You may not have noticed it before, but your skincare products might have a surprising ingredient in common: rosemary. We already know that it's a great vitamin-rich addition to a salad, not to mention one of the tastiest (if you've never had a rosemary cheese straw before, then it's well worth rectifying that ASAP), but who knew it was such a skincare stalwart? To find out why rosemary leaf extract features in some of our favourite products and what it can do for our skin, we called on three skincare experts to reveal everything there is to know about the benefits.
You may think that when it comes to a natural ingredient, the benefits may just be anecdotal, but there's plenty of science to back up the power of this little plant. The experts also reveal how to get the most out of the herb topically ahead—plus, we share our favorite rosemary-infused skincare products below.
Rosemary Leaf Extract
Type of Ingredient: Antioxidant
Main benefits: A potent antioxidant, rosemary leaf extract protects the skin and prevents signs of premature aging. Rosmarinic acid (the main component in rosemary leaf extract) is powerfully calming for skin conditions like eczema and acne.
Who should use it: In general, anyone with acne, eczema or anyone interested in anti-aging skincare.
How often can you use it: It’s safe for daily use.
Works well with: Rosemary leaf extract plays nice with most skincare ingredients. Having said that, it's always worth looking to expertly-blended formulas from reputable brands and patch testing if you are prone to sensitivity.
Don't use with: Rosemary leaf extract is safe to use in conjunction with most, if not all, ingredients.
What are the functions and benefits of rosemary leaf extract?
Rosemary leaf extract has a few different functions. It has antioxidant capacities according to Lisa Borg, a Nutritional Therapist at Pulse Clinic.
Dr. Selena Langdon, Medical Director and founder of Berkshire Aesthetics, notes that as well as antioxidant benefits, it also has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal benefits.
When it comes to specific skin conditions, Dr. Sophie Shotter, founder of Illuminate Clinic, explains that "rosmarinic acid is the biggest component of rosemary leaf extract and it has a powerfully calming effect on the skin that can be useful in treating many conditions, including severe eczema [as well as psoriasis and dermatitis] and skin allergies."
Langdon reveals that "rosemary's antioxidant and antibacterial properties make it especially well-suited for acne. The whole-plant extract has been shown not only to reduce the inflammation associated with acne but to directly fight a bacterium that causes acne outbreaks."
"Rosemary extract’s anti-inflammatory properties could help to reduce swelling and puffiness of the skin. It also helps to heal burns and soothe the skin," she notes.
It is also a bit of a youth-preserving powerhouse. "Its antioxidant properties reinforce blood capillaries, helping to reduce the signs of aging on the skin," says Langdon. "It tightens loose or sagging skin to help it look firmer and more youthful. Furthermore, rosemary stimulates biological activity and cell growth to reduce fine lines and wrinkles."
Is rosemary leaf extract suitable for all skin types?
The type of rosemary extract is key. "Rosemary leaf extract should not be confused with rosemary oil, which contains high concentrations of volatile fragrance components that can cause significant irritation to the skin, " says Dr. Shotter. That's not to say everyone needs to avoid rosemary oil, but if you are sensitive to fragrance and find it irritates you, then this is something to look out for on the ingredient list.
Langdon adds that it is suitable for most skin types and while its aromatic components can cause sensitivity, in most skincare products the amount of rosemary extract is unlikely to be a risk since it doesn’t contain much, if any, of rosemary oil’s volatile fragrance components.
If you are prone to skin sensitivity, Borg suggests always doing a patch test, then "monitor for 24 hours before applying a product liberally onto the skin."
Does it play nice with other ingredients?
Since rosemary leaf extract is more of an anti-inflammatory, it's not super active in the way that retinol or vitamin C can be. Having said that, it's always best to buy skincare products from reputable brands that have been expertly formulated. With that in mind, we have pulled together an edit of Byrdie-approved skin products that contain rosemary leaf extract.
Packed with anti-inflammatory ingredients, this gently non-foaming cleanser removes dirt and grime, gently exfoliates, and leaves your skin feeling soothed and refreshed.
Rosemary leaf extract sits alongside calming kelp, prickly pear seed oil, and omega-rich jojoba oil. It's seriously nourishing without feeling heavy on the skin. A little goes a long way and the tube is huge, so you're getting great value for your money.
Packed with seven mineral salts, this lightweight body lotion has been formulated to boost lymphatic flow and skin cell metabolism, according to the brand. It sinks in fast, smells delightfully like a spa, and leaves the skin soft and radiant.
Recommended by Dr. Langdon, this cooling mask boasts rosemary leaf alongside hyaluronic acid, aloe leaf oil, and brightening resveratrol. This is ideal for anyone post laser or who needs a hit of hydration.
This nourishing body wash contains a small amount of rosemary oil to add a gorgeous aroma (but without any irritation) to the black soap base that boasts moisturizing shea butter and coconut oil.
With rosemary leaf extract, mango butter, and calming green tea extract, this gorgeous creamy and easy-to-blend bronzer has plenty of skincare benefits too.
Another recommendation from Dr. Langdon, this sunscreen promises to protect from UV rays, as well as blue light. It contains a cocktail of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients including rosemary leaf extract.
Tsai TH, Chuang LT, Lien TJ, Liing YR, Chen WY, Tsai PJ. Rosmarinus Officinalis Extract Suppresses Propionibacterium Acnes-induced Inflammatory Responses. J Med Food. 2013;16(4):324-333. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.2577
Moore EM, Wagner C, Komarnytsky S. The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care. Front Pharmacol. 2020;11:785. doi:10.3389/fphar.2020.00785