The natural fabric dye is gaining interest as a healing skincare ingredient.

By Elyse Moody
September 12, 2019
Courtesy of Tatcha

The plant you know best as a natural fabric dye is now being touted as a skin soother, cropping up in face, eye, and hand creams. But it's far from a new skincare ingredient: The truth is that indigo has been used for hundreds of years in the Eastern world. "Its popularity in Japan can be traced to the Edo period, where the plant was used as a fabric dye due to its anti-bacterial and dirt-repelling qualities," says Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha. "Samurai wore layers of indigo-dyed fabrics under their armor to help keep bacteria from infecting wounds. In Japan, it's known as Samurai blue." The ingredient has also been used as a treatment in Eastern medicine for inflammation and itchy, irritated skin.

Related: How to Prevent Eczema Flare Ups

That's why it should come as little surprise that it's also being touted as a bona fide psoriasis treatment these days: Studies have found that two compounds derived from its leaves, indirubin and tryptanthrin, diminish and soothe red, dry patches and inflammation. As the American Academy of Dermatology reports, those with sensitive skin and conditions like psoriasis could benefit from using topical indigo and could perhaps see better results than with conventional topical steroids.

But the jury's still out on whether indigo can relieve other conditions that cause flare-ups, like eczema and rosacea, or deflate the puffiness that contributes to skin aging, says Houston dermatologist Rajani Katta. Until more research has been done, she says, "look for products that combine it with other proven ingredients," such as itch-relieving colloidal oatmeal or skin-fortifying hyaluronic acid. One such product is Tatcha's "The Indigo" Cream which contains two percent of colloidal oatmeal, and was awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Swanson.

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