An ingredient called “true unicorn root,” otherwise known as Aletris farinosa, is showing up in beauty products. It’s an herb that grows in North America, and unfortunately, it’s neither sparkly nor particularly colorful. But like the mythical creature from which it takes its name, true unicorn root (not to be confused with false unicorn root) does seem pretty magical.
The herb ― specifically its underground stem, or rhizome ― is said to have been used by some Native Americans as a remedy for everything from stomach pain to colic and dysentery, according to the Natural Living Center. As Hello Giggles notes, it’s also been used to help regulate menstrual periods, treat symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome and act as a fertility aid, as it mimics certain properties of estrogen (though it’s not a hormone).
Now, indie skin care brand Visha Skin Care is using true unicorn root in its new multitasking RejuVenating Moisturizer ($55), a four-in-one product that claims to diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles, firm hormonally challenged skin, make skin appear fresher and even help with vaginal dryness. That’s right, this cream can supposedly be used on the face and the outer vaginal area “to help replenish and balance natural moisture levels.”
“True unicorn root, or Aletris farinosa, is a root that has been used by herbalists for centuries. The root has estrogen-like properties and can help counteract the effects of estrogen loss in the skin when used topically,” Dr. Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist and creator of Visha Skin Care, told HuffPost.
As a woman ages and her estrogen levels drop, Patel said, the body produces less collagen and elastin, which results in more wrinkles and dry skin. In the vaginal area, less estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and vaginal tissue thinning.
Women have used prescription estrogen creams on their faces and genital areas for decades, Patel said ― but if estrogen is systemically absorbed, it may put some women at risk for cancer.
“The unicorn root helps replenish estrogen balance without systemic absorption, making it safe,” she said.
It should be noted, however, that true unicorn root hasn’t been extensively studied in the world of skin care.
The herb “is most often used as a tincture or extract for menstrual symptoms, fertility regulation and estrogen ‘regulation,’” said Dr. Angela Lamb, director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice, director of dermatology at the Institute of Family Health and an assistant dermatology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“With the estrogen in mind,” she said, “it does not surprise me that it may be good for both vaginal and facial skin tone.”
Lamb also noted that the other ingredients in Visha’s cream, such as wild yam extract, “contain other antioxidants that may be contributing to the cream’s efficacy.”
At the moment, true unicorn root doesn’t seem to be a popular skin care ingredient. But if this wonder herb really does live up to its hype, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it on more and more ingredient lists.