Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It encompasses about 16 percent of total body weight and covers about 22 square feet of an average adult. The skin does much more than act as a covering to house all the rest of you – organs, blood vessels, bones, nerves, etc. As your body’s first line of defense, the skin also keeps the bad stuff out – bacteria and viruses, toxic chemicals, and air pollutants.
As we age, our skin is one of the first things to show signs. Wrinkles, skin discoloration, thin skin that resembles crepe paper, sagging skin – all characterize aging skin. Although the sun is the most significant contributor to aging skin, other things affect it, too. Did you know that blue light emitted from screens (cell phones, laptops, TVs, tablets) also plays a part in aging skin?
Although the focus of this article is the potential of botanical extracts to benefit and support healthy skin as we age, here are a few other tips to keep in mind:
- Use an appropriate sunscreen when you’re in the sun, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Read this article for more information on pros and cons of sunscreen types.
- Drink plenty of water.
- If you are regularly exposed to blue light, purchase a blue light filter to apply to the screen of your laptop, tablet, TV, or phone. Most smart phones have blue light filtering settings. Topically, only certain mineral-based sunscreens (like zinc oxide) filter out blue light.
- Much damage to skin is caused by oxidative stress; so eat a diet high in antioxidants, like lots of colorful fruits and vegetables – berries high in anthocyanins or red and yellow peppers high in lutein and zeaxanthin.
This brings us to the article's central topic – plant extracts and how they might benefit your skin.
Natural plant ceramides from Japanese white peach can improve skin hydration
What are ceramides and why are they important? Ceramides are a primary component of the outer layer (stratum corneum – top layer of the epidermis) of the skin, forming a protective barrier that prevents water from escaping and microbes and toxins from entering. They make up as much as half of the fat (oil) content of the skin. They are also important constituents of cell membranes. By preventing water from evaporating from skin, our natural ceramides help keep moisture in, thus improving skin hydration.
However, exposure to sun, pollutants, and general aging can decrease the natural production of ceramides. Skin conditions are also often characterized by decreased ceramide levels, which is why ceramides are often added to topical skin-care products. But they can also be taken orally to increase ceramide content and improve skin hydration.* This helps prevent dry, flakey skin – well-hydrated skin is healthy skin.
Although the body produces ceramides, they are found naturally in foods – highest in eggs and dairy products. But there are also plant sources of ceramides (sometimes referred to as phyto-ceramides), including soybeans (the highest plant source), wheat germ, sesame, coconut, grape seeds, peanuts, spinach, potatoes/sweet potatoes, rice, millet, and some fruits. One fruit that contains natural ceramides is peach – which has twice the ceramide content of other fruits.
But you would have to eat a lot of these foods to get a significant amount of ceramides; thus, the need for a standardized extract – one that is concentrated to contain a certain amount of ceramides.
In one study, participants were given peach jelly with no ceramides or jelly made from Japanese white peach that was concentrated to contain 3-percent ceramides (called HydroPeach). After 20 days, the participants who took the ceramide-containing jelly experienced 20 to 30 percent decreased water loss and increased water content in the stratum corneum, which translated to improved skin texture.*1 You can read more about the study here.
Plant flavonoids can improve skin hydration, elasticity, wrinkles, and pigmentation
Several plant polyphenols (flavonoids) are known to support healthy skin.*
Animal and test tube studies using human skin cells show that anthocyanins (flavonoid compounds) from blackcurrants increase important skin constituents – collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid – that are necessary for skin strength and elasticity.*2
Redcurrant and blackcurrant extract
Building on this research, a combination of blackcurrant and redcurrant called MitoHeal® was tested.3 In a study of 40 women, ages 22-55, the women taking the redcurrant/blackcurrant extract showed significant improvements in wrinkle severity, coarseness, brown spots, and hair and nail quality on photo assessment by a board-certified dermatologist – compared to the women who took the placebo.*
OPCs from French maritime pine bark protect skin from air pollution and ultraviolet (UV) light exposure*
In a Chinese study, Pycnogenol® (a complex containing OPCs and other flavonoids from French maritime pine bark) was given to outdoor workers in a polluted area during a 12-week period in the summer months. The workers who took the pine bark extract (50 mg twice daily) did not experience the loss of water from the skin or skin darkening that was experienced by the workers who took the placebo. Pycnogenol also improved skin elasticity.*4
In another study of 21 healthy individuals, the shortest exposure to UV light that would produce a reddening of the skin was tested before exposure and after four weeks of daily Pycnogenol supplementation of 1.10 mg of OPCs per kg of body weight (75 mg of OPCs for a 50-pound adult), and again after four weeks of daily supplementation of 1.66 mg of OPCs per kg of body (113 mg OPCs for a 150-pound adult). OPCs significantly increased the exposure time needed to produce skin reddening in a dose-dependent manner; i.e., the higher dose resulted in nearly doubling the exposure time needed for UV exposure to redden the skin.* The mechanism of action is believed to be inhibition of the protein complex known as nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kB; a body chemical that triggers inflammation).*5
Thorne’s Meta-balance for women contains Pycnogenol. It not only provides benefits for aging skin but also for hot flashes and other discomforts associated with menopause.*
Carotenoids can protect the skin from the effects of UV light
Lutein and zeaxanthin
The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin – found in high amounts in red and yellow fruits and vegetables – are known for their potential to protect the eye from the effects of high energy light sources – UV and blue light. But these special carotenoids can also protect the skin.* The protective effects of lutein and zeaxanthin are because they collect in the macula of the eye and in the skin.*
In a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 46 men and women (ages 18-45) were given lutein and zeaxanthin (as LuteMax 2020® – 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin/meso-zeaxanthin) or placebo daily. At the end of the study, those taking the carotenoid complex had overall improvement in skin tone, lightening of the skin (the researchers suggest due to antioxidant effects), and some resistance to sun damage measured by the amount of UV light required to cause skin reddening.*6
Explore Collagen Plus, our newest product for healthy skin aging.* Along with collagen peptides and nicotinamide riboside (NR), Collagen Plus contains the botanical extracts HydroPeach (Japanese white peach) and MitoHeal (blackcurrant and redcurrant extracts) discussed above.
- Koikeda T, Tokudome Y, Okayasu M, et al. Effects of peach (Prunus persica)-derived glucosylceramide on the human skin. Curr Med Chem 2017;17(1):56-70. doi:10.2174/1871522217666170906155435
- Nanashima N, Horie K, Maeda H, et al. blackcurrant anthocyanins increase the levels of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid in human skin fibroblasts and ovariectomized rats. Nutrients 2018;10(4):495. doi: 10.3390/nu10040495.
- Unpublished. Hausenblas H, Winters C, Hooper S. Efficacy of MitoHeal® supplementation on adults’ skin, hair, and nail quality: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study. submitted to J Aesthet Dermatol.
- Zhao H, Wu J, Wang N, et al. Oral Pycnogenol® intake benefits the skin in urban Chinese outdoor workers: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, and crossover intervention study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2021;34(3):135-145. doi: 10.1159/000514323.
- