Plant-based ingredients have been a mainstay dating back to ancient cultures around the globe — practically ever since people started taking care of their complexions. In addition to a seemingly endless array of botanical extracts, oils, and other skin-friendly compounds, ranging from bakuchiol to snow mushroom, some products have inherently included chlorophyll. The green stuff — as you may recall from middle school science class — converts light energy into food in every type of plant, algae, and even some types of bacteria. Yet the superfood has benefits for humans, too. “Chlorophyll is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and dermatologists are excited about its potential,” explains Gretchen Frieling, MD, Boston-area triple board-certified dermatopathologist. Today’s advances in science have helped make this a key ingredient for improving visible signs of aging, irritation, acne, and much more. Keep reading to learn more about chlorophyll, its uses in skincare, and how to reap its benefits.
What exactly is chlorophyll?
Responsible for the green color of both land-dwelling and marine-based plants, chlorophyll is essential for their growth and survival. But, in addition to acting as a photosynthesis “solar panel” — which captures sunlight to produce the plant’s sugar-based energy and release much-needed oxygen into the atmosphere — this compound has myriad benefits for human skin and the body as a whole. According to Shuting Hu, PhD, cosmetic scientist and co-founder of the natural skincare line AcadermaTM, algae and plants are widely used sources of chlorophyll, and there are five types that are categorized by letter. “Chlorophyll A is present in all photosynthetic organisms except bacteria, chlorophyll B is found in plants and green algae, and chlorophylls C, D, and E are present in some algae,” she explains. While they’re all beneficial, some have special perks (more on this later).
Chlorophyll is rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are naturally-occurring compounds that protect your skin against free radicals, molecules in the environment that damage the skin by clinging to collagen and weakening elasticity. “Generated by external aggressors like air pollutants, chemicals, and cigarette smoke, free radicals diminish the glow of your face — like switching off a light,” explains Dr. Frieling. “Chlorophyll is an excellent source of antioxidants, which can act to replenish the skin and keep it firm, while increasing collagen production.”
Several studies have confirmed the potent antioxidant benefits of chlorophyll, making it a worthy addition to your regimen. To kick off your skincare routine with an antioxidant-heavy, chlorophyll-rich product, try Odacité® Green Ceremony Cleanser ($58). The TSA-friendly powdered formula pairs matcha green tea with photosynthetic spirulina bacteria to provide defense against harmful, skin-deteriorating free radicals before you even put your makeup on for the day.
Chlorophyll is a different kind of anti-aging ingredient.
Interestingly enough, chlorophyll’s structure is similar to the hemoglobin in human blood that carries oxygen to each and every cell. It’s also been found to stimulate the tissue growth that can play a role in anti-aging. “In helping retain healthy skin tissues, chlorophyll stimulates anti-aging enzymes and encourages nourished, youthful skin,” shares Dr. Frieling.
It can also help repair sun damage on your skin in addition to fighting free radicals. “Studies suggest that chlorophyll is beneficial for photodamaged human skin, especially when individuals drink it,” says Dr. Hu. “Some research has indicated that drinking chlorophyll significantly improves wrinkles and elasticity.” In fact, a study of females age 45 and older who received a chlorophyll extract supplement for 90 days experienced a significant increase in collagen production, as well as a reduction in cellular lesions called thymine dimers that indicate UV damage. You can easily add drinkable chlorophyll to your life by snagging a bottle of Chlorophyll Water® ($40 for a case of 12 bottles). In lieu of juicing or making smoothies (or paying extra for someone else to do so!), this enhanced water will deliver your daily anti-aging dose of chlorophyll with every sip.
Chlorophyll is a natural healer.
Chlorophyll naturally produces oxygen, which can help remove harmful impurities and toxins from the body. In fact, according to Dr. Frieling, that ability has been studied for many decades. “Researchers studied chlorophyll as an aid for wound healing in the 1940s and 1950s,” she says. “Some of these studies suggested that chlorophyll may help heal surgical wounds and prevent infections.”
Chlorophyll can also help tackle inflammation, a component of many common skin conditions (including acne and eczema) that has been linked to the aging process. Research has shown that chlorophyll A and the byproducts of its natural action are a promising alternative to conventional treatments for inflammation and related conditions. In the case of acne and its inflammatory symptoms, in-office photodynamic therapy with chlorophyll A has been shown to help clear skin. For an at-home skin-soothing and rejuvenating option, try Hear Me RawTM The Brightener with Chlorophyll+ ($42). Along with our star ingredient, it’s packed with alpha hydroxy acids, lemon peel, Swiss cress sprout extract, and bakuchiol, and doubles as a phytobioactive cleanser and treatment mask.
Chlorophyll is (obviously!) in your food.
Yes, we love incorporating chlorophyll into our beauty routine as much as possible via skincare and unique beverages, but don’t forget that it’s in all of your favorite green veggies, too. Whether you opt for green juice or emerald-hued vegetables, it’s all about the color: Chlorophyll is found naturally in foods like spinach, asparagus, green cabbage, green beans, broccoli, marine algae (seaweed), and matcha green tea.
“Increasing your intake of these foods — and adopting a more plant-based diet in general — can help the body heal more efficiently and ward off inflammation, irritation, and signs of aging to improve the quality of your skin and reduce breakouts,” Dr. Frieling says. If you find it challenging to work chlorophyll-rich foods into your daily diet, one 8Greens® tablet ($14 for 10) a day in a glass of water can help deliver the level of nutrients your skin needs.
Chlorophyll is good for your skin — with one caveat.
We’ve thoroughly documented the plant pigment’s illustrious benefits here, but before you start doubling down on your application and consumption of chlorophyll, Dr. Frieling has an important warning. “Chlorophyll has the potential to make your skin extremely sensitive to sun exposure,” she warns. “When supplementing with chlorophyll or including it in your beauty routine, be sure to always wear broad spectrum sunscreen throughout the day.” Considering the fact that wearing SPF daily is essential to keeping your complexion healthy, that advice is important regardless.