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Ingredient Showcase: Horsetail, the Anti-Aging, Skin-Strenghtening Fern

Also called bottlebrush, mare’s tail, scouring rush, and shave grass, horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a perennial herb that naturally contains “silicon,” a trace mineral required by the body for flexible joints, glowing skin and stronger bones. The ability of this herb to help strengthen connective tissues and fade the appearance of lines and wrinkles made it the perfect choice for my Anti-Aging Eye Cream, as well as three of my other products.

A Little Bit About the Plant Itself

Horsetail likes moist and sandy soil found in temperate climates in much of North America, as well as in similar climates in Europe and Asia. It’s been around a long time—living for more than one hundred million years, once dominating the late Paleozoic forests. In spring, the stem resembles asparagus, which then withers and turns brown in early summer, giving way to green stems that are thin and look like the tail of a horse.

This herb has long been used to cure a variety of ailments, once recommended by a Roman physician and mentioned in scriptures of Chinese traditional medicine. The Greek physician Claudius Galenus first recorded its use, and the seventeenth century English herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper, used it in a variety of treatments, including those for ulcers, wounds, ruptures, and inflammations in the skin.

What's Your Skin Score?

Historically, horsetail was used as a diuretic, to increase blood circulation, and to treat polyps, infections, arthritis, respiratory disorders, and even cancer. Native Americans and even today’s campers have been known to use it to scrub cooking utensils.

Benefits to the Skin

What makes horsetail stand out in the cosmetic world is that it’s reported to contain more silicon in the form of silica and silica acids than any other herb, in a form that’s highly absorbable by the body. Silicon is a trace mineral essential to human health that’s also the second most abundant element (after oxygen) in the earth’s crust. (Don’t confuse this with “silicone,” which is a man-made substance derived from silicon and other chemicals, and used in industrial applications.)

In the human body, silicon is important to the strength of the blood vessels, organs, skin, hair, and bones, contributing to the form, resilience, and flexibility of all connective tissues.

Now if you know your skin care, you know that it’s the breakdown of connecting tissues that causes the skin to sag, drop, and develop wrinkles. When we strengthen those connective tissues, we help the skin retain more of its youthful shape. Studies have already indicated that silicon can improve skin texture and resilience, while reducing the depth of wrinkles.

Here’s just a quick look at some of the other benefits of horsetail:

  • Promotes collagen formation, strengthening skin—collagen is largely made from silicon
  • Astringent properties help shrink pores and tone skin
  • Improves skin texture with a moisturizing effect
  • Helps restore skin elasticity, bringing back that youthful snap
  • Healing properties are known to soothe cuts and wounds, and to improve conditions like eczema
  • Natural source of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C
  • Antioxidant activity protects from free radical damage; contains a variety of bioflavonoids

Horsetail has so many benefits for skin, I also included it in my Ayurvedic Facial Scrub, and my Herbal Facial Oil for Normal and Combination Skin, and for Oily and Acne Prone Skin. If you haven’t already, give these products a try and let me know if you notice the horsetail working!

Have you tried horsetail for skin problems? Please share your experience.

Richard A. Passwater, “Exciting New Studies Verify Health Benefits of Silicon,” Whole Foods Magazine December 2004.
Photo courtesy Beedle Um Bum via
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COMMENTS ( 10 and counting )
  1. J Margo Graf says:

    Dear Ms. Gianni,

    A professor told me the following:
    horse tail extract
    “I wouldn’t touch this. Horse tails contain both a thiaminase enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 and other pteridophytes produce carcinogens. Are these present in this extract? I don’t know. If they are, is there enough present to cause problems? I don’t know. But until I knew for sure, i would not waste money on it.”

    I think he may have been referring to ingesting horsetail, I’m not sure. But not having answers to his questions frightens me. You mentioned above that horsetail is very absorbent. What research have you done regarding the aforementioned thiaminase enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 and more importantly, research on horsetail’s containing pteridophytes which produce carcinogens? Are these present and absorbed into the skin? Regards, J Margo Graf

  2. J. Margo Graf, there is some good information and a very balanced viewpoint of this subject on the University of Maryland Medical Center website. See the section titled, “Precautions”. The link is

    Herbal wisdom can be obtained without fear.


  3. J. Margo Graf says:

    Dear Ms. Gianni,

    Thank you for replying to my first comment! The U of Maryland article was somewhat helpful, but provided only a tidbit of information on topical use. Also, in your reply, you did not directly answer or address my question from above:

    “What research have you done regarding the aforementioned thiaminase enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 and more importantly, research on horsetail’s containing pteridophytes which produce carcinogens?” To rephrase this part: ARE THESE PTERIODOPHYTES PRESENT IN THE HORSE TAIL AND/OR ARE THEY ABSORBED [DEEPLY] INTO THE SKIN [POSSIBLY REACHING THE BLOODSTREAM OR BLOOD/BRAIN/BARRIER? I’m still quite fearful! Best wishes, J Margo Graf

  4. Kate B says:

    I have been drinking horsetail tea regularly for only a few months but have noticed a remarkable difference in the strength of my nails, and firmness in my skin. This has been most exceptionally noticeable on the back on my thighs where cellulite has increased over the years.

  5. Lisa Marie says:

    For J Margo Graf:
    My daughter fractured her arm when she was 2 years old. She didn’t complain of pain or cry, and I would have never even known she had broke her arm, if it weren’t for a strange looking bump that had developed, which made her uncomfortable when I pressed on it. I took her in, they x-rayed her, and put a cast on it. The entire time the cast was on, which I cannot now remember, as it has been 14 years since, I had her drink powdered horsetail in a smoothie. When she went back to get her cast off, she received another x-ray and the doctors where amazed at how well it had healed, considering the type of fracture it was, and her age which meant she was still in constant motion and not taking it easy, resting, or staying still.

    As I said above, this was 14 years ago. My daughter is bright, and rarely gets sick, and she does not have any cancer. While taking herbs as medicine may scare some, it is important to remember that these medicines which are part of the natural world are one’s we have evolved along side of. This cannot be said for modern medicine, and while modern medicine has its place, I myself am much more afraid of the chemical constituents in modern medicine which are not tested long enough in trail studies that I could ever be of plant medicines.

    Plants which have a long history of use should be seen as medicine. There may be a volatile property or two contained in such plants, but often the plant also has those properties exact balance which make them harmless or inert. These volatile properties are not pure extracts, they are a part of a synergetic complex.

    I took herbs all through my pregnancy with my daughter as well, had a homebirth, and took herbs during labor, and for healing and lactation after her birth. We are fine and have never had any health problems from any of the herbs we have used which all have a long and powerful history of use for such things. I hope this helps your fear.

  6. Annie says:

    Addressed to Lisa Marie;
    It’s really reassuring to hear that horsetail extract didn’t have any adverse effect on you/your daughter. I completely agree with you in regard to man made medicines which we openly accept today whilst disregarding natural means to cures. It’s a great irony the tweaked/processed/manufactured versions of what nature has provided is acceptable for people whilst the pure thing is feared or rebuked or the very least sceptical…. It’s a very sad reality.

    Nevertheless what I was most interested, could you please elaborate on the herbs you have used so far and your experience?

    I would highly appreciate your input!

  7. Natalie Wehman says:

    Horsetail does have thiaminase which will destroy thiamin, vitamin B1. You should take extra thiamin, either by itself or in an additional multi vitamin. Horsetail will also increase your blood pressure by 6 -10 units. You should reduce or dilute its concentration. It will improve your nails, etc.

  8. Nancy says:

    Horsetail is not a fern.