Alfalfa is something that is fed to cows or sold in sorry looking salads by the kind of health food shops where everything tastes like hemp. So why is L'Oreal touting it - with the word INNOVATION in capitals - as the latest anti-aging ingredient in its new potion Dermo-Expertise Collagen Remodeler? Every cosmetic company needs a new and novel ingredient, the cosmetic equivalent of a killer app, but is there anything to alfalfa than more fodder for the hapless consumer?

Alfalfa goes by the botanical name of medicago sativa. Although it is, as mentioned above, a stalwart of the vegan diet, many of the claims made about its amazing healthful and curative properties remain unproven. The plant does, however, contain saponins (as does soy), which are phtyochemicals with antioxidant properties. That's useful, but it doesn't necessarily make it, as L'Oreal puts it, a 'collagen bio-activator'.

Online searches of medicago sativa and collagen turn up very little - other than, quelle surprise, references to L'Oreal and this particular product. Casting my net a little wider, I found that LVMH, the French luxury brand conglomerate has filed a patent for an invention for stimulating collagen lV and another for promoting hair growth both using alfalfa saponins. Alfalfa has also been explored as an milder (non-irritating) alternative to retinol exfoliants.

For more information on alfalfa, it is instructive to go back to cows. The Canadian government notes that alfalfa as cow feed can have some toxic effects, caused photosensitization in cattle with white skin and made (because it is a phytoestrogen) some cows and sheep infertile. People who have taken alfalfa supplements have succumbed to a variety of ills, from lupus-like symptoms to skin inflammation (source).

Nothing I have found so far convinces me that L'Oreal is onto something with alfalfa. However, the company claims that 87% of women who tried Collagen Remodeler 'saw fuller, younger skin'.  Perhaps something else is responsible?

Atelocollagen is next on the ingredients list. This is a pharmaceutical-grade collagen used in wound healing and also known as atelopeptide type 1 collagen. Although it looks promising, I can see why L'Oreal may be reluctant to promote it and is honing in on pea shoots. One of the makers of atelocollagen describes the process thus: "it is produced by enzymatic digestion of the fresh skin of a cartilaginous salt water fish, the great blue shark (Prionace glauca), followed by succinylation." If you don't like the sound of that, or are concerned about shark extinction, you may be cheered to know that it can also be obtained from cows. Alfalfa-eating ones.....?

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Active Ingredients: Ensulizole (1.8%), Octinoxate (7.5%)

Inactive Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Cyclohexasiloxane, Alcohol Denat., HDI/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Dipropylene Glycol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Triethanolamine, Tocopheryl Acetate, Boswellia Serrata Extract, Manganese Gluconate, Medicago Sativa Extract (Alfalfa), Atelocollagen, Polysilicone 8, Caprylyl Glycol, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Dimethiconol, Pentaerythritol, Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate, Sodium Hydroxide, Biosaccharide Gum 1, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Sodium Chondroitin Sulfate, Disodium EDTA, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Fragrance, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Alpha Isomethyl Ionone, Hydroxyisohexyl 3 Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Benzyl Salicylate, Linalool, Hexyl Cinnamal, Citronellol