reactive oxygen
species (ROS) and causing the secretion of pro-inﬂammatory cytokines (TNF-
, IL-8) [
]. As a
consequence of the increased production of ROS, an increase of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs)
occurs, resulting in the degradation of mature dermal collagen, which contributes to skin aging [
Coarse PM produce ROS essentially through transition metals (iron, copper, vanadium, chromium)
absorbed on their surface, which are able to generate ROS (especially OH
) in the Fenton’s reaction,
while smaller particles produce ROS due essentially to the presence of PAHs and quinones [
Quinones are by-products of diesel fuel combustion, but can also be produced in the skin through
biotransformation of PAHs by some enzymes (cytochrome P450, epoxide hydrolase and dihydrodiol
]. Li et al. (2003) [
] demonstrated that ultraﬁne particles had the highest
ROS activity compared to coarse and ﬁne particles. PAHs are highly lipophilic carbon compounds
with two or more fused aromatic rings, emitted to the atmosphere primarily from the incomplete
combustion of organic matter. PAHs absorbed on the surface of airborne PM can penetrate into
intact skin and exert direct effects on epidermis cells, such as keratinocytes and melanocytes [
PAHs are ligands for the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ubiquitous ligand-dependent cytosolic
transcription factor. When AhR ligands engage the receptor, a conformational change occurs in it,
which leads to its nuclear translocation and subsequent binding and activation of several genes,
included genes encoding several phase I and II xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes (e.g., cytochrome
P4501A1, glutathione-S-transferase) [
]. The oxidized products of PAHs metabolized by these
enzymes induce oxidative stress responses in cells and conﬁrm the involvement of PAHs in the genesis
of skin damage due to air pollution. Pan et al. [
] explored the effect of PM on the function of skin
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 3 of 18
barrier, and showed that particulate matter disrupt stratum corneum and tight junctions both in
in vitro and in vivo experiments in pigs, also promoting the skin uptake of some drugs.
Ozone occurs in the stratosphere (where it acts as a ﬁltering barrier to UVC and partly UVB and
UVA radiations) and in the troposphere, where it is present as a main component of photochemical
smog . At ground-level it is normally found in low concentrations, but it can be formed in higher
amounts through interaction of UV radiations with hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
and nitrogen oxides, becoming a ubiquitous pollutant in the urban environment with concentrations
ranging from 0.2 to 1.2 ppm [
]. Due to its peculiar anatomical position, skin is one of the tissues
more exposed to the detrimental effects of ozone, especially during smoggy and O
-alert days [
Although Afaq et al. [
] showed in human epidermal keratinocytes that AhR is an ozone sensor
in human skin, suggesting that AhR signalling is an integral part of induction of cytochrome P450
isoforms by O
, ozone should not reach viable skin cells due to its high reactivity, and it is common
opinion that its main cutaneous target is the stratum corneum [
]. Ozone represents an important
source of oxidative stress for skin; studies on animal models showed that ozone exposure leads to
a progressive depletion of vitamin E and hydrophilic antioxidants (urate, ascorbate, glutathione)
and to malondialdehyde (MDA) production in murine stratum corneum [
], inducing oxidative
damage to lipids and leading to a perturbation of epidermal barrier function. A study performed
on the skin of human volunteers showed that the ozone exposure signiﬁcantly reduced vitamin E
levels and increased lipid hydroperoxides in the stratum corneum, conﬁrming that the effects of O
limited to the superﬁcial layers of the human skin [
]. In addition to increasing oxidative stress and
decreasing of antioxidant skin defenses, ozone exposure is able to induce pro-inﬂammatory markers
and increase the levels of heat shock proteins in mice skin [
]. Inﬂammatory reactions in turn induce
the production of ROS, thus triggering a vicious circle [
]. Detrimental effects of O
on skin can be
enhanced by simultaneous exposure to UV radiation [
]. The use of topical antioxidant mixtures has
proven to be effective in preventing O
-induced oxidative damage both in human keratinocytes in
culture  and in reconstructed human epidermis .
Air pollution, with other exogenous factors such as UV radiation and smoking, is deﬁnitely
recognized as an important extrinsic skin-aging factor, whose pivotal mechanism is the formation
of ROS and the subsequent oxidative stress, which can trigger further cellular responses. The skin
is equipped with an elaborate antioxidant defense system including enzymatic and nonenzymatic,
hydrophilic and lipophilic elements; however, when the extent of the oxidative stress exceeds skin’s
antioxidant capacity, it leads to oxidative damage, premature skin aging and eventually skin cancer [
Until today, no standard protocol is available to objectively substantiate the “anti-pollution” claim,
tests have been proposed to this purpose.
