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Everything You Need to Know About Arnica, Nature's Best Skin Healing Ingredient

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Natural beauty pros have long loved using herbal home remedies in their skincare routines–a dab of tea tree oil for breakouts, a few drops in ginger in shampoo to help fight dandruff, a little bit of lavender to soothe dry skin. The newest herb to have its big moment in the skincare scene is arnica (sometimes referred to by its Latin name Arnica montana or its nickname "wolf's bane"), a flowering herb found in Europe, Siberia, and North America.

Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC explains that while the research is mixed, some medical literature has shown that arnica can accelerate healing and stop bruising or muscle pain. “It’s most commonly used to improve healing following in-office procedures and treatments, including injections and lasers,” she says.

Dr. Nazarian adds: “Arnica is derived from plants, and like with all of other substances, there is always a risk of contact allergy. I would recommend applying the product to a small discrete area before playing it widely on your body. If you notice any redness, itching, irritation, discontinue immediately.”

Below, we'll discuss what exactly arnica is, what it's most commonly used for, and any potential side effects.

So, what is arnica?

Arnica is a bright yellow, perennial herb that looks quite similar to a daisy, hence its nickname "mountain daisy." Once harvested, arnica flowers are often turned into an essential oil or an extract and used as an active ingredient in homeopathic remedies and skincare products like ointments, gels, tinctures, and creams.

Arnica is also sometimes taken internally as a supplement but only in highly diluted doses. The pure arnica plant is poisonous and you should never try to ingest it undiluted. When using arnica for skin benefits, it's better to use it topically and only on unbroken skin. 

What are the benefits of arnica? 

For centuries, arnica has been touted as one of the top healing herbs in homeopathy. Now natural beauty lovers are also starting to explore even more benefits from the flowering herb. Here are a few ways topical arnica can help the skin and body.

1. It can help relieve pain. 

One of the most popular ways to use arnica is to apply a topical arnica gel or balm on sore muscles and sprains. The plant's power to heal muscle aches comes from its strong anti-inflammatory benefits which, in turn, can reduce swelling and provide pain relief by improving blood circulation. 

2. It can speed up wound healing.

In addition to providing pain relief, arnica also has the potential to stimulate the flow of white blood cells and improve blood flow in the joints, muscles, and bruised tissue. For this reason, it's sometimes recommended that postoperative patients use it to heal faster after surgery. That being said, arnica should not ever be used on open wounds without direct instruction from your doctor. 

3. It can soothe insect bites. 

Applying an arnica cream or arnica gel to a bite can help calm inflammation in the affected area and can help clear out the extra histamine by increased circulation, reducing the desire to scratch and therefore speeding up healing time overall.

4. It can help treat dandruff.

In addition to being a natural anti-inflammatory, arnica also has antibacterial properties. These two benefits can team up to create a strong defense against scalp irritation and malassezia, a fungus that often triggers dandruff. To use it to promote scalp health, try adding a few drops of arnica oil to your shampoo or look for a shampoo that lists arnica as an active ingredient. You can also create a hair mask by combining arnica oil with a hydrating oil like coconut oil or jojoba oil. 

5. It can depuff skin. 

In recent years, arnica's anti-inflammatory powers have been used for more cosmetic purposes like decreasing puffiness around the face. You'll often find it as an active ingredient in eye creams and in face masks like FIRST AID BEAUTY FAB Pharma Arnica Relief & Rescue Mask.

Are there any side effects? 

It's incredibly important to know that the pure arnica plant is poisonous. You should never ingest the pure plant. Doing so could cause rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal problems, kidney and liver damage, or even death in some cases. Homeopathic supplements are generally considered safe to consume because they use extremely diluted doses in each tablet or pill. However, in the medical field, opinions are mixed on the efficiency and safety of consuming arnica internally in any way. Sticking to applying it topically will be the safest. 

When using it topically, avoid applying it to broken skin unless you have discussed this with your doctor. Arnica is also an ingredient that is best used for a short period of time (i.e. while a bruise is healing or on occasion when you're suffering from a dandruff flareup). Using arnica over a long period of time may cause skin irritation and can inflame eczema and other skin conditions. 

Because there is still much to learn about arnica, it is not recommended that children, pregnant women, or women who are breastfeeding use arnica either topically or as a supplement. It is also not recommended that people who are allergic to sunflowers, marigolds, ragweed, or other members of the Asteraceae family use arnica. 

Which skin types can use arnica?

“It’s generally safe for all skin types,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Because there’s no firm consensus in medical literature regarding benefits of daily arnica use on skin, I would limit use to when instructed by your board-certified dermatologist or another physician, primarily following certain procedures to potentially enhance recovery.”

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About the author
Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated June 8, 2020 12:00 AM