A far cry from the sticky-sweet confection that bears its name, marshmallow has long been a secret weapon in the skincare providers’ arsenal, prized for its soothing and moisturizing properties. Today’s product formulators take their cues from history. Over the centuries, the root of the althaea officinalis plant has served as a poultice and lent its anti-inflammatory properties to treating burns and insect bites. “Marshmallow root is known as a skin-conditioning and healing agent—it helps relieve redness and irritation and also possesses emollient properties to soften and moisturize the skin,” says Anna De La Cruz, senior product brand manager for glo. “Marshmallow root extract can be incorporated into a wide variety of formulations, adding anti-inflammatory relief to any skincare product.” Thanks to its gentle, hydrating qualities, it’s beneficial for all clients, but dry, sensitive, or mature skin responds especially well to the ingredient, according to Mandi Vance, director of education and esthetics for Dr. Hauschka Skin Care. As each new facial serum and hand cream takes its place on the shelves, marshmallow gets back in touch with its roots and proves that it’s more than just fluff.
The roots of the marshmallow plant contain a thick, gum-like substance called mucilage that is used for medicinal purposes. It is a botanical form of hyaluronic acid that firms the skin and increases moisture levels. Says Dr. Hauschka’s Mandi Vance, the brand uses both the leaves and the roots for their moisturizing properties. “In addition to mucilage, the root extract contains a number of other ingredients that promote skin health, such as polysaccharides and flavonoids,” she says. “Mucilaginous plants like marshmallow are non-oily emollients with soothing and softening properties, which promote flexibility and resilience.” But the root isn’t the only part that possesses healing qualities—the leaf and the plant as a whole are rich sources of skin nutrition as well. Natalie Pergar, lead skincare trainer for Éminence Organic Skin Care lays out two options for product formulation:
Option one: Marshmallow extract, sourced from both the root and the leaf of the plant.
- Excellent anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory qualities
- High quantities of vitamin D
- Topical benefits from the root and the plant that help minimize redness and rejuvenate aging skin
- Night creams
- Wrinkle treatments
option two: Botanical hyaluronic acid from the plant.
- High mucilage content
- Topical benefits, only produced by the plant, that help hydrate and plump the skin
- Lotions and moisturizers
For brands that just use marshmallow root in a product or two, like Lush Cosmetics, it makes good business sense to seek out a reliable supplier—Lush depends on a distributor who sources theirs from the plant’s native Europe, says brand and product trainer Amanda Lee Sipenock. But skincare companies that implement the ingredient as a building block often choose to eliminate potential shortages and ensure that quality is up to par by growing their own. It thrives in varying climates, so it’s fairly easy to farm, and because more than one element of the plant is usable, it can play multiple roles in product collection (read: more bang for your buck).
Marshmallow root has been a staple of the Dr. Hauschka line since its launch in 1967, and root and leaf extracts, hand-harvested from the company’s own medicinal-plant gardens in Germany, are both used today. “The mucilage content is collected from two-year-old plants during the wintertime, when the plant is at its peak, generally on dry days in the middle of January,” says Mandi Vance. “Having our own certified-biodynamic gardens means that we do not have to rely on outside suppliers, and it also guarantees consistency of quality.”
Jurlique has also been harnessing marshmallow root’s “incredible power” for quite some time, according to education manager for North America Sara LaBree. It has been grown on the company’s organic farm in Australia and used in its product formulations since 1985. “It’s one of our heritage crops,” she says. Marshmallow root is featured in about 70 Jurlique products, including its newest launch, Activating Water Essence, which harnesses marshmallow root’s abilities so effectively that the brand reworked all of its treatment protocols to include the product when it launched.
At Ste. Anne’s Spa (Grafton, Canada), the decision to incorporate marshmallow root into Ste. Anne's Skin Nourishment products came with the territory—literally. “When we created our line, we looked around our own 500 acres to see what kind of botanicals were already growing and what we could cultivate that had the efficacy or properties we wanted. Marshmallow root was indigenous to our property and Ontario. It seemed ideal to help with hydration, balance, and resilience,” says brand manager Nikki Peter
Like bacon and eggs, some things just go together. Skin experts tell us their favorite matches for the campfire favorite...with nary a graham cracker or chocolate square in sight.
“We’ve found that marshmallow pairs particularly well with berries, including açai, blackberry, and strawberry. The antioxidant-rich berries pair harmoniously with the anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties of the marshmallow plant.”—Natalie Pergar, lead skincare trainer, Éminence Organic Skin Care
“When we use marshmallow root in our MMMelting Marshmallow Moments Bath Oil, it’s mixed with fair-trade organic cocoa butter and organic shea butter, which are moisturizing and softening for the skin, and with a bit of almond oil, which, of course, will moisturize but is also soothing. Marshmallow powder, chamomile, and marigold powders are added in together for a trifecta of incredibly soothing ingredients for the skin. A bath oil is a great way to moisturize and soothe, especially during the winter when skin can get irritated with the change in the weather.” —Amanda Lee Sipenock, brand and product trainer, Lush Cosmetics
“Marshmallow is used in water-based formulas, not pure oils, due to solubility. It pairs well with botanicals that have similar hydrating and moisturizing properties. A good example is plant-based hyaluronic acid, known as ‘nature’s moisture magnet’ for its ability to retain many times its own weight in water.”—Corinne Morley, beauty expert, Trilogy
Four Problems, One Solution
Bad hair day? The thought of lathering up with marshmallow may conjure a messy mental image, but the plant’s humectant properties make it surprisingly ideal for conditioning, moisturizing, and softening sad strands. Trilogy’s Refresh & Shine Shampoo and Conditioner, designed for hair that lacks body and shine, both feature the ingredient. “When mixed with water, marshmallow forms a slippery gel-like substance and can bring a mousse-like texture to products,” says Trilogy beauty expert Corinne Morley. “It attracts and retains moisture, so it’s an excellent ingredient for limp or dry hair in need of a boost, and its slipperiness helps detangle hair.”
