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Can you improve you mood with a cosmetic ingredient? Yes, you can… but you may not.

Conundrum: A logical postulation that evades resolution, an intricate and difficult problem

Improving your mood is what this skin care ingredient promises: Zanthoxylum Alatum Fruit Extract (and) Glycerin (and) Pentylene Glycol (and) Aqua / Water.

This ingredient illustrates the constraints that the cosmetic industry faces: the FDA does not allow the use of chemicals classified as medicines by the FDA, be it prescription or over-the-counter (OTC). Improving your mood would be one activity cosmetics are not allowed to do.

But the industry found a loophole: it can “cheat” by using medicinal plant extracts. The FDA does not allow using an alkaloid in a skin care product Why? There is a good reason why the FDA wants an MD to prescribe medicine and follow you while you use it.  Alkaloids are heavily regulated because they can be dangerous.  The loophole? The cosmetic industry is allowed to add a plant extract that contains alkaloids to a cosmetic. This doesn’t mean you should buy this product. Natural does not mean safe. All those poisonous plants can kill and they do, as Agatha Christie’s novels show.

Is a plant extract less dangerous to use topically? We do know that it’s possible to deliver medications using a patch. Delivery will depend on the chemical structure of the medication but there are many ways of optimizing it. What we know is that the skin is not impermeable and whatever you apply to to the skin does not necessarily stay on your skin. It may get to your blood and other organs.

Zanthoxylum armatum is a traditional Chinese medicine used for the treatment of acute appendicitis. Its common name is Timur and has been traditionally used for the treatment of various diseases such as abdominal pain, headache, fever, and inflammation.  Alkaloids in this genus include quinolines, isoquinolines, and amide alkaloids, and they have different pharmacological activities. The analgesic activity of alkaloids inhibits pain via opioid receptors in the central nervous system. 

Let’s leave medicinal plants, used in Chinese or any ethnic medicine, to be studied by phytochemists. Then, let’s purify the active constituent/s and use it in an informed manner, at the right concentration and, if potentially hazardous, let’s make sure an MD is overseeing its use. You don’t want quinolines, isoquinolines, and amide alkaloids in your cosmetics!

Take-home lesson: If you want to improve your mood, you may be better off by going to your MD and requesting an antidepressant. You can also have a wine glass with dinner, or go to the gym. All of these will change your mood, although they work by very different mechanisms.


Alam F, Din KM, Rasheed R, Sadiq A, Jan MS, Minhas AM, Khan A. Phytochemical investigation, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and antinociceptive activities of Zanthoxylum armatum DC extracts-in vivo and in vitro experiments. Heliyon. 2020 Nov 25;6(11):e05571. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05571. PMID: 33294703; PMCID: PMC7701350.

Tran Trung Hieu, Soon-Il Kim, Young-Joon Ahn, Toxicity of Zanthoxylum piperitum and Zanthoxylum armatum Oil Constituents and Related Compounds to Stomoxys calcitrans (Diptera: Muscidae), Journal of Medical Entomology, Volume 49, Issue 5, 1 September 2012, Pages 1084–1091,

Verma K, Kumar B, Raj H, Sharma A. A Review on Chemical Constituents, Traditional Uses, Pharmacological Studies of Zanthoxylum armatum (Rutaceae). JDDT [Internet]. 15Apr.2021 [cited 19Apr.2023];11(2-S):136-42. Available from:


DISCLAIMER: These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.