One thing that is constant in Korean Skincare is its ever-growing innovation. People also love the fact that they utilise game-changing natural ingredients in skincare products that work wonders for our skin, from snail mucin, mugwort, bamboo extract, Centella Asiatica—the list goes on. Recently, a new, highly desired ingredient is on top of the K-Beauty trend. Can you guess what it is? Please give a big round of applause to our promising newcomer, Houttuynia cordata. This ingredient has been gaining in popularity and incorporated in many skin care products like cleansers, toners, serums, essences, creams, sheet masks, spot treatments—you name it. Let's find out why the beauty community is raving about it!
What is Houttuynia Cordata?
Houttuynia cordata—also known as Heartleaf, Fish Mint, Fish Leaf, Fish Wort, Chameleon Plant, Chinese Lizard Tail, Bishop's Weed, or Rainbow Plant—belongs to the family of Saururaceae. In Korean, it is commonly called 어성초 (eoseongcho) for its awful fishy scent or 십약 (sipyak) which literally translates to 'ten medicines' since it can be used to alleviate various ailments. Japanese recognises this plant as 蕺草 (dokudami), but just like in Korean, it also has an affectionate nickname with the meaning of 'ten medicines', 十薬(jūyaku). Despite its distinct odour, Houttuynia cordata is visually attractive. Its heart-shaped green leaves are elegantly framed with yellow and red hues, hence its many nicknames. This herbaceous perennial herb grows in moist, shady locations in Asian countries, including Southeast Asia, Northeast India, Korea, Japan, China, and others.
Long before it was used as an ingredient in our skincare products, people all across Asia consumed its leaves, stems and roots as food and beverages. Even today, they still serve it for culinary purposes. For instance, in India, China and Vietnam, Houttuynia cordata is eaten raw as salad or cooked with other vegetables, fish, or meat. Meanwhile, in Japan and Korea, people use its dried leaves to brew herbal tea. While the pungent taste of Houttuynia cordata may not be for everyone, there's no doubt that it possesses incredible health benefits. I mean, just by reading its nicknames, we can at least have that many expectations, right?
This native Asian plant is valued for its medicinal properties and used internally to treat cholera, dysentery, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, blood deficiency, coughs, fever, indigestion and constipation. Externally, Houttuynia cordata is used to treat snake bites and skin disorders.
The main bioactive compound that has been isolated from Houttuynia cordata is called flavonoids—a family of polyphenolic compounds in plants. Some of the flavonoids found within this particular plant are Quercetin, Quercitrin, Hyperoside, Rutin, Afzelin, and Apigenin. These polyphenolic flavonoids are efficient antioxidants that scavenge oxygen radicals and possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Besides the active components mentioned above, Houttuynia cordata also contains polysaccharides—large molecules of various sugar units, including galacturonic acid, galactose, arabinose, glucuronic acid, etc. In skincare products, polysaccharides work as humectants, meaning they attract water to and hold it in the skin, moisturising the skin and helping it maintains its softness and elasticity. Supplementary to their hydrating nature, they also exhibit excellent antioxidant effects by being free radical scavengers.
Houttuynia cordata is an excellent source of natural antioxidants. Besides having a high content of polyphenolic flavonoids, it is also rich in polysaccharides, amino acids and fatty acids, which possess powerful antioxidant properties. They are very helpful in fighting off and neutralising circulating free radicals from air pollution, UV rays, smoke, lack of sleep, poor diet, alcohol, stress, etc.
Facial skin is the most UV exposed area. Exposure of the skin to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation causes oxidative damage to the skin, resulting in sunburn, erythema, skin inflammation, pigmentation, dehydration, skin ageing, skin cancer and more. UV irradiation stimulates the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that could damage our skin cells. Based on a research, Quercitrin shows a protective effect on the skin by decreasing ROS generation from UVB exposure.
Furthermore, as you may already know, antioxidants play an essential role in diminishing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Even though topical application of antioxidants in skincare may provide a shield against free radicals from causing more damage to the skin, it is better to set our expectation straight by realising that it won't make us look 15 years younger.
Librarian Tip: Combine Houttuynia Cordata with ingredients like Ceramides, Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, Retinol and Niacinamide for better results in the attempt of "looking young". Also, never forget to wear your sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater.
Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory
One of the many reasons people with acne-prone skin love this ingredient is its antibacterial properties. Houttuynia Cordata extract has a strong antimicrobial effect against bacteria most commonly contributed to acne, Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis.
These acne-causing bacteria stimulate pro-inflammatory mediators or cytokines to initiate the inflammatory process that results in the emergence of acne on the skin. Luckily, we can prevent it from happening with a little bit of help from Houttuynia cordata extract. According to a study, this powerful ingredient effectively reduces pro-inflammatory mediators' production. In other words, it can be beneficial in the treatment of acne vulgaris. However, further studies are needed to know whether it helps inhibit the cytokines mechanism. On the flip side, great news for all acne-prone skin type, a recent study published in 2019 has concluded that mild to moderate inflammatory acne lesions significantly reduced by eight weeks of applying this herbal extract.
Similarly, Houttuynia cordata also exhibits a distinguished outcome in treating atopic dermatitis (AD) or eczema—a chronic inflammation of the skin that typically affects the face, neck, arms and legs. Staphylococcus aureus has been proposed to be one of the bacteria inducing AD. The strong anti-inflammatory activity of Houttuynia cordata inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines and relieves AD inflammation.
In a nutshell, Houttuynia cordata makes a great ingredient to calm and soothe red, irritated or inflamed skin.
