Beauty

What Is Cica? The Buzzy Skincare Ingredient, Explained

It’s been touted as a miracle ingredient for irritated skin—but how does cica really stack up? We asked two dermatologists to weigh in.

You’ve probably seen the ingredient pop up in a slew of new beauty products—from masks to serums to moisturizers—recently but what does cica do? 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. A staple in K-beauty products and increasingly seen on the mass market, 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 two experts 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 Dr. Meghan O’Brien, a global consulting dermatologist for Kiehl’s, noting 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 wide array of popular Korean skincare products, including Dr. Jart’s bestselling Cicapair line. Primarily sought after for its soothing and hydrating benefits, cica also boasts antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which contributes to its popularity, says Vancouver-based dermatologist Dr. Frances Jang. Along with retinol, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, cica is a go-to active ingredient recommended by experts.

Related: This Underrated Ingredient Targets Rosacea, Acne And Hyperpigmentation

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 benefits 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).

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Milia

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 Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30

This green-tinted, cica-infused treatment can be worn alone or under makeup to cover up redness.

$70, sephora.com

Laneige Cica Sleeping Mask

Made with fermented forest yeast extract—an ingredient that mimics the healing properties of cica—this overnight face mask hydrates and strengthens skin.

$45, sephora.com

La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5

If your skin is in recovery mode from a recent flare-up or treatment, this soothing balm is a must. Boasting 48 hours of hydration, it absorbs quickly and provides a soothing protective barrier.

$25, amazon.ca

Innisfree Retinol Cica Patch

Combining cica to soothe skin with retinol and salicylic acid to improve texture, these patches quickly reduce the appearance of spots.

$33 for a pack of 18, sephora.com

Dr. Belmeur Cica Peptite Ampoule

Made specifically to energize dull complexions, this serum blends cica and peptides to smooth out and firm the skin’s surface.

$65, avon.ca

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.

$66, sephora.com

Grown Alchemist Age-Repair Eye Cream

Formulated for the sensitive eye area, this cream targets fine lines and puffiness with tetrapeptides and centella asiatica.

$92, sephora.com

Tata Harper Rejuvenating Serum

Hyaluronic acid, cica and aloe vera work together to replenish moisture in parched skin while also soothing redness and irritation.

$185, thedetoxmarket.ca

Murad InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment

Formulated to target post-acne scars, this cream blends vitamin C, centella asiatica and salicylic acid to minimize scar size and depth while providing a hefty dose of hydration.

$50, sephora.com

F. Miller Face Oil

This multipurpose oil by Canadian brand F. Miller contains a blend of 22 botanicals—including centella asiatica—to leave skin nourished, glowing and super soft. Apply with your fingers or step up your routine with a facial roller.

$118, fmillerskincare.com

Kiehl’s Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream

Thanks to its mix of skin-strengthening ingredients, this rich cream moisturizes, protects and repairs skin while visibly reducing redness.

$60, kiehls.ca

While the products in this piece have been independently chosen by our editors, this article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

Originally published in 2021; updated in 2023.

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