Perilla: The Powerful Asian Herb Your Skin Would Beg For If It Could

Also known as shiso, this botanical ingredient has lots of beautifying properties, whether applied topically or ingested.

When I started seeing products with the perilla plant in them, I was so very intrigued. How did this super-common Asian herb escape my radar all this time?!

I had to see what it was all about in the context of beauty, but I grew to know that there are so many uses for the plant, and all of them revolve around two of it’s qualities: a potent mint-like aroma that signals a high concentration of essential oils, and its omega-3 EFA content, among the highest botanical sources of the stuff.

So I did what I do—researched some products and called up some experts—and now I have a whole heap more info than when I first laid eyes on something with perilla oil in it.

Across the board in Asia, each country has a method to use their species of perilla, from Japanese Umeboshi plums to Indian and Nepalese crushed perilla seed curries. The real keystone for me was reading all about how it is used in Chinese traditional medicine, where it's paired with ginger, ginseng, and cyprus for everything from colds to nausea. Perilla has a rich concentration of the same terpenes as oregano, rosemary, and thyme which are all cold-busters among other things. In the context of skincare, you have a twofold benefit of using the plant, the oils from pressed seeds and the phenols and essential oils of the leaves.

Here are some lovely hair, skin and supplement offerings using the benefits of this gorgeous plant.

Phyto’s Phytoplage Sublime After Sun Oil is truly a summer must for me. I do some sun worshipping, and this oil blend does a lot of things that I require to keep this habit sustainable. Perilla’s omegas, along with bright-colored annatto oil (used in South America as a natural sunscreen), help repair hair and skin dried out by sun, salt and water.

Skincare with perilla is far more common in Asia. Korean brands in particular relish the anti-inflammatory properties of the oil and leaf extract, and Goodal’s Super Seed Oil Plus Skin Mist and Lee Jiham Dr’s Care Vita Propolis Cream rock! I love the fresh scent of Super Seed Oil Plus Mist; it's awesome for midday touch-ups or when I'm too tired to go through nine steps. Vita Propolis Cream nails that thick texture yet fast absorption that's lost in many Western creams; it has propolis in a high concentration, which is very useful for acne and eczema peoples.

Stateside, we have offerings from The Body Shop—one of the first Western brands to use the plant. Shiso (another name for perilla) in the Moisture White line is meant to help balance discoloration and scarring without riskier ingredients. The serum is light and milky, it finishes dewy, and works great dispensed on a Q-tip. The Shiso Brightening Night Treatment has been so helpful to a scarred tattoo I've been trying to fix.

It’s hard to find perilla oil that isn’t for cooking, but this stuff is insane. It’s one of the highest vegetarian omega-3 sources around, even moreso than hemp and flax, and even is higher than fisn oil. For this reason Zelens uses the oil as its primary omega-3 source, and they are the only company to make it in capsule form as a supplement.

Dr. Dendy Engleman, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC, explained why if you aren’t getting enough omega-3, you are missing out! Dr. Engleman confirmed that this essential fatty acid (EFA) is a moisture-retention specialist with UV- and wrinkle-defense properties, so I will be looking forward to ending my summer with a well-oiled lifestyle as I take two of these a day.

Now my next mission is to eat this stuff! Chef Harold Dieterle runs a restaurant in NYC's West Village called Perilla, and they use the herb in offerings that go beyond its traditional Asian roots. It's used as an herb primarily, with its pretty and spiky leaves adding a medicinal and cooling aroma to dishes. Harold tells me the herb has a minty, basil-y scent, and that the beautiful leaves inspired the vibe for his restaurant. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time or cash to experience it down for this story, but I feel like I know what I’m missing and it’s going to torture me until I do!

  • Someone please tell me what an umeboshi plum tastes like!
  • What's another herb or plant you've noticed in skincare that you'd like to know more about?

Photos: Maria Penaloza