Needlephobes, rejoice! One of the hottest ingredients in cosmetics chemistry delivers a Botox-like muscle-numbing effect—without the syringe or the hefty price tag. This patented active ingredient, called Gatuline Expression, is sourced from a benign plant—no scary botulinum toxins here!

Developed by Gattefossé, a company based in Lyons, France, Gatuline Expression is derived from Acmella oleracea, a small plant cultivated in the tropics of South America, Africa and Asia. After analyzing several of the plant’s compounds, Gattefossé scientists isolated the bio-molecules responsible for the phenomenon. They then purified and concentrated them and designed a skin-care ingredient that attenuates the contraction of the subcutaneous facial muscles and delays the formation and deepening of expression lines. In cell cultures, this active ingredient showed a complete inhibition of muscle contractions within an hour, according to Marisol Bello, marketing manager for Gattefossé USA. “Unlike Botox, once you wash the product off, you have a recovery period and then the contractions continue,” she says. “The effect is reversible.” Yet there is also a cumulative effect: Tests on human subjects showed that, after 20 days of use, there was a visible reduction in 16 percent of surface wrinkles, such as crow’s feet, the “11” between the brows and frown lines.

But how does an international laboratory discover such an obscure plant? Surely it doesn’t send pith-helmeted explorers into the jungle to do random searches. Such innovations typically arise from a combination of the scientists’ own broad knowledge of the plant world, their constant monitoring of scientific literature and their connections with global research universities, including those pursuing agricultural studies, explains Eric Brun, president and CEO of Gattefossé USA. But in this case, investigating Acmella oleracea was the brainchild of the company’s R&D director, Frédéric Demarne, who once lived in Madagascar and Réunion. He recalls that people of the region use the plant—called mafane in French—as a spice in their cooking and says it creates a tingling sensation on the tongue.

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If efficacy can be judged by popularity, it’s significant that Gatuline Expression is the 130-year-old company’s fastest-selling cosmetics ingredient. It’s already available in dozens of anti-aging face- and eye-treatment products across many international brands. For the beauty consumer who is anxious to take advantage of this exciting— well, actually, numbing—new ingredient, Bello points out that some beauty companies tout Gatuline Expression on their labels or in their website product notes, while others—perhaps those less inclined to reveal their outsourcing of ingredients—simply list it as Acmella oleracea.

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