Chinese herbal medicine could provide natural skin whitening alternative

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Skin whitening

A scientific study being carried out in Taiwan will investigate whether an extract from a close relative of the cinnamon plant can be used in skin whitening formulations.

According to lead scientist Hui-Min Wang, Ph.D., from the Ksojdoing Medical University in Taiwan, experiments using two chemicals identified in the evergreen bush Cinnamomum suabvenium have been found to reduce melanin levels in zebra fish embryos by almost 50 percent within four days.

Indeed, it was even observed that once treated with the extract, under certain conditions, a visible band of black in the fish eggs turned to ‘snowy white’, the researchers reported.

“When we saw the results, we were amazed,”​ said Wang. “My first though was, well, if these herbal whiteners can transform sebrafish embryos from black to white, maybe they can also lighten women’s skin.”

Blocking tyrosinase to prevent melanin synthesis

Wang’s research, which was presented this week at the National Meeting and Exhibition for the American Chemical Society, found that the two chemicals in the extract, which is used in tea and medicinal soups as part of traditional Chinese medicine, have the ability to block tyrosinase, an enzyme that is known to control the synthesis on melanin.

Melanin synthesis in Asian skin is linked to reduced age spots, freckles and darkened skin – characteristics that are associated with unwanted skin ageing amongst many Asian women and some Asian men.

The study aims to find natural skin lightening substances to commonly used products sold in Asia that contain harsh ingredients such mercury and hydroquinone, substances proved to be toxic and that can leave users with redness, inflammation and other related skin problems.

Some studies have even linked frequent and high dosage use of certain skin lightening products to the rise of skin cancer, a key reason cited by Wang for the study into a natural and effective alternative.

Finding a non toxic alternative to skin whitening

“Toxic skin whitening creams are a growing threat to women’s health, especially in Asia,” ​Wang stated. “We hope that our product will improve lives and provide a safer, more natural way to lighten skin.”

The research team is about to start trials of a new beauty product based on the natural formulation which is free from traditional whitening agents such as kojic acid or arbutin, but is still estimated to be 100 times more effective in reducing melanin than traditional formulations.

Wang believes that this research could lead to a herbal cream formulation based on just one percent active ingredients that could be available in retail outlets in as little as a year.

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