5 Plant-Based Body Wash Ingredients To Look for and Why
by James Han
In recent years, the clean beauty movement has cast a critical lens on many of the harsh or harmful ingredients in common skincare and cosmetic products. From parabens to phthalates to dyes and more, popular suds and cleansers that you might be applying to your body on a daily basis can include compounds (20) that are thought to be hazardous to your health and the environment at large.
Body washes are especially important to pay attention to. After all, the skin is the largest organ, and your body wash likely touches every last inch of it.
Plant-based products can be an ideal way to cut out chemicals, offering the rich array of vitamins, nutrients and minerals that its botanical sources boast as well as bioactive compounds that have soothing, moisturizing and antioxidant properties. In this article, we’ll focus on five body wash ingredients to look out for on labels — and why.
The Benefits of a Plant-Based Body Wash
If your body care products are scented, they might contain fragrance ingredients that are derived from troubling animal sources such as whale intestine juice and animal glands. For your own health (and Mother Nature’s), it is just one more reason to opt for plant-based body washes that are made entirely from plant-derived sources, with no questionable chemicals. There are plenty of benefits, including the following.
No Harsh Chemicals
Skincare products often rely on parabens, dyes, fragrances and more to increase their shelf life or impart a lasting scent. Some of these compounds — including parabens — have been well researched for their potentially carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting properties, as well as their ability to wreak havoc on ecosystems.
The skincare and cosmetics industry is notorious for testing products on animals — up to half a million animals are subject to testing a year. These include rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, mice and rats. As an ethical commitment, most vegan and plant-based skincare items are never tested on animals but not all plant-based body washes are cruelty-free, so check labels or brand websites carefully for more information.
Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable
Many synthetic compounds can have disastrous effects on wildlife, particularly aquatic animals (19). Natural, plant-derived body washes and other body care products are more likely to be made with ingredients that are safe for your skin as well as the planet’s ecosystems.
Plant-Based Ingredients to Look For:
1. Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice
Aloe is a spiky, cactus-like plant that thrives in hot, dry climates. You may be familiar with the clear gel-like substance contained within its leaves. As a plant, aloe is rich in 75 active constituents (3) that can benefit your skin and health, including:
- Vitamins: Aloe contains vitamins A, C and E, which are all potent antioxidants (they can combat free radicals in the body and prevent oxidative stress).
- Enzymes: Among the 8 enzymes in aloe, perhaps one of the most notable is bradykinase, which helps reduce excessive inflammation when applied topically.
- Minerals: Aloe features calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium and zinc.
- Fatty acids: Aloe’s fatty acids — such as campesterol, β-sitosterol and lupeol — have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and analgesic properties.
- Others: Aloe contains lignin, which can actually enhance the penetrative effect of other ingredients into the skin.
Aloe has incredible moisturizing properties. In one study (4) published in Skin Research and Technology, scientists tested aloe on a group of participants to measure water retention in the skin. While one concentration of aloe had an immediate effect (after only a single application), all concentrations ultimately provided moisturizing properties after two weeks of use, leading the research team to conclude that aloe is an effective natural ingredient for improved skin hydration.
2. Plant-Derived Glycerin
Plant-derived glycerin (unlike animal- or petroleum-derived glycerin) is a sugar alcohol made by heating vegetable fats — such as oils derived from palm, soy and coconut — and an alkali (18). Though it’s found in a variety of pharmaceuticals, foods and cosmetics, as a skin care additive it offers softening and moisturizing properties that can keep your skin youthful and supple. In one study (5), glycerin was found to be an effective moisturizer that had enduring effects lasting even after its initial application to the skin. Additional research (6) indicates that products with glycerin may help protect your skin against irritants, alleviate some of the symptoms of dermatitis and even speed up wound healing.
3. Coconut Fruit Extract
First cultivated on the islands of Southeast Asia, coconuts have become renowned as something of a miracle fruit: a nutrient-dense, high-calorie food and a water source, with fibers that can be turned into ropes and more (7). Though you can find coconut oil, charcoal, butter and flavorings in every store, you’ll also come across coconut fruit extract as a moisturizing and soothing addition to skincare products.
