cica-skincare: woman applying cream to cheeks

This Underrated Skincare Ingredient Is My Go-to for Irritated Skin

All hail cica, the miracle worker for my troubled complexion.
By Hana Hong
April 30, 2021
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If I were to tell you that the holy grail for soothing irritated skin lay in the self-healing practices of Asian tigers, would you believe me?

It's true, but first some backstory: I was born with severe head-to-toe eczema, and my angry skin is always in a near-constant state of irritation. In addition to the scaly patches, I also suffer from dryness and sensitivity, a trifecta of skincare woes I wouldn't wish on anyone. Throughout my life, I've seen numerous dermatologists and slathered on countless creams they've suggested, but the scaly rashes prevailed.

When those medications didn't work, my mom turned to traditional Eastern medicine—I still remember the super potent scent of tiger ointment (similar to pennies) that she would make me apply daily before going to school, much to my chagrin.

Surprisingly, her ancient customs proved veritable; over time, the calming properties of tiger grass dramatically decreased the redness in my skin and kept eczema flare-ups at bay. So much so that my eczema vanished and I was able to wean off tiger grass and my skincare prescriptions completely.

Alas, a few years later my eczema returned without warning. Maybe it was my moving to Illinois, difference in hard water levels, or college-induced stress, but it was back—and it was bad. After messing around with hydrocortisone, aloe, and oatmeal-infused formulas for a while (to no avail), I decided to return to trusty tiger grass. 

That's when I learned that tiger grass—aka cica—had come a very long way since the nostalgic orange tub of my childhood. To my surprise, the ingredient was a lot more glamorous with modern, repurposed formulations. They didn't reek of metallic antiseptic (something my self-conscious 10-year-old self would have greatly appreciated), and they were also infused with skin-loving ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, to lock in hydration for hours.

After cleansing, and applied as the last step in my nighttime skincare routine, cica proved its worth once again—it quenched my parched pores, and appeased red inflammation without leaving behind a greasy residue. Basically, it was the panacea to all my skin problems.

So, what is tiger grass exactly? "Also known as cica, or sometimes gotu kola, it's a popular skincare cream with the plant extract centella asiatica as its active ingredient," says Ife Rodney, MD, board-certified dermatologist of Eternal Dermatology. "Known for its antioxidant properties, the plant is rich in amino acids and fatty acids, beta-carotene, and fatty acids. Together, these are great for restoring the skin moisture barrier, protecting against external pollutants, and increasing collagen production."

And the best part? Its true power lies not in the leaf but in its water, which is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, Dr. Rodney says. In fact, tigers in India have been known to use this ingredient to heal their trauma wounds and infections by rolling in the herb plant, which is native to the wetlands in Asia. It's even been used to treat serious conditions, like leprosy, lupus, and ulcers.

Naturally, tiger grass has since gained a cult-like following among people in the eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea community, but it's truly a miracle worker for anyone who suffers from sensitive skin, dullness, dryness, or irritation (aka all of us). And since I'm a believer that good secrets should be shared, I've included a few of my top cica formulations below. 

tiger-grass-Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30

1
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30

$52, sephora.com

Yes, it’s a bit pricey. But after trying this formulation for a month when my eczema was its worst, I can confirm that it’s so worth the purchase. The light green concoction is infused with Jartbiome, Dr. Jart’s proprietary complex, to help strengthen your microbiome. 

tiger-grass-Meebak Cica Cream

2
Meebak Cica Cream

$23, amazon.com

For anyone dealing with skin inflammation or sensitivity, Meebak’s affordable formula is an ideal everyday facial moisturizer with anti-aging benefits to boot. The creamy texture is lightweight and hydrating without being sticky, and the smell is probably the most pleasant out of the all the cica formulations I’ve tried (if you don’t believe me, just check out the hundreds of five-star reviews).

tiger-grass-Medicube Super Cica Serum Ampoule

3
Medicube Super Cica Serum Ampoule

$39, amazon.com

This science-based brand has a dedicated following in South Korea, but luckily you can buy it here in the States, too. The serum is aptly called an ampoule because it has one of the strongest cica concentrations on the market (it’s 61.5 percent centella asiatica extract), so you know they’re not messing around.

tiger-grass-Erborian CC Red Correct Primer

4
Erborian CC Red Correct Primer

$44, ulta.com

Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with this primer (I like to use one swipe on each cheek before foundation)—the lightweight color-correcting pigments will even out your skin tone, while centella asiatica calms and soothes your complexion throughout the day. 

tiger-grass-Elemis Superfood Cica Calm Hydration Juice

5
Elemis Superfood Cica Calm Hydration Juice

$48, ulta.com

This serum, or “juice” as they call it, takes the cake for most refreshing. One squirt in the morning feels like a splash of hydration for your skin, similar to the feeling of a cold glass of orange juice on a hot day.

tiger-grass-La Roche-Posay Cica Cream

6
La Roche-Posay Cica Cream

$15, ulta.com

One of the OG cica creams, this formula made for your hands, face, and body is uber-hydrating—but somehow has a matte finish? Translation: It’s a great option for anyone who hates that sticky body moisturizer feel. Plus, it contains shea butter, glycerin and La Roche-Posay's own thermal spring water to help your skin retain its moisture.