Lead by Dr Lim Tae Gyu, the research team discovered that black ginseng inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme crucial to melanin production, when exposed to black ginseng extract.
“Since the first development of ginsenoside rapid analysis method at Korea Food Research Institute, various ingredients and efficacy of Korean ginseng have been proved,” said Park Dong-joon, President of the Korea Food Research Institute (KFRI). “Recent improvement of skin wrinkles and effective inhibition of melanin synthesis of black ginseng have been proven to be remarkably superior to those of red ginseng.”
A new type of ginseng
Unlike red ginseng, black ginseng cannot be found naturally. It is created from a process that repeatedly steams and dries raw ginseng nine times till it turns into a dark brown that appears black.
Apart from changing its physical appearance, the process also causes the ginsenoside compounds to become a potent bioactive ingredient.
The research team noticed the effects of black ginseng after volunteers reported that their skin looked brighter after applying a cosmetic that contained 0.05% of black ginseng extracts given by researchers.
Those in the experimental group noticed twice as much improvement to their skin tone as compared to the subjects in the control group.
A pronounced skin-whitening effect was further observed when the team conducted an in-vitro clinical study with Zebrafish embryos.
With this experiment, the team found that the melanin production of Zebrafish was reduced when treated with black ginseng extract.
Researchers then confirmed that ginsenosides Rg5 and Rk1, specific ginsenosides unique to black ginseng, were found to be the main factors responsible for skin whitening by black ginseng extract.
The results of the study were published in the Journal of functional foods. Additional studies are needed to confirm its efficacy and further explore the uses of black ginseng extract.
Creating demand for Korean ginseng
Based on the results of the study, KFRI hopes that the cosmetic use of black ginseng can increase demand for one of Korea’s most important natural exports.
“Considering that the importance of the country's native biological genetic resources is increasing due to the Convention on Biological Diversity in recent years, considerable industrial ripple effect in the domestic market and export level is expected in terms of utilising ginseng, one of the special resources of Korea," said President Park.
South Korea has been striving to revive its ginseng industry, which faced a decline in 2011 during a global economic slump which saw demand for health food dwindle.