It’s green, prickly, and unexpectedly good for you. What is it?

Marta first noticed cactus pear extract in Skin Nutrition's Cleansing Gel as a potent ingredient. Cactus pear, which bears the name 'nopales' in Mexico, and is scientifically known as Opuntia (of varying species), can be found in the Western hemisphere in temperate and subtropical climates. The plant boasts some surprising properties such as being able to suppress tumor growth in nude mice and helping prevent a severe hangover.

According to WebMD, prickly pear cactus is also used medicinally for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, colitis, diarrhea, benign prostatic hypertrophy and to fight viral infections. To combat hangovers, the extract can alleviate symptoms such as dry mouth and nausea.

As a cancer fighter, cactus pear is impressive.  In studies, tumor growth inhibition was comparable to the synthetic retinoid N-(4-hydroxyphernyl) retinamide (4-HPR), which is currently used as a chemopreventive agent in ovarian cancer chemoprevention.

That isn't all. Cactus pear has plenty of antioxidants, such as ascorbic acid, carotenoids, reduced glutathione, cysteine, taurine, and flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin. More recently, studies have also found betalains (betanin and indicaxanthin) which are a kind of pigment that are especially responsible for the plant’s antioxidant potency. As Marta found, people who ate 500 g fruit pulp daily for two weeks showed decreased lipid oxidation and improved antioxidant status (doing a better job than vitamin C on it's own, according to one study).

For your skin, these antioxidants are sure to be helpful with free radicals. Skin Nutrition gives cactus pear extract credit for providing potent antioxidant and purifying, soothing and calming the skin to help prevent the appearance of redness and blotchiness.

Given the high levels of antioxidants and it's other medicinal benefits, it would be nice to see more of it in skincare products. Marta sees it as an up-and-coming botanical to watch, so heed her advice and keep an eye out for it!