Melanin is a major pigment responsible for the colour of the skin. Sun exposure and inflammation (i.e. acne) result in the overproduction of melanin. Consequently, hyperpigmentation—such as melasma, sunspots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—may occur. Some of the culprits to this unfortunate event are free radicals and tyrosinase. Antioxidants aid in preventing or delaying pigmentation by battling the free radicals, therefore obstructing melanin synthesis. Not to mention, high phenolic content in Houttuynia cordata hinders tyrosinase activity. That's how this ingredient got its ability to brighten the complexion.
Houttuynia cordata in skincare products
These days, you can find Houttuynia cordata in almost every skincare products available in the market. If you are wondering which ones of those products enable you to reap all the amazing benefits of the ingredient, of course, it will come down to whichever sits on the skin for a longer time to allow the product to deliver its maximum potential, for instance, serums, essences, and creams. Anyone with any skin type can benefit from this plant extract, especially those with acne-prone and sensitive skins.
Considering its many benefits and how gentle it is on the skin, it is safe to say that Houttuynia cordata can be used in the morning and evening daily. A few studies confirm that generally, it does not show any toxic effect or adverse reaction. That being said, just like any plant extracts, which is a complex mixture of many chemical compounds, extraction methods, preparations, and the concentration of active ingredients, to mention a few, require special attention. Scientific studies focused on developing formulations for topical application are needed to ensure its safety and efficacy.
If you are interested in trying Houttuynia cordata, it may be worth patch-testing first to see if you react negatively to it. Or you can always check in with a dermatologist if you have questions regarding your skin concerns.
Lastly, if you are wondering whether or not Houttuynia cordata resembles Centella Asiatica: actually, they do. Most plant extracts share similarities in terms of skin benefits. Generally, plant-derived products are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and bioactive extracts or phytochemicals. Even though Houttuynia cordata and Centella Asiatica come from different families, both have equally great antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that are suitable for all skin types, especially acne-prone and sensitive skin types. In my opinion, it is unnecessary to compare them; what's more important is to pick a product with ingredients that works better and feels more comfortable on your skin since skincare is something very personal that is different for each individual.
Suitable for: All Skin Types
A mild gel cleanser which effectively cleanses skin without stripping it of its natural moisture barrier. Take an appropriate amount of the pale green coloured gel and massage it into the skin to remove excess sebum and dirt without worrying about tugging at the skin. Rinse off with lukewarm water to leave cleansed and supple skin.
Suitable for: All Skin Types (especially Oily, Combination, Dry)
A two-in-one cream product that offers a unique skincare experience to fulfil everyone's needs.
Ceramide U-Zone Cream: A relatively thick gel cream that spreads beautifully once it touches the skin. With ingredients like Centella Asiatica, allantoin and ceramide in its formulation, this product provides a protective, moisturising layer on top of your skin. If you live in a four-season country, this snowy white cream is more suitable to be applied during winter as it is more hydrating than the other one.
Heartleaf T-Zone Cream: A lightweight gel that comes in blue hues, thanks to Guaiazulene. This side of the cream contains Houttuynia cordata that gives an instant burst of hydration, although it doesn't stay for too long in cold weather. It feels cooling to the skin and makes an excellent option for those living in hot, humid weather.
Suitable for: All Skin Types (especially Sensitive)
Looking for something to help soothe the redness and irritation on your skin? This might be the answer to your problem. This essence with Houttuynia cordata as its star ingredient has a lightweight consistency that absorbs into the skin pretty quickly. It surely calms the skin and leaves it looking plump and well-hydrated as well.
Suitable for: Acne-prone, Sensitive
One minute your skin is as normal as can be, and then out of nowhere, unwelcome guests start to pop on your face. Well, we all know this kind of situation is inevitable and bound to happen sooner or later. When it happens, you want this sheet mask by your side. The essence of this mask contains Houttuynia cordata, Centella Asiatica, green tea, liquorice extract and chamomile, which are excellent to treat acne while at the same time soothe the skin. The mask itself is rather special. It is made of bamboo fabric and albumin (egg white), which can help to tighten the skin and improves its elasticity.
Suitable for: Acne-Prone, Oily, Sensitive
Do you want to have a bottle of serum absorbs into your skin? Upgrade your sheet mask stash with this one. The combination of Centella Asiatica and Houttuynia cordata provides the skin with antioxidants, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also infused with witch hazel water that can help to control sebum production. Plus, it offers a cooling and hydrating effect as soon as you put it on your face.
Suitable for: Dry, Sensitive
Send dullness away with this soothing, alcohol-free toner. With low percentage AHA ingredients, 3.2% glycolic and 1.8% lactic acid, it gently removes dead skin cells to reveal healthy glowing skin. It also contains panthenol (vitamin B5) that packs a powerful punch of hydration to the skin, leaving it soft and supple. Moreover, it is infused with lemon myrtle and Houttuynia cordata that helps bolster skin defence with antibacterial properties. With this toner, it is possible to pull off a smoother-looking complexion without irritation. Plus, it's vegan friendly.
Suitable for: Acne-Prone, Oily
Is it that time of the month when your skin starts acting up just before you have an important gathering in the next few days? Not to worry, dear, we may have a solution for you. A spot treatment that contains a blend of Eastern and Western plant extracts. Packed with tea tree oil, Houttuynia cordata, Centella Asiatica, liquorice and Salix alba leaf extracts, this product will ease inflammation, regulate sebum production, fight off free radicals as well as hydrate the skin.
Takeaway: Houttuynia Cordata is an ingredient people are reaching out towards, and rightly so. Not only is it beneficial internally, it is also great for our skin externally. Do you have any favourite products with Houttuynia Cordata? Or are you considering adding it into your skincare routine, let us know in the comments below.
- By Claudia Christin (@funskincare)
MBBS, Ph.D. (Dermatology)