While there are plenty of great “anti-aging” products on the market, most derms will tell you that the only surefire way to make wrinkles disappear is with Botox. The injectable neurotoxin works by freezing certain muscle groups in your face to prevent movement—which is what causes lines in the first place—to ultimately leave you with smoother-looking skin. But if you aren’t looking to go under the needle just yet (or… ever), there’s a buzzy ingredient that might just be the next best thing: Hibiscus, which has widely become known as “nature’s Botox.”
Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat: Regardless of what its nickname may imply, the Hawaiian flower isn’t going to give you quite the same results as an injectable. “There’s a reason that everything new is compared to Botox: There is really no substitute for neurotoxin as of yet,” says Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Wellness Dermatology in Alabama. However, it’s got plenty of skin-transforming properties that come about as close as you’re going to get from a topical ingredient.
Below, the pros break down the benefits of hibiscus skincare so that you can decide for yourself if it’s worth adding to your routine for the sake of staving off injectables.
The benefits of hibiscus skin care
1. Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
Instead of freezing your facial muscles the way Botox does, hibiscus works to diminish fine lines and wrinkles by significantly decreasing the elastase activity in your skin. Elastase is an enzyme in your body that’s responsible for breaking down elastin, which leads to signs of aging. “Elastin is an essential protein produced naturally in the body that helps skin retain its shape. When elastin breaks down, you see droopy, saggy skin,” says Dr. Hartman. By reducing the amount of elastase in your body, hibiscus helps your skin maintain its natural elastin levels, thus keeping it firmer over time.
Additionally, hibiscus has been shown to suppress the activity of collagenase (the enzyme that breaks down collagen as we age) which helps to prevent and smooth the appearance of wrinkles.
Because it’s easier for light to bounce off of a smooth surface than a textured one, Botox’s wrinkle-reducing abilities tend to come with the added bonus of making skin look dewy and radiant. Thanks to its exfoliating properties, hibiscus offers similar effects in making your complexion so smooth it practically shines. According to Dr. Hartman, the ingredient contains “AHAs [alpha-hydroxy acids], AKAs [alpha-keto acids], and BHAs [beta-hydroxy acids that] exfoliate the skin to remove dead skin cells to reveal newer, brighter skin.” Casey Georgeson, founder of Saint Jane Beauty, adds that this high concentration of chemical exfoliators “can retexturize the skin and lessen discoloration like age spots too.”
3. Calms inflammation
Most of the skin-resurfacing products that are marketed as being “just like Botox” tend to be abrasive on the skin (think: tretinoin, chemical peels, and laser treatments), but hibiscus stands apart from the pack. According to Macrene Alexiades, MD, PhD, PLLC, a double board-certified dermatologist in NYC and founder of Macrene Actives, the ingredient offers medicinal benefits that actually help calm inflammation instead of causing it. It’s got protocatechuic acid (or PCA for short) and quercetin, two antioxidants that soothe inflamed skin and defend against the free-radical damage that causes it in the first place.
4. Protects against environmental stressors
The pros we spoke to all called out hibiscus as a great source of ascorbic acid, the most potent form of antioxidant-rich vitamin C, which offers brightening and skin-tone evening benefits. It’s also got myricetin, an antioxidant that supports elastin production while suppressing UVB-induced wrinkles, plus a slew of B vitamins. All of these antioxidants work together to defend against the oxidative stress-inducing environmental stressors that lead to signs of skin aging (think: pollution and UV damage), keeping your complexion plump, bouncy, and radiant.
There’s a solid reason why Georgeson says that “the benefits of hibiscus are numerous and incredible.” Along with maintaining elastin, exfoliating dead skin cells, and protecting the skin against oxidation, hibiscus also “moisturizes via mucilage, the super effective moisturizing goo found in hibiscus flowers,” says Athena Hewett, a holistic esthetician and the founder of Monastery Skincare.
Who should (and shouldn’t) use hibiscus in their skin-care routine
“For most people, there is little to no risk if you incorporate hibiscus into your skincare routine,” says Dr. Hartman. The only caveat? “You should always use sunscreen when you use a product with AHAs, BHAs, or AKAs. They make skin more susceptible to UV rays, so it’s extra important to protect your skin daily,” he says. He goes on to explain that people with severe acne who take oral or topical antibiotics or prescriptions should consult with their dermatologist before adding hibiscus into their routine.
Hewett also mentions that pregnant people might want to tread lightly with hibiscus. “It is [technically] fine to be used topically but not internally while pregnant,” she says. “In an abundance of caution, maybe it should be avoided during pregnancy.
Shop hibiscus skin care
BYROE Hibiscus Tea Glow Mist — $63.00
This formula offers hydrating, calming, and refreshing benefits within seconds of spraying it onto your skin. As one reviewer puts it, “This mist makes my face feel super glowy and looks amazing with or without makeup, but doesn’t leave my skin oily or greasy. It just leaves it refreshed and plump.”
Saint Jane Hydrating Petal Cream — Hyaluronic + Vitamin C Daily Moisturizer — $68.00
This cream’s texture is described as “silky floral,” which makes sense given that it harnesses the moisturizing properties of hibiscus flower along with hyaluronic acid. And the active ingredient benefits don’t stop there: It’s also got vitamin C for brightening, skin-tone evening, and protection, plus CBD to calm inflammation and redness.
Kat Burki Dual Exfoliating Clay — $98.00
This formula packs a seriously exfoliating punch. It’s got hibiscus petals, cranberry fibers, and jojoba fibers for a gentle skin sloughing, plus glycolic acid to kick things up a notch. The addition of kaolin clay, a known detoxifier, will further aid in keeping skin clear and breakout-free.
Honua Hawaiian Skincare Hibiscus Hyaluronic Acid Beauty Booster Serum — $54.00
This “beauty boosting” formula doubles as your daily hydrating and protecting serum. It’s got hyaluronic acid, which is famous for holding 1,000 times its weight in water; astaxanthin, a marine marine-sourced ingredient from Hawaii that’s said to be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C; and of course, hibiscus.
Herbivore Rose Hibiscus Hydrating Mist — $34.00
“Flower power” is the name of the game with this botanical serum, which pairs hibiscus extract with rosewater to hydrate and smooth skin while reducing redness. Spritz it on throughout the day for a quick refresh, or use it between skin-care steps to keep your complexion damp so that it’s better suited for serums to penetrate.
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