Rosemary has been used for centuries as a folkloric remedy to treat skin irritations.
Several in vitro and in vivo studies have shown the skin healing and skin protective actions of rosemary extracts. Further, it has shown antimicrobial and antioxidant activities and maybe a helpful skin antiseptic. More research is warranted to demonstrate this plant can be helpful in treating dermatitis, skin elasticity, would healing, photodamage, acne, and other skin infections.
By Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, Registered Aromatherapist, LMT
How to Use Rosemary Topically for Skin Irritations
Here are three ways to use rosemary on the skin. Dilute and use as in anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and skin protective recipes. Skin patch test. Avoid on damaged or sensitive skin. Not for internal use. Avoid with epilepsy, chronic asthma, and hypertension. Avoid during pregnancy and lactation. Not for use with young children.
Add about 12 drops of rosemary essential oil to one ounce of a carrier oil such as coconut. Mix well and apply to skin in local area.
Make a rosemary tea by pouring about eight ounces of hot water onto 2 Tbsp of fresh or 1 Tbsp of the dried herb. Strain, then soak a cloth in the water and apply to a local area for 15 minutes.
Make an oil infusion: Fill a clean mason jar with fresh clean herbs. Pour sweet almond oil over the herbs and seal. Let the jar set on a window sill for about two weeks, shake the jar about once a day. After two weeks, strain out the herbs using a funnel and coffee filter or cheesecloth. The remaining oil will last in a sealed container about six months as long as there are no contaminates in the oil.
Creams with rosemary and marigold reduced irritation contact dermatitis. From: Fuchs, S. M., Schliemann-Willers, S., Fischer, T. W., & Elsner, P. (2005). Protective effects of different marigold (Calendula officinalis L.) and rosemary cream preparations against sodium-lauryl-sulfate-induced irritant contact dermatitis. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 18(4), 195-200.
Poplar bud absolute, rosemary extract, benzoin resinoid and turmeric oleoresin inhibited human leukocyte elastase for improved skin healing. From: Baylac, S., & Racine, P. (2004). Inhibition of human leukocyte elastase by natural fragrant extracts of aromatic plants. International Journal of Aromatherapy, 14(4), 179-182.
Rosemary water-soluble extract inhibited UV cutaneous photodamage. From: Martin, R., Pierrard, C., Lejeune, F., Hilaire, P., Breton, L., & Bernerd, F. (2008). Photoprotective effect of a water-soluble extract of Rosmarinus officinalis L. against UV-induced matrix metalloproteinase-1 in human dermal fibroblasts and reconstructed skin. European Journal of Dermatology, 18(2), 128-135.
A significant positive difference in diabetic wound healing occurred in diabetic mice treated with R. officinalis. From: Abu-Al-Basal, M. A. (2010). Healing potential of Rosmarinus officinalis L. on full-thickness excision cutaneous wounds in alloxan-induced-diabetic BALB/c mice. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 131(2), 443-450.
Rosemary extract minimized free radical-induced skin damage. From: Calabrese, V., Scapagnini, G., Catalano, C., Bates, T. E., Dinotta, F., Micali, G., & Giuffrida, S. A. (2000). Induction of heat shock protein synthesis in human skin fibroblasts in response to oxidative stress: regulation by a natural antioxidant from rosemary extract. International journal of tissue reactions, 23(2), 51-58.
Rosemary essential oil was effective against acne skin bacteria. From: Fu, Y., Zu, Y., Chen, L., Efferth, T., Liang, H., Liu, Z., & Liu, W. (2007). Investigation of antibacterial activity of rosemary essential oil against Propionibacterium acnes with atomic force microscopy. Planta medica, 73(12), 1275-1280.
Against skin pathogens, U. barbata (beard lichen) extract and ursolic acid were the most active; rosemary, sage, frankincense, and devil’s claw extracts also proved to be effective against a variety of bacteria. From: Weckesser, S., Engel, K., Simon-Haarhaus, B., Wittmer, A., Pelz, K., & Schempp, C. M. (2007). Screening of plant extracts for antimicrobial activity against bacteria and yeasts with dermatological relevance. Phytomedicine, 14(7), 508-516.
Vitamin C, vitamin E, and carnosic acid showed photo-protective human skin potential. From: Offord, E. A., Gautier, J. C., Avanti, O., Scaletta, C., Runge, F., Krämer, K., & Applegate, L. A. (2002). Photoprotective potential of lycopene, β-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin C and carnosic acid in UVA-irradiated human skin fibroblasts. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 32(12), 1293-1303.
This article discusses the anti-inflammatory actions of carnosic acid and carnosol as found in rosemary and sage. From: Poeckel, D., Greiner, C., Verhoff, M., Rau, O., Tausch, L., Hörnig, C., … & Werz, O. (2008). Carnosic acid and carnosol potently inhibit human 5-lipoxygenase and suppress pro-inflammatory responses of stimulated human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. Biochemical pharmacology, 76(1), 91-97. Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2008.04.013
Rosemary extract and its constituents carnosal and ursolic acid applied topically reduced skin tumors of mice. From: Huang, M. T., Ho, C. T., Wang, Z. Y., Ferraro, T., Lou, Y. R., Stauber, K., … & Conney, A. H. (1994). Inhibition of skin tumorigenesis by rosemary and its constituents carnosol and ursolic acid. Cancer research, 54(3), 701-708.
Carnosic acid, carnosol and rosmarinic acid content in rosemary impacted radical-scavenging activity and the anti-inflammatory action was mainly based on the carnosic acid content. From: Kuhlmann, Annette, and Claudia Röhl. “Phenolic antioxidant compounds produced by in vitro. Cultures of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis.) and their anti-inflammatory effect on lipopolysaccharide-activated microglia.” Pharmaceutical biology 44.6 (2006): 401-410. Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13880200600794063
Rosmanol, a phenol in rosemary, showed anti-inflammatory activity. From: Lai, C. S., Lee, J. H., Ho, C. T., Liu, C. B., Wang, J. M., Wang, Y. J., & Pan, M. H. (2009). Rosmanol potently inhibits lipopolysaccharide-induced iNOS and COX-2 expression through downregulating MAPK, NF-κB, STAT3 and C/EBP signaling pathways. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 57(22), 10990-10998.
Rosemary extract exhibited anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor action. Peng, C. H., Su, J. D., Chyau, C. C., Sung, T. Y., Ho, S. S., Peng, C. C., & Peng, R. Y. (2007). Supercritical fluid extracts of rosemary leaves exhibit potent anti-inflammation and anti-tumor effects. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 71(9), 2223-2232. Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1271/bbb.70199