As a condiment, capers are divisive. Intensely salty and pungent, you know a caper when you bite into one — whether you meant to or not. But when they're not catching unsuspecting sandwich-eaters off guard, the piquant buds have a secondary usage in skin care: Some chronic rosacea sufferers swear that an under-the-radar cream made from caper-bud extract has relieved them of the painful redness and inflammation caused by the common condition.
Rosacea affects over 16 million Americans, but despite how widespread it is, it's still considered to be poorly understood. Often mistaken for acne and other skin conditions, the flareups can be triggered by what seems like just about anything, from stress to cold weather to spicy food. There is no one cause — some evidence suggests that it may be hereditary, or maybe a reaction to the microscopic mites found on the face — and there is no one cure. It can, however, be controlled, using soothing moisturizers and balms, prescription topicals, antibiotics, and even laser therapy.
But this cult-favorite cream isn't a prescription, nor is it necessarily something you'd even find at your dermatologist's office. Rather, it's from a brand called Kalme, based in a small town in Hampshire, England, which has gained a following through the internet, in the online forums and communities where rosacea sufferers trade tips and provide emotional support. Kalme has a day cream with SPF (offered in 25 and 30), an overnight repairing cream, a cream cleanser, and a smoothing tinted moisturizer, all formulated with the proprietary Capparis spinosa fruit extract — patented as Derma-Sensitive — that devotees say has been instrumental in alleviating their symptoms when nothing else has worked. (Most recently, Kalme was highlighted in a story published by Express last week, in which one woman states, "They were the first products I had put on that did not burn when I applied them.")
But the evidence is not all purely anecdotal. In an explanation of the key ingredients on Kalme's website, there's a breakdown of the extract's benefits and its significantly anti-inflammatory action, citing two small studies in which dermatologists found that reactive, redness-prone skin improved by around 70% after being treated with the extract twice a day for 28 days. Add that to the line's other star ingredient, Indinyl, a plant-based version of hyaluronic acid, and a powerful antioxidant known as NDGA (real name: Nordihydroguaiaretic acid), and the "miracle" claims of the unsuspecting brand start to make sense.
Dermatologist Zena Gabriel, MD, FAAD, says that while she's never seen caper-bud extract used in a cosmeceutical product before, the preliminary studies done on Kalme's proprietary blend are "very promising" for rosacea relief. The anti-redness, anti-inflammatory presence of caper as a soothing agent is only enhanced by the other compounds it's paired with: the hydrating, water-retaining Indinyl is also crucial, as is the NDGA, which Dr. Gabriel describes as being stronger than vitamins C or E. "This potent antioxidant inhibits some of the critical molecules produced in inflammation," she says. Less inflammation, in turn, means less rosacea.
Caper extract might not be the be-all, end-all cure for rosacea — that does not exist. But there is something to be said for the fact that people who have struggled with their painful symptoms for years, even to the detriment of their mental and emotional well-being, are finding relief in a simple over-the-counter product, with an entire lineup you can get for around $70 (plus the not-insignificant cost of shipping and handling — tiny town in England, remember?). And now, at long last, capers can finally be known for something more useful than just ruining a perfectly good chicken piccata.