tests are based
on the use of cell cultures or reconstituted skin models and evaluate several biomarkers (PGE2, IL-1
MDA, superoxide dismutase, catalase, gluthathione reductase, to name just a few) after pollutants
tests, performed on volunteers’ panels, include instrumental evaluation of
skin parameters (such as skin hydration, transepidermal water loss or TEWL, skin elasticity, wrinkles,
skin pigmentation) and the evaluation of the levels of oxidative stress and inﬂammatory markers after
exposure to pollutant stressors [
]. The availability of reliable and speciﬁc markers of airborne
pollution upon skin would allow to evaluate and quantify the cutaneous impact of this phenomenon,
as well as to assess the effectiveness of ingredients or ﬁnished products in counteracting detrimental
effects of air pollutants. Recently, the oxidation of squalene has been recognized as a useful model [
Squalene, a high-unsaturated triterpene produced by human sebaceous glands and present in sebum
with an average concentration of 12%, is very prone to oxidation and is one of the main targets of
oxidative stress induced by air pollution. Its peroxidized by-products are considered inﬂammatory
mediators and are involved in comedogenesis, acne and wrinkles formation [
]. Pham et al. [
established various protocols to evaluate the inﬂuence of different pollutants upon squalene oxidation
by determining the amount of squalene oxides produced, and concluded that squalene oxidation is a
reliable marker of pollution-induced skin damage.
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 4 of 18
Recently, a small number of studies investigated the cause-effect relationship between air pollution
and skin quality. Vierkötter et al. [
] found a signiﬁcant association between trafﬁc-related airborne
particles and extrinsic skin aging signs (pigment spots and wrinkles) in a group of German women.
In particular, an increase in soot (per 0.5
per m) and particles from trafﬁc (per 475 kg per
year and square km) were associated with 20% more pigment spots on forehead and cheeks [
The inﬂuence of air pollutants on a number of skin parameters was evaluated in a clinical comparative
study conducted on 96 subjects in Mexico City (one of the world’s most polluted cities) and 93 subjects
in Cuernavaca, considered a town preserved from urban pollution [
]. In this comparative study,
the Authors studied quantitative and qualitative modiﬁcations of a number of skin parameters.
The results of this investigation demonstrated that moisturizing was signiﬁcantly higher in Cuernavaca
population; an increased level of sebum excretion rate, a lower level of vitamin E and squalene
(the main antioxidants at the surface of the skin) in sebum, and an increase of lactic acid and a
higher erythematous index of the face of subjects were documented in Mexico City group. In the
stratum corneum a higher level of carbonylated proteins, a lower level of IL 1
, a decrease of ATP
concentration and a decrease of chymotrypsin like activity were detected. A clinical evaluation
conducted by dermatologists on the same groups showed a general tendency of a higher incidence
of skin problems (skin urticaria, atopy disease, hand dermatitis, dermographism) in Mexico City
population compared to Cuernavaca population.
In addition to the effects on healthy skin, a number of studies have shown that outdoor air
pollution is a relevant risk factor for the development of atopic dermatitis, a chronic inﬂammatory skin
disease, and can also exacerbate this condition [
]. As a consequence, the prevalence of atopic
dermatitis in urban areas is signiﬁcantly higher compared to that of rural areas .
4. Cosmetic Strategies for Anti-Pollution Skin Defense
The awareness of detrimental effects of environmental pollutants on skin has increased
enormously in the most recent years not only within the scientiﬁc community but also among
consumers. As a consequence, the anti-pollution trend, originated in Asia (home to some of world’s
most polluted urban areas) and subsequently spread to Western markets, is nowadays a rising trend in
cosmetics and personal care industry worldwide, and cosmetic brands are unceasingly developing
new concepts and new active ingredients to meet consumers’ demand. Several cosmetic strategies can
be adopted to protect human skin against environmental pollution. The very ﬁrst step in an effective
cosmetic anti-pollution routine is a proper cleansing of the skin to remove chemicals deposited on
it. Another way to defend the skin against environmental stressors is the isolation of the epidermis
through the formation of a cohesive and non-occlusive ﬁlm on its surface, preventing the direct
contact with airborne pollutants; this physical barrier can be obtained through the use of ﬁlm-forming
ingredients, both synthetic (silicones, acrylic acid copolymers) and naturally derived (peptides and
polysaccharides extracted from plants or obtained by fermentation processes). The third approach is the
inclusion in anti-pollution formulations of antioxidants, in order to protect against free radical effects,
or ingredients able to up-regulate the antioxidant defenses of the epidermis cells [
]. Some cosmetic
companies introduce in their anti-pollution cosmetics several ingredients with different complementary
mechanisms of action, obtaining formulations designed to tackle as many pollutants as possible.
Figure 1presents schematically the action of environmental pollutants on human skin and the main
mechanisms of antipollution cosmetic ingredients.
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 5 of 18
Cosmetics 2017, 4, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 17
Figure 1. Mechanisms of the effects of environmental pollutants on skin and strategies for anti-
pollution skin defense.
