Industry news: Plant-Based Ingredients Spark a Surge in Registrations: China's Ingredients

Plant-Based Ingredients Spark a Surge in Registrations: China's Ingredients


China boasts abundant plant resources, with a long history of using plants in cosmetics. In recent years, with advancements in technology and improved regulations, particularly due to the rising demand for natural, eco-friendly, and green cosmetics, the application and development of plant-based ingredients in cosmetics have made significant progress.

As of March 8, 2024, the total number of registered plant-based new cosmetic ingredients has reached 23. Among them, 3 were registered in 2022, 13 in 2023, and 7 have been registered in 2024.

Part 1: Chinese characteristic plant-based resources are highly sought after by beauty brands.

China is one of the world's richest countries in terms of plant resources, with approximately 37,793 plant species according to the "China Species List 2020," ranking third globally behind Malaysia and Brazil.

The "Catalogue of Used Cosmetic Ingredients (2021 Edition)" released by the National Medical Products Administration includes over 8,965 used cosmetic ingredients, with more than 3,400 related to plants, accounting for about 38%. Among these plant materials, nearly 97% are seed plants, and around 3% are algae.

In recent years, unique plant-based ingredients from China, which are deeply rooted in Chinese culture and have high technological content, have been highly sought after by beauty brands. Examples include Centella asiatica, purslane, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Dendrobium officinale, Ganoderma lucidum, ginseng, matsutake mushrooms, aloe vera, roses, and peonies, among others.

In this era of "effect and ingredient-driven" beauty products, exceptional Chinese ingredients have gained popularity, empowering Chinese beauty brands to take the "initiative" and "voice" in the market competition.

According to related data, the proportion of plant ingredients in plant-based cosmetics on the market generally exceeds 50%, with some high-end products even exceeding 80%. These plant-based cosmetic ingredients are rich in natural nutrients such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and vitamins, providing excellent effects for antioxidation, moisturization, and whitening.

According to data from the National Medical Products Administration's Quality Control Key Laboratory for Cosmetic Ingredients, the top 10 rankings of plant ingredient usage rates in domestic and imported cosmetics (from January 2017 to February 2021) have seven overlapping plant ingredients that are favored by both Chinese and foreign beauty brands. These are: CENTELLAASIATICA extract, CAMELLIASINENSIS leaf extract, PORTULACAOLERACEA extract, GLYCYRRHIZAGLABRA root extract, CHAMOMILLARECUTITA flower extract, ALOEBARBADENSIS leaf extract, and SCUTELLARIABAICALENSIS root extract.

To gain control over the "core of ingredients" and seize the "initiative" and "voice" in the cosmetics market, ingredient suppliers, brands, and contract manufacturers are all joining the wave of new ingredient research and filing.

Here are the successful filings of new plant-based ingredients:

- In 2022 (January to December), 3 plant-based ingredients were successfully filed: (Chenopodium formosanum) extract, (Dendrobium officinale) stem, and Stem/Root extract of (Abutilon theophrasti).

- In 2023 (January to December), 13 plant-based ingredients were successfully filed: (Gynura procumbens) extract, (Xanthium strumarium) leaf callus culture extract, (Ilex latifolia) leaf extract, Hydrolyzed semi-glycans, (Paris fargesii) root extract, (Gynura procumbens) leaf/stem extract, (Ludwigia adscendens) extract, Citrus medica limonum extract, (Cestrum latifolium) leaf extract, Panax notoginseng extract, Hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, (Gynura procumbens) leaf/stem extract, Lutein.

- As of March 8, 2024, 7 plant-based ingredients were successfully filed: (Oplopanax elatus) root extract, (Caryodendron orinocense) seed oil, (Erigeron breviscapus) extract, (Salvia plebeia) extract, (Coreopsis tinctoria) flower extract, (Taxus wallichiana mairei) seed oil, (Taxus wallichiana mairei) twig extract.

With full force, the cosmetics ingredient market has entered an era of fierce competition. The "acceleration" of new cosmetic ingredient filings in China continues, and PCE believes that the filing of new plant-based ingredients in 2024 will "double" in speed.

