What Is Chebula And How Can You Implement It Into Your Skincare Routine?

Chebula, a fruit commonly used in ancient Eastern Ayurvedic medicine, is currently taking the beauty and skincare world by storm. According to the Evening Standard, this tree-growing fruit is traditionally used for a variety of health benefits and ailments ranging from healthy digestion to strong vision. However, it is now being coveted for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which have a direct connection to healthy, glowing, youthful looking skin.

Skincare is an important element of a strong self-care and wellness routine, regardless of age or gender. Establishing a regimen that works for you early on not only helps strengthen and protect the skin, it allows for a more graceful entrance into the inevitable signs of a well-lived life. Many people focus their skincare regimen around products that possess anti-aging properties, while others desire products that clear acne or moisturize chronically dry skin. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of skincare products on the market to choose from, but topical products containing chebula are making waves for their seemingly magical ability to accomplish multiple skincare needs in one step.

In this article the history and basic uses of chebula are discussed, along with how it compares to traditional skin care products known for anti-aging and skin health. You will also learn all of the easy ways chebula products can be implemented into your skincare routine.

What is chebula?

Terminalia chebula is a multifunctional Ayurvedic ingredient known for its detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and regenerative properties (per Premium Beauty News). It goes by many names, including Haritaki, T. chebula, and black or chebulic myrobalan, but is commonly referred to in Western skincare products as chebula.

According to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, chebula is a tree native to South and Southeast Asia and is found in the mountainous regions of countries such as India, China, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The tree grows ribbed, oblong, nut-like fruits with two pointed ends that range in color from yellow to orange-brown. Lovingly referred to as the "king of Medicine," this small berry has been used in herbal medicine for centuries to combat ailments and diseases ranging from asthma to bladder diseases (via PubMed). 

Although chebula only entered the Western skincare world in recent years, research and anecdotal evidence suggests that its bioactive properties are powerful enough to consider adding to your daily skincare routine.

Chebula in Ayurvedic medicine

Ayurvedic medicine and its components are an ancient system of medicine originating in India more than 5,000 years ago. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the term Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words "ayur," or life, and "veda," for science or knowledge. Together, the word translates to "knowledge of life."

Ayurveda is based on the idea a person's health is dependent on a balance between the body, mind, and spirit. The National Ayurvedic Medical Association explains that ayurvedic principles attempt to focus on harmonizing a person's internal and external worlds based on the foundational philosophy that everything you experience in your life possesses a specific quality. In Sanskrit, these qualities, or gunas, can become excessive or deficient, and lead to disease. Ayurveda is a natural and holistic practice that can be used for either preventative care or to treat a specific disease. Few clinical trials have been designed to study Ayurvedic medicine's effectiveness in comparison with traditional Western medicine, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. However, roughly 240,000 Americans currently use Ayurvedic medicine as their main source of medical care.

In Ayurveda, chebula serves many purposes. It is considered to be a rejuvenating and purifying medicinal herb with aphrodisiac, antipyretic, antitussive, and anthelmintic properties, according to Planet Ayurveda. It is a main ingredient in Triphala, the most frequently prescribed Ayurvedic formulation, which can be taken for issues like kidney or liver problems. When ingested, chebula is also used as a diuretic and a laxative.

The use of chebula in skincare

You might be thinking, "Chebula sounds great for healing me if I get sick, but what does this strange little almond-like fruit have to do with skincare?" As it turns out, there aren't many skin concerns this superpower fruit can't help with. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sheila Farhang tells InStyle, "Chebula is derived from the terminalia chebula tree (specifically the fruit) ... The robust antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of chebula are what really make it stand out in skincare."

Chebula contains a number of pharmaceutical and biochemical compounds that make it an excellent natural skincare remedy. According to the natural skincare brand True Botanicals, chebula is rapidly becoming a go-to topical solution for a number of skincare concerns like wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and dry skin thanks to its high antioxidant content. It can also promote better hydration and offer protection from the sun's harmful, damaging rays. 

Chebula is often eaten to cure a number of ailments, and is actually highly nutritious, according to ScienceDirect. However, in the skincare world, chebula is currently formulated into face masks and topical creams and serums that are applied directly to the skin to obtain its amazing benefits.