Most of the active anti-pollution ingredients present in formulations on the market are products
of botanical origin. This reflects a more general trend in the today’s cosmetics and personal care
industry. Indeed plants contain countless metabolites with potential cosmetic applications, which
combine efficiency, reduced risk of irritation and allergies, reduced adverse effects and the possibility
to refer on the labels of beauty products placed on the market to claims such as “organic”,
“environmental sustainability” and “fair trade”; these claims are increasingly popular amongst the
consumers due to the ever-increasing demand for more ethical, natural and “green” formulations
The current review aims to present a selection of the most popular ingredients of botanical origin
marketed by suppliers with the claim “anti-pollution”, and the scientific rationale behind their
cosmetic applications. A number of commercially available anti-pollution cosmetic ingredients of
botanical origin were retrieved by an electronic survey conducted by the popular search engine
Google and the technical websites for chemicals and materials Prospector, SpecialChem and
Cosmetic Design Europe, using the key words “anti-pollution cosmetics” and “anti-pollution
ingredients”. For practical reasons, it has been decided to include in this review only the ingredients
derived from a single botanical species, thus excluding the products containing mixtures of plant
extracts. For each ingredient the technical documentation (product brochure, datasheet, experimental
data substantiating the claims) was acquired from the manufacturers’ own websites. Subsequently,
scientific papers, found by using the academic search engines Google Scholar, ScienceDirect and
PubMed, were consulted to verify the scientific soundness of the anti-pollution claims of these
botanical extracts plants. For the ease of the readers, the anti-pollution ingredients taken into account
in this review were divided into two tables, according to their botanical origin: Algae and
Spermatophytae. In these tables, the trade name, the supplier, the INCI name, the supplier claims
and the recommended concentrations were reported for each ingredient.
5. Anti-Pollution Ingredients from Algae
Marine algae are eukaryotic organisms classified in microalgae (unicellular species present in
phytoplankton) and macroalgae (found in coastal areas). Macroalgae (seaweeds) are in turn classified
in Rhodophyceae (red algae), Chlorophyceae (green algae) and Pheophyceae (brown algae), according to
their dominant pigment . Algae provide a great variety of metabolites (polysaccharides, lipids,
phenolic compounds and pigments)  and can be easily cultured on seashores in great volumes;
moreover, they grow quickly, and it is possible to control the production of their metabolites by
Mechanisms of the effects of environmental pollutants on skin and strategies for anti-pollution
Most of the active anti-pollution ingredients present in formulations on the market are products of
botanical origin. This reﬂects a more general trend in the today’s cosmetics and personal care industry.
Indeed plants contain countless metabolites with potential cosmetic applications, which combine
efﬁciency, reduced risk of irritation and allergies, reduced adverse effects and the possibility to refer
on the labels of beauty products placed on the market to claims such as “organic”, “environmental
sustainability” and “fair trade”; these claims are increasingly popular amongst the consumers due to
the ever-increasing demand for more ethical, natural and “green” formulations .
The current review aims to present a selection of the most popular ingredients of botanical origin
marketed by suppliers with the claim “anti-pollution”, and the scientiﬁc rationale behind their cosmetic
applications. A number of commercially available anti-pollution cosmetic ingredients of botanical
origin were retrieved by an electronic survey conducted by the popular search engine Google and the
technical websites for chemicals and materials Prospector, SpecialChem and Cosmetic Design Europe,
using the key words “anti-pollution cosmetics” and “anti-pollution ingredients”. For practical reasons,
it has been decided to include in this review only the ingredients derived from a single botanical
species, thus excluding the products containing mixtures of plant extracts. For each ingredient the
technical documentation (product brochure, datasheet, experimental data substantiating the claims)
was acquired from the manufacturers’ own websites. Subsequently, scientiﬁc papers, found by using
the academic search engines Google Scholar, ScienceDirect and PubMed, were consulted to verify
the scientiﬁc soundness of the anti-pollution claims of these botanical extracts plants. For the ease of
the readers, the anti-pollution ingredients taken into account in this review were divided into two
tables, according to their botanical origin: Algae and Spermatophytae. In these tables, the trade name,
the supplier, the INCI name, the supplier claims and the recommended concentrations were reported
for each ingredient.
