Beyond its culinary qualities that make it a favoured spice among chefs, saffron is also an ingredient used in the cosmetic and therapeutic fields. Benefits for the skin and hair, biochemical composition, usage precautions... Discover everything you need to know about saffron.
Saffron: everything you need to know about this spice for taking care of your skin and hair.
What is saffron?
The saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the flower of Crocus sativus, a perennial plant mainly cultivated in the Mediterranean region and Asia. Unlike other Crocus species, its flowering occurs from October to November, while the dormancy period takes place during the summer months. Its flowers are highly valued for their aesthetic appeal as well as for the spice they produce. Saffron is, in fact, the most expensive spice in the world, with its price equivalent to that of gold, approximately £30 per gram.
Saffron has been utilised for its therapeutic and cosmetic virtues for over 3,500 years. It is said that Cleopatra incorporated it into what is considered today as the first toilet water. Named "kyphi", it later became a sacred incense for the Egyptian pharaohs. The cultivation of saffron then spread throughout the Mediterranean basin before being disseminated in Western Europe. Today, the main saffron growing regions are Iran, Greece, Morocco, Spain, and India.
Saffron: What is its biochemical composition?
Saffron is a natural ingredient abundant in intriguing molecules, responsible for the various benefits it provides to the skin and hair. The table below summarises the different active principles found in saffron, along with the main properties associated with them.
|Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, provides the colour to saffron
|Gives its flavour to saffron
|Flavonoids, including kaempferol
|Vitamins and Minerals
Note : This table does not indicate the relative percentages of the different active ingredients, as these data vary greatly depending on the cultivation conditions, extraction method, and purification techniques.
What are the benefits of saffron?
Saffron extract is primarily recognised for its antioxidant properties, derived from the crocin, crocetin, and safranal it contains. These molecules all have a protective effect on cellular organelles and DNA, defending the skin and hair fibres against the action of free radicals. Indeed, these reactive and unstable species can notably cause genetic mutations and are implicated in the premature ageing of the skin and the onset of white hair. Thus, saffron extract has a photoprotective potential and is an excellent ally to prevent the appearance of wrinkles.
Studies have shown that saffron's crocin and crocetin can target the Toll-like receptors (TLR), playing a role in the regulation of various transcription factors, such as the nuclear factor (NF-κB), but also in triggering pro-inflammatory signalling pathways. Indeed, the NF-κB factor stimulates the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Researchers have demonstrated that saffron can suppress the activity of NF-κB via the inhibition of IκB kinase phosphorylation. These various mechanisms make saffron extract a good ingredient for combating redness and itching. It is sometimes incorporated into treatments for acne-prone skin.
The saffron contains kaempferol, a molecule capable of stimulating the activity of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), whose role is to trigger the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). Additionally, saffron extract increases the production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), which has regenerative effects on the skin and induces the migration and proliferation of keratinocytes. Therefore, saffron can accelerate the healing of acne lesions or minor injuries.
The polysaccharides found in saffron extract are considered to be humectant agents. This is due to their molecular structure which promotes the absorption and retention of water. This property is beneficial for the skin, as good hydration is necessary for it to be supple and plump. Hair also benefits from the hydrating effect of saffron extract because, when it is not sufficiently hydrated, it becomes dry and brittle.
Delays skin ageing.
In vitro studies suggest that safranal, a molecule found in saffron extract, is capable of blocking the activity of elastase, collagenase, and hyaluronidase. These three enzymes respectively catalyse the breakdown of elastin, collagen, and hyaluronic acid . These molecules are essential for the suppleness, elasticity, and hydration of the skin. A decrease in any of these compounds promotes the appearance of wrinkles and skin sagging. By inhibiting these processes, saffron extract can delay skin ageing.
Saffron extract also possesses photoprotective virtues, derived from the safranal it contains. Studies have shown that this compound has an SPF (Sunburn Protection Factor) of 6.6, which is quite low considering that a sun care product is deemed effective when its SPF reaches 15. The SPF is the index measuring a product's ability to block UV rays responsible for sunburn. It has been demonstrated that the addition of saffron extract to a chemical-based SPF 20 sun care product can increase the SPF by 43%.
Has a chronobiological activity.
The circadian cycle, repeated every 24 hours, regulates the various biological processes of the body. Being directly exposed to light, the skin cells play a role in this cycle. During prolonged exposure to UV, this rhythm can be disrupted, leading to disturbances at various levels. A study in vitro, conducted on human epidermal keratinocytes, focused on the expression of circadian cycle genes. Initially at 100%, this drops to 36% after 6 hours of exposure to UVB rays. The addition of 1% saffron extract in the culture medium allows the expression of these genes to maintain at 54% after 6 hours of exposure. This ingredient therefore helps to protect the various biological processes from the deregulation caused by UV.
Saffron: Are there any contraindications?
The saffron is a natural ingredient whose topical application presents almost no contraindications. For example, it is suitable for pregnant women, as well as young children. Caution is only necessary if you have a food allergy to saffron. This does not necessarily lead to a cosmetic allergy, but it is still recommended to apply a principle of caution and seek advice from a doctor if in doubt.
In which skincare products can one find saffron?
Due to its numerous benefits for the skin, Typology has incorporated saffron extract into its antioxidant serum. Enriched with antioxidant actives such as ferulic acid and Ashitaba extract (INCI: Angelica Keiskel Extract), this skincare product protects the skin from oxidative stress caused by exposure to UV rays, pollution or tobacco. Moreover, it slows down skin ageing for a firmer and more radiant complexion. This serum should be applied morning and evening to a previously cleansed and dried face. It is recommended to use it for at least four weeks to see the initial results.
NAVEED A. & al. Moisturizing effect of stable cream containing Crocus sativus extracts. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences (2014).
SHOJAOSADATI S. & al. Evaluation of antioxidant activities of bioactive compounds and various extracts obtained from saffron (Crocus sativus L.): a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology (2015).
BUTTERWECK V. & al. Saffron flower extract promotes scratch wound closure of keratinocytes and enhances VEGF production. Planta Medica (2017).
HOSSEINZADEH H. & al. Immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of Crocus sativus (Saffron) and its main active constituents: A review. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences (2019).