Mistletoe may be hung and a few kisses may already be checked off your list—but there are year-round perks to this holiday staple. The decorative greenery, once reserved for doorways and dropping hints for your crush, actually contains a potent extract that, when applied topically, helps keep skin soft and supple.
The liquid form of mistletoe has even been used in Europe for close to a century to improve quality of life for cancer patients. So, before winter gets the best of your skin and immune system, here’s why you should add this evergreen to your arsenal—now and beyond the holidays.
The little red berries that grow on the winter version of mistletoe are purely aesthetic—the real power is in the leaves and stems. The liquid extract that comes from these parts has been used in Europe for ages as an herbal remedy to treat everything from delirium to insomnia.
In skin and hair products, there’s evidence that it works as an anti-inflammatory and helps make our exteriors softer and more resilient. “It works as a stimulant and vasodilator,” says cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski. This means that mistletoe can help with the dilation of blood vessels within the skin. This could be why it’s been said to help treat varicose veins, but Romanowski says that there’s not enough research to verify this yet.
First off, not to scare you away from mistletoe, but there’s an important safety warning to be aware of: Before you start rubbing just any variety of the plant across your skin, know that not all species are safe—some are poisonous and can even raise blood pressure.
The mistletoe variety that’s used commonly is a European mistletoe that goes by the name Viscum album. This version isn’t poisonous and is said to actually help lower blood pressure, among other things. Most extracts you’ll find online may be labeled European mistletoe, but make sure you’re purchasing them from reputable sources so there’s no doubt about its origin and safety.
Interested in the beauty benefits of mistletoe? You can use it to help boost the softness and elasticity of your skin, Romanowski says, as long as it’s in a leave-on formula like a body cream (instead of a body wash, where any smoothing benefits will just run down the drain).
Immune support is another major benefit to this holiday plant—and a well-timed one, at that. “You definitely reap larger benefits from ingesting mistletoe extract rather than applying it topically,” says Jules Miller, founder of the organic wellness powders line, The Nue Co. “The largest bank of research centers around mistletoe’s benefits as an immune-booster, since it has naturally inbuilt antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral properties.”
As a result of its immune-boosting claims, mistletoe extract has become a bit of an unsung hero for cancer patients looking to alleviate symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite, which can be caused by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
In this case, it’s administered intravenously as a supplementary cancer treatment. Although mistletoe is approved for use in several European countries, it has yet to be authorized stateside. There is however a small team of oncologist and researchers at Johns Hopkins who are in the middle of clinical trials to better understand the effects of the extract, and potentially get FDA approval to add it to their treatment lineups. It will likely take several years before they get the okay.
Ahead are a few mistletoe-infused products that you can try in the meantime.
Dr. Hauschka Lemon Lemongrass Vitalizing Body Oil
When your skin needs a little uplifting (or calming), massage this blend of mistletoe, lemon and lemongrass into skin to help firm and soothe sore spots.
$29, at Dr. Hauschka
The Nue Co. Defence Drops
If you feel a cold coming on or just need an overall energy boost, a few drips of this mistletoe and Echinacea on your tongue will help get your system back on track.
$75, at The Nue Co.
Manuka Doctor ApiNourish Rejuvenating Skin Cream
This anti-aging cream has a stable of anti-aging powerhouses packed into one potent formula.
$60, at Manuka Doctor
Missha The Style Green Tea Lip & Eye Makeup Remover
The mistletoe extract in here helps reduce irritation while you wipe away a days worth of makeup.
$8, at Missha
Aubrey Organics Camomile Luxurious Volumizing Conditioner
Healthy hair starts at the scalp and the soothing mistletoe extract in this conditioner will help keep your roots in the best shape.
$11, at Aubrey Organics