Anti-aging benefits of chebula

Chebula is a true powerhouse ingredient for both aging gracefully and erasing unwanted reminders of the passing time. According to Life Extension, the highly-active compounds within the chebula fruit neutralize free radicals, or unstable molecules made naturally by the body. Free radicals can also be made after the body is exposed to environmental toxins, such as air pollution, ultraviolet (UV) light, radon, or tobacco smoke (via Verywell Health). Though their existence is brief, free radicals are able to damage your DNA and, over time, lead to the development of serious health conditions like cancer. Free radicals are also partially responsible for extrinsic skin aging such as wrinkles and dark spots, particularly as you get older (via PubMed).

Limited studies show that chebula and chebula extracts are a key player in slowing down the aging process. According to Cosmetics and Toiletries, a peer-reviewed cosmetic science resource, skin cream with chebula is able to control inflammation to minimize skin damage and provide protection that limits the amount of oxidative damage done to the cells and DNA. It is also proven to have a strong anti-glycation effect, a process which weakens the collagen and elastin in the skin causing it to lose its youthful appearance. Similarly, an independent scientific clinical trial conducted by True Botanicals found that 97% of the study's participants saw a reduction in the look of fine lines and wrinkles after using a chebula-based serum for four weeks. The True Botanical study also found a 22% reduction in wrinkle appearance after six weeks.

Chebula contains antioxidants that promote an even skin tone

Chebula's anti-aging properties go hand in hand with its incredible antioxidant powers. Chebula fruits are antioxidants that help fight off those pesky free radicals while simultaneously smoothing skin texture and evening skin tone. All antioxidants prevent cell damage, but chebula isn't your average antioxidant. In fact, it's a potent super antioxidant.

Sarina Godin tells Molly Sims, "Chebula is a cascading antioxidant, which means once it's done fighting a free radical, it reacts by taking a new form that can fight the next free radical, and the next, and the next ... This 'phoenix rising in the ashes' agent goes to battle time and time again without losing the ability to defend and protect your skin." For comparison, most skincare antioxidants lose their potency within the first hour after application (via the Evening Standard). Chebula is also more powerful than common antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E.

According to Cayce Dermatology Center, chebula's antioxidative properties can help promote an even skin tone by preserving necessary collagen and diminishing the appearance of dark spots and wrinkles. They also protect against sun damage caused by UV rays by reducing the skin's sensitivity to the sun. Furthermore, chebula eliminates dullness, also caused by UV rays, which ultimately leads to brighter, more youthful looking skin.

Chebula-based products can boost skin moisture content

Skin hydration is a necessary part of achieving beautiful looking skin and one of the most important ways you can keep yourself healthy. According to the Dermatology Center of Washington Township, the outermost layer of the skin requires adequate moisture to help carry nutrients to the skin cells, flush away toxins, and protect the skin from germs. Without proper hydration, skin can become inflamed, itchy, or red. It can kick oil-production into high gear, leading to oily-looking skin and potentially increasing breakouts. Skin that isn't properly hydrated also causes skin cells to shrink and elasticity to weaken, thereby exaggerating the look of fine lines and wrinkles.

While drinking the right amount of water for your body is essential for proper skin hydration, the types of products you apply to your face can also make a difference. Premium Beauty News notes that products containing chebula are incredibly nourishing and can boost moisture content, especially when paired with other moisturizing skin care products or ingredients.

"Linoleic acid is a key component of the skin barrier, which allows skin to retain moisture and prevents irritants and toxins from entering the skin," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elyse Love tells Allure. "Day-to-day life — like harsh soaps and wind — degrades the skin barrier. A proper moisturizer should contain humectants, such as glycerin, and barrier-fortifying ingredients such as linoleic acid or ceramides." Other hydrating, protective ingredients that pair well with chebula include seed oils, green tea extract, and aloe vera.

Chebula strengthens and repairs the skin barrier

It is no secret that the sun's ultraviolet rays can have detrimental, long-lasting effects on your skin. According to MedlinePlus, too much UV exposure can damage the melanin in the outer layer of your skin, causing a sunburn that reduces the overall elasticity in the skin. The less elasticity your skin has, the faster premature aging begins to take effect. "Premature aging of the skin is caused by light exposure," Dr. Melanie Palm, medical director at Art of Skin, tells the Skin Cancer Foundation. "This can also include visible (HEV) and infrared light, which are other parts of the light spectrum." Photodamage, or sun damage, can look like freckles, coarse wrinkles, and pigmentation changes.

