What is a “Botanical Extract” in a Cosmetic?

The simple answer is that a botanical extract is any part
of a plant that has been dissolved and is now in a carrier – any carrier.

Then, there are the questions I ask when someone asks for a
botanical extract:
Powdered?
Liquid?
Water soluble?
Oil soluble?
Organic?
Natural?
Cheap?
With what preservative?
And, oh, do you want it standardized or not?
So – the basics: the word extract means to pull something
out – so an extract of green tea in water is just like the tea you might make
at home: put green tea leaves in water and those constituents in the leaves
that will dissolve into water will make that transfer. This brings up the issue
of SOLUBILITY.
Solubility is when some thing will dissolve into a . . .
solvent. A solvent can be water, oil, alcohol, glycerin, propylene glycol, fat,
sugar, etc. This also means that the non-water soluble “things” in a plant will
NOT dissolve into certain solvents. So oil solubles will not dissolve into
water and water solubles will not dissolve into oil. Think about your goals.
A few examples: vanilla sugar is an extract of vanilla into
a solvent (solid) of sugar; truffle oil is an extract of truffles into oil.
Garlic oil is the same thing. For the cosmetic world we can take any plant part
(flower, leaves, stems, roots, whole) and put it into any solvent or carrier –
limited only by the solubility of what is in the plant. The choices depend on
the other ingredients in your formula.
Finally, a standardized extract is made so that the exact
same amount of the dissolved and extracted “stuff” (what ever that is) is in
the ingredient every time – you only need this if you are making a front label
claim about the specific strength of some active that you get from the extract
which has gone through clinical trials (to support that it really does – what
it says it does…). These are much more expensive products, harder to find and
to make.
Sum it up: “botanical extracts” are a range of plants
extracted into a variety of solvents.

Make
sure that you know what solvent is used – it is not always listed on the label
so…ask!

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