23 June 2020
Cica/ Centella Asiatica/ Tiger Grass – K beauty fans will need no introduction to this ingredient. Short for Centella Asiatica, Cica, is an ingredient that repairs and calms sensitive skin. Cica isn’t exactly new to the skincare scene; as early as 2016, Cica had its breakout moment when Korean beauty brand Dr. Jart+ launched its Cicapair Tiger Grass Correcting line. This proved to be an instant hit with many other global brands like La-Roche-Posay, Kiehl’s, Bioderma and more recently, Laneige including Cica in their skincare line up.
This blogpost will review the science of this popular ingredient, Cica in skincare and dermatology. I’ll also be spicing up this post by sharing a look into Dr. Jart+’s flagship store in Seoul, where Cica in K-beauty took off. Last year, I was in Seoul and could not pass up the opportunity to visit Dr Jart+’s flagship store called Filter Space. If you’re into experiential shopping, Filter Space by Dr. Jart+ takes this to a whole new level, trust me.
But first, let’s start with the basics of Cica and what it does for the skin!
Although it is widely known as Cica, the herb Centella Asiatica is also commonly known as Indian pennywort, Asiatic pennywort or gotukola. Centella Asiatica has reportedly been used in traditional chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine for more than 2000 years; namely for wound healing1,2.
Cica has also been mystified as an au naturale, age old wound healer. Tigers supposedly rub their wounds against Centella Asiatica in the wild to heal their wounds. Whether you believe this or not, this association has led to Cica to also be called Tiger Grass.
In case you were wondering how Cica works; Centella Asiatica is not an ingredient by itself. Cica is made up of several compounds and the key active ingredient is called saponins (or triterpenoids)3. In addition, Cica also consists of smaller amounts of flavonoids, amino acids, fatty acids and other compounds with no known pharmacological activity4.
Cica is most well known to calm sensitive skin and reduce redness. Centella Asiatica is also said to improve wound healing, reverse signs of aging like pigmentation and increase skin hydration.
These benefits of Cica sound great; but not all these benefits have been backed up by high quality data.
So far, the medical evidence to support these purported benefits of Centella Asiatica in skincare products is very limited. There are small studies on Cica, but high quality research on humans is still lacking. Here’s what we know about Tiger Grass’s benefits so far:
• Wound healing: Cica promotes wound healing and reduces scar formation5
• Cellulite or stretch marks: Centella Asiatica may help with reducing cellulite formation and improving skin health6
• Anti-aging: One study showed that Cica extract combined with vitamin C improved skin firmness and elasticity by improving collagen levels in the skin7.
• Acne: Cica reduced inflammation related to P. acnes bacteria and improved skin hydration in one study8
• Psoriasis: Centella Asiatica extract improved psoriasis in one study9
These studies were conducted mainly on cells in petri dishes, animals and small groups of humans This means that although the results for Cica are encouraging, the evidence is considered weak. Like most buzzword ingredients, larger trials in humans are needed to lend more support to the benefits of Cica. Suffice to say, Cica is not going to over take tried and proven ingredients vitamin C and retinoids for anti-aging and acne for now.
Likewise, if you’re looking for faster results for acne, cellulite, wound healing and anti-aging, medical treatments like Rejuran Healer, Profhilo, Skinboosters and Fractional CO2 laser provide a better collagen boost and bioremodelling of the skin.
Cica or skincare products containing Centella Asiatica are generally safe. Reported side effects such as allergies and burning sensations are rare6.
Cica is a promising ingredient for sensitive skin and stretch marks. However, Centella Asiatica would not be my first line recommendation for acne, anti-aging and wound healing. There are ingredients for dermatological conditions such as hypersensitive skin, aging and acne with more robust support behind them. These ingredients include niacinamide, ceramides, hyaluronic acid and retinoids.
If you have a wound (e.g. burn, cut…etc), I would strongly advise that you check in with your doctor before self medicating with Cica. In my practice, I would probably recommend using Centella Asiaticaonly after the wound has epithelialized. There might be some benefit in using Centella Asiatica in the early phase to improve scar outcomes.
However, if you would like to try using Cica or Tiger Grass skincare products to understand the hype- why not? As with all skincare ingredients there is a small risk of contact dermatitis, so I would suggest performing a patch test first before applying it your whole face, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies.