5. Anti-Pollution Ingredients from Algae
Marine algae are eukaryotic organisms classiﬁed in microalgae (unicellular species present in
phytoplankton) and macroalgae (found in coastal areas). Macroalgae (seaweeds) are in turn classiﬁed in
Rhodophyceae (red algae), Chlorophyceae (green algae) and Pheophyceae (brown algae), according to their
dominant pigment [
]. Algae provide a great variety of metabolites (polysaccharides, lipids, phenolic
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 6 of 18
compounds and pigments) [
] and can be easily cultured on seashores in great volumes; moreover,
they grow quickly, and it is possible to control the production of their metabolites by manipulating the
culture conditions [
]. For all these reasons, algae represent an attractive renewable source of bioactive
compounds with potential applications in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmetics industries [
A number of bioactive compounds and extracts derived from macroalgae have proven to
be useful in the treatment of some skin conditions [
]. Some algae species produce bioactive
molecules with photo-protective activity due to their ability to absorb UV-A and UV-B radiation [
other algal species are potential sources of skin whitening agents, since they produce metabolites
(e.g., fucoxantin, phloroglucinol) able to inhibit natural tyrosinase [
]. Moreover, some compounds
derived from algae exhibit antibacterial and anti-inﬂammatory activity and can be useful in the
management of acne-affected skin [
]. Other bioactivities from algae are closely linked to the use
of seaweed-derived products as anti-pollution cosmetic ingredients. In particular, researchers have
extensively investigated the antioxidant activity of algae extracts; indeed algae, due to the extreme
conditions in which they often live, are naturally exposed to oxidative stress, and develop efﬁcient
strategies to protect against the effects of ROS and other oxidizing agents [
]. The antioxidant
potential of a variety of algal species extracts was demonstrated with different methods, such as
) free-radical-scavenging, ferric-reducing antioxidant power
(FRAP), ABTS (2,2
-Azino-bis(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulfonic acid) radical scavenging,
copper-induced oxidation of human LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) assay, reducing activity, metal
chelating assay, scavenging ability on hydroxyl and superoxide radicals [
]. Brown algae have
been reported to contain comparatively higher contents and more active antioxidants than red
and green algae [
]. A statistically signiﬁcant correlation between this antioxidant activity and
the total polyphenol content of these extracts was demonstrated [
], suggesting that this class
of compounds is at least in part responsible for the antioxidant properties of seaweed extracts.
Amongst the many polyphenols been identiﬁed in algal extracts, of particular interest are phlorotannins,
formed by polymerization of phloroglucinol units linked together in different ways. Phlorotannins
only exist within brown algae, are not found in terrestrial plants [
], and can be divided into six
categories (fucols, phlorethols, fucophlorethols, fuhalols, isofuhalols and eckols). They possess a strong
antioxidant activity related to phenol rings in their structure, and having up to eight rings they are
more efﬁcient free radical scavengers when compared to polyphenols from terrestrial plants, which
have 3–4 rings .
Other components which contribute to the antioxidant potential of algae are sulfated
polysaccharides, that in recent times have attracted the interest from life science researchers owing to
a wide range of biological activities with potential health beneﬁts, such as anti-allergic, anti-HIV,
anticancer, anticoagulant and anti-oxidant activities [
]. Sulfated polysaccharides are anionic
polymers widespread among marine algae but also occurring in animals; their chemical structure varies
depending on the seaweed species that they come from. The most important sulfated polysaccharides
recovered in marine algae are ulvans in green algae, carrageenans in red algae and fucoidans and
laminarians in brown algae .
Ulvans are water-soluble sulfated heteropolysaccharides, mainly constituted by disaccharide
repeated units formed by D-glucuronic or L-iduronic acid linked to L-rhamnose-3-sulfate [
These polymers exhibit a broad range of biological activities, a notable example being the antioxidant
]. The antioxidant properties of ulvans are inﬂuenced by the extraction procedures and
depend on the carbohydrate composition and the sulfate content, since ulvans with higher sulfate
content show a signiﬁcantly higher antioxidant activity [47,49].
The composition, structures and biological properties of fucoidans have been extensively reviewed
] and literature therein). They are sulfated polysaccharides found exclusively in the cell walls
of brown algae; their major components are L-fucose and sulfate. They consist of
4)-linked-L-fucopyranosyl residues, organized in stretches of (1
-fucan or of alternating
4)-bonded L-fucose residues [
]. Fucoidans exhibit a broad spectrum of biological
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 7 of 18
activities, including anticancer, apoptosis-inducing, immunomodulatory, antiviral, anti-thrombotic,
anti-inﬂammatory and antioxidant activities [
antioxidant activity of fucoidans has
been determined by various methods, such as DPPH free radical scavenging assay, iron-chelating
activity assessment, superoxide anion and hydroxyl radical scavenging activity, reducing power
Recently, effective methods of extraction of fucoidans (microwave-assisted extraction,
high pressure homogenization combined with hydrothermal extraction), alternative to classical
extraction methods (hot water, diluted acid, diluted alkali), time-expensive and associated to multi-step
processes, high temperature, large solvent volumes, were developed [
]. Fucoidans extracted
by these techniques exhibited in some cases a higher antioxidant activity than those extracted
by conventional methods [
]. In addition to their antioxidant properties, fucoidans possess
another biological activity relevant in the cosmetic ﬁeld: they are able to prevent UVB-induced
matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) expression and suppress MMP-3
]. MMPs induce
degradation of dermal proteins such as collagen, ﬁbronectin and elastin, contributing to skin damage;
therefore fucoidan may be useful to prevent skin photoaging not only by scavenging ROS formed
during exposition to UV radiations, but also by inhibiting the formation of MMPs.
