If youre a fan of Korean skincare, then you have almost certainly heard of Centella Asiatica, or Cica as its often referred to. But what is Cica? And why is it in skincare products? As this buzz-worthy ingredient takes over the skincare world one brand at a time, we want to know whether the hype surrounding it has any scientific basis. So what is Centella Asiatica, and what can it do for our skin?
What Is Cica?
Centella Asiatica, also known as Asiatic pennywort or Gotu kola, is a tropical plant native to Southeast Asia that has been used as a medicinal herb to treat various ailments for a number of centuries. In the nineteenth century, Centella Asiatica and its extracts were recommended as a treatment to improve wound healing and various skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, varicose ulcers, lupus, and leprosy .
The benefits of Centella Asiatica for skin are largely due to the saponins (or triterpenoids) found within the plant, including asiaticoside, Asiatic acid, madecassoside, and madasiatic acid. However, the chemical composition of Centella Asiatica also includes fatty acids, flavonoids, vitamin B, vitamin C, and amino acids .
The Benefits of Centella Asiatica For Skin
The pharmaceutical grade Centella Asiatica extract (Titrated Extract of Centella Asiatica; TECA), contains the four triterpenoids (asiaticoside, Asiatic acid, madecassoside, madasiatic acid) and is used as an antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-cancer agent and aids in the various processes of wound healing, such as coagulation, inflammation, cell migration and proliferation, as well as scar formation and dermal remodelling .
Wound Healing Benefits of Centella Asiatica
One of the first known skin benefits of Centella Asiatica was its ability to promote wound healing. In fact, this is one of the plants most widely studied benefits, with a large number of both in vitro and in vivo scientific studies supporting the claim .
It appears that the wound healing properties of Centella Asiatica extracts are largely due to the increased production of collagen and the reduction in inflammation.
For example, one study found that wounds treated with TECA, as well as the separated triterpenoids (Asiatic acid, madecassic acid, and asiaticoside), demonstrated increased protein and collagen levels, as well as increased collagen matrix remodeling. In addition, the extracts were able to increase glycosaminoglycan production, particularly hyaluronic acid production .
Other forms of Centella Asiatica extract have demonstrated an ability to prevent hypertrophic scar formation  and increase levels of antioxidants in newly formed skin tissue .
Anti-Aging Benefits of Centella Asiatica
The research into the wound-healing benefits of Centella Asiatica identified its effectiveness at boosting collagen production, particularly type I collagen. As the production of collagen and the amount of collagen within the skin decreases with age, this research suggests that Centella Asiatica may have anti-aging effects.
One study investigated the effects of 0.1% madecassoside combined with 5% vitamin C when topically applied to the skin of 20 female participants. After 6 months of use, there was a significant improvement in skin firmness, elasticity, and hydration, which was confirmed by biometrological tests .
It is thought that madecassoside increases collagen expression by activating certain signaling pathways, while vitamin C stimulates collagen production in fibroblasts and controls the enzymes that breakdown collagen. This means that madecassoside and vitamin C may be particularly effective at boosting the levels of collagen in the skin when combined together due to their different mechanisms of action creating an additive effect .
Anti-Cellulite & Anti-Stretch-Mark Benefits of Centella Asiatica
Cellulite is caused by an increase in the number of fat cells or by a decrease in the integrity of connective tissue that leads to the fat bulging through the connective tissue and the constriction of small blood vessels . This causes the skin to appear dimpled and lumpy and usually occurs around the buttocks and thighs.
Treatments for cellulite (e.g. caffeine) generally focus on altering fat tissue and connective tissue, as well as improving circulation. Centella Asiatica extracts are able to regulate connective tissue cell metabolism and improve microcirculation.
In one study, 60 participants who suffered from cellulite applied a Centella Asiatica extract (Madecassol) four times a day for 4 months significantly improved the appearance of cellulite in 85% of cases . Centella Asiatica extracts have also demonstrated similar benefits when taken orally .
Other research suggests that Centella Asiatic extracts may help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. For example, a cream containing an extract of Centella Asiatica in combination with vitamin E, hydrolyzed collagen, and elastin was applied daily to the breasts, abdomen, buttocks, and hips of 50 pregnant women, while another 50 pregnant women applied a placebo cream.
In this study, 56% (22 out of 39) of the women in the placebo group experienced stretch marks compared to 34% (14 out of 41) of the women in the Centella Asiatica group. In addition, the severity of the stretch marks experienced by the Centella Asiatica group was less than experienced by those in the placebo group. Furthermore, the Centella Asiatica cream provided protection from stretch marks in women who had a history of stretch marks during puberty .
Other Skin Benefits of Centella Asiatica
As mentioned earlier, a Centella Asiatica extract was able to increase the levels of antioxidants in newly formed skin tissue. Specifically, twice-daily topical application of 0.2% asiaticoside for 7 days increased superoxide dismutase by 35%, catalase by 67%, glutathione peroxidase by 49%, vitamin E by 77%, and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) by 36%. Furthermore, it decreased lipid peroxide levels by 69%. Application of the topical Centella Asiatica extract for longer than 7 days did not appear to increase antioxidant levels further .
Oral treatment with Centella Asiatica extracts has similar antioxidant-boosting effects, which suggests it may be beneficial for diseases that are caused by oxidative stress .
Other research suggests that Centella Asiatica can prevent the growth of a number of different strains of bacteria, including E. Coli and S. aureus . Centella Asiatica root extract appears to have better antibacterial properties than Centella Asiatica leaf extract. However, both appear to be effective at reducing certain strains of bacteria, yeast, and funghi .
In addition, TECA was found to reduce skin inflammation and allergic response in a rodent model of atopic dermatitis . Similar results have also been observed with other forms of Centella Asiatica extract, which suggests that Centella Asiatica may be beneficial for treating inflammatory skin conditions .
Another study demonstrated how Centella Asiatica extracts had both anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties. When applied to the skin twice-daily, Centella Asiatica extracts significantly increased skin hydration and reduced transepidermal water loss (TEWL) after one-week and continued to increase skin hydration after four-weeks. Furthermore, the Centella Asiatica extracts reduced skin irritation by repairing the skin barrier function, decreased redness, and reduced the skins pH value .
Similar results have been observed in other research that also identified Centella Asiatica as an effective acne treatment that improved overall acne severity, reduced sebum production, and prevented acne-related scarring .
Finally, TECA has demonstrated an ability to protect skin from UVB-induced damage , which suggests that Centella Asiatica extracts may be able to protect the skin from sun damage.
A Summary of Centella Asiatica Benefits for Skin
Centella Asiatica extracts have been used as medicinal herbs for thousands of years. Research suggests that they have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and may also be antibacterial. Furthermore, Centella Asiatica extracts appear to have wound healing and anti-aging properties due to the ability of the triterpenoids to increase the levels of type I collagen in the skin.
Other skin benefits of Centella Asiatica include photoprotection, anti-redness, soothing, and hydrating effects.
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