Coconut fruit extract (which may appear as Cocos nucifera extract on product labels) is derived from coconut meat, and has a number of antioxidant and moisturizing benefits for the skin. It contains the antioxidants (8) gallic acid, caffeic acid, salicylic acid and p-coumaric acid, which can help scavenge free radicals in the body. (Free radicals can lead to oxidative stress and accelerate aging.) (9)
Research published in the American Journal of Pharmacological Sciences also suggests that coconut can help soften the skin and relieve flaking and dryness (10). In another study, the polyphenols and fatty acids in coconut extract were shown to add a protective barrier to the skin with anti-inflammatory effects against UVB-induced inflammation (11).
4. Oolong Tea Leaf Extract
Oolong tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant — the same plant that black and green teas are derived from. The difference that makes each kind of tea distinct, however, is the level of oxidation the leaves are exposed to. Whereas green tea is minimally oxidized and black tea maximally oxidized, oolong falls somewhere in between. (12) As a source of nutrients, oolong contains:
Oolong contains powerful polyphenols that help reduce inflammation (13). Clinically, it has even been shown to help with skin conditions like eczema (14). In a study published in the Archives of Dermatology (14), 63% of patients showed marked-to-moderate improvement of their eczema after a month of consuming oolong, with 54% reporting five months later that they were still experiencing its benefits — even after they’d stopped drinking it.
5. Olive Leaf Extract
As suggested by its name, olive leaf extract is derived from the leaves of the olive plant (rather than the more commonly consumed fruit). It has an impressive range of benefits that can help protect your nervous system, reduce inflammation and prevent cell damage or oxidation, among others (15). In particular, olive leaves are high in a polyphenol called oleuropein, which has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimicrobial effects (16). These soothing properties are just the beginning of its benefits. In one study, 36 participants were given a cream containing olive leaf extract and applied it twice daily to their skin. After two months, scientists noticed that transepidermal water loss (TEWL) decreased and skin hydration increased. Sixty-four percent of participants noted a marked improvement in skin texture (17).
How To Choose the Right Body Wash
We strongly believe in providing safe, effective and plant-based skincare products. Our body care collection — which includes both an unscented and lemongrass-mint body wash (scented with botanical extracts) — is made with the highest quality plant-based ingredients that are nourishing for your skin and 100% cruelty-free. We never use parabens, dyes, fragrances or other toxic ingredients, and are committed to providing transparency on exactly what goes into each of our products. To learn more about our mission and other body care tips, ingredient spotlights and guides, check out our blog.
- Cruelty Free International - Which Animals Are Used in Cosmetics Tests?
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health - Aloe Vera
- Indian Journal of Dermatology - Aloe Vera: A Short Review
- Skin Research and Technology - Moisturizing Effect of Cosmetic Formulations Containing Aloe Vera Extract in Different Concentrations Assessed by Skin Bioengineering Techniques
- Acta Dermato-Venereologica - The Influence of Water, Glycerin, Paraffin Oil and Ethanol on Skin Mechanics
- British Journal of Dermatology - Glycerol and the Skin: Holistic Approach to Its Origin and Functions
- The Source - Deep History of Coconuts Decoded
- Healthline - 5 Impressive Benefits of Coconut
- International Journal of Food Properties - Phenolic Compounds, Antioxidant Activity, and Medium Chain Fatty Acids Profiles of Coconut Water and Meat at Different Maturity Stages
- American Journal of Pharmacological Sciences - Various Pharmacological Aspects of Cocos nucifera - A Review
- Food and Chemical Toxicology - Enhanced Barrier Functions and Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Cultured Coconut Extract on Human Skin
- Healthline - What Is Oolong Tea and What Benefits Does It Have?
- Penn Medicine - The Hidden Health Benefits of Tea
- Archives of Dermatology - A Trial of Oolong Tea in the Management of Recalcitrant Atopic Dermatitis
- Healthline - Olive Leaf Extract: Dosage, Benefits, Side Effects, and More
- WebMD - Health Benefits of Olive Leaf Extract
- Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology - Efficacy of Olive Leaf Extract-Containing Cream for Facial Rejuvenation: A Pilot Study
- Healthline - What Is Vegetable Glycerin? Uses, Benefits and Side Effects
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - Endocrine Disruptors
- Safe Cosmetics Org - Chemicals of Concern