As shown in Table S1, a number of cosmetic ingredients based on algal extracts have been
developed and are proposed by manufacturers as functional substances suitable for anti-pollution
skincare products. Their use is substantiated not only by the general literature referred so far, but often
also, when available, by investigations focused on speciﬁc algal species.
The ingredient No. 1 (Table S1), Contacticel
, contains an extract of Acrochaetium moniliforme,
an epiphytic red macroalga made of cell ﬁlaments found in very low quantities in the ocean; the
technology produces biomass of this red alga in photobioreactors in a sufﬁcient
quantity, unavailable in the sea. Scientiﬁc literature on possible biological activities of this alga was
not found; the information leaﬂet of the manufacturer claims that the patented commercial extract
excessive sebum production and reduces the ozonolyzed squalene (tests performed
versus placebo on two groups of 20 women each, in Shanghai’s polluted atmosphere). Moreover, in
sebocyte model exposed to urban dust the extract proved to be effective in regulating the
The antioxidant activity of the edible brown seaweed Laminaria digitata (ingredient No. 2, Table S1)
is documented by a number of investigations [
]. The study of Heffernan et al. [
that the crude extracts of L. digitata showed a total phenolic content and an antioxidant activity lower
than other macroalgae examined, but these parameters improved when the extracts were fractionated
with suitable dialysis membranes. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the thermal treatment
increased its content in antioxidant compounds and improved its free radical scavenging activity [
The ingredients No. 3 and No. 7 contain as an active anti-pollution ingredient Undaria pinnatiﬁda
extract; this brown alga is widely used as food and as a remedy in traditional Chinese medicine for
over 1000 years. As stated previously for brown algae, U. pinnatiﬁda contains sulfated polysaccharides
that exhibit good antioxidant activities, related with their sulfate content [
]. Moreover, it also
contains fucoxanthin, a carotenoid present in the chloroplasts, able to counteract oxidative stress by
UV radiation .
The ingredient No. 4, designed to be used in hair-care products, contains a hydroglycolic
extract of the brown seaweed Pelvetia canaliculata. Although P. canaliculata, like all brown algae,
contains fucoidans [
] and phlorotannins and carotenoids, able to absorb UV radiation and to ﬁght
photoxidative stress [
], the leaﬂet supplied by the manufacturer emphasises the effectiveness of
its extract in reducing residues and depositions caused by the action of pollutants, chlorine and the
build-up effect of cationic hair conditioners. Alginates and fucoidans contained in the cells walls
of P. canaliculata are poly-anions due to the presence of carboxylic and sulfonic groups, and as a
consequence this alga can act as a natural cation exchanger. This ability is widely documented in
the scientiﬁc literature, and it was proposed to use P. canaliculata biomass to sequestrate and remove
metal ions (zinc, iron, copper, trivalent chromium, lead, nickel) from industrial wastewaters [
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 8 of 18
All of these biological activities make P. canaliculata extract a good candidate for the formulation of
The ingredient No. 5 consist of an extract of Ascophyllum nodosum, harvested on Ouessant Island
(Brittany) by a hand cutting harvest method; it is concentrated in high molecular weight fucoidans
(over 100 kDa), as declared by manufacturer. The antioxidant activity of this brown seaweed is
well documented [
] and can be attributed to the presence of both sulfated polysaccharides
and phenolic compounds. A. nodosum contains the abovementioned fucoidan but also ascophyllan,
another sulfated polysaccharide structurally similar to fucoidan characterized by a more pronounced
antioxidant activity, in addition to a wide variety of interesting biological activities [
A. nodosum produces a variety of phenolic compounds, namely phlorotannins, ﬂavonoids and phenolic
acid derivatives [
]. On the leaﬂet of the manufacturer the extract No. 5, at the concentration
of 3%, is claimed to decrease AhR receptor expression by 73% compared to a placebo in an ex vivo
test (human skin explants). Moreover, to this ingredient is ascribed the ability to reinforce the skin
barrier; in particular, it is reported that on the model of reconstructed epidermal skin Episkin
fucoidans (5%) increased the number of mature corneocytes by 225%, while the whole extract (3%),
after 56 days, decreased TEWL, an indicator of the barrier dysfunction, by 13% versus placebo in an
in vivo test .
Finally, the ingredient No. 6 contains an extract of the green alga Ulva lactuca, also known by the
common name of sea lettuce and rich in the sulfated polysaccharides ulvans, as mentioned above.
If administered orally, U. lactuca extracts show anti-inﬂammatory effect in carrageenan-induced paw
oedema in rats [
] and are able to ameliorate hepatic enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant
defenses of hypercholesterolemic rats .
6. Anti-Pollution Ingredients from Spermatophytae
6.1. Eriodictyon Californicum
Eriodictyon californicum (also known as “yerba santa” and “bear weed”) is an evergreen
shrub within the Boraginaceae family, native to Central America (Mexico and South-West of USA).
