The use of flowers in skincare is nothing new, and botanical-based formulas have grown exponentially with the rise of the eco-beauty movement. For example, the everyday rose has become featured in everything from toner to under-eye cream.
It isn't only those quotidian flowers like roses, marigolds, lavender, and orchids that are gracing the beauty aisle shelves these days, though. The rise in eco-beauty has led to the expansion of lesser-known flowers becoming ingredients, too. Enter: rock rose, also known as rockrose. Brands like Ayond have begun to tap the ingredient for its skin-renewing properties. Ahead, Ayond's co-founder Porter Yates shares more about the history and benefits of rock rose.
Meet the Expert
Porter Yates is the co-founder of Ayond, a skincare brand made with clean, potent botanicals.
What Exactly is Rock Rose?
The evergreen shrub rock rose grows in high altitudes with rocky terrain. It can be found in locations throughout the Mediterranean, from Portugal to Morocco. The plant family is known as Cistaceae, and the specific type used in the west is Cistus. Rock rose was introduced in California in the late 1800s and is used as a garden plant.
The Cistus plant is known as a "fire follower," which means that its dormant seeds can be activated by wildfire. This type of plant is most abundant in the years following a fire and then becomes less so until a new wildfire arises. In the 1960s, rock rose was recommended to plant in Southern California when landscapers were searching for fire-resistant and fire-retardant options. According to the California Division of Forestry: "Rockrose is an apparently slow-burning plant that should be considered as a possibility for inclusion in some landscaping plans. It seems to establish well, especially under poor site conditions, and it remains relatively green well into the drought season." The Cistus varietal most commonly used in skincare is Cistus Ladanifer.
The History of Rock Rose in Personal Care
As far as how long people have used this flower, Yates says that "there is documented use of the plant with the Romans and Greeks as an ingredient in skin and wound care, a therapeutic tea, and as with incense and perfumery." The resin obtained from rock rose is called labdanum, and it was mentioned in the bible as the "balm of Gilead." The flower resin was collected from the bears of goats and used both internally and externally.
Rock rose's internal and external usage has continued through the ages in everything from perfumes to medicines. For example, flower remedy maker Bach makes an ingestible rock rose product called Have Courage ($17). The brand says consuming the liquid "encourages the positive potential of strong will and courage, especially in the face of emergencies." Clive Christian sells a Rock Rose Parfum ($550). As a skincare ingredient, it has become popular in commercial production both as an extract and oil; we'll focus on its use as an extract.
Rock Rose Extracts Versus Essential Oils
Rock rose is used as both an essential oil and as an extract, but the two have some different properties. We’re focusing on the extract's benefits because those have been studied scientifically as having myriad positive effects on the skin. Additionally, the oils tend to be used more for purposes such as wound care.
"The extract we use comes from the water used in the first distillation of the cistus leaves and stems," Yates says. "The aqueous extract is rich in polyphenols, tannins, and flavonoids, which are all protective antioxidants." Conversely, Yates explains that "the essential oil is made up of terpenes like α-Pinene, viridiflorol, borneol and camphene which have anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antimicrobial properties."
What Makes It Great for Skin Care?
The benefits of rock rose extract are proven scientifically, particularly in relation to its antioxidant capacity, which is several times that of green tea. The antioxidants in rock rose include polyphenols, tannins, and flavonoids. Ayond states that the benefits of their rock rose serum include:
- Stimulating the skin’s own natural renewal cycle for improved elasticity
- Reviving dull, stressed, tired skin from within
- Renewing barrier function for healthier-looking, more resilient skin
- Smoother, plumper skin with fewer visible fine lines and wrinkles
How well it holds up to study makes it likely the usage of rock rose extract will continue to increase. One study notes "with complex composition, the preparations based on C. ladanifer (extracts, essential oil and labdanum) show pharmacological properties that make interesting its future application." It also mentions, "the uses described in traditional medicine and the pharmacological effects based on in vitro and in vivo studies are also reported, thereby highlighting the antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-protozoal, anti-aggregating, antidepressant, antispasmodic, immunomodulatory and antihypertensive actions."
Can It Provide Blue Light Protection?
I noticed one maker of a rock rose face serum claim it can reverse blue light damage. Wondering if that was possible, I asked Yates. "It probably cannot reverse the damage already done, but it can protect cells from the damaging effects of blue light radiation," Yates says. "When high-energy blue light penetrates the skin, it creates free radicals or ROS. Cistus extract helps absorb the free radicals that would otherwise damage healthy cells. If there is any reversal in the signs of damage, it will come from new cells being created under the protection of the extract, and the old, damaged cells being replaced."
What It’s Like to Use
In testing the Ayond Rock Rose Serum ($120), I found its effects similar to using a good quality hyaluronic acid product. It was definitely subtle but created that delicate plumpness I've grown to associate with hyaluronic acid. It wasn't a problem not to immediately notice significant results because it's an anti-aging product meant to be used long-term. To use it as a preventative agent, especially as someone who spends plenty of time in front of a computer screen, is comfort enough.
The smell of the serum was unusual, and it made me honestly surprised that rock rose is an aroma companies use to add fragrance to their products. While it's definitely floral, it has a scent that reminded me of the water in a vase of flowers after they've been sitting for a couple of days.
Rock rose is a flower with a long history in skincare. It has a strong antioxidant count and other beneficial chemical compounds, which may lead to skin appearing younger and plumper. It can also help with cell turnover and improve elasticity. If you’re looking to keep the ingredients in your skincare routine as green as possible, rock rose extract is the perfect choice to add to your regimen.
Christodoulakis NS, Georgoudi M, Fasseas C. Leaf structure of cistus creticus l. (Rock rose), a medicinal plant widely used in folk remedies since ancient times. Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants. 2014;20(2):103-114.
Amensour M, Sendra E, Pérez-Álvarez J, Skali-Senhaji N, Abrini J, Fernández-López J. Antioxidant activity and chemical content of methanol and ethanol extracts from leaves of rockrose(Cistus ladaniferus). Plant foods for human nutrition. Published online 2010.
Nakashima Y, Ohta S, Wolf AM. Blue light-induced oxidative stress in live skin. Free Radic Biol Med. 2017;108:300-310.