When a reader asked me to look at a brand called Youth Revive, I noticed that they were using a "natural sunscreen" ingredient called phytessence urucum, derived from a plant and supposedly a more powerful sun protector than vitamin E. Because I am not entirely convinced that conventional sunscreen ingredients (chemical or physical) are all that safe, I am always interested to come across potential alternatives or techniques, such as the clever one used by Chella, to make existing ones safer.

Cosmetic companies, such as Murad, have recently been finding plant extracts that help protect skin from the sun's rays. In Murad's case, it is pomegranate. However, the claims made for phytessence urucum - in a clinical test, cells treated with it had 63% less damage than cells exposed to UV without protection - piqued my curiosity. It turned out - whether you are a budding botanist or wrinkle warrior - to be really interesting.

Phytessence urucum is caprylic/capric triglycerides and bixa orellana seed extract. Sometimes called the lipstick tree because of the red dye (the original Amerindian warpaint) that can be made from the seeds, bixa orellana is a South American shrub. It is a strikingly beautiful plant and is used to cure an implausibly long list of ills, from snakebites to pleurisy. The red pigment, called anatto in the food industry, is all important as it contains something called bixin.

Which takes us to the outperforming vitamin E part. It isn't exactly that it is more potent than vitamin E, but that it has a higher concentration of delta-tocotrienol than any other plant. And delta-tocotrienol is not your mother's vitamin E; it is the best form of vitamin E that you can get. In addition, oil made from the seeds (of which there are gazillions as even a small tree produces about 270 kilos) is rich in carotenoids, making it an effective antioxidant. Alpha-tocotrienol has been shown to be 40 - 60 times more potent than alpha-tocopherol as an antioxidant in the prevention of lipid peroxidation. Delta-tocotrienol has been shown to be the most effective tocotrienol in inhibiting human breast cancer and liver cancer cells.