For centuries Native Americans used it as a medicinal plant to treat several respiratory conditions
and skin wounds. The leaves of E. californicum are covered by a resin containing ﬂavonoids (such as
eriodictyol and homoeriodictyol) [
], which act as herbivore deterrents and UV screens; this plant
is also a source of moisturizing compounds such as mucopolysaccharides and glycoproteins, which
produce their moisturizing effects via hydrogen bonding of water by their sugar moieties.
Extracts of E. californicum represent the active substance in ingredients No. 1 and No. 8 in Table S2.
Ingredient No. 8 (Phytessence Holyherb) is an extract of ﬂowers, leaves and stems of E. californicum,
while ingredient No. 1 (ABC Yerba Santa Glycoprotein PF) is obtained by fermenting the leaves of
E. californicum with the bacterium Lactobacillus lactis; this extract obtained is rich in glycoproteins and
exhibits moisturizing and soothing properties. In the technical data sheet provided by the manufacturer
a remarkable improvement of skin moisturization (30%) produced by Yerba Santa Glycoprotein PF (5%)
was reported, whereas in the same experimental conditions Aloe vera gel 10
produced an increase of
20%. Ingredient No. 1 was also tested to verify its anti-pollution properties. The extract was applied
to the skin, which was then contaminated with a known amount of activated charcoal (>2.5
particles). After washing with a controlled volume of water, the amount of microparticles remained on
the skin was evaluated; when compared with an untreated control, the extract was able to prevent the
deposition of PM particles into the skin ﬁne lines and wrinkles. The extracts of E. californicum, due to
the presence of ﬂavonoids such as homoeriodictyol and eriodictyol, well known for their antioxidant
activity [76,77], provide further beneﬁts when added to cosmetic formulations.
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 9 of 18
6.2. Camellia Sinensis
The ingredient No. 2 of Table S2 (Berkemyol
Thévert) is composed by polyphenols extracted
from green tea leaves and esteriﬁed with palmitic acid. Green tea is obtained by roasting or steaming
Camellia sinensis (Theaceae) leaves in order to inactivate polyphenol oxidase activity. Green tea
extracts are complex mixtures of bioactive compounds, including tea polyphenols, primarily green
tea catechins, that account for 30–40% of the extractable solid of dried green tea leaves [
Tea catechins include epicatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate, epigallocatechin and epigallocatechin
]. These polyphenols have gained interest in recent years because of interesting biological
activities, including antimicrobial, anti-inﬂammatory, anticancer, antioxidant and radical scavenging
]. On the basis of their biological properties, green tea polyphenols are generally
accepted as having a protective effect against oxidative stress and DNA and cell structures damage
induced by a number of environmental toxins/toxicants (pesticides, smoking, mycotoxins, PCB,
]); these properties provide the rationale for the use of green tea extracts as functional
ingredients of anti-pollution cosmetics. However, it is known that polyphenols in their native form are
unstable because they are susceptible to oxidation induced by several environmental agents (metal
element traces, light, oxygen) [
]. Moreover, green tea polyphenols are soluble in water and therefore
difﬁcult to use in cosmetic formulations when lipophilic ingredients are required. A way of stabilizing
these polyphenols and imparting them lipophilic properties is protecting the phenol functions as
fatty acid esters with a method described in the American Patent US 5808119 [
]. To evaluate
whether the biological properties of polyphenols are maintained after esteriﬁcation, studies were
performed by using cutaneous explants from abdominoplasty surgery as a model of human skin.
After topical application of the green tea extract, free radical production was induced by UV radiation;
the lipid peroxidation process was studied by determining the levels of malonyldialdehyde (MDA) as
]. Stabilized polyphenols showed a good anti-lipoperoxidant activity, higher than that of
Vitamin E. Since the radical scavenging of polyphenols related is to the free phenolic OH, it is assumed
that esteriﬁed polyphenols permeate the skin barrier and then are hydrolyzed by skin esterases to the
active forms [
]. Moreover, green tea polyphenols at concentration of 0.1% and 0.25% respectively
induce an increase of 18% and 40% of collagen IV in the dermo-epidermal junction; at 0.25% and 0.5%
they increase of 13% and 21% ﬁbriline-1 in the dermo-epidermal junction .
6.3. Marrubium Vulgare
Marrubium vulgare is a plant widely used in antipollution skincare products; four ingredients
examined in this review (ingredients No. 4, 6, 7 and 8, Table S2) contain M. vulgare extracts.
