For those of us blessed with dry, sensitive skin, building out a skin-care routine can, at best, be daunting and, at worst, painful. You can scour the internet for hours upon hours and walk the aisles of Sephora, sampling all the new! and! exciting! products! with! crazy! new! ingredients! that promise all benefits and no irritation, only to end up disappointed.
Recently though, an old-school ingredient has been making the rounds on skin-care shelves. “Centella asiatica — nicknamed ‘cica’— is an antioxidant-rich herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine,” says Dr. Hadley King, a New York City-based dermatologist. “The plant is known for its anti-inflammatory and highly moisturizing properties and has been effective against everything from burns to psoriasis.”
Dr. Sejal Shah, the founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology (who is also based in New York City) is a fan of the ingredient because of its soothing and reparative properties. “‘Cica’ may also be a reference to cicatrization, which means wound healing,” she explains. “While [cica-containing] products aren’t exactly for wound healing, they are meant to soothe, repair and protect the skin.”
According to Dr. Shah, cica’s complexion benefits are the result of a number of “active substances that have wound healing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and skin barrier repairing properties.” Those substances include asiatic acid, madecassic (brahmic) acid and asiaticoside, brahmoside — all of which can be spotted on ingredient lists if you’re not sure the product you’re looking at is the real deal.
“Many other ingredients that are effective in these ways can be irritating, so the fact that cica can provide these benefits without irritation makes it ideal for people with sensitive skin, or for people who are using other ingredients that irritate their skin — like retinoids or benzoyl peroxide or hydroquinone,” adds Dr. King.
Domestic and K-beauty brands alike have been featuring the ingredient in a wide range of products. Neogen makes an entire line of cica-centered products and items from Dr. Jart’s Cicapair range have shown up too many Instagram shelfies to count. Really, cica’s spike in visibility and popularity can be attributed to one thing: It works. “Yes, cica is a trendy ingredient right now, but I think the science shows that the hype is warranted,” says Dr. King. “Studies have shown that the cica extract is an effective wound-healing agent and has also been documented to be effective in the treatment of keloids, phlebitis, cellulitis, slow-healing wounds and stretch marks.”
As with any new skin-care product, you should consult your doctor if you’re concerned about how your skin might react to the ingredient, but Dr. King points out that cica has “no known adverse effects from topical application and contact sensitivity is considered unlikely because it is a weak sensitizer,” which basically means: Don’t eat it, and you’ll probably be fine.