When most people think of hibiscus, thoughts of colorful flowers probably come to mind. And while it might look right at home in a tropical garden, the plant may have a place in your skin care routine. After all, like many herbs and flowers, hibiscus boasts an array of healing properties when applied topically or consumed as hibiscus tea. The bright, showy flower offers a rich mix of plant compounds, including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and malic acid—just to name a few. Needless to say, hibiscus might very well be your new favorite skin care ingredient. Here's why:
It supports your body's natural collagen production.
According to Melissa Nieves, LND, R.D., MPH, of Healthy Meals Supreme, vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is necessary for the synthesis of collagen. Specifically, certain enzymes depend on vitamin C to properly stabilize and cross-link collagen molecules2. The nutrient also supports collagen gene expression, which prompts collagen synthesis. And since vitamin C benefits collagen production both internally and topically2, you can enjoy the vitamin C in hibiscus by drinking or applying it.
It may help slow down collagen degradation.
So, increasing collagen synthesis is one thing. But what about reducing collagen breakdown? According to recent lab studies, hibiscus could lend a hand.
Hibiscus is high in an antioxidant called myricetin. This compound suppresses collagenase, an enzyme that targets and degrades collagen. (Collagenase activity naturally increases as we get older, causing the skin to lose its firmness and structure.) The myricetin in hibiscus, however, could potentially pump the brakes on collagen degradation—keeping your skin strong and firm.
It could prevent elastin breakdown, too.
With all this hype around collagen, it's easy to overlook other types of skin proteins. Elastin, for example, works to keep your skin tight and taut. "Elastin is a very stretchy protein found in connective tissue and skin," explains Michele Green, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City. "[It] helps skin return to its original position." But like collagen, elastin is broken down by a specific enzyme: elastase. This enzyme also increases as we age3, resulting in sagging and loose skin.
You'll be happy to know that hibiscus may lend a hand. According to Green, the tart herb decreases elastase activity, which protects against skin wrinkles by sparing elastin. Lab studies associate this effect with—you guessed it—myricetin, suggesting hibiscus could support skin proteins in more ways than one.
It can help ease inflammation from the inside out.
Hibiscus is known for its rich level of antioxidants4, including vitamin C and beta-carotene5. It also contains an antioxidative and anti-inflammatory plant pigment called anthocyanin4, which gives the plant its pink-red hue. And when it comes to skin care, these antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress (which can contribute to aging skin) and the inflammation that comes with it.
"Inflammation is one of the body's responses to [free radical] damage," explains Nieves. However, antioxidants work by neutralizing these free radicals, protecting cells and tissues like the skin. By consuming antioxidant-rich foods like hibiscus tea, says Nieves, you can add more "soldiers" to the "army" to fight free radical activity6—and the inflammation it can cause.
It has AHAs, which exfoliate the skin.
Hibiscus is a natural source of AHAs, suggesting benefits when used on the skin. It contains malic acid and citric acid7, says Green, which gently exfoliate and brighten the skin. And while scientists haven't studied AHAs specifically found in hibiscus, the benefits of AHAs8, in general, are well-established.
When applied topically, AHAs slough away dead skin cells and encourage skin cell renewal9. Through this gentle mode of exfoliation, AHAs can help reduce hyperpigmentation, increase skin clarity, and "encourage fresher and smoother-looking skin," shares Green.
It may speed up wound healing.
Proper wound healing is an essential component of healthy skin. It's a super-important process, notes Green, as it prevents infections and other complications that can cause scarring.
There's some evidence hibiscus could support wound healing. In lab studies10, researchers have examined the topical effect of hibiscus extract on wounds in skin samples called skin explants. The extract increased the production of fibronectin, a protein that helps the edges of a wound close. It also stimulated the expression of genes involved in various healing processes, including skin hydration and regeneration.
Drinking hibiscus tea is a delicious way to hydrate.
The more tea you drink, the more fluids you consume. This is great news for your skin, which craves moisture and hydration. "Staying well-hydrated helps your skin retain moisture and elasticity," explains Nieves. "It also increases blood flow to your skin, which translates to more nutrients reaching it." On the other hand, poor hydration can make your skin dry, tight, and less resilient.
Plus, you might find it easier to hydrate by drinking something like hibiscus tea. "[It] has a sweetly tart, fruity flavor, which can be preferable to plain water for some people," notes Nieves.
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.