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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 51  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 140--149

Are plants used in the Eastern Cape province for cosmetics fully commercialized?

Idowu Jonas Sagbo, Wilfred Otang Mbeng 
 School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Mpumalanga, Mbombela, South Africa

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Idowu Jonas Sagbo
School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Mpumalanga, Mbombela Campus, Private Bag X11283, Mbombela, 1200
South Africa


Plants have been used for years for various cosmetic purposes. In the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, a large proportion of the population reliant (to some extent) on botanical resources for beauty and health. Despite the use of these botanical resources for various cosmetic purposes, only a few have been fully commercialized or used as ingredients in cosmetic formulation. The present study aimed to review plant species that are fully explored commercially for cosmetic products in the Eastern Cape province. A survey of cosmetic products with plant-based ingredients was done covering the major supermarkets (SPAR, Shoprite, and Pick n Pay), cosmetic shops (Clicks), and pharmacies in the Eastern Cape province, and electronic databases including Embase, Google Scholar, Medline, PubMed, Scopus, SciFinder®, Springer, Science Direct, and Web of Science were used as data sources for ethnobotanical information. Surprisingly, out of 150 plant species used by both Xhosa men and women for various cosmeceutical purposes, only six plant species have been used commercially with regard to cosmeceutical application. These plants species belong to five major plant families, namely Lamiaceae (two species), Asphodelaceae (one species) Cucurbitaceae (one species), Oleaceae (one species), and Verbenaceae (one species). The findings revealed that the use of Eastern Cape plants for cosmetic purposes has not been fully explored commercially. Thus, there is a need for cosmeceutical industries to explore these species commercially in order to develop new possible cosmetic products for local and international markets.

How to cite this article:
Sagbo IJ, Mbeng WO. Are plants used in the Eastern Cape province for cosmetics fully commercialized?.Indian J Pharmacol 2019;51:140-149

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Sagbo IJ, Mbeng WO. Are plants used in the Eastern Cape province for cosmetics fully commercialized?. Indian J Pharmacol [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 29 ];51:140-149
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The use of cosmetics for cleansing and beautifying purposes dates back to 6000 years of human existence.[1] The word “cosmetic” is described as beauty or alteration of appearance, most especially with regard to the human body. The earliest record of cosmetic is generally believed to have emanated from the ancient Egypt, about 3100–2907 BC.[2] In ancient Egypt, men and women used olive oil fragrant with aromatic plants to clean and soften their skin. There have been various documented uses of plant oil in ancient culture for cosmetic purposes. For example, oil derived from lavender is used by ancient Egyptians and Romans for cosmetics and wound cleaning. Castor oil, olive oil, and rose water are also used by several ancient cultures for cosmetics such as skin cream. In the Middle Ages, cosmetics usage spread throughout the Europe where tattooing and scarification are practiced by many peoples and the use of Isatis tinctoria (Brassicaceae family) by both men and women of ancient Britons to paint their bodies blue are all forms of cosmetics.

In modern times, there has been a major interest globally in the use of natural content in botanicals for cosmetic purposes with the intention to formulate new and improved cosmetic products to enrich the human body with nutrients and other useful mineral resources. In South Africa, most people indeed, still prefer herbal products for their personal care to improve their beauty as these products devoid of synthetic chemicals, supply the body with nutrients and reported to have relatively fewer side effects.[3] In the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, most men and women tend to be more traditional, with many aspects of traditional culture being part of their daily life.[4] A huge proportion of the population are dependent on botanical resources for beauty and health. However, most of these botanical resources are acquired in the wild and also obtainable from local herbal shops where they are cheap unless they are sourced from beyond the Eastern Cape province.

The search for plants with cosmeceutical properties has been enormous interest to many cosmetic industries globally. Plants are the main source of such secondary metabolites which can modify or bring back external beauty and healthy skin. These secondary metabolites (phytochemicals) with cosmetic applications include saponins, steroids, phenolics, carotenoids, coumarins, flavonoids, polysaccharides, organic acids, anthocyanins, and lignans. Studies have indicated that there have been a number of plant species that are commercially explored or used as part of ingredients in the formulation of cosmetic products by industries to produce new plant-based products with pharmacological actions.[5],[6] Nevertheless, a large number of such plant species are also used traditionally in the Eastern Cape province for various cosmetic purposes but are yet to be fully explored commercially. Therefore, the present study was undertaken to review plant species that are fully explored commercially for various cosmetic purposes in the Eastern Cape province. This study will also provide guidance for cosmeceutical industries on the commercially underexploited plants.

 Materials and Methods

A survey of cosmetic products with plant-based ingredients was done covering the major supermarkets (SPAR, Shoprite, and Pick n Pay), cosmetic shops (Clicks), and pharmacies in the Eastern Cape province. Out of the 105 plant species previously reported for various cosmetic purposes in the Eastern Cape (unpublished), only six plant species were identified and used as part of ingredients in some cosmetic products during the survey. The six plants namely Aloe ferox, Citrullus lanatus, Leonotis leonurus, Olea europaea, Salvia stenophylla, and Lippia javanica were reviewed for their cosmeceutical and pharmacological activities in this study. The ethnobotanical information regarding all the plant species reported in this study was obtained through a comprehensive literature survey from Embase, Google Scholar, Medline, PubMed, Scopus, SciFinder, Springer, Science Direct, and Web of Science when keywords such as concern plant names and cosmeceuticals were typed in.

