Is Mugwort The Korean Skincare Ingredient of 2020?

mugwort korean skincare products with artemisia soothing skincare

Korean skincare is definitely trending towards cleaner and simpler product formulations with more natural, and Asian-centric ingredients (those used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine). Say goodbye to the 10-step Korean skincare routine and products which promise ‘glass skin’, because 2020 is all about keeping it clean and simple (yet effective) by incorporating soothing, healing and protective ingredients into your skincare routine.

Consumers are looking for products that help fight against free radicals caused by pollution, UV exposure and other environmental aggressors. Therefore, ingredients which are plant-based and high in antioxidants and phenolic compounds are growing in popularity, as they not only protect our skin but help to soothe, heal, nourish and strengthen it too.

I’ve already written about two of these trending ingredients: cica (also called Centella asiatica) and ginseng. Today, I want to talk about Artemisia (sometimes also called Mugwort), which I think is probably the most popular ingredient in Korean skincare at the present time. This shows by how many artemisia (or mugwort) lines there are popping up (such as those by Hanyul, Missha, Isntree, I’m From, and Tonymoly).

Don’t have time to read this article right now, but really need some mugwort in your skincare routine? Check out some of the best Korean skincare products containing mugwort on Amazon:

What Is Artemisia (AKA: Mugwort)?

The word mugwort is the common name given to several species of plants in the genus Artemisia. Although mugwort sounds like something that belongs in the Harry Potter world, it’s actually a medicinal herb that is commonly used in traditional medicine in China, Korea and Japan. In particular, it’s used to treat skin ailments, such as eczema and itching.

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A drawing of a mugwort plant (species name: Artemisia vulgaris) from 1897.

At least 500 different species of mugwort grow throughout Asia, Northern Europe and North America, and those that are currently used in skincare products are:

  • Artemisia abrotanum – also known as southernwood, native to Eurasia and Africa. This species is not as often as others when it comes to skincare products.
  • Artemisia absinthium – also known as absinthe wormwood as it’s used as an ingredient in the spirit, absinthe. It’s native to temperate regions of Eurasia and northern Africa. Some of the brands which use this species of mugwort include Dr. Jart, Mizon and Etude House.
  • Artemisia annua – also known as sweet wormwood or annual mugwort. It is native and common in temperate Asia, however it has been naturalized in many other countries around the world, including North America. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to treat fever. The brand MiSSHA uses this species of mugwort in their artemisia line.
  • Artemisia argyi – also called Chinese mugwort or silvery mugwort. It is commonly used in Chinese medicine and in traditional cuisine. It is native to China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia and the Russian Far East. It is not used as often as other species in skincare formulations.
  • Artemisia capillaris – Also called capillary wormwood. It is native to the northern Asia region and has been widely used as an alternative medicinal herb since ancient times to improve conditions such as pain, liver toxicity, inflammation, and jaundice. It is one of the species of mugwort most commonly used in Korean and Japanese skincare products. Isntree and Vely Vely both use this species in their mugwort lines of products.
  • Artemisia princeps – also known as Korean mugwort or wormwood (ssuk 쑥 in Korean) and Japanese mugwort (yomogi 蓬 in Japanese). It is native to China, Korea and Japan and is commonly used as a culinary herb and in traditional medicine. The brands Hanyul, Isntree, Tonymoly and I’m From use this species in their Artemisia product lines.
isntree mugwort line korean skincare products with mugwort artemisia skincare benefits
Some of the marketing from the Isntree mugwort line. This brand uses Capillary wormwood (scientifically known as Artemisia capillaris) in their skincare range.
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The brand Hanyul uses young mugwort from the species Artemisia princeps, which is grown under the sea breeze on Ganghwa Island, Korea.

