Adverse and beneficial effects of plant extracts on skin and skin disorders

Adverse Drug React Toxicol Rev. 2001 Jun;20(2):89-103.


Plants are of relevance to dermatology for both their adverse and beneficial effects on skin and skin disorders respectively. Virtually all cultures worldwide have relied historically, or continue to rely on medicinal plants for primary health care. Approximately one-third of all traditional medicines are for treatment of wounds or skin disorders, compared to only 1-3% of modern drugs. The use of such medicinal plant extracts for the treatment of skin disorders arguably has been based largely on historical/anecdotal evidence, since there has been relatively little data available in the scientific literature, particularly with regard to the efficacy of plant extracts in controlled clinical trials. In this article therefore, adverse and beneficial aspects of medicinal plants relating to skin and skin disorders have been reviewed, based on recently available information from the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Beneficial aspects of medicinal plants on skin include: healing of wounds and burn injuries (especially Aloe vera); antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial and acaricidal activity against skin infections such as acne, herpes and scabies (especially tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil); activity against inflammatory/immune disorders affecting skin (e.g. psoriasis); and anti-tumour promoting activity against skin cancer (identified using chemically-induced two-stage carcinogenesis in mice). Adverse effects of plants on skin reviewed include: irritant contact dermatitis caused mechanically (spines, irritant hairs) or by irritant chemicals in plant sap (especially members of the Ranunculaceae, Euphorbiaceae and Compositae plant families); phytophotodermatitis resulting from skin contamination by plants containing furocoumarins, and subsequent exposure to UV light (notably members of the Umbelliferae and Rutaceae plant families); and immediate (type I) or delayed hypersensitivity contact reactions mediated by the immune system in individuals sensitized to plants or plant products (e.g. peanut allergy, poison ivy (Toxicodendron) poisoning).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burns / drug therapy
  • Dermatitis, Contact / etiology
  • Dermatitis, Phototoxic / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Phytotherapy* / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Wound Healing / drug effects


  • Plant Extracts