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Horse chestnut extract contains a saponin called escin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Orally it has been shown to reduce edema in the lower leg by improving the elastic tissue surrounding the vein. Horse chestnut is the cousin of the sweet chestnut, which is also used in skincare and cosmetics.

Horse Chestnut Seeds (the horse chestnut itself) – high in saponins known collectively as ‘aescin’ or ‘escin’, flavonoids (mainly glycoside derivatives of quercetin and kaempferol) and starches, proteins and sugars. They also yield a fatty oil containing oleic, linoleic, linolenic, stearic and palmitic acids.

Horse Chestnut Bark – also high in saponins, the bark contains a number of chemicals that aren’t found in the seeds such as scopolin, fraxin and esculin. Additional compounds such as allantoin and catechol tannins have been found in horse chestnut bark.

Horse Chestnut Leaves – similar to the bark, the leaves are high in similar compounds. Derivatives of quercetin and kaempferol are also found in the leaves. Saponins have only been found in trace amounts.


Extract derived from horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), this ingredient has been prescribed as an oral supplement to reduce some symptoms of chronic vein insufficiency, such as varicose veins, pain, tiredness, tension, swelling in the legs, itching, and edema. However, because horse chestnut contains significant amounts of the toxin esculin, it can be lethal, and some experts recommend not using it.

When applied topically, however, there is research showing that a gel containing 2% escin can improve circulation. Results from another study showed a reduction in inflammation in sports injuries when escin was combined with heparin (a mucopolysaccharide used as an anti-clotting medication) and a form of salicylic acid (diethylammonium salicylate).

Escin is also a potent antioxidant. As a skin-care ingredient escin clearly has a place, but as for improving cellulite that’s an entirely different story. While it may seem logical that blood flow and cellulite are related, the research just isn’t there to support the notion (or your thighs). Plus, cellulite products contain far less of this ingredient than the amount used in the studies.

Horse chestnut extract can be found listed as an ingredient in some skin cleansers. The high level of saponins in horse chestnut extract makes it an effective skin cleanser. Bath oils and infusions sometimes contain horse chestnut extract due to its skin softening properties.

Horse Chestnut – Aesculus Hippocastanum: Potential Applications in Cosmetic Skin-care Products.

In addition to the well reported beneficial effects of horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) extracts on venous insufficiency and associated conditions, such preparations also have many potential positive pharmacological effects on the skin. Extracts from this species, and in particular, those based on horse chestnut seeds, contain saponins, known collectively as ‘aescin’, which have a gentle soapy feel, and are potent anti-inflammatory compounds. Escin has been shown to inhibit the breakdown of hyaluronic acid.

Saponins, such as escin, also reduce capillary fragility, and therefore help to prevent leakage of fluids into surrounding tissues, which can cause swelling. An extract of horse chestnut has recently been shown to have one of the highest ‘active-oxygen’ scavenging abilities of 65 different plant extracts tested.

Such extracts are more powerful anti-oxidants than vitamin E, and also exhibit potent cell-protective effects, which are linked to the well-known anti-ageing properties of anti-oxidants. The extract is also rich in a number of flavonoids, such as derivatives of quercetin and kaempferol. Flavonoids also have protective effects on blood vessels, and are well-known, powerful anti-oxidants. – Source

A 1995 Japanese study included horse chestnut extracts when reviewing the free radical scavenging potential of numerous plant extracts. They compared the results to that of L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C, a well-known antioxidant) and α-tocopherol (Vitamin E, another well-known antioxidant). Their results showed that horse chestnut extract was almost 20 times more effective at absorbing superoxide anions (a free radical) than L-ascorbic acid and had great success at dealing with other types of free radical oxygen scavengers too.

In 2006, another Japanese study carried out clinical testing on 40 female volunteers. They applied a gel formulation with 3% horse chestnut extract to the skin around their eyes three times a day for nine weeks. After six weeks, significant decreases in wrinkles at the corners of the eye or in the lower eyelid skin were observed.

Active-oxygen scavenging activity of plant extracts.
A horse chestnut extract, which induces contraction forces in fibroblasts, is a potent anti-aging ingredient.
Pharmacological Research, September 2001, pages 183–193
Phytotherapy Research, March 2002, number S1, pages 1–5
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2002, volume 3, number 5, pages 341–348
British Journal of Sports Medicine, 36 June 2002, pages 183–188
Angiology, March 2000, pages 197–205
Archives of Dermatology, November 1998, pages 1356–1360
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, December 1999, page 437
Anti-elastase and anti-hyaluronidase activities of saponins and sapogenins from Hedera helix, Aesculus hippocastanum, and Ruscus aculeatus: factors contributing to their efficacy in the treatment of venous insufficiency.

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