Botanical Spotlight: Hibiscus in Skincare

Hibiscus for glowing skin and vitamin C face oil Sarka Botanicals

Find out why this stunning flower is a skincare game changer and how it can work for you. 

Hibiscus: What is it? 

Hibiscus is a stunningly beautiful flower and its use in skincare is legendary.  Due to its healing properties, the flower has been used in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries as a tonic for the heart, the digestive system and the liver.

Hibiscus has great benefits for the skin, mostly due to its effects on elastin, its antioxidant levels, and the alpha-hydroxy acids found in the botanical.

What does hibiscus do for skin?

Hibiscus has been called "nature's botox," and while that sounds like an exaggerated marketing claim, hibiscus does have targeted action on two key proteins necessary for healthy aging of the skin: elastin and collagen.

Elastin is an elastic protein found in all connective tissue and that allows the skin to stretch while keeping it firm and taut. Elastin is a key component of elastin fibers and crucial in preventing or repairing wrinkle formation and keeping the skin looking firm and toned. Hibiscus plays an important role in maintaining skin elasticity by decreasing the activity of elastase, which is an enzyme that breaks down elastin. Studies have shown that a phytochemical called myricetin, which is an antioxidant with anti-aging activity, is partly responsible for preserving elastin in the skin and as we get older inhibiting elastase activity becomes even more important as the activity of this enzyme increases as we get older. 

Hibiscus can also help to stimulate collagen products and slow down breakdown of this important protein. Collagen keeps skin smooth and supple, promotes elasticity, and plays a role in the replacement of dead skin cells. Hibiscus is high in vitamin C which is crucial for helping your body synthesize collagen. 

Vitamin C serves as a cofactor for the enzymes that are responsible for stabilizing and cross linking collagen molecules. The vitamin also stimulates collagen gene expression. Clinical studies have shown that the topical use of vitamin C increases collagen production in both younger and aged skin. 

Hibiscus and antioxidants

Antioxidants are needed in any skin care regime in order to help fight free radical damage and maintain healthy vibrant and revitalized skin. Air pollution, UV light, and increasingly blue light from screens can cause premature ageing of the skin through the breakdown of collagen and elastin, inflammation, and an acceleration of the oxidation process. Healthy and vibrant skin, no matter the age, needs antioxidants, both obtained through diet and applied onto the skin. 

Hibiscus is an antioxidant powerhouse. It contains anthocyanins, flavonoids, polyphenols, quercetin and other phytochemicals that act as antioxidants.  Anthocyanins protect the body from free radical damage and one study showed the phytochemical to have stronger antioxidant activity than vitamin E. anthocyanins have an anti-inflammatory effect and can also help to dampen inflammation and reduce redness and irritability.

Hibiscus contains vitamin C, which is a potent and important antioxidant used to treat and prevent the signs of premature aging. The beta carotene found in hibiscus helps to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Hibiscus also contains niacin, riboflavin, malvalic acid, gentisic acid, margaric acid and lauric acid, most of which act as antioxidants. 

The sepal also contains the highest concentration of water-soluble antioxidants, which the seeds contain the highest concentration of lipid soluble antioxidants.

Hibiscus and alpha-hydroxy acids

Hibiscus is a source of alpha hydroxy acids, which exfoliate the skin. These gentle exfoliating acids help to break down the protein bonds between skin cells, allowing the process of desquamation to happen at a normal rate.

Desquamation is the natural process of sloughing off of the top layer of skin to reveal younger looking skin. This process slows down and is less effective as we age. The AHAs in hibiscus help to speed up the process of cell turnover.

Over time, AHAs also help to reduce the signs of ageing such as hyperpigmentation and age spots, due to ultraviolet radiation exposure and excess melanin production.  AHAs are also very helpful for oil and acne prone skin if used on a regular basis.

Hibiscus has a high mucilage content which gives the botanical its superior hydrating properties. Mucilage is a viscous, hydrating substance that draws and holds water to it and this constituent of hibiscus allows the skin to retain moisture and stay hydrated. 

How should I work hibiscus into my routine?

Hibiscus containing products can be worked into almost any part of your skincare routine. Due to the AHA and antioxidant activity, hibiscus works well in serums and masks. The hydrating activity of the flowers makes it a valuable addition to hydrators, mists and oils as the mucilage found in the hibiscus will hold more water and hydrate the skin.