Arnica: Nature’s Magic Eraser


This weekend, I went to lunch with a friend who had recently broken her nose. Halfway through the conversation, I realized something strange—she had no bruising! No faded purple marks reminiscent of a Rorschach inkblot; not even residual puffiness that would be an understandable side effect of crushing your face into the sidewalk after a fall. In fact, she looked no worse for the wear at all. So what had she done? Smushed a full stick of Cle de Peau on her face? Offered her first born to the satanic gods of the underworld?

“Arnica!” she proudly proclaimed. Cheap enough at her local Duane Reade, she picked up a tube of Arnica gel, applied liberally, and, as if by witchcraft, she was restored to her unblemished, beautiful self within the span of a week.

Upon further investigation, it seems the homeopathic remedy, derived from the Arnica montana plant, can be used to cure any number of maladies, from muscle tension to pre-Fashion Week bloating. The Midol of the plant world, if you will.

Homeopathic cures can talk a big game, so for some intellectual insurance, I visited Dr. Gabrielle Francis, holistic physician at the Herban Alchemist. She explained that Arnica, much like a vaccine, is actually derived from a plant that, in toxic doses, causes all sorts of bad things like bruising, swelling, and muscle spasms. However, diluted hundreds and hundreds of times, it becomes an "energetic medicine" bereft of active ingredients, but somehow incredibly adept at curing everything it used to cause. Still with me? No? That's alright. Even doctors are amazed by Arnica's effectiveness.

"How energetic things work is a little bit mysterious," Dr. Francis admits. "The idea is like cures like. Something that is poison in toxic doses and causes symptoms of an illness in a healthy person can treat the same symptoms in someone who is ill. Dilution leaves only the energetic blueprint around it. It’s the likeness between the illness and the remedy that stimulates the self-healing."

Arnica, if nothing else, is a simple solution for what used to seem like a complicated problem. What's simpler? The fact that you can get this stuff in a variety of different forms. Find what suits you and reap the even-toned, non-swollen rewards.

Pills: Small, dissolvable, and effective, Arnica tablets don't interfere with any other oral medications. I've been popping Boiron Arnicare tablets because I like puns and hate doing awkward, seated stretches that are often useless in eliminating tension. I am also too lazy to get a standing desk.

Gels and Creams: The best of the best is Traumeel, a completely homeopathic cream with no odor, sting, or residual greasiness. Before surgeries, Dr. Francis advises her patients to apply the cream to any affected areas. "We’ll start three days before the surgery and for two weeks after. People’s surgeons always tell them, 'We've never had anybody heal as fast as you,'" she says. For the uninjured, Jurlique Arnica Cream is more your typical moisturizer, meant to soothe any minor swelling.

Oils: The messiest option, Arnica oil can be massaged into damp skin for similar results as are listed above, with the added benefit of application massage. Herb Pharm Arnica Oil is a simple, unfussy version that has olive oil for added moisture. Weleda Arnica Massage Oil is, as the name suggests, more of a true massage oil and has sunflower oil along with a pleasant but light parfume (note: avoid it if you're sensitive).

—Emily Ferber

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  • Annelie

    I have no idea whether Arnica oil works or not - it seems like something worth testing!

  • Sophie

    Over here in Germany you can get homeopathic globules at specialised pharmacies. They are amazing! I took them prior and after having my wisdom teeth removed and my doctor was amazed at how little swelling there was. They are also a household staple if you have kids and you usually give them to them to minimise bruising after a fall etc. I can only recommend this.

  • Charity

    Arnica is great! I discovered it late last year and it really seems to work!

  • Anaid Lopez-Rivera

    My grandma has been using this stuff for years and I remember keeping this stuff in our house as a kid. Love it!

  • Talia

    Arnica is incredible stuff. My mom used it on me as a kid for scrapes. I keep a bottle of arnica infused lotion to bring with me to the masseuse. It helps to make my massage feel extra effective.

  • Emma Hager

    Wow, I never knew this about Arnica. Thank you for enlightening me, Emily! The natural world, I tell ya, what a magical world.

