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The anti-inflammatory beauty ingredient you may be overlooking


Photos: Larkin Clark for Well+Good
Photos: Larkin Clark for Well+Good

Internal inflammation has been linked to everything from allergies to autoimmune diseases, but it’s not just the inside of your body that is impacted. Frequent breakouts? Poor wound healing? They might be signs that chronic swelling is manifesting itself on the outside, too.

Some dermatologists, including Dr. Nicholas Perricone, the founder of Perricone MD skin care, recommend an anti-inflammatory diet for a clearer, more resilient complexion. But inflammation-fighting ingredients are also beneficial to your overall beauty routine. An important one you may be overlooking? Calendula.

The vibrant orange flower may look a lot like the marigolds you commonly see in gardens, but the medicinal variety—also called calendula officinalis or pot marigold—packs major healing power. The petals and seed oils have been used in both ingestible remedies and topical treatments, with some studies suggesting that calendula can even significantly firm and hydrate the skin. Take that, rose water.

Calendula Weleda fields

“Internally, calendula has been used for gastrointestinal ulcers as well as inflammation of the internal organs [when it’s taken via] a tea or a homeopathic preparation,” says Petra Augenstein, chief pharmacist at natural skin care company Weleda. Externally, it has been used to treat a variety of inflammatory issues, including poorly healing wounds, acne, eczema, and conjuctivitis (AKA pink eye).

Augenstein explains that calendula is particularly effective in skin care because it has inherent antimicrobial and antiviral properties, increases collagen metabolism in irritated areas, and promotes the formation of granulation tissue, which is an important step in the skin healing process. That also makes it a great fortifier for delicate, sensitive, breakout-prone, and new skin. (Weleda says its calendula-based baby-care products are top sellers even among those without kids.)

The petals and seed oils have been used in both ingestible remedies and topical treatments, with some studies suggesting that calendula can even significantly firm and hydrate the skin.

Dr. Karen Hammerman of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City adds that calendula is unique because it addresses inflammation in the skin without drying it out, and even works when paired with other blemish-busting ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Calendula is also packed with flavonoids—powerful antioxidants that fight free radicals—which strengthen and protect the skin from future damage.

Though calendula is a multifunctional natural remedy, take the same care you would with any new ingredient you incorporate into your beauty routine: Spot test it behind your ear or your elbow and wait 24 hours to see if a reaction occurs, says Dr. Hammerman, and always be sure to cross check it with existing allergies or drugs you’re taking. After that, you’re cleared to embark on your inflammation-fighting crusade.

Another powerful all-natural skin-clearing product? Honey. And if what you ingest is as important as what you put on your skin, here are three brilliant ways to incorporate anti-inflammatory turmeric into your meals.