It’s the K-beauty skincare ingredient that promises to save dry and sensitive skin. Here’s why the cica cream revolution is causing such a stir, and where to find one

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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.

Your cica shopping list

The cult one for strengthening a sensitive skin barrier

If you've got this far into this article, you'll know that all cica creams strengthen skin, but this offering from Beauty Pie is specifically for strengthening sensitive skin. The Beauty Pie Happy Face Extreme Relief Cica Cream , typical price £60 (£12.29 for members!), caused quite the storm when it launched recently, selling thousands of the tubes in just a few days.  Especially appropriate for winter, it’s rich and repairing and feeds your skin barrier. Plus, it's fragrance-free, lightweight and almost gel-like. It absorbs easily to negate the need for intense rubbing, which can irritate sensitive types.

Buy now

The K-beauty one

Dr Jart’s Cicapair range includes a rich, hydrating Tiger Grass Gel Cream , £27, (tiger grass is yet another term for centella asiatica), redness-reducing  Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment with SPF 30 , from £12, and a lighter, gel textured Tiger Grass Repair Serum , £38, to cool and calm irritated, inflamed skin and make it feel juicy and human again (I recently drained my vial of this). Basically, it comforts reactive skin from every angle. It's GTG design and social media manager Jemma's ride or die year-round mosituiser.

Buy now from £12

The French pharmacy one

La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume , £14,  is a basic, fragrance-free barrier booster that instantly soothes sore skin and helps to protect it from further damage. It’s fairly thick, so takes chapped skin to task but might prove troublesome if you’re spot-prone. Keep it in the cupboard for dry, flaky, itchy and scratchy episodes.

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The hydrating one

Monday Muse The Juice Daily Serum,  £40 is a lightweight fragrance-free daily serum that plumps up dry and dehydrated skin and helps to keep that old skin barrier healthy. The addition of niacinamide targets dark spots too - win!

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The lightweight one

Not only does Marie Reynolds Reson8,  £46 include cica (it's listed as gotu kola) but also arnica, melon extract, aloe, green tea and even passion fruit seed, all of which help to heal and soothe the skin. The lightweight hydrogel feels cooling on the skin and helps to support the lipid barrier, protecting and calming skin.

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The eye one

With hyaluronic acid as well as trusty cica, this cooling eye stick Skin Proud Icicle Cooling Eye Serum,  £14.95 is a quick fix for tired, puffy eyes. It's one of Boots' best-selling beauty products, the serum is instantly cooling, helping to calm the sensitive eye area and add hydration to the thin skin which is so often thirsty.

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The use anywhere one

Centella asiatica teams up with hydrating shea butter, coconut and jojoba to calm and soothe in Burt's Bees' 99% natural origin Res-Q Cream With Cica  £12.99 It comes out of the tube in a thick cream texture and works to boost the skin's moisture barrier and improve the tone and texture of the skin. Reviewers have been using it on post-shave scalps and faces as well as dry hands and elbows and say it helps minimise itching and redness too. Our GTG tester used it on her teenage son's dry and eczema-prone arms.

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The healing one

We know cica is good for healing and Decleor's Cica-Botanic Balm , £26.25, is certainly living up to that reputation, with people singing its praises for soothing burns and calming irritated, red skin. Centella Asiatica takes on the job of reducing any irritation, while eucalyptus is responsible for healing and rosemary hydrates. It's bright orange when it comes out of the pot but the bright hue does fade when applied.

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The luxe one

Guerlain have recently added to their anti-ageing range, abeille royale, and the Intense Repair Youth Oil-in-Balm  £174 has become a favourite of GTG's editorial director, Victoria Woodhall. "It kind of feels like a rich night cream," she reports. In fact, the thick balm is designed to be used as a mask, morning and evening, when your skin is feeling particularly dry or in need of some TLC. Apply a layer of the stuff, which does smell a little bit of honey and we're not complaining, leave it on for ten minutes before massaging in any excess product.

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