  • estheresther

    My mom has been feeding me Arnica from Boiron teeny tiny homeopathic pills since I was a kid and I should look into it as I fall a lot and my knees are always bruised & grazed!

  • Mademoiselle nature

    Always have Arnica gel at home..always handy when you have little ones....but used it for myself as well!

  • Megan

    I wish you had talked to an actual medical doctor about arnica to see if there were any proven benefits. Like cures like and diloution theroies have no basis in scientific fact.

    • Eliza

      I'm curious about that too--I definitely love natural/holistic remedies, but I like them to be backed up by cold hard scientific fact (especially since they described this stuff as toxic if you use too much).

      • ITGFerber

        The great thing I find about arnica is that if it works for you, it works, but if you don't find it particularly effective, no harm done. While holistic medicine is definitely not something I practice on the reg, why not incorporate some homeopathic remedies if you're curious! To each her own, ladies!

        • Eliza

          My concern was more that it could be harmful, since this article said it could be toxic if you use too much--I wasn't sure if that meant too much in one go (like an OD? haha), or if it could build up in your body and cause problems? I want to try it but don't wanna mess myself up :)

          • ITGFerber

            Ah I see! No, you can't overdose on the products with Arnica from the drugstore. The actual flower itself is what causes all those nasty side effects. Creams, gels, pills and whatnot have been cleared for consumption and are totally safe.

          • Eliza

            Hooray, thank you! Now I can be excited, because I somehow have at least 3 bruises at all times.

            Also, LOVE the ITG comments section--only beauty blog I know of that answers every commentor's crazy in-depth questions :)

          • Ana

            I think what's worth noting is that homeopathic medications are soooooo diluted, there is often nothing in them to harm you. Which also begs the question - can they even do anything to help you (think oscillococcinum)?? They're not exactly comparable to vaccines since they don't illicit any sort of immune response due to those excessive dilutions. I think the placebo effect is often the reason people swear by homeopathy. Also worth keeping in mind - while arnica and other herbal products that are incredibly diluted tend to be safe, other herbal products are not always. These drugs undergo NO oversight whatsoever from the FDA and US Pharmacopeia - so there is no guarantee as to what's in the products, particularly if they are imported. Natural does not mean safe. Natural products are drugs too and can interact with prescription medications (including birth control, seizure drugs, etc) and have their own side effects (raise your blood pressure/heart rate). Whenever you ingest any sort of drug, be it natural or man-made, always use caution and check with a medical doctor or pharmacist. Homeopathic docs are often only trained in herbals and not extensively trained prescription meds.

    • sara

      I was watching my favorite gymnast on Vine (or Keek? IDK lol) and she was using Arnica gel. I figure if someone who gets banged up on the reg and deals with minor aches and swelling and bruises but has to get healed up pretty quickly to be able to compete uses it, then it must work a bit.

    • Miss ShaSha

      Yeah, but actual medical doctors aren't gods girlfriend. They can prescribe plenty that's toxic and problematic. Exhibit A: adderall. So yeah, homeopathic, try it, love it, leave it, whatever... but you aren't left with a big pharma hangover.

      • Mady

        Adderall actually helps some people with ADHD. No medication is without its side effects, so it's all about the trade-off. Doctors aren't getting their pockets stuffed by pharmaceutical companies every time they prescribe drugs. That's a dangerous assumption (not to imply that you're necessarily making it) which sends people to potentially non-evidence based alternative practitioners. Doctors aren't gods, for sure, but they didn't go to school for a million years to harm people. If there is a "natural" alternative backed up by good studies, doctors are just as likely to recommend it to patients!

  • starryhye

    I had my nose done way back in '97 and Arnica tablets were recommended in the pre-op packet from my surgeon. I took them for maybe a week or two pre-surgery and had very very little bruising. I've been a believer ever since. Nowadays I use it on my daughter for her various growing pains :)

  • Mady

    What's a "holistic physician" anyways? Any proper MD will be open to natural remedies, as long as they're evidence based. Is a "holistic physician" actually a naturopath or a homeopath? I'm genuinely confused, but also rolling my eyes a wee bit.

