Are plants used for skin care in South Africa fully explored?

J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Apr 11;153(1):61-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.02.021. Epub 2014 Feb 21.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: South Africa is an important focal point of botanical diversity, and although many plant species have been used since ancient times in ethnomedicine, only a few species have hitherto been fully investigated scientifically. A large proportion of the South African population use traditional medicines for their physical and psychological health needs. Many medicinal plants have recently gained popularity as ingredient in cosmetic formulations based on their ethnomedicinal values and many cosmetic products sold in stores are of natural origin. The present review discusses the ethnopharmacological values, pharmacological and toxicological evidence of 117 plant species grown in South Africa, which are used traditionally for skin care purposes. Special focus was on their traditional use for many skin disorders in order to identify their therapeutic potential, the state of ethnopharmacological knowledge and special emphasis has been on areas which require further research.

Materials and methods: The information regarding all 117 plant species mentioned was extracted from Sci-Finder, Science direct, Medline and Google Scholar. All the available relevant data for medicinal plants was collated from literature review articles from the 19th century to early 2013.

Results: The extracts from different parts of plants exhibited significant pharmacological properties, proving significant skin care potentials. Special emphasis was on those plant species which still need further exploration and these have been documented separately.

Conclusions: Despite the immense use of plants in ethnomedicine for skin care, limited research has been done on the activity of the crude extracts and very little on the active constituents. Consequently, almost 35 out of the 117 species are totally unexplored in the area of skin care. This investigation would be of interest to a broad readership including those researchers working in this field. The plant species namely: Greyia flanaganii, Sideroxylon inerme, Sclerocarya birrea, Calodendrum capense, Hyaenanche globosa, Harpephyllum caffrum, Ximenia americana, Leucosidea sericea Artemisia afra, and six Aloe species have been scientifically validated by our research group for skin hyperpigmentation problems.

Keywords: Anti-inflammatory; Anti-tyrosinase; Antioxidants; Ethnomedicinal plants; Herbal skin care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethnopharmacology
  • Humans
  • Medicine, African Traditional / methods
  • Phytotherapy / methods
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry*
  • Skin Care / methods*
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy
  • South Africa


  • Plant Extracts