Chebula Is a New Skin-Care Ingredient With an Ancient Past

By ·
Chebula Is a New Skin-Care Ingredient With an Ancient Past featured image
Getty Images

An ancient antioxidant is taking hold in Western skin care. Chebula claims to be a powerful anti-aging ingredient and its roots extend back thousands of years. From its use in the world’s oldest medical system, Ayurveda, to serums and skin care, here’s everything you need to know about chebula.

What is Chebula?

Practitioner at Sidh Ayur, a New York wellness center that provides Ayurvedic services, Simmi Chopra explains that chebula is just the second half of the plant’s full name, terminalia chebula. “It’s Ayurvedic name is Haritaki.”

Terminalia chebula is an evergreen tree found in South Asian countries like India and Sri Lanka, and its dried fruits have been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat kidney and liver dysfunction and act as a diuretic. “Haritaki has been there forever; we have used this herb for centuries as a part of a very common herb blend called triphala that treats digestive issues,” Chopra explains.

Clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants Krupa Koestline notes that chebula’s history of effectiveness has put it in very high regard. “Among Tibetans, chebula is highly revered for its purifying attributes,” Koestline explains. “It is the small fruit that is depicted in the hands of the ‘medicine Buddha’ in their sacred paintings.”

Ayurvedic guru and founder of Surya Spa Martha Soffer explains that chebula has also been used explicitly for skin health in Ayurvedic medicine. “Chebula has been used topically for centuries,” Soffer says. “For example, when people have acne, I use a paste that is made with chebula, because one of the properties of chebula is that it is an astringent, so it will dry out a pimple.”

Clinical Research Is Promising

In addition to being used for a host of digestive issues, clinical research into the properties of chebula have revealed a wide range of potential. In August of 2022, Science Direct published a review on the pharmacological studies conducted on chebula, ranging from its effectiveness as an antioxidant to its antibacterial properties.

The review demonstrates that chebula has enormous potential but is severely under studied by Western medicine. So far, there has only been one pilot study released focused directly on the potential it has for skin care as an antioxidant.

However, Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD notes that the source of that pilot study demonstrates conflict of interest that makes it hard to trust as gospel. “Chebula acts as an antioxidant. It’s been studied in vitro (cell culture) but there’s no evidence in vivo (on patients),” Dr. Waldorf explains. “The only clinical study I found on topical chebula was written by the president and part owner of a company that developed and commercialized a chebula extract.”

Koestline notes that the pilot study referenced did show much potential for chebula, despite the conflict of interest. “Chebula has been shown to be rich in antioxidants, hydrate the skin, and correct photodamage,” Koestline explains. “A pilot clinical study further confirms the extract’s bioactivity to reduce wrinkles and pigmentation. Improvements in yellowish skin tones also were observed, likely due to glycation reversal.”

Chebula in Ayurvedic Skin Care

Soffer explains that Ayurvedic medicine has relied on chebula for centuries to help reverse sun damage, aid in acne treatment, and prevent the signs of aging. “Haritaki, or chebula, can help clear skin,” Soffer says. “So, I really like to use it in a mask made with chickpea, turmeric, rosewater, and cream. I leave it on for about 20 minutes and then rinse with water. It is really amazing for the skin.”

Soffer also uses chebula to directly treat pimples in spot treatments, and as an oil that is massaged into the skin. Chopra adds that chebula was a prominent feature in her household in India to help with common skin issues. “We used it to treat maha kushta, which means skin disorders or diseases,” Chopra explains. “In my childhood in India, we would even use it in cold packs because of its astringent property and ability to tighten pores.”

Chebula is also gentle enough to use on mature skin, according to Soffer. “When we combine Haritaki with chickpea and cream, it helps gently hydrate the skin and keep it from drying out.”

Chebula’s Potential for Western Skin Care

Based on the promising clinical potential of chebula and the long history of its use as skin care alongside its medicinal use, Western skin care is starting to take notice. Olivia Wilde even highlighted her use of True Botanicals Chebula Active Serum ($90), which propelled an increase in Google searches and a boost in sales.

That big review of studies we mentioned earlier also presents potential for chebula’s uses in skin care. Aside from being an antioxidant, chebula was shown to inhibit enzymes that cause inflammation, inhibit the breakdown of collagen and elastin, and stimulate collagen.

“Antioxidants can help slow the aging process by limiting direct oxidative damage to the cells, proteins, and DNA,” Koestline explains. “Chebula helps with this but also controls inflammation to minimize skin damage, inhibiting MMP activity to protect extracellular proteins, and reducing glycation to maintain elasticity and decrease the yellowing of skin tone and changes in the dermis. All of these benefits can help reduce the effects of aging.”

Right now, chebula’s biggest selling point is its potential as an antioxidant, and that puts it in competition with the ingredients already used in skin care. Dr. Waldorf says that our current antioxidant formulas usually include vitamin C, niacinamide (a form of vitamin b3) and resveratrol. “These have been shown to have various effects from improving hyperpigmentation, decreasing inflammation and reducing the immediate effects of environmental damage,” she explains.

This also comes with an increase in interest in the system of medicine that has been using chebula successfully as an internal and external medicine for millennia. “I started Surya 30 years ago, and back then there were no yoga studios around,” Soffer notes. “Now, they’re everywhere. And yoga is just a branch of Ayurveda.”

As Ayurvedic practitioners, Soffer and Chopra are seeing an increase of interest in Ayurveda as Westerners come to understand more about the effects of stress on the body and the health implications of wellness.

Expect not only to see more of chebula in the future of skin care, but also a continued emphasis on Ayurvedic methods and principals of living. If the vast clinical potential of chebula is anything to go by, it may one day become as ubiquitous in the West as yoga studios.

Related Posts

Find a Doctor

Find a NewBeauty "Top Beauty Doctor" Near you

Give the Gift of Luxury

NewBeauty uses cookies for various reasons, including to analyze and improve its content and advertising. Please review our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use for more about how we use this data. By continuing to use this site, you agree to these policies.