Plant extract has an anti-inflammatory effect on sensitive skin
April 04, 2012
By Karina Toledo
Agência FAPESP – Long used in folk medicine, the plant Physalis angulata has shown potential in clinical tests for being helpful to people who have sensitive skin or those who develop dermatitis from allergies to cosmetics.
In a study performed by Chemyunion Química—a company that manufactures raw materials for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries—a concentrated extract of the plant showed anti-inflammatory effects equal to those of hydrocortisone, without the harmful side effects.
Whereas the prolonged use of topical corticoids limits the formation of collagen and makes the skin thinner and more susceptible to lesions, the active ingredients in P. angulata stimulate both the production of this protein and cellular regeneration. “Even people with normal skin can benefit from the anti-aging effects of the extract,” said Márcio Antônio Polezel, industrial director at Chemyunion.
Also known as camapu, juá, balãozinho or saco de bode, P. angulata grows in the North, Northeast, Central West and Southeast regions of Brazil but is mostly found in the Amazon rainforest. The plant has long been used in teas and infusions for the treatment of asthma, hepatitis, malaria and rheumatism, and also as a diuretic and analgesic.
In the 1970s, scientists discovered that substances in the plants, named physalins, had anti-inflammatory effects. Later studies suggested that physalins could also be used to treat cancer, tuberculosis and Chagas disease.
With support from the FAPESP Innovative Research in Small Companies Program (PIPE), Chemyunion began investigating Brazilian plants with effects similar to corticoids in 2006 and found P. angulata to be a good candidate.
“In the beginning, we thought the anti-inflammatory effects came only from the physalins, but we discovered that there is just a small quantity of this substance in the stem and leaves of the plant—the parts we used in the research. The benefit comes from phytosterols, flavonoids and many other substances present in the plant,” said Polezel.
To extract the main active ingredients from the plants, the cosmetics industry usually resorts to solvents, such as water, ethyl alcohol, propylene glycol, or butanediol. “The problem is that these substances remain in the final extract and can cause undesirable effects. Alcohol, for example, dries the skin,” he said.
In trying to obtain a pure raw material of a concentration up to 10,000 times greater than the active substances, Chemyunion tried an uncommon method in the cosmetic world: extraction with supercritical carbon dioxide (SCCO2).
“We subjected the CO2 to pressure 500 times greater than atmospheric pressure. The gas enters a state called supercritical, an intermediary stage between liquid and gas. It is then injected into the extraction reactors where it penetrates the plant cells and removes the active ingredients. When the pressure is reduced to 70 atmospheres, the CO2 returns to its gaseous state and separates from the extract, which falls into a collector,” explained Polezel.
The temperature does not go beyond 50°C during the process, guaranteeing molecular integrity. Moreover, the process is eco-friendly, as the CO2 is used in a closed cycle inside the extractor.
The problem is cost. Whereas a plant extract can cost only R$ 4 per kilogram, each gram of superconcentrated raw material can cost up to R$ 170 or even more, depending on the active ingredient. “It is at least ten times more expensive, taking into account the difference in concentration. But it does not have the same undesirable effects as a solvent and allows for precise dosage of the concentration of active ingredients,” explained Polezel.
The company also developed a common P. angulata hydroglycolic extract to compare with the superconcentrate and with hydrocortisone during the research.
The first efficiency and safety tests were performed in vitro with cultures of human cells. Afterward, the effects of the two plant extracts and hydrocortisone were compared in 33 volunteers between 18 and 60 years of age.
“We proved that P. angulata has activity equivalent to that of corticoids and showed that the superconcentrated extract is at least 25% more effective against inflammation than the hydroglycolic version when based on the same proportion of active ingredients,” said Gustavo Facchini, a project researcher.
The two types of P. angulata extracts are already on the market. The superconcentrate is called Physavie, and the hydroglycolic extract is called EcoPhysalis. According to Chemyunion research and development manager Cecília Nogueira, some ten Brazilian and foreign companies are testing or already launching cosmetics with the active ingredient.
“Physavie is a premium product for the finest of the cosmetics industry. It is more expensive but will resolve the problem of those with sensitive skin in less time, using less product and without any risk of collateral effects caused by common extracts containing solvents,” said Nogueira.
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