With a subject line like “Nature’s Botox,” of course I had to click — I’m a natural beauty devotee with an aversion to needles, so that combination of words sounds pretty much perfect. What magical, just-discovered ingredient was this? Would it be rare? Expensive? Otherwise unattainable? As it turns out, none of the above. The email from natural beauty brand Native Nectar Botanicals loaded to reveal that garden-variety hibiscus benefits for skin are comparable to Botox — and that’s not an empty marketing claim, either. Derms are fully on board with the descriptor for three main reasons: elastin, antioxidants, and AHAs.
“Hibiscus has great anti-aging benefits because it maintains elastin in the skin by decreasing the activity of elastase, an enzyme that breaks down our skin’s natural elastin,” Dr. Devika Icecreamwala, a dermatologist with Icecreamwala Dermatology in San Francisco, tells The Zoe Report. Elastin basically works in tandem with the more well-known protein collagen to keep skin looking youthful. Where collagen plumps, elastin is responsible for the skin’s ability to “snap back” — so when elastin levels naturally decline with age, skin sags. “Elastin is what keeps our skin looking firm, youthful, and less wrinkled,” Dr. Icecreamwala says.
“Hibiscus is also loaded with vitamin C, which is vital for collagen production,” Jess Taylor, the founder of Native Nectar Botanicals, tells TZR. In this way, the tropical flower gives aging skin the one-two punch — albeit, in a totally different way than Botox (which is an injectable neurotoxin that paralyzes wrinkle-causing muscles), and not instantaneously, either. Hibiscus exerts its flower power over time.
It does bring some other beauty benefits to the table, though. “Hibiscus is rich in specific antioxidants called anthocyanins, which fight off free radicals, prevent premature skin aging, and decrease inflammation,” Dr. Icecreamwala says, noting that the ingredient also contains natural alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, that help exfoliate. “This leads to more youthful looking skin and helps control breakouts,” Jana Blankenship, the founder of natural beauty brand Captain Blankenship, tells TZR. AHAs are also known for brightening skin tone and reducing signs of hyperpigmentation, like acne scars.
“Hibiscus works as a great natural moisturizer because it contains a lot of mucilage,” the dermatologist adds. While mucilage may not sound glamorous — it’s a viscous fluid found in plant matter — it actually helps skin look and feel hydrated. To quote Blankenship: “Really, what doesn't hibiscus do?”
Best of all, the ingredient does it all in a super-soothing way. “Due to the gentle nature of hibiscus, the exfoliating benefits may be utilized in areas traditionally unsuitable for other forms of exfoliation, such as the orbital area,” LeeAnne Leslie, the Professional Education and Training Manager of the Alpha-H skincare brand, tells The Zoe Report. “There aren’t really any risks associated with the ingredient. In fact, hibiscus extract rarely causes allergic reactions and is suited to all skin types.” I mean, I’d call that better than Botox, but that’s just me.
A lot of these properties carry over to hair care, too. “Hibiscus flower extract contains amino acids, which are smaller components of protein that are found in the hair,” Nicole Erickson, the Director of Product Development at John Masters Organics, tells TZR. “The amino acids bond to the hair to add strength and elasticity.” When applied to the scalp, hibiscus’ AHA content works to slough away dead skin cells and buildup, effectively balancing its pH and leading to healthier hair follicles and ideal sebum production.
Obviously, those kinds of benefits apply to anyone of any hair type, but the power of hibiscus is often employed in hair care products specifically aimed at dry, damaged, or natural hair — like John Masters Organics Hair Reconstructing range and SheaMoisture’s Coconut + Hibiscus line — thanks to its soothing and repairing nature.
Ahead, 17 ways to add a shot of hibiscus to your beauty routine — no needles required.