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An apple picked for its cosmetic prowess. But can it deliver?

Apples and oranges in skin careIn cosmetics, the plant kingdom produces more ingredients than the Food Network. And every season sees a new crop. Notice all the cranberry and pumpkin products currently sold for fall? (Even if they come from a jar, have a two-year shelf life, and are sold year-round?)

Our interest in getting plants to do what chemicals have long done makes us ripe and curious beauty customers. Witness the latest obsession with the long-living Uttwiler Spatlauber apple (malus domestica), a tart and admittedly ugly Swiss variety that just won’t die. I admittedly fanned the flames for the apple when I covered it in Organic Spa, and Sarah Brown just wrote about it in Vogue. The fruit’s self-healing stem cells, used in many products from Clark’s Botanicals Cellular Lifting Serum ($355) to EmerginC Protocell Bio-Active Stem Cell Eye Cream($65), are newsworthy because they seem to prevent sun damage and soften wrinkles, according to small manufacturer studies. But even with the semi-scientific (and media) nod, the apple’s ascendancy isn’t a totally original tale. Many botanicals boast similar results—including orchid root and tumeric, grapes and berries, as well as a faction of vitamin C-rich fruit.

What does seem to be true is this—the more difficult it is for a plant to survive its environment (alpine sun exposure, frigid arctic temperatures, inhospitable drought), the more the skin-care industry covets it. That’s because a plant’s own finely tuned resources for fighting the elements (these are often antioxidants) are thought to be able to supplement ours.

Clark's Botanicals Cellular Lifting Serum
Apple stem cells are the latest botanical beauty discovery. But are they better than vitamin C?

But because these plants have never been subjected to a skin-care-Olympics-type of independent study, we can’t know how goji berry performs against arctic berry and all other berries in the sport of Reducing Wrinkles, Promoting Firmness, or Banishing Dark Circles. It’s also hard to tell just how much potent plant extract is in a given product—even with the ingredients listed in descending order by volume on the label.

I also sometimes also wonder if my product contains uber-plant concentrate or some sort of diluted veggie stock. For example, there are 1000’s of extracts taken from the green tea plant, according to cosmetic chemists, but there’s only one generic term for green tea used on the ingredient label. (Camellia Sinensis, if you must know.) No one has taken on the Herculean task of quantifying the value of plants in every beauty product.

So, it’s really too soon to compare apple stem cells to oranges and vitamin C. Though that certainly won’t stop beauty companies from telling you one is absolutely better. Determining which product out-performs the others is still a personal job of trial and error. A bobbing for apples.

Do you have a favorite botanical ingredient? Tell us, here!