Companies are always looking to differentiate themselves from the competition, and right now, the inclusion of phytoactives in cosmetic formulations is a hot topic. When it comes to creating that niche though, differentiation often boils down to a question of style versus substance. Is the new angle being explored—particularly when it comes to vegan phytoactives—just a question of branding and marketing, or is there a substantial difference in the underlying product? We’ve talked about clean beauty, nutraceuticals, and a variety of other topics—let’s investigate the term phytoactive and how it’s gained traction in the cosmetics industry, particularly when it comes to addressing hair loss.
What does the term phytoactive even mean?
In the context of cosmetics, you may hear the phrase “vegan phyto-actives” used to describe a certain type of product. Taken together, what does this mean, and what is it implying about the product?
- Vegan: A product that excludes any animal ingredients or animal byproducts.
- Phyto-: From the Ancient Greek φυτόν, meaning related to plants.
- Active: In the context of cosmetics or biologics, a compound that exerts an active effect on the human body.
In other words:
A vegan phytoactive describes a type of compound derived from plants that doesn’t take harmful advantage of animals—it doesn’t imply anything about the efficacy of the ingredient, nor does it imply that the ingredient is being used for the right purpose.
Despite this misconception, phytoactives have proven to be popular in many new direct-to-consumer cosmetic products. Traditionally, the word phytochemical was used to describe these chemical compounds generated by plants, while in the context of human consumption, they can be referred to as phytonutrients—nutrients from plants—or phytoactives—active compounds from plants.
How do plants use phytochemicals?
- Defend against consumption, either by herbivores, parasites, fungi, or other plants.
- Regulate growth.
- Manipulate the root environment, or rhizosphere.
- Control reproduction through pollination and fertilization.
From the perspective of the plant producing the phytochemical, the defense mechanism is usually beneficial—from the perspective of the organism being impacted by the phytochemical, however, the results may vary.
How do we use phytochemicals?
Many phytochemicals have applications that have formed the backbone of rudimentary forms of traditional medicine for centuries. A common example of a beneficial phytochemical is salicylic acid, the active component of willow bark extract and a precursor to aspirin. Even some phytochemicals that broadly serve as toxins can have beneficial effects in the right situation: Atropine, one of the active compounds found in deadly nightshade, can treat acute poisoning to nerve agents like sarin gas and VX.
A substantial number of phytoactives are antioxidants, meaning that they inhibit damaging oxidation reactions that can take place in our cells. These oxidation reactions are a result of metabolic byproducts known as free radicals. Antioxidants appear to show different behavior in vitro, or in the lab using tissue samples, as compared to in vivo, or in the body using a whole organism.
One thing to keep in mind? Bioavailability. The bioavailability of a compound, including phytoactives, dictates how easily the body can make use of it. Phytoactive chemicals that are not nutrients are processed by the body as foreign compounds, resulting in a much lower bioavailability than macronutrients. Additionally, these types of foreign compounds often require metabolic processing in the liver before reaching meaningful levels of circulation in the bloodstream.
When taken orally, these phytoactive compounds may be restricted to impacting the gut microbiome due to their low bioaccessibility and bioavailability. When applied topically, the compound may have a higher bioavailability if the phytoactive can be utilized directly or if right metabolic enzymes are present in the dermal tissue—if not, however, the topically applied phytoactive may be inefficient or ineffective.
How are phytochemicals used in cosmetics for hair growth?
When it comes to addressing hair loss, particularly with topical solutions, there are a few common approaches for using phytoactives:
Improving overall circulation and reducing inflammation
Grape seed oil, rosemary oil, and ginseng have shown potential in some studies to increase blood flow to the scalp when applied topically.
Inhibiting DHT production
We’ve discussed it previously, but DHT is a molecular byproduct of testosterone and is known to contribute to the miniaturization of hair follicles. By disrupting the activity of 5α-reductase—the enzyme produced in the scalp that converts testosterone to DHT—the amount of local DHT in the scalp, and thus the miniaturizing effects, can be reduced. Common examples of phytoactives that are thought to interfere with the production of DHT include green tea catechins, saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil, and red clover extract.
Should vegan phytoactives be seen as a potential solution for hair loss?
Unfortunately, in the context of treating and addressing hair loss, nothing about the phrase vegan phytoactive has any direct relevance or significance. Phytoactives are biologically relevant chemical compounds that are derived from plants, while vegan products are those that avoid the use of animal products and byproducts.
Rather than emphasizing efficacy or results, the phrasing instead intends to align with a pre-existing belief held by the consumer about the type of products they should consume and how those products should be produced. In most instances, there is a lack of rigorous scientific evidence surrounding results and efficacy, and rather than emphasizing studies and data, the terminology is meant to evoke a sense of comfort and familiarity about the ingredients from certain consumers who share the same values.
It remains possible that a hair loss solution may be a phytoactive compound derived from plants, and that the compound is derived in a vegan-friendly manner; however, simply being a vegan phytoactive implies nothing about how the compound behaves within the body. Terms like vegan phytoactive should not be used as buzzwords and marketing tools for hair loss as most chemicals in this category have no place in hair loss remedies. If you’re looking to treat thinning hair or reverse visible hair loss, we encourage you to think about what matters most: Getting your hair back.
Instead of falling for gimmicky phrasing and marketing tactics, why not skip the hype and get straight to the results? At Revela, our Hair Revival Serum works by stimulating the hair follicle in order to improve hair health and increase the appearance of thicker, fuller hair. Our active ingredient, ProCelinyl™, was algorithmically identified to target the dermal papilla. Solving hair loss isn’t easy, so be on the lookout for buzzwords and deceptive marketing hype that could make your hair regrowth journey any harder than it needs to be.
How does ProCelinyl™ compare to phytoactive serums?
Don't take our word for it. Some of our customers have used products headlining vegan phytoactives in the past with mixed results. If you're interested, watch there two reviews comparing 4 weeks of use of our Hair Revival Serum ProCelinyl™ with nearly 4 months of a serum containing mainly vegan phytoactive ingredients.
Learn More About ProCelinyl™ProCelinyl has shown incredible results in both the lab and the clinic towards providing women and men the power to control their thinning hair. Take a look at clinical trial results, our white paper and pictures from customer pictures as they share their experiences with using it.