Thankfully, chebula is here to save the day. Although photodamage isn't reversible once it's occurred, future damage can be prevented with the help of sunscreen and a proper skincare regimen. Studies suggest that chebula ethanol fruit extract is an effective preventative measure against photodamaged skin (via PubMed). Used topically, this powerful ingredient improves the skin barrier's function, helping shield it from the sun's harmful rays (via Stylecraze).

How does chebula compare to retinol?

As mentioned, chebula is a great ingredient to combine with a variety of skincare products. Doing so can often help maximize the effects of each. But how does it compare with more traditional skincare products that can accomplish similar things?

Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is an ingredient commonly added to skin serums, gels, lotions, and face creams. According to the Cleveland Clinic, retinol is useful for treating acne but also has powerful anti-aging effects. It is used to help reduce stretch marks, fade acne scars, and prevent clogged pores. Retinol also helps improve the appearance of wrinkles and the webs of fine lines around your eyes and mouth by slowing the breakdown of collagen in the middle layers of the skin. Like chebula-based serums, retinol is applied topically and starts working right away — although it can take several months to see results.

While chebula and retinol can perform similar functions, retinol is known to increase skin sensitivity in the sun which may lead to sunburns and skin damage (via LovelySkin). Currently, chebula is not thought to cause sensitivity to light in the same way. This means it may be a better alternative to people who spend a lot of time outdoors or forget to apply sunscreen.

How does chebula compare to vitamin C?

Topical vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a science-backed ingredient that can help slow aging, improve the look of coarse wrinkles on the face and neck, fade dark spots and scars, and prevent or treat acne (via Harvard Health Publishing). Vitamin C does this by boosting collagen and protecting it from damage. It also pairs well with sunscreen to protect the skin from harmful UV rays and helps promote a glowing, even skin tone. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which helps fight damaging free radicals that make signs of aging worse over time (per the Mayo Clinic). Generally, vitamin C can be used every day. However, high concentrations can be irritating for the skin when combined with acids like salicylic.

Chebula can do all of the same things that vitamin C can do, and it may actually do it better in some capacity. As a cascading antioxidant, chebula is significantly more powerful than vitamin C. True Botanicals notes that chebula keeps neutralizing free radicals long after most antioxidants, ultimately minimizing the long-term damage. A 2016 study researching the antioxidant extract of Terminalia chebula Retzius fruits determined: "The antioxidant activity of the extract is significantly higher than the standard ascorbic acid, and its activity is concentration-dependent."

Potential side effects of chebula

According to Beauty Pie's Trends Report, searches for chebula serums are up 922%, making this amazing skincare ingredient officially a 2023 health and beauty trend. It certainly appears to have a number of amazing benefits for your skin, from fading old acne scars to erasing signs of aging. But are there any potential side effects to be aware of?

At this point, there is limited scientific research to confirm if it is safe or unsafe. Chebula has been used in various medicinal capacities for thousands of years, but ongoing research has provided mixed results on its efficacy for those ailments (via RxList). Certain people should avoid taking chebula internally to cure certain ailments, particularly if they have recently donated blood, are dehydrated, or have diarrhea. However, few studies have been focused on chebula's safety for skincare. What studies have been conducted suggest that applying a chebula serum can be safely used for day-to-day skin health. "Use it externally by making a paste with some water or rose water," Vrinda Devani, OB-GYN and Ayurvedic practitioner, recommends to Healthline. "If it's a little drying, add a few drops of oil."

How to implement chebula into your skincare routine

Just like any skincare product, whether you choose to implement chebula into your daily routine is ultimately up to you. However, if you want to give this super antioxidant a try, there are a few ways you can do so.

First, ensure that your skin is properly cleansed and free of makeup and sunscreen. Consider applying a toner afterward. According to Women's Health, water-based toners help remove leftover oil and dirt while also preparing the skin for the products you want to apply. They also provide additional hydration, fight bacteria, inflammation, and redness, and may contain plant stem cells that have anti-aging properties. Toner can either be applied to a reusable cotton pad and patted onto your face or sprayed. Once your toner is applied, you can apply your chebula serum or moisturizer. Let it sit for a few minutes to fully absorb before topping off your routine with your preferred sunscreen.

Chebula is considered to be safe for all skin types and concerns (via Molly Sims). Of course, you should always consult a dermatologist before trying out a new skincare product, particularly if you intend to combine it with other items. They will be able to provide guidance on the right product for your skin type and needs. Additionally, it is important that you do a patch test of chebula products to ensure you don't have any allergies or sensitivities to the ingredient.