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Cica, aka centella asiatica, isn’t the only leafy green sprouting up in dozens of Korean skin-care products lately. Mugwort is taking over ingredient lists, too, including that of Allure Korea’s Best of Beauty Award-winning oil cleanser.
Fascinated by its name alone, I embarked on a mugwort deep dive that went all the way back to Greek mythology. Sure, every time I’ve mentioned mugwort in passing, people immediately think of Harry Potter. (In real life, it does have magical powers, depending on who you ask.) But mugwort, or Artemisia Princeps, has a coincidental connection to Artemis, the Greek goddess of childbirth and known for protecting women and girls. Keep scrolling to find out the fascinating origins of mugwort and why it’s an amazing ingredient for dry, irritated skin.
What exactly is mugwort?
To put it simply, mugwort is a weed. It’s a weed that’s absinthe adjacent, though. Artemisia, it’s genus, also includes wormwood, which is a key ingredient in the hallucinogenic, green elixir, as Charlotte Cho, an aesthetician and co-founder of K-beauty e-retailer Soko Glam, points out. Tarragon, an aromatic herb used in cooking, is in the same family, too.
In Korea, mugwort is regarded as a healing herb for its antibacterial, anti-fungal, and skin-protective properties. Known as ssuk (쑥), legend has it that mugwort was behind the creation of the first Korean dynasty, according to Janelle Kim, an herbalist. According to Korean mythology, a bear and a tiger wanted to become human, so Hwanung, the son of the” Lord of Heaven,” tested them by putting them in a cave with some mugwort and garlic and told them to stay there for 100 days. The bear had enough after 21 days, but the bear stayed patient and was turned into a woman named Hwanung who later gave birth to Dangun, who founded the first Korean Dynasty, Gojoseon.
These days, Korean cuisine (like rice cakes), traditional Korean medicine, and Korean homeopathic remedies often incorporate mugwort for these reasons. Women, in particular, swear by sipping it in tea form to help regulate their menstrual cycles and ease period cramps. That’s where the ironic Artemis connection comes in. At traditional bathhouses, you can also soak in mugwort-infused baths.
Kim says mugwort is one of a kind. However, Austin-based dermatologist Ted Lain likens mugwort to vitamin C because they are both packed with antioxidants. Cosmetic chemist Ginger King, on the other hand, compares it to tea tree, which naturally kills bacteria and fights breakouts, but “with a better sage-like smell.”
How else does mugwort help skin?
Although mugwort has been a part of Korean culture since basically the beginning of time, “we’re seeing more Korean beauty products designed to soothe and treat sensitive skin, as well as acne-prone skin, using mugwort,” Cho says.
Thanks to its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties, mugwort targets dry, irritated skin effectively. New York City-based dermatologist Rachel Nazarian says it’s even a suitable treatment for skin conditions such as eczema (or atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis. To get more technical, King cites vitamin E as a component of mugwort, and which helps skin retain moisture. Mugwort can also “relieve redness on skin,” she adds.
The herb also has smoothing, protective powers fit for mature skin, too. “Mouse- and cell-based trials reveal that mugwort acts as an antioxidant, helping prevent damage caused by ultraviolet rays, as well as a collagen stimulator, to help reduce the appearance of fine lines,” Lain explains. With this in mind, Kim says mugwort also makes skin look more radiant.