Cosmeceutical Critique

Holy basil: A member of the Ocimum family


In 2007, Ajose reported on the results of history questionnaires filed by patients at a dermatology clinic in Lagos, Nigeria and oral interviews with vendors and prescribers of herbal formulations at busy markets in Lagos and Ijebu-Ode in southwest Nigeria, indicating that O. gratissimum was 1 of the 38 plants used for dermatologic purposes.9

Holy basil plants.

In 2009, Nweze and Eze demonstrated that the ethanolic extract of the leaves of O. gratissimum displayed antibacterial activity, supporting its use in traditional medicine as well as a food spice that does not undermine conventional antibiotics, as is thought in some rural communities throughout the world.8O. gratissimum is a key ingredient of a topical cream formulation that is one component of a complete skin care line recently found to be effective in treating mild to moderate acne. The line includes an oral supplement for males, another for females, and the topical cream, which contains O. gratissimum and keratolytic ingredients (that is, salicylic acid, gluconolactone, and complex alpha-hydroxy acids). In the double-blind clinical trial, most patients were found to have exhibited satisfactory clinical responses according to the Global Acne Grading System.10

In 2015, Keziah et al. found that topical creams formulated with O. gratissimum and Lantana camara crude extracts and fractions were effective as mosquito repellents and might serve as natural alternatives to conventional products.11

O. basilicum

Also known as great basil or St. Joseph’s Wort, O. basilicum is native to tropical regions and is found abundantly from Southeast Asia to Africa. In a 2011 single-blind study, Rasul and Akhtar tested a formulation containing 3% basil in the inner aqueous phase and a base devoid of extract. The formulation exhibited significant effects in skin moisturization, and both creams conferred measurable benefits in stemming transepidermal water loss. Skin roughness, scaliness, smoothness, and wrinkles appeared to improve with the formulation as well. The researchers concluded that topically applied O. basilicum can deliver antiaging benefits.12

Antioxidant activity from myriad constituents, including quercetin, kaempferol, caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, ferulic acid, rutin, and catechin, among others, has been cited for the potential of O. basilicum to confer an antiaging result.13,14


Various species in the Ocimum family have been used in traditional medicine for many years, with several reputed to impart dermatologic benefits. There are compelling reasons to continue to research these species in the continuing search to develop more effective topical formulations in the dermatologic armamentarium. As is often the case with botanical agents, we need to see much more evidence and clinical trials to establish if and how appropriate these Ocimum species are in the skin care realm. The word “adaptogen” is starting to be used frequently in the cosmeceutical world. Holy basil is an adaptogen.

Dr. Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann wrote two textbooks: “Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice” (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002) and “Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients” (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014), and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers, “The Skin Type Solution” (New York: Bantam Dell, 2006). Dr. Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Evolus, Galderma, and Revance. She is the founder and CEO of Skin Type Solutions Franchise Systems. Write to her at


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