 Results and Discussion

Commercialized plant species used for cosmetic products

A few Eastern Cape plants have been used as ingredients in the form of extracts or purified concentrates by many industries for cosmeceutical formulations. These plants are used as ingredients mainly because of their cosmeceutical properties such as moisturizing, smoothing, anti-wrinkling, antioxidant, and anti-aging. The major commercialized species together with the cosmetic products in which they are used as part of ingredients are listed in [Table 1]. The plants listed in [Table 1] are endemic to Eastern Cape province in South Africa, and detailed reviews of these plants are reported in this study.{Table 1}

Species discussion

A comprehensive information of the six Eastern Cape plants identified in some cosmetic products during the survey is given below. These plants are discussed, with emphasis on what is known about their traditional usage and pharmacological and cosmeceutical properties.

Aloe ferox Mill

A. ferox is commercially known as Cape aloe and is one of the species of Asphodelaceae family. It is one of the most famous plants in South Africa, particularly in Eastern Cape with a long history of medicinal use. The plant reaches 2–3 m in height, with its leaves organized in a rosette. A. ferox is widely spread across the South Western Cape to Southern KwaZulu-Natal. It also grows in the Southern and Eastern Cape provinces. In parts of South Africa, most especially in the Eastern Cape province, the sap from A. ferox is applied directly to treat skin irritation, bruises, and eczema.[7],[8]A. ferox has been widely used as an ingredient in cosmetics. For example, a cosmetic product made from A. ferox with the brand name “Makhaleng Herbal Petroleum jelly” is used for skin smoothing. Studies have indicated that A. ferox extracts exhibit strong activity as a pigmentation-altering agent for cosmeceutical applications.[9] The anti-tyrosinase, anti-arthritic, and anti-inflammatory properties of A. ferox extracts have been widely reported in several studies.[7],[10] A literature survey of A. ferox phytochemicals revealed that several compounds such as anthraquinones, anthrones, and anthrone-C-glycosides have been found in the extracts of A. ferox which could be the main compounds responsible for its strong cosmeceutical and biological activities.[11]

Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. and Nakai

C. lanatus (Cucurbitaceae family) is commonly known as Kalahari Tsamma melon.[12] It is a plant of up to 10-m long with wide-ranging organized leaves.[13]C. lanatus is normally found on river banks or disturbed areas across all provinces of South Africa.[14] The fruits or seeds of the plant are used in many ways in most countries. Studies have shown that in Europe, the plant is used by most cosmetic industries as part of ingredients in the formulation of some plant-based cosmetic products for skin revitalization and moisturizing.[15] In South Africa, the fruit of this plant is used as an ingredient in lotions to treat sunburns and hair damage. Furthermore, our survey in the Eastern Cape province also indicated that “Royal Honey and Kalahari Desert Melon,” a lotion made from C. lanatus under the trade name “DeMert®,” helps to repair and prevent hair damage [Table 1]. However, several studies have also revealed that C. lanatus exhibit high natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, an aspect that plays an important qualitative factor for cosmetic usages.[16],[17] The phytochemical analysis survey of C. lanatus showed the presence of gallic, protocatechuic, p-hydroxybenzoic, α-tocopherol, p-coumaric, γ-tocopherol, vanillic, ferulic, syringic (trace), and caffeic acids.[15] These secondary metabolites have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which could be the main reason for the potential usage of this plant in cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Leonotis leonurus (L.) R. Br.

L. leonurus is commonly called wild dagga (English) and belongs to the Lamiaceae family. L. leonurus grows along forest margins mainly on river banks, and it is naturally distributed over large parts of South African provinces, most especially along the coast. Conventionally, the fresh or dried leaf decoctions of the plant are used for the treatment of a variety of skin-related conditions.[18],[19] Commercially, the plant is being used by cosmetic industries as an ingredient in the preparation of skin care products. For example, a cream called “Miracle Green Ointment,” made from Leonotis leonurus is used for softening and remarkably smoothing of the skin [Table 1]. A literature survey revealed that L. leonurus has been broadly studied for a wide variety of biological activities. L. leonurus aqueous extract has been reported for its anticonvulsant,[20] antioxidant,[21] and anthelmintic activities.[22] In addition, the psychoactive activity of this plant has been reported and attributed to the presence of alkaloid and leonurine, but yet to be confirmed. Numerous phytochemical analyses have also revealed that terpenoids and labdane diterpenes are the main active compounds found in the leaf extracts of L. leonurus.[23],[24] Wu et al.[25] also reported isolated compounds such as Leoleorin A, Leoleorin B, and Leoleorin C from L. leonurus extracts.

