South Africa’s green goldmine

A photograph of Professor Namrita Lall from University of Pretoria’s department of plant sciencesCombining phytochemistry with traditional knowledge, Professor Namrita Lall is pushing boundaries in locally developed, natural plant actives. She is based at the University of Pretoria’s department of plant sciences, at the faculty of natural science.

South Africa’s plant diversity is the third largest in the world and presents a green goldmine for the global cosmetics industry, yet it has been largely underutilised up until now.

Did you know that South Africa is home to 3 000 recognised medicinal plants yet only 45 species have been commercialised?

With the demand for more natural or plant-based ingredients in personal care formulations showing no sign of slowing down, Prof Lall’s work holds immense potential for industry and economic development. She has discovered active compounds in several plant species which are suitable for use in cosmetics. The plants involved in her research are mostly indigenous with one or two of them being exotic.

Prof Lall has been working on medicinal plants for over 20 years and has succeeded in validating traditional knowledge using science to prove the efficacy of these plants. The result is a range of finished cosmetics products and a line of innovative actives that are ready for commercialisation.

Natural actives for cosmetics

The prototypes developed by Prof Lall are based largely on natural plant actives with proven efficacy. The range consists of market ready finished products (formulations) and active ingredients.

‘Our natural actives and formulations for finished products are backed by clinical studies, which have been made possible thanks to government and industry support. The University of Pretoria has invested heavily in patenting many of the actives and it holds a BABS permit, because a large portion of the research is based on traditional knowledge and local plant resources,’ says Prof Lall.

‘The university’s goal now is to source licensees from the South African cosmetics industry to produce the actives on a commercial scale for use in local and global cosmetics product development.’

The actives are diverse and focus on several common skin care concerns, including pigmentation or even tone, fine lines and wrinkles, dryness and sun protection.

Excellence with multiple benefits

Pack shots of various finished products developed using active ingredients in the Skin Naturals rangeDespite her humility, Prof Lall holds a long list of accolades, the most recent being The Order of Mapungubwe (April 2014), which is South Africa’s highest honour from President Jacob Zuma, for achievements in the international area which have served South Africa’s interests.

Prof Lall has been placed on the Essential Science Indicators list of the top one percent of publication outputs (citations) in the disciplines of pharmacology and toxicology. She was recently awarded with the Gauteng Accelerator Programme innovation competition, second prize nationally, which identifies emerging technology entrepreneurs for incubation and start up.

Prof Lall is also passionate about community work. She and her postgraduate students are currently involved in a project in Mamelodi, which is located east of Pretoria, in Gauteng, where they are assisting farmers to cultivate plants that could potentially be used for medicinal or cosmetics purposes. ‘One of the most exciting parts of my work is that it holds multiple benefits: for students who are getting their degrees; enhancing the local cosmetics industry in terms of community and economic development; and for the consumer or end user,’ she concludes.

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