Given the sheer volume of 'skinnovations' flying out of South Korea ( K-beauty is said to be seven years ahead of the Western market in terms of research and development), it’s easy to dismiss many of the essences, slimes and sheet masks that come our way from the East as gimmicks, but there’s one fast-growing skincare category that has an impressive heritage and clinical results behind it: the cica cream.
From helping to repair and strengthen the skin barrier to improving collagen production, inhibiting scar formation, and fighting the signs of accelerated ageing, cica is the undercover hero healer that you need to add to your skincare rota. Facialist Jennifer Rock notes that it’s particularly worth considering if you have sensitive skin because the herb contains asiaticoside, "which soothes the skin and provides relief to anyone experiencing itchiness, redness or discomfort," she explains.
When Beauty Pie launched its £12.29 Happy Face Extreme Relief Cica Cream this month, described as a "cashmere blanket for your face" it caused a stampede. We agree, it's like a hug for your skin.
Whether you’re looking to relieve rosacea , calm acne or soothe sensitivity this little leaf does it all. Here’s why it’s such a mighty skincare ingredient, and why a cica cream deserves a spot on your bathroom shelf. Plus we've picked out the top cica creams that we think are really worth trying.
What is a cica cream?
So-called on account of its primary ingredient, the medicinal herb centella asiatica, and also thought to relate to the Latin for scar (cicatrix), a cica cream isn’t technically new. “Cica has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat burns and wounds for years,” says Rock, “but it also has a lengthy list of skincare benefits,” she notes. Hence the recent attention it’s been gathering as a skincare superstar.
Cica is known by different names around the world, so you may have seen it as gotu kola, tiger grass or even pennywort as it is known here in the UK. On the inci (ingredients) list you may also see it as asiatic acid or hydrocotyl, says Paula’s Choice Skincare founder Paula Begoun, who rates this soothing and antioxidant-rich ingredient highly. "Concentrations of five per cent show notable improvement in the skin’s moisture content," she says.
What are the benefits of a cica cream?
Centella asiatica has been used to treat everything from leprosy to anxiety to diarrhoea throughout history, but in pure skincare terms it’s renowned for its calming, soothing and moisturising effects. Cica creams are predominately marketed at sensitive, inflamed skin, or skin conditions such and psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis, and also as an ointment for the treatment of burns and scars.
With their antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, pro-healing potential, cica creams are often found in medicinal aisles of chemists and pharmacies, but they’re infiltrating everything from serums to toners too.
Facilaist Marie Reynolds also rates cica extremely highly as a beauty ingredinet for its firming and stress-protecting properties.
“Cica is rich in triterpene saponins, which are known to firm and tighten your skin’s appearance," she says "Cica is also rich in flavonoids, a powerful antioxidant agent, which may help regulate your skin’s cellular activity and fight off free radicals that cause oxidative stress. This can help protect your skin from environmental stressors.”
Centella asiatica also boasts high levels of essential fatty acids , which help to strengthen skin, boost hydration and protect skin from environmental damage, and research shows that it’s one of the relatively few herbal extracts that is actually absorbed into the skin and synthesised so it can be used efficiently by the body.
Why is cica especially good in winter?
Adding a cica cream into your skincare routine during the winter is especially beneficial due to its ability to help repair and boost the skin barrier, says Rock.
During the colder months, we are exposed to a lot of environmental stressors. Lifestyle habits such as going from the warmth of central heating to the cold outdoors, a (usually) richer diet and less inclination to exercise, and possibly more screen time exposing us to blue light, all cause oxidative stress and bring about free radicals which are very damaging to the skin. “All of these factors may increase conditions of inflammation, causing lacklustre skin and breakouts,” says Reynolds.
Is cica good for acne-prone skin?
Yes! “Due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, cica can be especially beneficial for the acne-prone,” says Rock. “Cica has some amazing amino acids, vitamins and minerals,” adds Reynolds, this clever combination of ingredients helps to support the skin barrier and prevent the formation of bacteria - the blighters that cause acne.
If you suffer from acne and you worry about suffocating your skin with heavy creams, cica is a great ingredient to watch out for. “It protects the skin without being an occlusive ingredient,” says Reynolds. Plus, “it can help to calm down any redness,” notes Rock.
Is cica cream good for sensitive skin and rosacea?
Studies strongly support the use of cica to address delicate, compromised skin. From speeding up skin cell synthesis and collagen production to facilitating faster healing from damage to slowing down scar formation and increasing circulation so that skin benefits from vitamins, nutrients and all the good stuff you apply, the herb has a seriously good rep in the skincare community.
“It is great for rosacea sufferers,” says Reynolds, “along with its anti-inflammatory response, it is a healing, regenerative and soothing ingredient that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for such purposes."
In addition, it is thought to reduce hyperpigmentation, as well as help, prevent premature photoaging. In terms of calming sensitivity, the anti-inflammatory and barrier enhancing benefits are real, but check the ingredients list of any cica cream for any rogue irritant ingredients which could detract from centella asiatica’s healing properties.
It seems a cica revolution is upon us. Here are eight of the best cica creams we've tested.