Buzzworthy Skincare Ingredient: Centella Asiatica
By Dr. Afton Chavez
In this article:
- What is Centella Asiatica?
- What Can It Do for the Skin?
- Special Considerations for Centella Asiatica
- Recommended Centella Asiatica Products
Centella asiatica is all the buzz these days, and if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that this herbal plant makes an appearance in a number of new skincare products.
Centella asiatica, also known as gotu kola, pennywort, Brahmi, and tiger grass, is a plant that has been utilized orally and topically for years within traditional herbal medicine, as well as for culinary purposes. The plant grows in temperate, wet regions of Southeast Asia, South Africa, Madagascar, and even parts of the Southeastern United States, among other places. A leafy green vegetable rich in carotenoids, vitamins C and B complex, and other nutrients that have health benefits, it is consumed in porridge, salads, and wellness beverages in many countries, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India.
Centella asiatica has been reported to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects for a range of different health conditions, and as a result, there is interest in its use among Western practices.
In the skincare world specifically, Centella asiatica shows up frequently in moisturizers referred to as “cica creams.” The term “cica” is derived from the Latin word “cicatrix,” which means scar, and is so named because many of the studies on Centella asiatica have focused on its role in wound healing and scar formation. Centella asiatica has actually been used in skincare products for many years, but has largely flown under the radar until becoming recently popularized in Korean skin care (K-beauty) products.
The main active “ingredients” in the Centella asiatica herb are triterpenes such as asiaticoside, madecasosside, asiatic acid, and madecassic acid. These are useful names to know because they may be listed among a product’s ingredients. There are also several proprietary extracts of Centella asiatica out there, such as Madecassolã, Blastoemullinaã, and Centellaseã.
Are you wondering what makes Centella asiatica such a noteworthy plant? Centella asiatica has been reported to have a number of possible benefits for the skin, including antioxidant and antimicrobial activity, anti-inflammatory properties, enhanced wound healing, improved scar formation, and even superior hydration and skin barrier function.
Most skincare products incorporate Centella asiatica into their cica creams for the purpose of soothing and moisturizing the skin. Although there is a lot of anecdotal hype about the moisturizing capabilities of cica creams, there is relatively limited data backing it within the scientific literature. In one non-randomized, non-blinded study of 25 people, preparations of Centella asiatica creams and hydrogels of different concentrations were applied to the inner forearms and compared with controls (i.e., creams/hydrogels didn’t contain Centella asiatica) that were applied to the outer forearms over the course of four weeks.
The study found that the areas treated with Centella asiatica had statistically significant improvement in skin redness, transepidermal water loss (i.e., ability to maintain hydration), and decreased oxidative stress (i.e., damage from inflammation).
It was encouraging that these findings were accentuated with increasing concentrations of Centella asiatica, but the skin on the outer forearms might have inherently different characteristics than the skin of the inner forearms, so making comparisons between the two may not be foolproof. Another study, which was a randomized, assessor-blinded evaluation of 20 women, demonstrated that skin hydration and barrier function was improved after using Centella asiatica. However, it was applied in a fluid that also contained hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which are well-known moisturizers, so it’s hard to know how much of the benefit seen was from the Centella asiatica versus the other ingredients.
Another intriguing finding is that numerous studies have demonstrated capabilities in increased collagen production, enhanced scar strength, and improved wound healing with the use of Centella asiatica. The majority of these have taken place in the lab and in animal models, but there are several in humans, and even a few clinical trials. For example, one clinical trial was a Russian study in which they studied Madecassolã in patients with scleroderma, which is a disorder of collagen/scarring, and another which was conducted in diabetic patients at a hospital in Thailand, which showed improved wound contraction (i.e., the wound healed faster). There have also been human studies that show improvements in scar pigmentation as well as prevention of keloids and hypertrophic scars. Based on the effects we’ve seen on collagen and healing, one can see how Centella asiatica could also have benefits in minimizing the appearance of wrinkles and aging, which are caused by a loss of collagen over time.
As with all plant-based herbal products, there is a risk of skin reactions if the product is not formulated appropriately (i.e., not removing the parts of certain plants that can cause irritation and allergic reactions). In the dermatology office, it’s not uncommon to see people come in with red, inflamed, itchy skin (contact dermatitis) caused by plant components in natural products, so it’s important to look for products that have been tested on sensitive skin and to pay attention to how your skin reacts to new products. Many of the trusted skincare brands are clued into this and work hard to formulate their products so that they are less likely to cause problems. However, there’s always a chance it could happen, so for people who are prone to getting skin reactions, sometimes it’s a good idea to do your own “patch test.” Before putting it on a larger area, apply the product to one area on the forearm for a couple of weeks to make sure you don’t get a reaction.
On that note, from a dermatologist’s perspective, it’s worth mentioning that two of the proprietary formulations of Centella asiatica (Madecassolã and Blastoemulinaã) are made with a combination of Centella asiatica and neomycin. Neomycin is a topical antibiotic that is extremely common in many of the over-the-counter wound creams, but dermatologists aren’t huge fans of it because it frequently causes allergic skin reactions. The good news is that neither of these formulations are used in many of the commercial cica creams or in the products I’ve highlighted below, but it’s good to be aware of in case you come across them elsewhere.
Another important thing to highlight about the Centella asiatica herb is that it comes from the Apiaceae botanical family, which includes many wonderful edible plants that you’d recognize, such as celery, fig, fennel, parsnip, parsley, and dill. Despite their deliciousness, this family of plants does make up one of the most common causes of a skin reaction called phytophotodermatitis, which is a fancy way of saying “skin inflammation related to plants and sun.” Basically, if you get the plant substance on your skin and then go into sunlight, it can cause blistering and redness that ultimately fades to a brown discoloration. Fortunately, most skincare products use distilled extractions of the plant so this doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t seem to be a reported issue thus far with the cica creams. On the other hand, some sources even show that Centella asiatica can fight redness and irritation caused by the sun and other inflammation.
To sum it up, this trendy herbal plant is making waves in the skincare world due to the touted benefits of fighting inflammation, improving hydration, enforcing the skin barrier, and improving wound healing and scar formation.
With so many options to choose from and so many considerations, it can be difficult to find the right product. iHerb Beauty carries a range of Centella Asiatica or cica products, and here are some of my personal faves:
Note: This blog is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice. Content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options. Information on this blog should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. The claims made about specific products throughout this blog are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.