Part 2: Diversity in the Development and Application of Plant-Based Cosmetic Ingredients

Although the cosmetics industry in China is heating up with innovation and application of plant-based ingredients, there is currently no clear definition of plant-based cosmetic ingredients in relevant regulations.

In academia, it is generally believed that the definition of plant-based cosmetic ingredients should include four aspects: First, the raw materials are directly sourced from plants (either the whole plant or specific parts like roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, or seeds); Second, they should be a mixture of multiple components, with no single component exceeding 80% of the total; Third, they have not undergone chemical modification or biological transformation, maintaining the original plant's morphology, chemical composition, and chemical structure; Fourth, their intended use should fall within the scope of China's definition of cosmetics.

Plant-based ingredients in cosmetics come in various forms, categorized based on the extraction method into three main types: Botanical extracts, Botanical active parts, and Botanical active compounds.

1. Botanical Extracts:

Botanical extracts are obtained by selecting appropriate solvents based on the polarity of the target components. They are mixtures composed of various structurally different types of compounds. Botanical extracts are the main form of use in cosmetics and have the widest application.

2. Botanical Active Parts:

These are mixtures primarily composed of components with similar structures, obtained from crude extracts using modern separation techniques. The content of active parts is usually above 50%.

3. Botanical Active Compounds:

Botanical active compounds are usually obtained by further isolating and purifying the active parts, resulting in single components with well-defined chemical structures. The content of active compounds is typically above 80%. These botanical active compounds serve as an effective guarantee for achieving the efficacy of plant-based cosmetics.

The main active components of botanical ingredients fall into ten categories, each with their respective roles in cosmetics:

1. Botanical Polysaccharides:

- Functions: Moisturizing, anti-aging, whitening, etc.

2. Botanical Proteins:

- Functions: Nutrition, moisturizing, etc.

3. Botanical Oils:

- Functions: Skincare, nourishing, repairing, etc.

4. Botanical Essential Oils:

- Functions: Aromatherapy, emotional skincare, etc.

5. Botanical Polyphenols:

- Functions: Antioxidant, repair, whitening, etc.

6. Botanical Sterols:

- Functions: Moisturizing, soothing, repairing skin barrier, promoting skin metabolism, etc.

7. Botanical Flavonoids:

- Functions: Anti-aging, whitening, sun protection, antibacterial, astringent, moisturizing, etc.

8. Botanical Saponins:

- Functions: Gentle cleansing, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne, etc.

9. Botanical Organic Acids:

- Functions: Antioxidant, whitening, etc.

10. Botanical Pigments:

- Functions: Coloring, antioxidant, moisturizing, etc.

Currently, there are several methods for obtaining botanical extracts in cosmetics: steam distillation, maceration, percolation, decoction, reflux, as well as semi-bio-mimetic extraction, dynamic countercurrent extraction, ultrasound-assisted extraction, supercritical fluid extraction, etc.

For example, essential oil extraction from lavender (known for its moisturizing, soothing, and antibacterial effects) is typically done through steam distillation. The lavender essential oil obtained can be used in the production of perfumes, shower gels, and other cosmetics.

Antioxidants can be extracted from green tea using methods like ultrasound-assisted extraction. This method significantly reduces extraction time while preserving the antioxidant's activity and stability, making the extracted green tea antioxidants suitable for cosmetics.

Rose essential oil extraction usually involves steam distillation, solvent extraction, and ultrasound-assisted extraction. Among these, steam distillation is the most common method. Rose essential oil can be used in the production of creams, hair conditioners, and other cosmetics.

Supercritical CO2 extraction technology is a rapidly developing "green extraction and separation technology" in recent years. It is particularly suitable for the extraction and separation of heat-sensitive and photosensitive bioactive components, and has become a popular and effective technical means in various fields such as medicine, food, and fragrances. Examples include camellia seed oil and rosemary, where this extraction method can maintain the purity, high concentration, and high activity of oil-based components.

