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Ginkgo Biloba—An Antioxidant, Anti-Ager


Ginkgo biloba is one of many ancient botanicals that have been recently studied and incorporated into skin care products to take advantage of its anti-aging qualities.

It is one of the oldest living tree species with leaves that among the most extensively studied botanicals in use today. The nut-like inner seeds are particularly esteemed in Asia, and are a traditional Chinese food and an ingredient in Japanese dishes.1 In Europe and the United States, ginkgo supplements are among the best-selling herbal medications. It consistently ranks as a top medicine prescribed in France and Germany.2

A single tree can live as long as 2,500 years and grow to a height of 120 feet, although it’s usually around 35 to 50 feet in height. It has short branches with fan-shaped leaves and inedible fruits that produce a strong odor. The fruit contains an inner seed.

Ginkgo has been used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory. Out of the many conflicting research results, ginkgo extract may have three effects on the human body: improvement in blood flow to most tissues and organs and small capillaries; protection against oxidative cell damage from free radicals; and blockage of many of the effects of platelet-activating factor that have been related to the development of a number of cardiovascular, renal, respiratory and central nervous system disorders. Although not all studies agree, ginkgo may be especially effective in treating dementia (including Alzheimer's disease) and poor circulation in the legs. It also shows promise for enhancing memory in older healthy adults and as an anti-vertigo agent.3

More than 40 components isolated from the ginkgo tree have been identified, but only two are believed to be responsible for the herb's medicinal effects: flavonoids and terpenoids. Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants. Antioxidants such as those found in ginkgo can help neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause, including aging of the skin. Terpenoids such as ginkgolides improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of platelets and are also potent antioxidants.4

Because Gingko biloba helps to increase vasodilation and prevent capillary fragility in the skin, it is ideal to use in rejuvenating skin care products. Gingko also improves sebaceous secretions, and activates cell metabolism in the skin. Additionally, it increases the creation of fibroblast, collagen and extracellular fibronectin, all required if looking to achieve a smooth and healthy, youthful complexion. In addition, ginkgo exhibits good antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.5

There have been many studies over the past 20 years documenting the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and photo-protective properties of ginkgo:

In 1992, researchers performed two series of exams to determine the correlation between UV light load and oxidative stress, as well as the way it is influenced by nutritive radical scavengers. After doing a first baseline test, a 14-day supplementation with beta-carotene, D-alpha-tocopherol, selenium and Ginkgo biloba extract was given to volunteers and the extent of the oxidative stress that could be inhibited during a second exposure to UV light was measured. Ginkgo was found to be the most effective in inhibiting the oxidative damage done by the UV light.6

A 1997 Taiwanese study of Ginkgo biloba extract found skin pretreated with 50-percent diluted ginkgo extract was protected from exacerbation of UVB damage, with skin penetration of the active components from the formulations. The extract locally induced superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) enzyme activity in the epidermis after topical application, thus increasing antioxidant activity and free radical protection.7

Hibatallah’s 1999 French study using in-vitro and in-vivo experiments confirmed the antioxidant properties of ginkgo extract. The data confirmed the free-radical-scavenging power of the ginkgo extract was equal to that of the control. This is further proof of ginkgo’s usefulness for protection of the skin against free radicals which are involved in inflammatory reactions and photosenescence in the skin.8

In Aricioglu’s 2001 Turkish study, he investigated the effect of Ginkgo biloba extract on UVB-irradiated skin by measuring the antioxidant enzyme SOD activity and zinc levels in the skin, before and after treatment. Zinc acts as an antioxidant and metabolic co-factor. The SOD activity was decreased after UVB exposure, in comparison with the control group. After ginkgo treatment, the SOD activity increased as compared with the untreated UVB irradiated group, as did the zinc levels, in the same pattern as the SOD activity values.9

In 2002, Kwak did a study of ginkgo’s anti-inflammatory mechanism of action. The results suggest ginkgetin from Ginkgo biloba leaves down-regulates COX-2 induction in vivo and this down-regulating potential is associated with an anti-inflammatory activity against skin inflammatory responses.10

A 2011 Brazilian study assessed the photo-protective effects of topical formulations containing gingko applied to the dorsal skin of hairless mice prior to UVA/B irradiation. After 20 hours, skin barrier damage (TEWL), erythema, histological alterations and sunburn cell formation were evaluated. Formulations containing ginkgo provided total protection of the skin barrier function, avoiding UV radiation damage such as TEWL and erythema.11

A 1997 Korean study demonstrated the in vitro enhancing effects of ginkgo extracts on the proliferation of the normal human skin fibroblast. Increased production of collagen and extracellular fibronectin with ginkgo extracts was also documented.12

And finally, in 2010 Thai study, ginkgo was compared to tea and roobios in cosmetics. The ginkgo preparation increased skin moisturization by 28 percent after 28 days.13

Although Chinese herbal medicine has used both the ginkgo leaf and seed for thousands of years, modern research has focused on the standardized highly concentrated Ginkgo biloba extract, which is prepared from the dried green leaves.  Standardized extracts usually containing 24-  to  32-percent flavonoids and 6 to 12 percent terpenoids.

Many skin care lines already incorporate ginkgo in their anti-aging products. Perhaps more cosmeceutical chemists will employ this exotic anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant plant in the future as well.

References on next page.

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