The genus Marrubium (Lamiaceae) includes about 40 species of ﬂowering plants indigenous in Europe,
Mediterranean area and Asia. Many species of Marrubium are reported in the literature to be used in
folk medicine and their extracts have been investigated for their chemical composition and for their
antioxidant and lightening properties [
]. M. vulgare (white horehound), widely used in traditional
medicine in some countries, is the most investigated species of Marrubium. Its aerial parts are ofﬁcial
in Hungarian Pharmacopoeia VII [
], and the European Medicine Agency (EMA) approved in 2013
the treatment of cough associated to cold, mild dyspeptic complaints and temporary loss of appetite as
indication for aerial part of this plant [
]. M. vulgare is reported to possess several biological activities,
among which the most interesting are antihepatotoxic [
], antihyperglicemic [
], antibacterial [
] and antioxidant properties [
]. In particular antioxidant properties may justify
the widespread of Marrubium vulgare extracts, often prepared with peculiar extraction techniques,
as natural cosmetic ingredients, with claims including anti-pollution, antioxidant, protective for
irritated and stressed skin, detoxifying, soothing. Reported results suggest a remarkable antioxidant
activity of M. vulgare extracts assessed with different methods (DPPH
radical scavenging, scavenging
activity against hydrogen peroxide, iron reducing power) [
]. In order to correlate this antioxidant
activity to speciﬁc bioactive compounds, phytochemical composition of M. vulgare has been extensively
investigated; these studies, conducted on different types of extracts, led to the identiﬁcation of a wide
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 10 of 18
array of phytochemical compounds, such as ﬂavonoids, terpenoids and phenylethanoid glycosides.
Several ﬂavonoids were isolated from M. vulgare, including luteolin, apigenin, terniﬂorin, anisofolin
A, ladanein [
]. Phytochemical screening revealed the presence of several terpenoid compounds,
such as marrubiin, premarrubiin, marrubenol, sacranoside A, deacetylforskolin, preleosibirin,
]. Finally, several phenylpropanoid compounds were isolated and identiﬁed from
M. vulgare: caffeoyl-L-malic acid, verbascoside, decaffeoylverbascoside, forsytoside B, alyssonoside,
leukoceptoside A, acteoside, arenarioside, ballotetroside [
]. Ladanein, verbascoside and
forsythoside B showed a relevant antioxidant activity
]; on the other hand, experimental data
suggest that natural phenylpropanoids could protect cells from oxidative stress [
]. These studies
justify the use of M. vulgare extracts as cosmetic ingredient and support scientiﬁc substantiation of the
6.4. Schinus Molle
Schinus molle (Anacardiaceae), also known as Peruvian pepper tree, false pepper or pink pepper,
is an evergreen tree native to Peruvian Andes. Widely used in traditional medicine for its
purported analgesic, antidepressant, antimicrobial, diuretic, astringent and antispasmodic properties,
Schinus molle exhibits insect repellent, anti-inﬂammatory, antifungal and antioxidant effects [
The antioxidant properties of leaf and fruit essentials oils of S. molle were demonstrated by using
free radical, ABTS and
-carotene/linoleic acid methods [
]. Methanolic extracts of bark
and ﬂowers of S. molle were also tested for their DPPH
scavenging activity, and they exhibited a
remarkable antioxidant activity when compared to quercetin [
]. In aqueous methanolic extracts of
the leaves of S. molle a number of polyphenolic metabolites were found, including glycosides based
on quercetin as an aglycone [
]. Some of them exhibited moderate to strong radical scavenging
properties on lipid peroxidation, OH
and superoxide anion generation; the most active compounds
were miquelianin and quercetin 3-O-
]. An extract of Schinus molle
, product No. 4, Table S2) is marketed as a cosmetic ingredient with anti-pollution,
anti-aging and anti-wrinkle beneﬁts. In the technical datasheet provided by the manufacturer it
is stated that Elixiance
is rich in polyphenols such as quercitrin and miquelianin. As far as the
anti-pollution beneﬁts of this extract are concerned, the document claims that it “...limits the effects
of air pollution
. . .
. . .
contributes to reduction in skin
permeability induced by environmental stress (
. . .
” and “
. . .
is associated with anti-pollution
beneﬁts supported by a clinical study on 39 volunteers in Shangai.” Moreover, a skin-purifying effect,
characterized by a reduced quantity of skin sebum and by a decrease of the appearance of pores,
is associated to S. molle extract.
6.5. Camellia Japonica
Camellia japonica, also known as Rose of winter, is a ﬂowering tree or shrub belonging to the
Theaceae family and naturally occurring in China, Japan and Korea. An extract of C. japonica ﬂowers
is the active component of the ingredient No. 9 of Table S2 (RedSnow
). It has been reported that
C. japonica, whose ﬂowers and ﬂower buds were traditionally used in oriental medicine as an astringent,
anti-hemorrhagic and anti-inﬂammatory remedy, exhibits a variety of biological activities, such as
antiviral, anti-atherogenic, anti-hyperuricemic, anti-photoaging, antioxidant, radical scavenging and
anti-inﬂammatory effects, and glycation inhibitory action [
]. The ethanol extract of C. japonica
ﬂowers exhibits antioxidant properties by scavenging ROS (superoxide and hydroxyl radicals) in
a free-cell system and in human HaCaT keratinocytes; moreover, it is able to increase the protein
expression of the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase [
The ROS scavenging effect and the induction of antioxidant enzymes of C. japonica extract may be
associated with the presence of antioxidant phenolic compounds such as quercetin and kaempferol
]. In a study on the anti-aging properties of C. japonica ﬂower extract in an ex
vivo model, it has been shown that it reduces piknotic nuclei and it prevents the detachment of the
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 11 of 18
dermo-epidermal junction induced by pollutants such as heavy metals and hydrocarbons; moreover,
it also induces an increase of collagen I and a decrease of MMP-1 [
]. These results support the use
of C. japonica ﬂower extract in anti-aging and anti-pollution cosmetics.
