In considering the safety of botanical ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products, it is important to consider the specific botanical material, the amount of the botanical in the raw material and finished product and the route of exposure. Most applications of botanical ingredients in cosmetics are topical; they are applied externally to the skin. In selecting botanical ingredients for preparation of cosmetic products, formulators take into account the extensive history of their preparation and use. Plant materials have been used for decades or even centuries and, based upon the human experience with these botanical ingredients, knowledge of their safety has been gained. Manufacturers of cosmetic and personal care products are required by law to substantiate the safety of their products, including products containing botanical ingredients. There are many different references that describe the isolation, use and safety of botanical preparations.
The safety of cosmetic ingredients, including botanical ingredients, is assessed by the Expert Panel for Cosmetic Ingredient Safety. The Expert Panel is an independent program sponsored by the cosmetic and personal care industry. The Expert Panel has considered the safety of many of the botanical ingredients that are used in cosmetics and personal care products. In considering the safety of botanical ingredients, the Expert Panel considers all of the scientific data that is available, including data that is published in the peer-reviewed literature as well as information provided from other sources, and determines whether or not this information can allow a safety assessment. If additional information is necessary, the Expert Panel will issue a public announcement identifying the additional information that is needed to complete their safety assessment. When all of the information is available, the Expert Panel will then carefully review the data and issue a conclusion to the public. The conclusion can say that the ingredient is (1) safe as used, (2) safe with limitations on usage, (3) unsafe and (4) insufficient information to determine safety. The Expert Panel conclusions provide important guidance for safe formulation of cosmetics and personal care products.
You can find out about specific botanical ingredients by using the ingredient search feature of this website.
The safety of a botanical depends on many things, such as its chemical makeup, how it is prepared and the manner in which it is used. Most cosmetic products are applied topically so the safety must take into account the route of exposure. The form of a botanical preparation also play important roles in its safety. For example, tinctures and extracts have different strengths. The same amount of a botanical may be contained in a few teaspoons of tincture or an even smaller quantity of an extract. Also, different preparations vary in the relative amounts and concentrations of material removed from the whole botanical. For example, peppermint extract is very different from peppermint oil which is much more concentrated. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that the ingredient is used appropriately and in a safe manner.
Find out more about the history of using plants to obtain beneficial materials:
NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements: Botanical Dietary Supplements: