Centella Asiatica (also called Gotu Kola) is one of the most popular plant extracts in skincare products in the recent years. Products with Centella Asiatica have even received a designated prefix - they are called “cica-creams”, “cica-balms”, and “cica-serums”. They are particularly marketed for sensitive and reactive skin, and this is one of the relatively rare cases when a skincare hype has a ground. Centella Asiatica can indeed be helpful for sensitive skin. Gotu Kola could be considered for a supportive care regimen for people with eczema, rosacea and psoriasis. At the same time, there are two issues you might want to consider before buying one of those trendy cica-products. The first one is that Centella Asiatica extract can itself cause a skin irritation. The second issue is of an environmental nature: the current way of harvesting Gotu Kola is not sustainable.
Keep reading for a more detailed overview.
What is it?
Centella Asiatica is a plant that grows in tropical areas of Asia, Oceania, Africa and America. It has been traditionally used to support wound healing. In recent years, the use of Centella Asiatica extract has skyrocketed following studies that confirmed its effectiveness and especially with the growth of Asian beauty brands worldwide.
Currently, the medical, cosmetic and supplement industry harvest wildly grown Centella Asiatica. Because of the growing demand, the wild stock of the plant is quickly depleting causing alarm among botanists.
What does it do?
Centella Asiatica extract contains a number of active chemicals that can help support skin barrier function, promote wound healing, including stimulating collagen production. This can be helpful in reducing skin sensitivity, improving skin hydration. There is even some evidence to suggest that Centella Asiatica extract can help reduce stretch marks.
The four main compounds of the Centella Asiatica extract are asiatic acid, madecassic acid, asiaticoside, and madecassoside. Skincare products can include a full Centella Asiatica Extract with different ratios of these compounds, as well as only one or a couple of them isolated from the extract. Both options can be effective in skin.
What evidence do we have?
There are over 30 studies investigating the effects of Centella Asiatica extract on skin, in particular around wound healing, scarring and psoriasis. Three of those are clinical trials with human volunteers, two of which investigated the effects on topical (not ingestible) treatment with Centella Asiatica.
Multiple in-vitro studies done on human skin models confirm the ability of Centella Asiatica extract to support wound healing, including collagen production. The studies confirm similar effect of Centella Asiatica extract containing all its four main active chemicals (asiatic acid, madecassic acid, asiaticoside, and madecassoside), as well as some of them (mainly asiaticoside) separately.
A clinical trial with 1% water-based Centella Asiatica extract found that it was helpful in reducing inflammation and promoting wound healing.
Another clinical trial found that 0.05% Centella Asiatica extract promoted wound healing and supported skin barrier function in patients after laser scar treatment.
Can Centella Asiatica irritate my skin?
Unfortunately, yes. While Centella Asiatica extract sounds like a perfect ingredient for sensitive skin, it will not work for everyone. While for some people, it can help reduce skin sensitivity and strengthen the skin barrier, for others it can itself cause an irritant or allergic reaction. If you struggle with sensitive skin, Centella Asiatica might be an ingredient you would like to try, but please be careful to patch-test and monitor your skin’s reactions closely as you are using it.
The Effects of a Standardized Extract of Centella asiatica on Postlaser Resurfacing Wound Healing on the Face: A Split-Face, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2019.0325
Centella asiatica in Dermatology: An Overview https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/ptr.5110
Contact dermatitis due to Madecassol https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/ptr.5110
Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Titrated Extract of Centella asiatica in Phthalic Anhydride-Induced Allergic Dermatitis Animal Model http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/18/4/738/pdf-vor
Centella asiatica in cosmetology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3834700/
Triterpene Composition and Bioactivities of Centella asiatica https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/16/2/1310
Asiaticoside induction for cell-cycle progression, proliferation and collagen synthesis in human dermal fibroblasts https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-4632.2004.02047.x
Assessment report on Centella asiatica (L.) https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-centella-asiatica-l-urban-herba-first-version_en.pdf