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Spicing Up Skincare
Author: Allison B. Vought
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The demand in the world market for herbal cosmetics is on an incline. Botanical formulations have always attracted attention because of their perceived benefits and comparatively lesser side effects than synthetic counterparts.

The connection between beauty and botanicals is a natural one since herbs and spices have been used in maintaining and enhancing human beauty for centuries.

Spices are one of the most widely used botanical additives found in foods, cosmetics and dental products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate spices, meaning they often are not noted on food labels, making them possibly the most difficult allergen to identify or avoid. According to rough estimates, spice allergy is responsible for 2 percent of food allergies.

Herbs and spices are “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, at least at concentrations commonly found in foods; however, many herbs, spices, and their biologically active components, are being investigated for potential disease prevention and treatment at concentrations exceeding those commonly used in ingestibles.

Common spice allergy triggers include cinnamon and garlic, but can range from black pepper to vanilla. Many spice blends contain up to 18 individual spices, and the hotter the spice the greater the chance for allergic reactions.

Since spices are derived from plant sources, it makes sense that certain spices are related to one another, as well as to pollens and other plant-based foods. These relationships can lead to cross-reactivity, meaning that an allergy to specific pollens might lead to an allergy to its related spices. The following list shows the cross-reactivity between common spices, pollens and other foods:

  • Oregano and thyme
  • Onion and garlic
  • Paprika and mace
  • Mustard and rapeseed (canola)
  • Mustard and tree nuts
  • Sesame and tree nuts
  • Cottonseed and walnut
  • Birch pollen and various spices
  • Mugwort pollen and various spices
  • Celery and various spices
  • Carrot and various spices
  • Fenugreek (often used in curry) and peanut

As a cosmetics formulator, it is important to recognize the relationship between botanicals and spices in regards to known allergens to help reduce the risk of allergic reactivity to your products. While spices can effectively provide a unique finished product with a multitude of benefits, they can also increase the risk of a skin reaction, or worse. If you have intent to include these botanicals in your formulations, be proactive by including the following information on your cosmetic label; the proper International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) listing for each herb/spice/botanical, avoid using verbiage that implies disease prevention or treatment, and include a warning statement in accordance with the FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Sec. 740.1 Establishment of warning statements that informs the user to discontinue use in the event of any type of reaction.


1 American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “Sugar and spice and everything not so nice: Spice allergy affects foodies and cosmetic users alike.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2012. <>.
2.Scholars Research Library. “Herbal Plants: Used as a cosmetics.” J. Nat. Prod. Plant Resour., 2011, 1 (1): 24-32. <>.
4.Chen JL, Bahna SL. Spice Allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2011; 107:191-199.
5.Christine M. Kaefer, John A. Milner. “The role of herbs and spices in cancer prevention.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry - June 2008 (Vol. 19, Issue 6, Pages 347-361, DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2007.11.003).
6.P.Di Mascio and L.F. Yamaguchi. “Natural Products as Sources of Spices,Dyes and Cosmetics.” PHYTOCHEMISTRY AND PHARMACOGNOSY. <>
7.CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21:

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