Ginkgo biloba leaf extract is a botanical ingredient that is used in skin care products due to its potent antioxidant protection and skin-soothing effects.
Ginkgo biloba is a tree native to China and southern Japan. It is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. The trees can grow more than 130 feet tall and can live for over 1,000 years. Ginkgo biloba trees have been found in fossils dating back 270 million years, making it one of the oldest trees on the planet.
In the East, ginkgo biloba leaf extract has been used in traditional medicine for many years. The first use of ginkgo biloba as a medicine is recorded in the late 15th century in China. In the West, however, ginkgo biloba leaf extract has only become popular in recent years for its use as a dietary supplement to treat dementia and memory loss. Unfortunately, controlled studies do not support the extract’s efficacy for these indications.
While there is not evidence to support the use of ginkgo biloba for cognitive conditions, there is evidence that this botanical extract can provide benefits to the skin. The extract, which is prepared from the tree’s leaves, contains many beneficial phytochemicals, such as flavone glycosides (33%), mostly quercetin and kaempferol derivatives, and terpenes (6%).
According to 2017 Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP) survey data, ginkgo biloba leaf extract was reported to be used in a total of 726 cosmetic products. The majority of the uses are in leave-on eye makeup preparations and skin care products. The maximum concentration was reported to be 1%.
Ginkgo biloba leaf extract exerts many skin benefits, such as potent antioxidant protection, skin-soothing effects, and reduced signs of aging.
The high concentration of antioxidant compounds found in ginkgo biloba leaf extract, such as flavonoids and polyphenols, enable this ingredient to function as a free radical scavenger. Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules that come from factors such as UV exposure, pollution, smoking, etc. After the skin is exposed to these factors, free radicals can react with important cellular components within the skin, such as DNA, the cell membrane, and collagen. Damage to these components leads to signs of aging, such as lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. By using ingredients that are rich in antioxidants, such as ginkgo biloba leaf extract, the skin is better protected from free radicals.
Ginkgo biloba leaf extract provides skin-soothing effects by helping to reduce inflammation. It suppresses the production of active oxygen and nitrogen species, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on cells. Ginkgo biloba is also rich in quercetin, a flavonoid that is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin works through multiple mechanisms to reduce inflammation, for example, by inhibiting production of inflammation-producing enzymes (cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX)). Since ginkgo biloba leaf extract can reduce inflammation and soothe the skin, it is an excellent ingredient for skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or other types of facial redness and inflammation.
Research also suggests that ginkgo biloba leaf extract may be a safe, effective approach to stop the progression of vitiligo, which is the loss of pigmentation in the skin. In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial in which 47 patients were evaluated, investigators gave one group of patients 40 mg ginkgo biloba extract three times daily while the other group received a placebo. Researchers observed a statistically significant cessation of depigmentation in patients treated with ginkgo biloba, with notable to complete repigmentation seen in 10 patients from the treated group. Keep in mind that this study evaluated the effects of oral supplementation of ginkgo biloba, not the topical extract that is found in skin care products.
The safety of 10 ginkgo biloba-derived ingredients has been assessed by the Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The Panel noted that there are no publicly available toxicity data that corresponds to any one of these cosmetic ingredients, specifically. The safety assessment states that no dermal irritation, sensitization, or ocular irritation studies were found in the published literature. Overall, when ginkgo biloba leaf extract is applied to the skin it is considered to be a safe ingredient.
References: Wikipedia, “Ginkgo biloba”, Dermatology News, “Cosmeceutical Critique: Ginkgo Biloba”, 2012, Clin Exp Dermatol. 2003 May;28(3):285-7, Antioxid Redox Signal. 1999 Winter;1(4):469-80, Nutrients. 2016 Mar; 8(3): 167, Cosmetic Ingredient Review, “Safety Assessment of Ginkgo biloba-Derived Ingredients as Used in Cosmetics”, 2017.