Herbalists consider goldenseal root extract as a remedy for a wide range of health conditions. For topical use, goldenseal oil is typically included with other oils in a moisturizing blend. Goldenseal is not indicated as a moisturizer, but it may help certain skin problems. While some big-time medical establishments provide information on goldenseal for skin conditions and other uses, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says research is lacking to confirm any benefits of this herb.
Goldenseal is native to the United States and has a long tradition of medical use. You might have heard rumors that consuming goldenseal prevents a positive urine test for illegal drugs, but that doesn't actually work, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Herbalists recommend taking goldenseal orally for conditions such as digestive problems, urinary tract infections, allergies, colds, flu and for boosting your immune system.
Goldenseal appears to have antimicrobial characteristics, so it may protect against fungi and bacteria. It also has anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. An astringent substance shrinks body tissue, such as facial pores. A chemical component of goldenseal called berberine seems responsible for much of these effects. You're probably familiar with products for treating acne that include antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and astringent substances.
Because of goldenseal's various beneficial properties, some people use the oil or extract topically for treating acne. Goldenseal may be useful for treating a variety of other skin problems, including rashes, itching, cuts and scrapes, eczema and ringworm. Herbalists also recommend topical goldenseal for speeding healing of cold sores and genital herpes. Not much research is available to verify whether it truly works for any of these conditions, however. Scientists so far have mainly looked at the effects of berberine in test tubes.
If you'd like to try applying goldenseal oil topically for acne or another skin condition, websites of various health care establishments don't list any side effects for skin care use. You might want to check with your health care provider first, especially if your skin is sensitive. You can buy commercial goldenseal oil preparations or create your own by mixing goldenseal essential oil with a carrier oil such as sesame oil, or with aloe vera gel. Never apply an essential oil directly to your skin without diluting it first, as these oils are intense. Try a little of the diluted oil on the inside of your elbow as a patch test first to make sure it doesn't cause irritation.