Chamomile is one of the most widely used and well documented medicinal herbs in the world. Its use dates back thousands of years to Ancient Egypt where it was considered a sacred gift from the Sun God Ra, although it’s likely that chamomile had been in use for many thousands of years before then already.
A chemical analysis undertaken on embalming oil for one of the Pharaohs found that chamomile was one of the main constituents. Hieroglyphics also show that chamomile was used in skincare by Egyptian noblewomen.
Chamomile was widely used by the Greeks and Romans too and records show it was used in medicine, drinks and incense. In fact, the word chamomile, and the genus name Chamaemelum come from the Greek word ‘χαμαίμηλον’ (chamaimēlon), “earth-apple”. This word is derived from χαμαί (chamai) “on the ground” + μήλον (mēlon) “apple”, because of the apple-like scent of the plant.
In the Middle Ages, chamomile was strewn on the floors of gatherings to improve the smell (along with herbs such as lavender). Chamomile was also one of the herbs mentioned in the Nine Herbs Charm, an old English charm used in the 10th Century to treat poison and infection. Other herbs in the charm included plantain and nettle.
Chamomile in Skincare
This miracle herb has been shown to ease skin inflammation and has a calming effect on irritated skin.
So what is it that makes chamomile such a great skincare herb? Both Roman and German chamomile are used in skincare and both are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Chamomile contains a long list of chemical compounds which are individually known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Most studies, however, have found that the whole extracts were more active than their individual constituents. Nonetheless, a few chemicals in particular give chamomile its reputation as a fantastic skin healer:
• Bisabolol – As we saw in my last blog post, bisabolol is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-irritant, anti-fungal and non-allergenic. Bisabolol is found in both German and Roman chamomile essential oils although German chamomile has a higher concentration.
• Chamazulene – one of the azulenes, chamazulene is only found in the essential oils of both Roman and German chamomile and is created during the distillation process from another compound called matricin. This compound causes the essential oil of German chamomile in particular to go bright blue. Roman chamomile essential oils is often distilled in a way that prevents the formation of chamazulene as the industry prefers this oil to be a pale straw colour. Chamazulene is credited with providing the anti-inflammatory properties of both chamomiles.
• Apigenin – this flavonoid is gaining notoriety following some recent research which has shown it to reduce DNA oxidative damage, inhibit the growth of human cancer cells and act as an anti-inflammatory. Apigenin is found in both chamomiles, but is only present in the flowers and not in the oils.
Chamomile in skincare is very beneficial. It is a fabulous skincare herb and is suitable for all skin types. As it is so strongly anti-inflammatory, it is particularly suited to sensitive skins that are prone to inflammation. It is herbs such as chamomile that demonstrate yet again that botanical extracts are generally the best choice for your skin.