Other common mugwort species which are currently NOT used in skincare products, include:

  • Artemisia douglasiana – also known as California mugwort, which grows in western North America.
  • Artemisia glacialis – also known as the glacial wormwood, it’s native to the Alpine regions of France, Italy, and Switzerland.
  • Artemisia indica – grows in the Himalaya region Uttarakhand (in northern India).
  • Artemisia japonica – also known as Japanese wormwood. It has been widely used in folk remedies for the treatment of eczema and fever.
  • Artemisia lactiflora – also known as white mugwort, which is native to western China.
  • Artemisia norvegica – also known as Norwegian mugwort, arctic wormwood or alpine sagewort. It grows naturally in high locations throughout Scotland, Scandinavia, and the Ural Mountains of Russia, as well as in high altitudes and high latitudes of North America.
  • Artemisia stelleriana – native to China, Korea, Japan and the Russian Far East. It has been cultivated as an ornamental plant and has been naturalized in coastal dune locations throughout North America and Scandinavia.
  • Artemisia verlotiorum – also known as the Chinese mugwort. It is widespread throughout Eurasia and is often confused with Artemisia vulgaris, as they are very closely related and grow in the same regions and habitats.
  • Artemisia vulgaris – this species of mugwort is one of the most widespread, It grows throughout temperate Europe, Asia, Alaska and northern Africa and has many common names, including: riverside wormwood, chrysanthemum weed, wild wormwood, old Uncle Henry, sailor’s tobacco, naughty man, old man or St. John’s plant. It has many ethnobotanical applications (such as medicinal uses).
Some of the species of Artemisia found in Siberia: A. commutata (a) A. desertorum (b) A. integrifolia (c) A. latifolia (d) A. leucophylla (e) A. macrocephala (f) A. messerschmidtiana (g) A. palustris (h) A. sericea (i) A. tanacetifolia (j) A. umbrosa (k) (Picture obtained from this study).

What Benefits Does Mugwort Have For Your Skin?

Mugwort has a long and rich history in many regions around the world (including Korea, Japan and China) where it has been used in various culinary dishes, as well as a medicinal herb to treat a range of ailments. It was also used in medieval Europe as a magical protective herb (to ward off evil spirits) and was used by the indigenous people of North America to treat skin conditions such as bruises, itching, sores, poison ivy rashes, and eczema.

So what benefits does mugwort have for the skin, and is there much scientific evidence to support these claims?

Mugwort has been shown to have a range of properties due to the chemical constituents it contains (see a scientific study here), including:

  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Antibacterial and anti-fungal properties
  • Antioxidant properties

This means that mugwort is potentially a good ingredient for soothing, healing and nourishing the skin, as well as protecting it from damage caused by oxygen free-radicals. This makes mugwort a very beneficial ingredient for:

  • Sensitive and inflamed skin
  • Acne-prone skin
  • Dry skin, and
  • Mature, aging skin

However, although mugwort has been used for centuries by cultures all over the world (including its use for treating various skin conditions), scientific evidence for its benefits for the skin is still lacking. That does not mean that it doesn’t have any benefits for the skin, but just be aware that not much scientific research has been conducted in this area (as of yet).

As a comparison, I could find much more scientific research conducted in the field of dermatology when writing my articles on Centella asiatica, licorice root, propolis, bearberry extract and ginseng – which are also popular plant-derived ingredients used in Korean skincare products.

Bioactive Compounds Found In Mugwort

It’s the chemical constituents found in plants and other naturally-derived ingredients that can make them beneficial for the skin.

Often, these beneficial chemical components are phenolic compounds, many of which have antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties (see a scientific literature review here).

Although there is a lack of research focusing on the benefits that mugwort has for the skin, there are many studies which have investigated the chemical composition of many different mugwort species (see a literature review here). Collectively, these studies have found that mugwort species are a rich source of biologically active compounds – mainly polyphenols and volatile components (since mugwort is a fragrant plant).

Some of the non-volatile chemical compounds isolated from various Artemisia species (obtained from this study)

Volatile components are those that can be extracted (by a process of steam distillation or cold pressing) to form an essential oil. I recently wrote an article describing just how sensitizing essential oils can be for your skin. It is therefore important to note that the mugwort in skincare products can be a potential skin sensitizer (although the volatile components haven’t been extracted and are much less concentrated than those present in an essential oil).

