Our Ingredients: Arnica

In this series, we'll explore the history, common usage, and modern applications of each plant based ingredient in the Cardiff line.

What is arnica oil?

“Arnica” refers to a type of flowering perennial plant from the Compositae family. While native to Europe and Siberia, arnica also grows in North America, flourishing in its mountainous regions. There exist several species of arnica, but the most well-known — Arnica Montana — grows in large meadows that can rise far above sea level. In fact, the higher arnica grows, the more fragrant its flowers become. 

Easily recognizable thanks to its flowers, the 2-3 foot arnica plant usually don yellow petals and a bright orange center. These blossoms are used to make arnica oil. The essential oil is made through an expensive process of CO2 extraction or steam distillation. However, some subscribe to more homeopathic methods of creating the oil through a longer process of flower infusion. 

Arnica oil is typically made up of essential oils, fatty acids, thymol, pseudoguaianolide sesquiterpene lactones and flavanone glycosides. The oil also usually contains the compound helenalin, which can cause allergy flares in those who are sensitive. If a mild rash or allergy flare develops while using arnica oil, you should stop using it. Pure arnica as an essential oil is not recommended for aromatherapy or any form of inhaling / ingesting, as it may be too potent and therefore potentially toxic. 

If you’re wondering, “Is arnica safe to use?” you can rest assured, it is, but you must be cautious in practice if completely new to utilizing the plant. There currently exist no standard recommendations for arnica treatments, and a majority of products containing the ingredient come in varying doses. However, the most common dilutions are C12, C30 and C200. Some suggest using a plain oil like grapeseed to dilute arnica oil to a subjectively ideal 30:70 ratio for best use. And, for those who’re not sensitive to helenalin, diluted arnica oil can actually be quite beneficial in different areas of self-care. 


History

Arnica montana is also known by many other names such as mountain tobacco, mountain arnica, wolf’s bane and leopard’s bane. The latter names are also used for the plant aconitum, which is extremely poisonous, unlike the only moderately toxic arnica montana. However, as stated previously, arnica oil should always be diluted before use to avoid any adverse reactions / provide potential arnica oil benefits. 

The flowers and roots of arnica plants have been used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years. Smoking the leaves was even once considered a popular form of therapy, but arnica’s use as a pure essential oil and ingested is very much advised against now. Historically, arnica was used for a variety of internal treatments that would very rarely be recommended in modern medicine because of the plant’s — known and now better understood — toxicity potential.


Current use

Use of arnica has clearly changed over time, yet again begging the question, what is arnica oil good for? Now, arnica oil is used primarily in cosmetics and body care products. Many have also started turning to arnica for pain or as an alternative to pain medications. Considering, “How do you use arnica oil?” one has a few options to choose from. 

Arnica oil can currently be found in a variety of products including:

  • Pain patches
  • Body lotions / butters
  • Muscle salves
  • Tissue salts
  • Shampoos
  • Conditioners
  • Anti-dandruff rinses
  • Hair masks
  • Perfumes

Arnica oil benefits

Arnica oil is quickly becoming more popular for its potentially relieving and replenishing properties. A positive addition to any first aid kit, diluted arnica oil is believed to help reduce swelling, bruising and muscle ache. A study completed in 2006 highlighted the plant’s ability to tackle bruising, observing it to be the most effective during the healing of multiple postoperative conditions like swelling, bruising and pain caused by such. 

Arnica oil and other forms of the plant are commonly used for pain management, although research on its effectiveness in this context has been mixed thus far. In one of its most recent studies, completed in 2016, arnica was found to be a method that’s both safe and helpful in easing pain following surgery. Research concluded that, depending on the scenario, arnica used homeopathically might even present a possible alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. So, is arnica an anti-inflammatory: yes. 

Typically applied as a gel, cream, salve or tincture, arnica oil has been found to contain antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful in treatments as well. Thanks to these properties, arnica oil is thought to be helpful in breaking down built-up hair oils and killing bacteria left on one’s scalp. Though anecdotal, many find the stripping away of dead cells and impurities helps to treat the hair and potentially damaged scalp. Completing this head and hair upkeep with arnica oil may be helpful in treating dandruff, split ends, premature graying and dryness. 

Similar to other homeopathic treatments, science is still “catching up” in determining the effectiveness of arnica oil uses at large. Multiple studies on the oil have shown promising results though, especially with concerns to stimulating blood flow and encouraging the redistribution of fluids trapped in joints, muscles and damaged tissue.