How to choose herbal extracts for cosmetic formulas

We get asked a LOT of questions about herbal extracts in cosmetic formulas. We already have a blog on “how to use herbal extracts in cosmetic formulas” – that is, how to add them to your formula. To read that blog, please click here. 

This blog is going to specifically look at how you CHOOSE between the many hundreds of herbal extracts and decide what is best to add to your formula, and when too much is too much!

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When is a herbal extract ‘active’ compared to an ‘added extra’?

The first thing you need to consider when trying to choose your herbal extracts, is what do you want them to do in your formula?

There are two types of ‘additions’ we can make to any type of formula. Let’s use the example of face cream to help you understand this concept better:

  • Creams, in general, require functional and structural cosmetic ingredients to form, and supportive ingredients to have a good shelf life: water, humectant, emulsifiers, oils along with preservatives and an antioxidant.
  • Then to make the product ‘unique’ and specific to a target audience, ‘added extras’ and ‘cosmetic actives’ get used. These are incredibly important additions, whether for performance or marketing claims.
  • Cosmetic active ingredients are those with clinical data or evidence to support their inclusion and are considered ‘active’ when used in those scientifically proven amounts. This can include a variety of cosmeceutical ingredients as well as vitamins, proteins and of course, certain herbal extracts.
  • Added extras are cosmetic ingredients that are added for marketing claims without having a ‘measurable’ benefit. Some consumers and companies swear by their added extras, but scientifically, there is no data to support their impact on the performance of the product. It can include the fragrance materials (including essential oils) as well as extracts without clinical evidence or other ingredients added below their scientifically proven inputs.

The use of active ingredients can really help support the performance, point of difference and price tag of a finished product, but never underestimate the importance that ‘added extras’ play in your cosmetic formulations. Whether it is for marketing or a placebo effect, those added extras, herbal or not, can impact the purchasing decision of a consumer.


When would you choose an active over an added extra?

Now that we’ve clarified the difference between these two ingredient roles, the next thing you need to consider when choosing your herbal extracts, is: when would you use a cosmetic active ingredient over an added extra?

This totally depends on your target market, required performance and price point.

Cosmetic active ingredients invariably cost more than added extras, and the active ingredients, to be considered active, must be input into the formula at a certain % to be ‘active’. This means they can add significant costs to the formula.

Cosmetic active ingredients do provide proven performance benefits to cosmetic formulas. This helps justify their cost but is also only relevant where you need that performance to suit your target market or product type.

Answer these questions to determine if an active or an added extra is the better choice of herbal extract:

  • Do you need clinical efficacy to justify your price point?
  • Is the product budget conscious?
  • Does your target market expect the product to perform a certain way?

That will help you determine if the extra cost and benefits of an active suit your cosmetic formulation, or if an added extra may be suitable instead.


Can I choose BOTH cosmetic active herbal extracts as well as added extra herbal extracts?

Yes, you can use both in your formula in most cases. We’ve built this into the formulation selections where suitable, in many cases, you’ll see that it is! If you can’t see the option to add both, then it still may be possible, but it may be that you need to learn cosmetic formulation to a more advanced level to be sure your selections will be stable and suitable over a prolonged shelf life or for the product type.

When would you want to use BOTH cosmetic active herbal extracts AND added extra herbal extracts? You would do this if all of the following applies:

  • Your budget allows it
  • Your consumers expect a high level of performance from your product
  • Your consumer looks for marketing claims about herbal ingredients
  • It doesn’t adversely effect performance, safety or stability

More does not always equal better – it depends on what your consumer needs and what you want your product to do that matters most, along with the ever important considerations of price and your competitors.


How much herbal extract should you use?

This depends on a lot of things:

  • If it is to be used as an ‘active’ then it needs to be used in accordance with its clinically proven performance data – refer to your supplier or the limits we have set in the program for guidance on this. This can range and should be checked with any data or ranges given by the suppliers or within our program.
  • If it is to be used as an ‘added extra’ then it can be used from as low as 0.01%w/w. Typical use is 1% in a glycerin-based extract form.

If you are wondering how to use herbal extracts in your cosmetic formulas, or how much to use, and which ones are best for certain skin and hair types and conditions, the Create Cosmetic Fromulas program helps you pick and choose hem. Watch this video to find out more:


For other forms of herbal extracts, you can also read more in our blog on How to use herbal extracts in cosmetic formulas.


What can I say about the herbal extracts in my formula?

This depends again on whether it is being used as a cosmetic active, or as an added extra.

  • If it is being used as an active, and you intend to make clinically performance claims, then you must use it at the inputs in the evidence and in a similar product form, to be supported by the evidence
  • If it is being used as an active in the right input and application, then you can make the cosmetic claims supported by the evidence – remember though, you can’t make in vitro or ex vivo claims, and any claims you make, regardless of evidence, must still fit within the ‘definition’ of cosmetics (e.g. appearance based)
  • Even if you hold traditional, journal or empirical evidence about the use of a herbal extract for a therapeutic or beyond-cosmetic purpose, you cannot make those claims in your marketing. If your claim does not fit within the definition of a cosmetic, then you can’t make the claim, regardless of how strong your evidence is.
  • If you are using ‘active’ herbal extracts below their proven inputs or in a product form that does not suit the evidence, then they should follow the claims for ‘added extras’ instead
  • If your herbal extracts are considered ‘added extras’ (e.g. actives below their clinically proven amounts or when you don’t hold suitable evidence) then your claims should be limited to ‘contains [herbal extract name]’. Don’t imply that your herbal extract has a benefit that you don’t hold evidence for, specific to its input and use in your formula.

Don’t risk a non-compliance with your labels or claims. Before selling that very first unit of your product (even to your neighbour), make sure your product complies. Study our Certificate in Cosmetic Labels and Claims to learn all about cosmetic labels, claims and the evidence you need to support your claims.



Yes, you can! Here is a video that explains the process of making your own herbal extracts from fresh or dried herbs.

Remember to get familiar with the ingredients that the suppliers near you sell, so you have the most choice when it comes to choosing herbal extracts for your cosmetic formulations. Search our Cosmetic Ingredient Suppliers list to find a supplier near you, or in a country near you.


So now, it’s over to you to get choosing, and get creating!


Happy formulating! 

Disclaimer: this information provided here is of a general nature and may not suit your specific application. This information relates to the use of herbal extracts for topically applied cosmetic products only. This information does not relate to the therapeutic or ingestible uses of herbal extracts. Please make sure you seek specific advice to suit your situation and ensure the safety and suitability of your formula before putting any cosmetic product onto the market.



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