Depending on the development needs of different materials, various extraction methods and processes can be chosen. Regardless of the method or process chosen, the ultimate goal is to isolate the active ingredients from plants.

Part3: Safety Assessment and Challenges

In the context of "no efficacy, no skincare," the focus of botanical raw material development lies in efficacy, safety, and stability. From a safety perspective, the safety of plant ingredients and cosmetics is the foundation of the development and industrial application of China's characteristic plant resources.

In terms of plant material safety, companies need to focus on three major issues: First, the stability, controllability, and uniformity of the extracted material quality; Second, the repeatability and controllability of the process;Third, the assessability and safety of efficacy. Only by addressing these three major issues can the safety of plant materials in cosmetics use be ensured.

PCE has noticed that conducting safety assessments on plant extracts is currently a bottleneck in the safety evaluation of cosmetics and new plant materials. Although the National Medical Products Administration has issued the "Technical Guidelines for Cosmetic Safety Assessment" (2021 version), safety assessments for plant extracts still face challenges.

It is particularly noteworthy that in the trend of Chinese ingredients, locally sourced characteristic plant materials are highly regarded, and the plant extract market is booming. However, with the "complete safety assessment" set to be officially implemented on May 1, 2024 (some reports suggest a 6-month delay), plant extract ingredients may face the dilemma of being unable to assess, or difficult and costly assessments.

PCE understands that in the future, the enhancement and development of Chinese cosmetics plant materials will focus more on the following aspects:

1. Utilize modern scientific techniques to deeply develop plant materials, enhancing their effective ingredient content, efficacy, safety, and stability.

2. Combine traditional Chinese advantages and characteristic plant resources to develop more Chinese-characteristic cosmetic plant materials, empowering domestic brands with distinctive competitive advantages.

3. Strengthen quality control and safety assessment of plant materials to ensure consumers' beauty, health, and safety.

4. Enhance communication and cooperation with international cosmetic raw material suppliers and research institutions, introducing more advanced international cosmetic plant materials and technologies to promote the advancement of China's plant-based cosmetics industry.

In cosmetics, plant-based ingredients are widely used in various products such as cleansers, moisturizers, serums, masks, makeup, hair care, personal care, and household cleaning. These ingredients play a key role in moisturizing, whitening, antioxidation, and anti-aging effects. Particularly, plant-based components are utilized in over 90% of products for soothing, acne treatment, anti-wrinkle, firming, oil control, and more.

Part4: Conclusion

China's distinctive plant-based resources have become highly sought-after by cosmetic brands, driving the entire industry chain of plant-based cosmetics. This includes:

- Upstream: Involves plant-based cosmetics material cultivation bases, extraction enterprises, and suppliers of plant-based materials.

- Midstream: Plant-based cosmetic brand enterprises.

- Downstream: Online and offline channels and consumers.

Currently, upstream raw material suppliers, along with midstream brand companies and contract manufacturers, are engaging in a frenzy of development, registration, and patent applications for plant-based cosmetic materials. For instance, leading material company Vecky Technology has applied for over 103 invention patents, with more than 44 already granted.

With consumers' pursuit of natural, safe, and effective products, China's distinctive plant-based resources are becoming highly sought-after by cosmetic brands. According to statistics from China Pharmaceutical University, as of 2022, plant-based cosmetics accounted for 82.64% of all domestically registered ordinary cosmetics.

As consumers demand higher safety and efficacy from cosmetics, the demand for natural, environmentally friendly, and green ingredients is steadily rising. The market for China's distinctive plant-based materials is expected to grow significantly. In 2020, the market size of plant extracts in China reached 37.3 billion yuan, and it is projected to reach 75.5 billion yuan by 2027, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.54%.

Plant extracts are crucial natural ingredients used widely in food, health supplements, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and other industries, enjoying popularity among both consumers and businesses. In conclusion, with the combined effects of policy support, technological innovation, industry collaboration, and market demand, the Chinese cosmetic plant material industry is poised for continuous expansion, promising a bright future.