Olea europaea L subsp. africana (Mill.) P. S. Green

O. europaea (olive tree) belongs to the member of the Oleaceae family and is commonly used in traditional medicine. It is often found near water and widely spread across Africa, the Mascarene Islands, and India. In South Africa, traditional remedies prepared from this plant are used for eye lotion. In addition, the leaves of O. europaea are used traditionally for the treatment of eye infection and skin disorder. The plant has been used as a source of commercial products such as food, medicine, and cosmetics. In terms of its cosmeceutical usage, this plant has been used as part of ingredients in some cosmetic products. For example, a cream made from the fruit oil of O. europaea with a brand name “Olive de Provence” is used for body massage. A lotion made from O. europaea with the trade name “Argan oil” is very effective to repair dry/damaged hair. In addition, cream prepared from six plants including O. europaea with a trade name ''Hair Mayonnaise™'' is used for hair conditioning and treating damaged hair. In literature, oleuropein, which is the main constituent of O. europaea, has been reported for its various pharmacological properties including anti-atherogenic,[26] antimicrobial,[27] antioxidant,[28] anti-inflammatory,[29] anti-platelet aggregation,[30] anti-rheumatic,[29] and antipyretic effects.[31] Studies have also indicated that O. europaea contains several fatty acids which include carotenoids, sterols, tocopherols, triglycerides, squalene, and tocopherols.[32],[33]

Salvia stenophylla Burch. Ex Benth

S. stenophylla is a perennial shrub, which belongs to the Lamiaceae family. It grows on grassy or storny slopes and is native to a wide area of Southern Africa, most especially in South Africa (Cape provinces, Kwazulu-Natal, and Free State).[34],[35] Conventionally, the leaves of the plant are used to treat scrapes, wounds, sores, and bites. In addition, it is also used to give relief by providing a cooling sensation. Commercially, an aromatherapy essential oil with a trade name “Blue Mountain Sage” prepared from S. stenophylla leaves is used to treat various skin-related ailments. Several researches have also reported that S. stenophylla essential oil exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer activities.[36],[37] These activities have been attributed to the presence of terpenes found in Salvia plants. Isolated compounds such as (-)-α-bisabolol, δ-3-carene, D-limonene, α-pinene, β-pinene, manool, and β-bisabolene have also been reported in the extracts of S. stenophylla.[38]

Lippia javanica (Burm. f.) Spreng

L. javanica (Verbenaceae family) is a high woody shrub stand erect plant. The plant disperses from the Eastern Cape, South Africa, extending into other African countries such as Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique. Conventionally, the infusions of the plant are used to treat lice, rashes, and scabies. The plant has been reportedly used as an ingredient in some cosmetic products.[33] For example, a preparation called “Derma Gel Treatment,” made from L. javanica, is used for hydrating, soothing, and purifying all skin types. The literature surveyed also revealed that the essential oil of L. javanica reported to exhibit antimicrobial activity against respiratory pathogens[39] and promising anti-inflammatory activities.[40] Omolo et al.[41] also reported that the oil exhibited moderate repellent activity against mosquitoes. The literature reports also revealed that several components have been identified in L. javanica oil. Myrcene, myrcene ipsenone, linalool, p-cymene, ipsenone, ipsdienone, and carvone were found to be the main components.[42],[43]

Commercialized unexplored plants with regard to cosmeceutical application in the Eastern Cape: Commercialization needed

Around 150 medicinal plant species that are regularly used by the people of the Eastern Cape province for various cosmetic purposes, only 94 indigenous species have not been commercialized with regard to their cosmeceutical usage [Table 2]. For example, species such as Cotyledon orbiculata (Crassulaceae), Ficus natalensis (Moraceae), Acacia karroo (Fabaceae), Asparagus africanus (Asparagaceae), Bulbine frutescens (Asphodelaceae), Gnidia capitata (Thymelaeaceae), Halleria lucida (Scrophulariaceae), Ilex mitis (Aquifoliaceae), Hydnora africana (Hydnoraceae), Macaranga capensis (Euphorbiaceae), Leucosidea sericea (Rosaceae), Vernonia natalensis (Valerianaceae), Withania somnifera (Solanaceae), and Zanthoxylum capense (Rutaceae) show promising and significant cosmeceutical activities but are yet to be used as ingredients or commercialized for cosmetic products. Hence, it is worth exploring these species commercially in industries, thereby helping in the development of new possible cosmetic products.{Table 2}[82]


The current development in cosmeceutical industry has formed a new and reliable category of cosmetics called “herbal cosmetics,” in which one or more herbal ingredients are used for beautification and personal care purposes. From this review, the findings revealed that the use of Eastern Cape plants for cosmetics purposes has not been explored commercially. Thus, there is a need for cosmeceutical industries to explore these species commercially in order to develop new possible cosmetic products for the local and international markets.

Financial support and sponsorship

This study was financially supported by the National Research Foundation (Grant no: 105161) and University of Mpumalanga research support grant.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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