Some of the volatile compounds isolated from various Artemisia species (obtained from this study).

One study in particular, found that tocopherols (vitamin E) comprise 2.74% of the dry weight of Artemisia annua leaves (which is the species of mugwort used in the MiSSHA artemisia line).

This study found that the antioxidant properties of Artemisia princeps (another variety of mugwort commonly used in skincare products) significantly enhance the expression of two skin barrier proteins – filaggrin and loricrin.

Filaggrin and loricrin are essential to the proper functioning of our skin’s epidermal barrier and studies have shown that an impaired skin barrier enhances allergen penetration, leading to inflammatory skin diseases such as atopical dermatitis. This could be why Artemisia princeps works so well at treating dry skin symptoms in atopic dermatitis.

These two studies (view them here and here) investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of Artemisia argyi and Artemisia capillaris leaf extracts on the skin of mice with contact dermatitis. Both studies found that artemisia extract applied topically greatly improved skin inflammation.

How Did The Korean Skincare Artemisia Trend Start?

So I did a little detective work, and it appears that the product which started the current mugwort/artemisia trend in the Korean skincare industry is the Vely Vely Artemisia Balance Essence. This essence contains 100% Artemisia capillaris extract, and it became so popular in Korea in early 2019 that retailers such as Olive Young had trouble keeping it on the shelves!

Naturally, other brands followed soon after with their versions of artemisia essences (including MiSSHA, I’m From, Hanyul and Tonymoly). And it hasn’t stopped there! There are a whole range of skincare products containing artemisia extract available now – including cleansers, toners, serums, ampoules, creams and masks!

What Are The Best Skincare Products With Mugwort/Artemisia?

Artemisia has become such a sought after skincare ingredient, that there are so many products available now. Unfortunately, we can’t try them all at once (plus, how expensive would that be?) – so which ones are considered the best?

I spent a crazy amount of hours narrowing a massive list of Korean artemisia skincare products down to just 5:

  • Hanyul Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence
  • I’m From Mugwort Essence
  • I’m From Mugwort Mask
  • Tonymoly From Ganghwa Pure Artemisia First Essence
  • Tonymoly From Ganghwa Clear Fermented Wormwood Ampoule 

I chose these 5 products as they not only had tonnes of great reviews, but I love their ingredient lists – which are all minimalist and don’t contain any sensitizing ingredients. All these brands obtain their mugwort from Ganghwa Island in Korea, which is considered more effective and outstanding than mugwort grown anywhere else.

I haven’t used any Tonymoly products for a long time and I feel this brand has become somewhat forgotten in the Korean skincare world as trends have changed. So, I’m really pleased to see that they have released some fantastic artemisia products.

#1 Hanyul Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence

I haven’t mentioned Hanyul very often here before, but I found out they are an amazing Korean skincare brand. Their products are inspired by traditional Korean folk remedies. Their formulations are a beautiful mixture of soothing and calming hanbang ingredients and the latest Korean skincare technologies.

I found this on Hanyul’s website:

We have the traditional folk remedies that convey the hearts of our mothers who used to heal family members with the natural plants from Korea and traditional wisdom as well as affection and devotion. Hanyul is to look into the traditional folk remedies that have been handed down over generations and reinterpret the wisdom of nature and tradition within them. Traditional folk remedies are the beneficial science of life with a mild yet effective impact on body and mind that use the nature surrounding us. “

Even Hanyul’s product packaging reflects this. The design of the brand’s packaging is so simple, yet soothing and beautiful – matching the product formulations perfectly.

Hanyul actually has an entire mugwort line, but the Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence is by far their best-seller – let’s take a closer look:

Full ingredients list: Water, Propanediol, Glycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Artemisia Argyi Leaf Extract, Ethylhexylglycerin

hanyul Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence review korean skincare with mugwort
The Hanyul Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence – beautiful, yet simple. Even the packaging has a soothing effect.

