Centella asiatica—or cica, for short—is a perennial plant native to the wetlands of Asia that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In recent years, it has gained popularity in skincare thanks to its soothing and healing properties. Often found in K-beauty products, cica has been touted as a miracle ingredient that’s gentle enough for even the most sensitive and reactive skin types.
Curious about cica? We asked Dr. Meghan O’Brien, a global consulting dermatologist for Kiehl’s, and Vancouver-based dermatologist Dr. Frances Jang of Dermapure to decode the buzzy ingredient for us.
What is cica?
Also known as gotu kola, Indian pennywort and tiger grass, cica—pronounced “see-ca”—has long been used for medical purposes. “In Asia, it has been used for thousands of years,” says O’Brien, nothing that its most common uses have been for wound and burn healing, prevention and treatment of hypertrophic (raised) scars and inflammatory conditions of the skin. And it’s not just humans who enjoy the benefits of cica: tigers are known to rub their wounds against the plant, hence its “tiger grass” nickname.
More recently, the botanical extract has played a starring role in a slew of popular Korean skincare products, including Dr. Jart’s bestselling Cicapair line. Primarily sought after for its soothing and hydrating benefits, Jang says that cica also boasts antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which contributes to its popularity. Along with retinol, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, cica is one of the most in-demand skincare active of the moment and pops up in everything from cleansers and face masks to moisturizers.
What are the benefits of cica in skincare?
Cica has a long laundry list of skin-boosting benefits. Aside from calming inflammation and strengthening the skin barrier (the outermost layer, which regulates hydration levels and protects against external stressors, like pollution), one of its big pros is that it helps increase the production of collagen in the skin, which naturally decreases with age, says O’Brien. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal for treating eczema and psoriasis flare-ups. O’Brien also points out that a growing body of research suggests that cica has numerous other benefits, like helping balance oily and acne-prone skin without clogging pores, as well as reducing the appearance of stretch marks during pregnancy.
Is cica safe for all skin types?
Yes! “It’s for everyone, even those with the most sensitive skin,” says Jang. Cica optimizes moisture levels, making it more resilient to irritants and environmental aggressors, like pollution, allergens and irritants. While that makes it particularly suitable for dry and sensitive skin, it’s something everyone can benefit from.
How can I incorporate cica into my skincare routine?
“I recommend using it morning and night,” says O’Brien. With cica taking over beauty aisles and counters, there are plenty of products to choose from. Jang recommends looking for something that contains at least 5 percent of the ingredient as that concentration has been proven to enhance skin’s moisture levels. While Jang and O’Brien agree that cica can be used in anything from cleansers to serums and masks, both dermatologists recommend opting for a rich, balm-like moisturizer to make the most of the ingredient’s benefits.
With the frigid, skin-drying winters we have in Canada, centella asiatica is a great addition to any cold weather skincare routine to soothe irritation and dryness. But thanks to its collagen-boosting properties, it’s useful to keep it on deck throughout the year, not just during the winter months.
On labels, look for the words cica, centella asiatica, gotu kola, tiger grass or madecassoside (an active compound of the plant extract).
Is cica safe to use with other active ingredients?
Cica plays well with most active ingredients, particularly those that tend to cause irritation in the skin, like retinol and chemical exfoliants such as BHAs and AHAs. “Cica’s soothing properties can improve the tolerability of these potentially irritating skincare ingredients,” explains O’Brien.
Scroll to shop a few of our favourite cica-infused skincare products.
Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Serum
Sensitive skin types, rejoice! This potent serum contains a blend of powerhouse ingredients like reparative cica and anti-inflammatory niacinamide to soothe skin on the spot.
Originally published in 2021; updated in 2022