Ginseng seems to be everywhere at the moment….
So why is Ginseng turning up not just as a bit of fluff but as the main ingredient in the usually ‘oh-so European and conservative’ Unilever stable?
Come to think of it, ginseng is popping up on ingredient listings everywhere:
and this is why.
Ginseng has a reputation of being a vitality booster, herbal Viagra, mojo returner and general pick-me-up due to the crazy amount of ginsenosides (a ginseng specific group of triterpinoid saponin chemicals) it contains. Now that didn’t clarify anything for me when I first read it so let’s delve into the chemistry a little further for a mo.
Above picture sourced from this website: http://panax-ginseng-benefits.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/main-products-panax-ginseng.html
Triterpinoid saponins = a family of biologically active compounds that share a similar chemical structure. This structure is relatively large (making it potentially difficult to penetrate through the skin maybe?) and steroid like (maybe that helps them penetrate or thin the skin. I don’t know). There are more than 150 known variants of ginsenosides which I would assume makes it difficult to pinpoint what does what, especially as herbal medicines generally work in a synergistically balanced way rather than as a bunch of un-related task masters.
Researchers are interested in these chemicals because of their biological activity and have been researching their anti cancer, viral, stress and inflammatory potential both alone and as the whole ginseng herb. I haven’t had time to look through all of the research papers relating to this and so will instead stick to traditional properties of the ginseng extract to explain why it is big in cosmetics all of a sudden!
So, the buzz word around cosmetic formulating at the moment is energy. People want to feel like they have more both physically and emotionally plus the skin looks better when it has that energetic, fresh-faced glow! Keeping in mind that at this particular moment in history the ‘old’ or traditional skin-care world has been in recession (Europe, Japan and North America) while the ‘new’ skin care capital Asia (and specifically Korea) have been booming away at a rapid rate energy means different things to different people. Customers in the old market want to look energetic and well in order to help them mentally deal with the not-so-good-times while those in the new market need the energy to keep riding the wave. One mental, one physical, both hungry for results!
Industry online news service Cosmetic Design predicted a boom in Ginseng use this time last year which makes sense as the R&D trail is usually about 12 months long! So let’s look at the plant a little more closely.
Anyway, there are two types of ‘real’ Ginseng used in cosmetics – the Asian herb Panax Ginseng is the most common. This is a ‘hot’ herb, full of Yang and as such is recommended for use (orally) only for short periods of time. It is a great stimulant, circulation booster and energy provider but could be too much for some delicate souls. The American type- Panax Quinquefolium is more ‘Yin’ or cooler due to its lower concentration of the ginsenosides described above. This makes it better tolerated topically and for long-term use and enjoyment. There are a couple more Ginseng variants approved for cosmetic use but generally speaking your product will contain one of these two as they are the most widely available.
Ginseng is a wonderful, on-trend herb with a long-history healing and energy boosting when taken orally. Whether it will work on your skin or not is another matter as is the rather amusing claims made by pill pushers that it will improve your sex life! But before you get all excited and order yourself some apparently those claims don’t ‘stand up’ according the UK’s National Health Service: Good choice of words guys and this article is well worth a read.