Notable ingredients: This essence contains 100% extract from Artemisia argyi leaves – which are harvested from Ganghwa Island and fermented over a period of 3 years. This doesn’t mean that the essence is comprised of only Artemisia extract. Instead, it means that 100% of the extract was extracted from the solution of artemisia extract, water and preservatives.

Only the upper leaves of the Artemisia argyi plants are used for the Hanyul Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence as they are said to be more beneficial for the skin (as they are exposed to more sunlight). Photo from Hanyul website

Fermented ingredients are extremely popular in Korean skincare, and they have two main benefits for the skin:

  • The fermentation process creates many new substances that are beneficial for the skin (such as amino acids, organic acids and antioxidants), and
  • The fermentation process breaks active compounds into smaller parts (making it much easier and faster for your skin to absorb them).

I’ve written about the benefits of fermented ingredients for the skin in a lot more detail in this article – so check it out if you’d like to learn more.

Apart from fermented artemisia extract, this essence contains glycerin, which happens to be one of the most effective (and therefore most common) humectants used in skincare products. Glycerin is actually naturally found in the stratum corneum (as part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor). It is therefore an extremely safe and non-allergenic skincare ingredient – suitable for any skin type.

A video showing mugwort fields of the beautiful Ganghwa Island, Korea. Oh, to be a mugwort plant!

Size of packaging: 150mL

How to use this product: Hanyul recommends to apply their artemisia essence after cleansing and toning. Simply poor some into your hands and pat it onto you face and neck. If you are using a vitamin C serum, BHA or AHA exfoliant, then you would also use those before you apply this essence. Hanyul also advises that if you are using a hydrating toner (called “skin” in Korea) which has a thicker consistency than this essence, then you should apply the essence first.

Where to buy: Yesstyle

#2 I’m From Mugwort Essence

I’m From is a fast-emerging Korean skincare brand with clean, simple and nature-based formulations. The brand’s name “I’m From” actually describes the brand’s biggest focus: to include only the purest and highest quality ingredients sourced from the most pristine natural environments across South Korea.

Some of these ingredients include:

  • Ginseng
  • Sea buckthorn (known as the vitamin tree in Korea)
  • Honey and propolis
  • Rice
  • Mugwort, and
  • Volcanic rocks

Some of the natural locations from which these ingredients are obtained include:

  • Jeju Island
  • Jiri Mountain (the highest peak in South Korea)
  • Taebaek Mountain
  • Geum River (where the finest ginseng of South Korea is grown), and
  • Ganghwa Island

I found this statement from I’m From:

“Nature as it is. It’s I’m From.

Three promises: Ingredient transparency, honest materials, and no harmful additives“.

Again, just as with the brand Hanyul. I feel like the packaging that I’m From uses for their products matches their formulations perfectly. You can clearly see on the label of each product, what the major ingredient is. And unlike some other skincare products marketed as containing ‘natural’ ingredients, the ingredient you see on the label really is the main ingredient, and there are no harmful ingredients added.

i'm from mugwort line korean skincare artemisia
The brand I’m From has matched their packaging perfectly with their product formulations – simple, yet high quality and effective. What you see is what you get. No hidden nasty ingredients. No gimmicky marketing.
i'm from korean skincare ginseng range
Some more wonderful I’m From products. This is their ginseng range – which is an awesome anti-aging ingredient by the way!

Full ingredients list: Artemisia Princeps Extract (100%)

Yes, this essence contains 100% Artemisia princeps extract from mugwort grown on Ganghwa Island. Just as with the Hanyul Artemisia Miracle Relief Essence, the mugwort used in this product has been aged for 3 years.

Size of packaging: 160mL

How to use this product: I’m From recommends to apply their mugwort essence after cleansing and toning using either your hands or by soaking cotton pads or a sheet mask in the essence and then applying that to your face for 5 minutes.

Where to buy: Yesstyle and Amazon

#3 I’m From Mugwort Mask

You know when you sometimes try foods from other cultures that may have scents, tastes of textures different to what you may be used to? You may be hesitant to try a certain dish or food at first, but once you do and try to understand some of the culture around it, you actually end up really enjoying it.

