Rooibos extracts in skin care products can help prevent the development of skin cancer and even delay the onset of malignant tumours, a recent study by Dr Tandeka Magcwebeba, a doctoral student at Stellenbosch University, has found.
Using products that cotain rooibos extracts such as soaps, sun creams and lotions may even delay the onset of malignant tumours, the research showed.
"Lower concentrations of rooibos extracts may be able to prevent the development of skin cancer by stopping the multiplication of cancerous cells and removing these cells by prompting them to commit 'suicide'," says Magcwebeba, who conducted the study as part of her doctorate in biochemistry.
"Once the skin has been exposed to the sun's ultra violet (UV) rays, rooibos extracts will remove precancerous damaged cells and also block the onset of inflammation - the latter being one of the processes that promote the formation of tumours in skin."
According to Magcwebeba, it is better to use rooibos extracts during the early stages of cancer development when they are more effective in prolonging the progression of cancerous cells into a tumour.
She says one of the major reasons why rooibos extracts are incorporated into skin care products is because "they contain certain natural compounds [polyphenols] that give them their anti-oxidant properties".
Magcwebeba adds that these compounds, which are found in most plants, are linked with the prevention of various chronic disorders, including cancer.
She says the presence of these compounds in an extract may also help to predict its activity and may thus serve as a measure of quality control to ensure that rooibos extracts are biologically active before being used in cosmetic products.
Magcwebeba's study focused on promoting the use of rooibos extracts in an ointment rather than consuming it as a beverage or tea.
"Studies on well-researched skin products have shown that topical application is more effective as the product is easily absorbed when it is directly applied on the skin."
Her research will provide knowledge towards the development of topical products that would be less invasive and cheaper to prevent cancer development, says Magcwebeba.
"South Africa has one of highest rates of skin cancer, and one of the factors contributing this problem is attributed to non-compliance to prevention strategies and the treatment is reported to be highly invasive, expensive and tends to have a high recurrence rate."
Magcwebeba says rooibos not only helps to prevent the development of skin cancer but is also used to treat eczema, acne, nappy rash, colic in babies, nausea, heartburn, cramps, hay fever and asthma in folk medicine. It is also known to improve appetite, reduces nervous tension, promotes sleep and boosts the immune system.
Magcwebeba says she now focuses on how a different plant (Gannabos) can help fight cancer and inflammation, but will definitely go back to rooibos in future.
Dr Tandeka Magcwebeba is a postdoctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University's Department of Biochemistry. She recently spoke about her research at the "New Voices in Science" colloquium held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advance Study.
This is an edited version of a story first published on Stellenbosch University's website. Published here with kind permission.