In all the years I studied Traditional Chinese medicine, the herb gotu kola was there. But it wasn’t until I spent a few months studying Ayurvedic medicine that I truly appreciated what Gotu Kola could do for you.
In Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola is one of the main herbs used for revitalizing the nerves and brain cells, enhancing memory, and increasing longevity.
In traditional Chinese herbal medicine, it’s sometimes called the “fountain of life.”
It also does some amazing things for your skin.
Gotu Kola almost sounds like a snake oil cure for nearly every common skin problem, but all of the claims made here are backed up by modern scientific studies (see references below). And years of anecdotal and experiential evidence too.
So good, it has more than one name
Gotu kola is a low growing herb that likes humid weather and damp soil (we won’t be growing this one in high elevation, dry New Mexico).
It goes by a few names besides gotu kola: centella asiatica, tiger grass, brahmi, and Asian pennywort. It’s native to Southeast Asia, India, and the southeastern US plus a few other areas.
My favorite story about gotu kola (remember it’s also called tiger grass) has to do with its wound healing properties. It is said that tiger grass got its name because tigers would roll around in it after fighting to soothe their wounds. And tiger claws can do some damage.
Legends and hundreds of years of historical use aside, there’s also quite a bit of research behind gotu kola’s skin benefits.
How does it work? The Eastern view
Women (and men) have been using herbs and plants to improve their skin for all of recorded history and probably since the dawn of time. Every culture seems to have its favorites, and a few of these cross cultural lines and have been widely used around the world for eons.
Gotu Kola is one of those special herbs that works wonders both internally and externally.
It belongs to a group of herbs known as adaptogens.
What are adaptogenic herbs?
The term “adaptogen” was first used by Russian scientists in the 1940’s, but they’ve been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for millennia. To be called an adaptogen, a plant has to be:
- Non-toxic when taken in normal amounts
- Help the body to adapt or normalize function across a variety of bodily functions
- Help the body smooth out the effects of stress, no matter which way the stress response goes
These herbs help balance the body, calm the mind, help with the anxiety and depression associated with stress, or the fatigue. In Asia, they are considered to the herbs of longevity, vitality, and healthy aging.
Tonic or adapotgenic herbs are sometimes used in formulas to deal with skin problems, but they are more often used in formulas to make skin look its best and healthiest especially as age begins to leave its mark on your face.
Adaptogens for skin health
I can’t think of an organ that’s routinely subjected to more external stress than your skin. Sun, wind, snow, rain, pollution, dry heat, cold are constantly assaulting it. While the skin is beautifully designed to deal with outside insults, it can always use a little help.
Both Chinese and Ayurvedic dermatology use adaptogenic herbs like gotu kola that the skin is particularly fond of. Using these herbs in skincare products can help the skin’s appearance by calming it and delaying changes that happen in your skin’s appearance and function over the course of time.
Gotu kola is especially nourishing and promotes firmer, tighter skin, and a healthy glow.
How does it work? The Western view
A more modern explanation of why gotu kola is so effective for skin is the amino acids, anti-oxidants, peptides, and triterpeniods that are packed into this little plant.
Diana Ralys owner of Radiance Wellness Spa in Santa Monica, CA explains:
Triterpenoids, which play a role in plants’ self-defense mechanisms, are part of why gotu kola is so beneficial to the skin. “Studies have shown that triterpenoids are responsible for stimulating collagen synthesis,” says Ralys. “Gotu kola is also known to contain vitamins B and C, as well as phytonutrients like flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins and polyphenol. These components help promote wound healing, and provide antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.”
Firmer, more youthful skin
The properties that make gotu kola extract good for wound healing are the same ones that can help keep your skin firm and plump. Gotu Kola extract promotes fibroblast proliferation and collagen synthesis. It also inhibits the inflammatory stage of scar formation.
The extract is able to penetrate deeper into your skin and stimulate fibroblasts and collagen (especially types 1 &3, the ones that keep your skin firm). It’s also useful to offset photo aging from sun damage.
Gotu kola extract helps to repair the skin barrier function. Your skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin. It’s made up of skin cells and fats. Sometimes its called the moisture barrier, lipid barrier, or the permeability barrier. Its job is to keep moisture and nutrients in your skin and harmful germs and dirt out.
If your barrier is in good shape, your skin is smooth, clear, and balanced. If it’s compromised, you’ll get dryness, redness and irritation, and other unpleasant symptoms. This can be due to age, stress, smoking, environmental stress (sun, wind, snow, pollution, etc), dehydration, or even over-exfoliating.
Gotu kola extract is rich in amino acids and helps to restore your skin barrier. Thus, it decreases redness, inflammation, and itchiness. It speeds up healing (those tigers were on to something) and reduces scarring. If you’re prone to breakouts, it helps with that too.
Plus, it increases hydration at the same time it reduces transdermal water loss from your skin.
It’s an Antioxidant too
Gotu kola is a powerful antioxidant. Like green tea in a lot of ways. Naturally cooling and soothing while it goes about destroying nasty free radicals. There’s evidence that it may protect your skin from some of the visible signs of sun damage.
An herbal cure-all?
One of the well-respected research articles I read for this post actually used this term in the title.
Nothing is a cure all and nothing works for everyone. While almost everyone tolerates gotu kola well, anyone can be sensitive to an ingredient. This follows the old saying in medicine- never say always, never say never. There are always exceptions.
But gotu kola works so well for so many skin issues, I use it to some degree in almost every SunWindSnow product.
One of the things that makes SunWindSnow formulations different is how we combine ancient herbs with cutting edge botanical technology to make proven, clean, effective skin care products.
Phytomedicine, April 2018, pages 110–119
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2017, pages 311–315
Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Jan-Feb 2016, pages 27–33
Postepy Dermatologii I, February 2013, pages 46–49
Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 2010, pages 546–556
Gohil KJ, Patel JA, Gajjar AK. Pharmacological Review on Centella asiatica: A Potential Herbal Cure-all. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010;72(5):546-556.
Bylka W, Znajdek-Awiżeń P, Studzińska-Sroka E, Brzezińska M. Centella asiatica in cosmetology. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013;30(1):46-49.