The I’m From Mugwort Mask is a little like this for Westerners, as it is not quite what we are used to. This is mainly because the mask contains finely chopped up bits of mugwort plant, which initially might put some people off. But please don’t let this deter you from trying something that can actually do wonders for your skin!

i'm from mugwort mask korean skincare artemisia
The I’m From Mugwort Mask (photo from I’m From marketing material)
i'm from mugwort mask texture
This is what the texture of the I’m From Mugwort Mask looks like. It contains finely chopped up pieces of plant material (photo from I’m From marketing material)

Full ingredients list: Water, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Artemisia Princeps (Mugwort) Leaf Powder (2.1%), 1,2-Hexanediol, Cordyceps Sinensis Extract, Polygonum Cuspidatum (Japanese Knotweed) Root Extract, Scutellaria Baicalensis (Baikal Skullcap) Root Extract, Methylpropanediol, Ligularia Fishceri Leaf Extract, Rosa Davurica Bud Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Glycyrrhiza Uralensis (Licorice) Root Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) Extract, Glyceryl Polyacrylate, Sodium Polyacrylate, Carbomer, Arginine, Phenoxyethanol, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Panthenol, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA.

Notable ingredients: This wash-off mask contains 2.1% Artemisia princeps leaf powder. Just as with the brand’s mugwort essence, the mugwort used in this mask is cultivated on Ganghwa Island in Korea.

I really like the formulation of this mask, as it contains a lot of beneficial herbal ingredients, such as:

  • Cordyceps sinensis extract – a mushroom with anti-inflammatory, skin-brightening and anti-aging properties.
  • Polygonum cuspidatum (Japanese knotweed) root extract – anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties (as it is a fantastic natural source of the potent polyphenolic antioxidant trans-resveratrol – the most bio-available form of resveratrol).
  • Scutellaria baicalensis root extract – a flowering plant native to China whose roots are high in plant flavones (compounds which have soothing properties). It may also be effective at fading hyperpigmentation, although studies so far have only been in vitro (studies on intact human skin is still needed).
  • Ligularia fishceri leaf extract – a plant which naturally grows in Korea and is high in caffeic acid and quercetin derivatives which are considered potent antioxidants and tyrosinase and elastase inhibitors (making this ingredient perfect for those wanting to address hyperpigmentation and skin aging).
  • Rosa davurica bud extract – also known as Asian rose. It has antioxidant properties that help protect the skin from free-radical damage (such as pollution).
  • Camellia sinensis (green tea) leaf extract – green tea has many benefits for the skin. It is high in polyphenols, giving it potent antioxidant and skin-soothing properties. Research also suggests that green tea can improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin.
  • Glycyrrhiza Uralensis (Licorice) Root Extract – has both soothing and skin-brightening properties and has been used in traditional medicine for more than 4000 years.
  • Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract – also known as German Chamomile. It has anti-inflammatory, wound healing and skin-soothing properties.
  • Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract – has strong antioxidant properties and has the ability to calm the skin. It can cause skin sensitivities if used in higher concentrations due to the essential oils it contains.
  • Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) Extract – One of the most popular ingredients in Korean skincare products at the moment due to its powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a fantastic ingredient for soothing and calming red and inflamed skin.

And as if that’s not enough, this mask also contains a fantastic mix of humectants to help hydrate your skin, including: panthenol, glycerin, allantoin and butylene glycol. It also contains dipotassium glycyrrhizate, which is one of the main components found in licorice root. It has very strong skin-soothing benefits.

Size of packaging: 110g

How to use this product: It is best to use this mask after cleansing. Simply apply a moderate amount over the whole face (except the eyes of course) and leave for 5-10 minutes before rinsing off with lukewarm water. It can be used daily.

Where to buy: Yesstyle and Amazon

#4 Tonymoly From Ganghwa Pure Artemisia First Essence

In the past (when I first discovered Korean skincare), I did buy some Tonymoly products for their cuteness factor. But back then I didn’t know anything about how to properly take care of my skin and I knew nothing about skincare ingredients.

