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I’m no longer sure about Arnica…

December 28, 2018

Aaahhhhh Arnica,

Arnica Wikipedia

I’ve used this in a few of my cosmetic formulations over the years, mainly because it has anti-inflammatory / soothing properties that can be put to good use in products aimed at sensitive skin.  However,  it has recently been brought to my attention that this herb and its extracts may not be welcome under EU Cosmetic regulation for much longer.  This looks to be mainly because of its irritation potential, its mutagenicity and for the fact that there are presently too many gaps in its safety dossier for cosmetic use. Apparently regulatory circles are starting to feel uneasy about the safety of this when used in a cosmetic setting.

It looks to me like this is a good example of a plant gone bad.

When nature bites back?

When natural doesn’t equal safe?

Where one can have too much of a good thing?

Arnica

Suffice to say that I’m now running around pulling this out of my cosmetic formulations and replacing it with something less controversial, especially given that my herb books do confirm that this stuff can kill a human albeit in larger doses than I’m used to using I imagine!

The plants key toxicity concerns centre on a chemical called Helenalin which while being thought to be part of the plants anti-inflammatory activity is also (and somewhat counter-intuitively) an irritant or skin and mucousa – so not recommended in a lip balm or around the eyes in any case.  Here is some more toxicity info on that. 

For those that are wondering about the fact that one can still purchase Arnica creams and balms then yes, yes you can (at the moment) and maybe they are regulated under herbal medicine laws or pharmaceuticals or something else entirely.  It is always worth checking with the manufacturer (or even by looking at the packaging) as this caution applies to cosmetics only.   Cosmetic products are unlike pharmaceuticals in as much as they are designed to be used frequently and for a long-time (forever if you like) whereas medicines are really only used for a short prescribed period before leaving them alone.  It is this culminative and potentially large-scale (whole body maybe) use that could lead to an over-exposure from cosmetic use that is less likely in a pharmaceutical.

The bottom line is that there is no ban at the time of writing on using Arnica extract in a cosmetic product destined for sale in the EU but that you may struggle to get a safety assessment passed under some circumstances with this in your formula – if in doubt talk it out with your EU regulations consultant and in any case, go easy with the Arnica as it’s got a shady side.

For those who like to read from the original sources here is one report on Arnica from 2012 by the EU

You can also check out the COSING database where you will find no restrictions for Arnica which does make this a little confusing. 

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2018 1:18 am

    Dat is helaas al een tijd bekend, maar komt alleen nu onder de aandacht. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/6993423/

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      December 29, 2018 11:12 am

      Translated:Unfortunately, this has been known for a while, but only now comes under the attention.
      Yes indeed, and even now there is no real warning available for those just scrolling through the COSING database. Thanks for the comment and link.

  2. Kelly permalink
    January 1, 2019 11:26 am

    Kinda scratching my head wondering “why now?” What happened or what was discovered about arnica that we didn’t previously know? Used properly the results from arnica are great.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 1, 2019 11:32 am

      Hi Kelly, that’s just science I guess. The more we understand the closer we can look and the more we can pinpoint problems. Arnica has always been known to have some fairly hefty toxicity but I think that it’s probably only relatively recently that the exact origin of that when applied topically is being understood. The other thing to consider is that we are now in an age where more people are looking to use herbs in their skin care again and not just for healing where a salve was used sporadically but for every-day use. This, along with the fact that many people formulating with herbs like this may not have any clue (or training) as to its toxicity are probably using it at higher levels than before and recommending it for every-day use. So I guess that’s probably why now.

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