Feeling the effects of winter? Marshmallow root can
help transform rough, dry skin into a blank canvas, creating a clean slate for treatment purposes. It can enhance the performance of serums and moisturizers by hydrating the skin and improving its ability to retain moisture, says Jurlique’s Sara LaBree, and “by activating the skin’s hydration, it creates the optimum environment for the rest of your skincare ritual.” Indeed, all facial services would benefit from marshmallow, says Éminence Organic Skin Care’s Natalie Pergar. “All skin needs sufficient hydration and anti-inflammation to encourage the best results from the facial,” she says. “The better your skin is hydrated, the better everything works.”
Plagued by bags, sags, and wrinkles? Clients seeking firming results would be well served to incorporate products with marshmallow, says Pergar. Its ability to attract and hold water promotes resilience and regeneration of tissue, and it helps to prevent and slow degeneration of hyaluronic acid in the skin, an essential element in skin elasticity, says Ste. Anne’s Skin Nourishment brand manager Nikki Peter. According to Pergar, “the botanical hyaluronic acid from the marshmallow plant mirrors the hyaluronic acid that occurs naturally in the deeper layers of our skin. The botanical form helps to keep the skin smooth and plump through its ability to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water.”
Nursing fresh wounds or scars from old ones? “Marshmallow root’s botanical name, althaea officinalis, means ‘to heal,’ and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates used marshmallow as a wound treatment,” says LaBree. The extract is an anti-inflammatory with high levels of vitamin D that increases the natural antioxidants in the skin, says Pergar, while “clinical studies have shown that the botanical hyaluronic acid from the marshmallow plant helps wounds heal more quickly, and can reduce the appearance of both old and new scars.”
Althaea officinalis isn’t the only member of the mallow family with something to offer. Often confused with its more famous cousin, Malva sylvestris, or common mallow, might not be quite as effective as marshmallow, but its powers of moisturization are still strong. “It’s rich in mucilage and has exceptional hydrating and emollient properties,” says Elizabeth Murchison, director of education for Guinot. Guinot uses mallow in intensive formulations like Nutrizone, a nurturing cream, and Crème Hydra Finish, a face cream, to treat sensitivities and dehydration and to provide overall nourishment to the skin.
At Your Service
Marshmallow root’s emollient properties are perhaps most welcome in the dead of winter, when dry, chapped skin is common. Facial protocols in particular benefit from the plant’s naturally hydrating attributes. Here, are a few examples:
Earth Stone Facial ($130, 1 hour) at Ste. Anne’s Spa (Grafton, Canada) uses heated massage stones in concert with the property’s own marshmallow-rich formulas—cleansers, toner, and gommage, among others—for a nourishing and soothing treatment. After a skin analysis, double cleansing, toning, exfoliation, and mask application, the warm stones massage face, décolleté, and limbs to promote product penetration, induce muscle relaxation, and increase circulation in tired skin.
Organic Facial (starting at $150, 50 minutes) at Pacific Waters Spa at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa (Huntington Beach, CA) can be customized to use Éminence Organic Skin Care’s (www.eminenceorganics.com) marshmallow-laden Firm Skin products as needed. After a consultation determines which formulas are suitable for the client’s skin type, the treatment proceeds with a steam cleaning, toning, and exfoliation. If prescribed, the Firm Skin Açai Masque is then applied, followed by a rosehip firming oil and a willow-bark booster. The facial concludes with an application of Firm Skin Açai Moisturizer, age-corrective eye serum, and matte lip tint.
Jurlique Signature Facial (starting at $95, 30 minutes) at Nature’s Spa by Jurlique at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar San
Diego uses marshmallow-heavy Activating Water Essence from Jurlique (www.jurlique.com) to prep the skin. After an aromatherapeutic grounding ritual, a cleansing and exfoliation, a facial massage, and a mask application, the esthetician warms a few drops of Activating Water Essence between his or her hands and spreads it over the client’s face, neck, and décolleté. A treatment serum and moisturizer follows, with a spritz of rosewater mist to finish.
At CAP Beauty (New York City), the high-vibrational the alchemic Facial ($300, 90 minutes) uses In Fiore products (www.infiore.net) with marshmallow root to cleanse, peel, and nourish the skin. The service begins with In Fiore’s 4-2-4 oil-cleansing method to tone the skin, followed by an alpha-hydroxy peel, a mineral-mask application, a lymphatic drainage massage, and a foot massage.
Clients can experience the benefits of marshmallow root extract during a Glo Facial ($97, 75 minutes) at Fringe (Chicago). The facial be customized with the Calming Seaweed Mask from Glo Professional (www.gloprofessional.com) that incorporates marshmallow root to detoxify, purify, and soothe skin. Anti-inflammatories like marshmallow are a boon to spa pros, says Glo's Anna De La Cruz: They minimize the potential for skin irritation during professional facial treatments.