6.6. Schisandra Chinensis
Schisandra chinensis Baill (Schisandraceae) is a plant native to China, Japan and Russia; its dried
fruits are used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs.
Modern studies show that this plant possesses several biological activities such as anti-hepatotoxic,
antitumour, anti-inﬂammatory and antioxidant [
]. The major constituents of the fruit extract of
S. chinensis are lignans, a large group of naturally occurring phenols classiﬁed into several group
according to their chemical structure. The fruit extract of S. chinensis (but also leaves and stems)
especially contains lignans with dibenzocyclooctadiene skeleton, such as schisandrol, schisantherin A,
deoxyschisandrin, schisandrin B and schisandrin C [
], and with tetrahydrofuran structure, such as
D-epigalbacin, machilin G and chicanine [
]; several scientiﬁc studies demonstrated the antioxidant
activity of these compounds [
]. Some recent studies have also shown the presence in
fruits and leaves of S. chinensis of phenolic compounds with good antioxidant activity, such as
chlorogenic acid, isoquercitrin and quercitrin [
]. Schisandrin also exhibits anti-inﬂammatory
, and S. chinensis fruit extract has been reported to reduce pro-inﬂammatory
cytokine levels in THP-1 cells stimulated with P. acnes and to protect UVB-exposed ﬁbroblasts from
]. Due to these biological properties, the extract from S. chinensis fruits has beneﬁcial
effects on the skin [
], and has been proposed as a cosmetic anti-pollution ingredient (Table S2,
Ingredient No. 10, Urbalys
). This ingredient contains schisandrin 8–12% (by dry matter). In the
datasheet provided by the manufacturer it is claimed that this product is able to reduce the NQ01
(NAD(P)H dehydrogenase 1) expression, to limit the expression of MT1H (Metallothionein 1H) and
to protect from inﬂammation on a 3D reconstructed full-thickness skin model exposed to a mixture
of urban pollutants (
tests performed on female volunteers exposed to urban
pollution showed a conservation of basal TEWL, an amelioration of skin radiance and an improvement
of microcirculation and tissular oxygenation .
Several scientiﬁc investigations have established that the prolonged exposure to environmental
pollutants can produce in human skin biochemical parameters modiﬁcations and impairment of barrier
function, and can promote the mechanisms of skin aging; the visible results of these effects are dryness,
wrinkles, dark spots, sagging and the aggravation of skin sensitivity. As the awareness of the impact
of environmental stressors on the skin grows, there is an increasing consumer demand for cosmetics
and personal care products able to provide anti-pollution beneﬁts. The anti-pollution skincare is one
of the latest cosmetic trends; started in Asia, it is currently gaining ground all over the world, and new
solutions, ingredients and products speciﬁcally designed to offer skin protection against pollution are
continuously developed. With the growth in demand for natural cosmetics steadily on the rise, it is
natural that plant extracts are becoming the most popular ingredients of cosmetics designed to ﬁght
skin pollution; indeed plant extracts are often rich in bioactive compounds whose activities (antioxidant,
chelating, ﬁlm-forming) can be exploited in anti-pollution formulations. As stated above, airborne
pollutants induce adverse effects on human skin mainly via oxidative damage, with a consequent
oxidative stress and a depletion of ant ioxidant enzymes and other antioxidant substances in epidermis.
For this reason, it is not surprising that most of the plants used as a source of anti-pollution cosmetic
ingredients contain antioxidants as active substances.
This review was aimed to give a representative list of the most popular anti-pollution cosmetic
ingredients of botanical origin, describe their mechanism(s) of action and provide a scientiﬁc rationale
justifying their use. This list is not exhaustive; indeed, manufacturers are expected to propose an
Cosmetics 2018,5, 19 12 of 18
increasing number of plant derivatives as active ingredients of antipollution cosmetics, since the
demand for this skincare segment is here to stay and it will even increase.
The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/5/1/19/s1,
Table S1: Anti-pollution cosmetic ingredients obtained from Algae, Table S2: Anti-pollution cosmetic ingredients
obtained from Spermatophytae (n.s. = not speciﬁed).
This work was partially supported by MIUR (Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Universitàe
della Ricerca), Italy.
Authors have contributed to the literature search and to the preparation of the review in
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
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