Dr. Jart+ is a global beauty brand that was created in South Korean skincare in 2004 by a Korean architect and a dermatologist. The brand’s name is an abbreviation of the phrase “Doctor Joins Art”, which embodies Dr. Jart+’s fun and colourful approach to skincare. You can recognise Dr. Jart+’s products by its distinctive brightly coloured caps.
The brand is best known for its rubber face masks and Cica and ceramide product lineup. Dr. Jart+ has often been credited for spearheading the global growth of K-beauty and its global expansion is a success story. In 2019, Dr. Jart+ was acquired by The Estee Lauder Companies.
Dr. Jart+’s global flagship is a fun, psychedelic concept store called Filter Space in the trendy shopping district of Garuso-gil, Gangnam. Think the bubble tea museum meets a high tech industrial with the Cicapair skincare range taking the spotlight.
Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum is said to reduce skin sensitivity and redness. This product received mixed reviews online; but I could not pass up trying Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum and cream when I visited Filter Space last year.
Besides Centella Asiatica extracts, Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair Serum also contains niacinamide; panthenol; probiotics; and plant extracts and oils.
The Good about Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair Serum
Besides the star ingredient, Centella Asiatica, Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum also contains niacinamide. Niacinamide is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and redness of the skin and strengthens the skin barrier.
Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum comes in a very sleek dropper bottle that puts all droppers I’ve encountered to rest. The serum is dispensed when you gently press the top of the dropper instead of squeezing it like most droppers. It’s sleek, controlled and hygienic.
I do not have sensitive or irritable skin. However, after chemical peels, my skin transiently experiences some hypersensitivity and redness. When I used Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum in the initial few days after my chemical peels, this serum improved the sensitivity and redness to some extent.
Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum also functions as a decent moisturiser;. I could use it on its own and my skin felt sufficiently moisturised. Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum did not cause any irritation, allergies or comedones for me.
The Bad about Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair Serum
The serum also takes a while to dry and leaves a sticky texture that I did not like. If you have oily skin, acne and hypersensitive skin; the presence of the plant oils can worsen your comedones or trigger allergies.
My Verdict on Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair Serum
Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum improved my sensitivity and redness after chemical peels but the texture was too sticky for my liking. If I had to sum up my thoughts on Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Serum, it would be ‘not bad’; I do not see a pull factor to make me repurchase this.
The addition of niacinamide, panthenol and probiotics is helpful in also reducing sensitivity but the plant oils may trigger irritation in people with sensitive skin or allergies.
Cica or Tiger Grass is currently enjoying its moment in the skincare spotlight with many global beauty brands introducing Centella Asiatica in the last few years. Cica is a herbal extract that is thought to reduce inflammation and hypersensitivity in the skin; stretch marks and improve wound healing.
Although results from the research on Cica have been encouraging; there are not enough high quality studies that definitively prove that Centella Asiatica can improve wound healing and reduce redness, hypersensitivity and aging. If you have FOMO and would like to experiment with Centella Asiastica; I’d say why not? Cica is a safe ingredient; however I’d advise checking in with your doctor first if you have a new wound, acne, comedones or psoriasis.
Have you tried Cica or tiger grass beauty products? Did it work for you? Let me know your thoughts and reviews! If you enjoyed this blogpost and skincare product review, you might also enjoying the following reviews of skincare products:
1. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement). Chopra et al. .New Delhi: Council of Scientific and Industrial Research; 1986. pp. 51–83.
2. Anti-anxiety profile of mandukparni Centella asiatica Linn in animals. Diwan et al. Fitoterapia. 1991;62:255–7.
3. A reinvestigation of the triterpenes of Centella asiatica. Singh and Rastogi. Phytochem. 1969;8:917–21.
4. Chemistry and pharmacology of Centella asiatica: a review. Srivastava et al. J Med Arom Plant Sci.
5. Centella asiatica in dermatology: an overview. Bylka et al. Phytother Res. 2014 Aug;28(8):1117-24.
6. Centella asiatica in cosmetology. Bylka et al. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Feb; 30(1): 46–49.
7. Clinical, biometric and structural evaluation of the long-term effects of a topical treatment with ascorbic acid and madecassoside in photoaged human skin. Haftek et al. Exp Dermatol. 2008 Nov; 17(11):946-52.
8. Propionibacterium acnes related anti-inflammation and skin hydration activities of madecassoside, a pentacyclic triterpene saponin from Centella asiatica. Shen et al. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2019 Mar;83(3):561-568.
9. In vitro keratinocyte antiproliferant effect of Centella asiatica extract and triterpenoid saponins. Sampson et al. Phytomedicine. 2001 May; 8(3):230-5.