SPOTLIGHT On: Feverfew

An obscure cousin of charnomile and echmacea, the feverfew flower (Tanacetumpanhenium) is skin cares latest breakthrough star, garnering attention at this years American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) conference. Featured as the active ingredient in the new Aveeno Ultra-Calming line (which debuts this month), feverfew can also be found in Fresh Rice Face and Body Creams. Although the herb has been used for millennia to treat illnesses from migraines to menstrual cramps (Greek physician Dioscorides profiled the plants healing benefits in his De Materia Medica in the first century; its name is derived from the Latin word febrijugia, which means "fever lowering"), only recently have scientists begun to unlock its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential, especially as a treatment for acne, irritation, wrinkles, and sun damage.

Feverfew is a member of the chrysanthemum family (Compositae), disliked by some florists because blooms typically contain the allergen parthenolide. A Danish study on 190 Compositae-allergic patients published in Contact Dermatitis in 2001 found that feverfew caused more flare-ups (skin redness, itchiness, and blisters) than any other Compositae flowers. With a reputation built on sterile bandages and no-tears baby shampoo, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has a strict ingredient policy. To lower the risk of irritation, the company opted for a parthenolide-free extract (feverfew PFE) in its in-house plant research.

According to J&J data published in the March 2005 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, feverfew PFE proved to be the most effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant among 2,000 other botanicals ranging from aloe vera to white tea. When applied to cultured cells and actual human skin, the extract significantly reduced redness and irritation caused by histamines, shaving, and sun exposure. In lab grown cells, feverfew PFE neutralized free radicals from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and UV light, showing an ability to shield skin from a carcinogenic environment. The competition wasn't even close: In one test, 35 times the amount of green tea (the best runner-up) was needed to achieve the same anti-inflammatory effects. The startling results inspired the development of products ideal for sensitive complexions using feverfew PFE: Aveeno Ultra-Calming foaming cleanser, moisturizing cream, and daily moisturizer with SPF 15.

"In this case, science has made the natural ingredient better," says Leslie Baumann, MD, the chief of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who heard about J&Js study at the AAD meeting. She recommends the Aveeno line (currently the only one in the U.S. that contains feverfew PFE) to patients using retinoids or undergoing laser therapy because of its bonus antiaging and soothing benefits. "Inflammation may activate collagen-producing fibroblasts, but it also leads to damaging cell breakdown," Baumann says. "Applying feverfew before certain treatments protects skin from irritation."

According to Susan C. Taylor, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and an unpaid member of the J&J advisory board, feverfew can also improve rosacea, allergic dermatitis, and even acne. "Preliminary studies indicate that anti-inflammatories may be as effective as antibiotics at treating outbreaks." And for patients traveling to sunny locales, feverfew moisturizer is on Taylors must-pack list as a postexposure panacea. "This one ingredient can reduce redness, stop stinging, and prevent UV damage," she says. "It's perfect."