The usage of medicinal Ayurvedic Eastern foods in Western skincare is nothing new. Think turmeric face mask, shatavari beauty balm, and ghee face cream, just to scratch the surface of that realm. One Eastern fruit that has commonly been used internally in Ayurveda has recently hit the beauty market in a topical capacity, and similar to ingredients like turmeric and ghee, it’s proving to be full of science-backed benefits. Enter chebula, also known as terminalia chebula, chebulic myrobalan, birhara, harada, haritaki, black or brown myrobalan, and perhaps most importantly, as “the king of medicines.” Let’s look at what chebula does and whether your skin can benefit from this berry.
The History of Chebula
For internal use, chebula is best known as one of three fruits that comprise triphala, a go-to Ayurvedic herb combination that's used to treat everything from digestive issues to diseases and has been employed by practitioners for millenia. The combo is sold in pill, tincture, and powder formats, as well as whole dried berries. Gaia herbs notes that "Haritaki is used in Ayurvedic medicine to promote healthy vision, brain function, and even longevity," as well as "a bowel regulatory tonic and gentle laxative."
Chebula in Skincare
While chebula has been available as one ingredient of many in skincare products such as Paula’s Choice Super Hydrate Overnight Mask and iYura Paraania Oil, it is only in recent months that it has been brought to the retail space as its own topical product. True Botanicals Chebula Active Immunity Serum boasts chebula as its main active ingredient, and claims that “chebula, an ayurvedic and the most bioactive and powerful antioxidant the skincare world has ever seen, corrects aging five ways: minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, evening skin tone, smoothing roughness, firming, and brightening."
Is there merit to these astounding-sounding claims? In short, yes, there definitely is some solid science to back up the notion of chebula being anti-aging magic for your skin. Let’s look at what chebula has been successfully proven to accomplish.
Antioxidant/Anti-Aging Function: It is the antioxidant capacity of chebula that gives it such powerful anti-aging power. In fact, chebula extract is stronger than the antioxidants we generally consider the best for our skin, including vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E (tocopherol) and BHT. Chebula is able to scavenge more free radicals, and for a longer duration of time, than other antioxidants can. A 2016 study stated, “The antioxidant activity of the extract is significantly higher than the standard ascorbic acid, and its activity is concentration-dependent. It is concluded that a polyphenolic-rich fraction of T. chebula fruits is a potential source of natural antioxidants.”
Deeply Moisturizes and Brightens Skin: The more hydrated your skin is, the better and more youthful it appears. Well hydrated skin shows less signs of aging than thirsty skin, and also reflects light more evenly, giving you a healthier glow. Chebula was proven to increase the moisture content of skin, with a 2012 study clearly stating that “the skin moisture content increased after the application of formulation throughout the study period.” Based on this result, it was concluded that “T. chebula topical cream showed a positive rejuvenating effect on human skin."
Chebula’s effects go beyond the surface, too, with another study stating that “These results demonstrate that functionally important TC extract responses occur in the epidermis and are therefore not restricted to the dermal layer. Our findings thus suggest mechanisms by which TC may strengthen full-thickness skin architecture for treatment of skin aging and/or chronic wounds.”
Corrects Photo Damage and Strengthens Skin: UVA and UVB induced skin damage is one of the most common causes of premature aging. When studied, chebula has been shown to correct the effects of sun damage. It does so in two ways. Specifically, “in vitro studies showed that the T. chebula extract reduced the UVB-induced MMP-1 and MMP-13 expression, whereas an increased production of type I procollagen was observed.” What that means is not only did chebula stop the sun’s rays from doing its damage, it also created more collagen in the skin, reversing the loss of collagen that UVB damage causes and leading to stronger skin. The final word on chebula’s ability to counteract photodamage? “These data suggested that the T. chebula ethanol fruit extract is an efficacious pharmaceutical protectant of skin against photodamage."
Softens Skin: Chebula reduces inflammation in skin, as well as softens its texture and brightens its appearance. Its extract was studied in relation to psoriasis, a disease that causes red, scaly, itchy patches on one’s skin, as well as for wound healing. For psoriasis, the study concluded that “we found that TC exhibited potent anti-psoriatic activities, as evidenced by improvement of erythema and scaling scores, decrease of epidermal, ear and skinfold thickening.” For wound healing, equally positive results were obtained, with the study saying, “we have demonstrated the effect of these extracts of T. chebula on both types of skin cells and optimized concentration in which it could be used as a bioactive component for wound healing applications by increasing cell proliferation and decreasing free-radical production without affecting the normal cellular matrix.”
As mentioned, chebula usage as a main active ingredient is new to the world of beauty products. As such, nothing has come out yet about any major issues with it. Based on the amount of studies that have already been conducted, though, if the application of chebula extract had any significant risks they likely would have come to light somewhere in the testing process. Nowhere in the above studies was any major side effect or risk factor mentioned for the topical application of chebula.
The Final Verdict
Chebula is shaking up skincare for a very good reason: It's as powerful as antioxidants get, and it works harder for longer than others in that category. The topical use of chebula has been shown to perform tasks including reversing sun damage, hydrating skin beneath the external dermal layer, and reducing the occurrence of psoriatic issues. This little berry packs a big punch, and is a worthwhile addition to your skincare routine.
Saha S, Verma RJ. Antioxidant Activity of Polyphenolic Extract Ofterminalia Chebularetzius Fruits. Journal of Taibah University for Science. 2016;10(6):805-812. doi:10.1016/j.jtusci.2014.09.003
Akhtar N, Khan AB, Muhammad S, et al. Formulation and Characterization of a Cream Containing Terminalia Chebula Extract. Forsch Komplementmed. 2012;19(1):20-25. doi:10.1159/000335823
Swindell WR, Bojanowski K, Chaudhuri RK. A standardized Terminalia chebula fruit extract alters the expression of genes associated with skin architecture and barrier formation. Eur J Dermatol. 2020;30(5):469-492. doi:10.1684/ejd.2020.3882
Yakaew S, Itsarasook K, Ngoenkam J, Jessadayannamaetha A, Viyoch J, Ungsurungsie M. Ethanol extract of Terminalia chebula fruit protects against UVB-induced skin damage. Pharm Biol. 2016;54(11):2701-2707. doi:10.1080/13880209.2016.1179768
An J, Li T, Dong Y, Li Z, Huo J. Terminalia Chebulanin Attenuates Psoriatic Skin Lesion Via Regulation of Heme Oxygenase-1. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2016;39(2):531-543. doi:10.1159/000445645