    • Ana

      If you look at her profile she's a chiropractor (which should automatically raise a lot of skepticism - I mean, they are probably one of the only health care professionals I have seen that try to make you completely reliant on them to keep you healthy as opposed to getting you better so you don't have to come back. Think constant cracking and spinal re-alignments.) She also has some Chinese medicine and homeopathic degrees. While those are all fantastic, it is important to keep in mind that she is not a full diagnostician and should be used as a supplement to regular health care, not a substitute.

  • dresslooksnice

    my legs are all bruised from being a clumsy cyclist and i've been applying arnica religiously all week. the timing of this article could not be any better!

  • Freja

    Lush's Fair Trade Foot Lotion is formulated with arnica and it seriously saved my life while I was interning! Good stuff!

  • Amy B-S

    My mum has always raved about Arnica, and I have had it liberally applied to me since childhood to 'bring out & sort out' any bruises

  • Maya

    My whole family has been using Arnica and Calendula for years! Homeopathic remedies are the best! I haven't tried it for bloating though, but I must!

  • jess

    "diluted hundreds and hundreds of times" lol

    • Ana

      AKA there's nothing left to do anything!!

  • Jana Ramic

    doesn't Arnica contain mercury? I understand that it is highly diluted but I remember a professor telling us to stay the hell away from it. I could be mistaken though.

    • doublecurl

      "highly diluted" in homeopathy literally means that no molecules of the initial substance exist in the final product. truly. that means that the homeopathic arnica contains no physical substance that has anything to do with arnica and instead allegedly just retains the "energy" of the arnica which is thought to act as a remedy

  • K

    I read about this in Gabriel García Márquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude". The character of Pilar Ternera (a fortune teller) applies arnica compresses to reduce the swelling of her lover's bruised nose.

  • Janet

    Jurlique's arnica cream didn't work for my acne scars. Went through an entire tube, nada effect.

  • jadiee bevan


  • Obsessed

    I've been using Jurlique Arnica Cream on pimple scars for years! Love it.

  • doublecurl

    Science wins, always. Here's a really impartial metanalysis of homeopathic arnica as well as a summary of general research on homeopathy The general consensus is that it's no more effective than placebo, BUT placebo is a great thing! Your brain is powerful and if you really believe in arnica then you'll probably experience benefits. Similarly, a "no-cebo" effect exists and if you are highly skeptical of a treatment you are similarly unlikely to see benefits.

  • Clever Girl Reviews

    Weleda Arnica is a post run must have for me!

  • Ailyn Koay

    a lot of people i know swears by it, and my physio uses arnica based massage ointments, it's pretty nice

  • katie

    A better (in my experience) natural option for reducing inflammation and healing cuts and bruises is helichrysum italicum oil. It's the best kept secret in natural medicines, as far as I'm concerned.
    It's relatively expensive (there are two primary varieties of helichrysum, it's the italicum you want for these purposes), but it truly works. And quickly. It stops bleeding on cuts and takes redness and swelling out, among other benefits.
    I use it on bad bruises and they disappear within a couple of days. However, my main use for helichrysum is to help reduce the healing time for hyperpigmentation for acne scars. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I hope you all give it a try!!

  • Nicole

    I use Arnica on my chin every night where I seem to break out with acne. I accidentally discovered how well it worked when I friend let me use some for a pain in my mouth. When I woke up the next morning my face had significantly cleared and so I bought some and have used it ever since and it REALLY works. It's pretty incredible. It not only prevents the acne, but it clears the redness and scarring attributed from it. I use the oil. I recommend it to everyone I know!


Boiron Arnicare Arnica Tablets
Heel Traumeel Homeopathic Anti-Inflammatory Ointment
Jurlique Arnica Cream
Herb Pharm
Herb Pharm Arnica Olive Oil Extract
Weleda Arnica Massage Oil