Since I’ve become a lot more knowledgeable about what my skin needs, I haven’t been interested in any Tonymoly skincare products – that is until they released their Artemisia line recently, which includes:

  • A cleansing foam
  • A first essence
  • An ampoule
  • A moisturizing cream
  • Eye patches
  • A mask, and
  • A sleeping pack

This new line has really caught my attention, whereas Tonymoly was just never on my radar before. I’m actually really excited to see if the brand comes out with other new lines that are more fitting to the current skincare trends.

tonymoly from ganghwa pure artemisia first essence
The Tonymoly From Ganghwa Pure Artemisia First Essence. Photo from the Tonymoly website

Full ingredients list: Just as the I’m From Mugwort Essence, the Tonymoly version contains 100% Artemisia princeps extract from mugwort grown on Ganghwa Island. The mugwort used in this product has also been aged for 3 years.

Size of packaging: 150mL

How to use this product: Apply this Artemisia first essence after cleansing and toning. Tonymoly recommends to apply their essence with a cotton pad if you have oily skin and to pat it in with your hands if you have dry skin. Again, you can also soak the essence in cotton pads or a dry mask and leave it on your skin for 5 minutes for an extra soothing and calming effect.

Where to buy: Yesstyle and Jolse

I really like the look of the packaging of the Tonymoly Artemisia line. I feel like I can almost smell the mugwort just by looking at this piture. Photo obtained from Tonymoly website.

#5 Tonymoly From Ganghwa Clear Fermented Wormwood Ampoule

Three of the five products I have chosen to include here are first essences – which is probably the best way to go if you want to get the most out of mugwort in your skincare routine. However, I really wanted to include a variety of products, which is why I am finishing with this mugwort ampoule from Tonymoly.

Tonymoly mugwort ampoule korean artemisia skincare products
Is this the new long-name ampoule of Korean skincare? The Tonymoly From Ganghwa Clear Fermented Wormwood Ampoule. Photo from the Tonymoly website.

Full ingredients list: Saccharomyces/Artemisia Princeps Leaf Ferment Filtrate, Artemisia Princeps Extract, Glycerin, Methylpropanediol, Methyl Gluceth-20, Butylene Glycol, Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Adenosine, Tromethamine, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA.

Notable ingredients: This ampoule contains 72% fermented Artemisia princeps leaf ferment filtrate. It also contains Artemisia princeps extract.

The reason you might like to use this ampoule instead of a first essence with mugwort (or even in addition to), is because it also contains humectants (glycerin and butylene glycol) as well as niacinamide (an anti-wrinkle and skin-brightening ingredient) and adenosine (another anti-wrinkle ingredient).

I think the simpler your skincare routine is, the better. It’s just a matter of choosing the right products that contain a good range of beneficial ingredients (and don’t contain harmful ingredients such as alcohols and essential oils).

Size of packaging: 50mL

How to use this product: Think of ampoules and serums as treatments for your skin (they nourish your skin and provide it with the nutrients it needs). You would therefore use this ampoule after cleansing, toning and your first essence (if you are using one), but before using any moisturizing creams or masks.

Where to buy: Yesstyle and Jolse

tonymoly mugwort line ampoule first essence korean skincare artemisia
One last look at the Tonymoly mugwort first essence and long-name mugwort ampoule.

Conclusion

As you can see, mugwort is a powerful little plant with a long history in traditional medicine, which now is being used in a lot of Korean skincare products for it’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It’s therefore a fantastic ingredient for all skin types, especially irritated and acne-prone skin that is in dire need of soothing.

The scientific evidence for the benefits that mugwort has on the skin isn’t very extensive yet and more research is definitely needed. However, after reading so many reviews while researching for this article, I really think it can’t be denied that mugwort is a worthy ingredient to include in your skincare routine.

I wonder if it will surpass the popularity of Centella asiatica? Only time will tell and I definitely think you can benefit from including both of these ingredients into your skincare routine.

Let me know in the comments if you have tried any mugwort skincare products and what you thought. Have you tried any of the products I mentioned here?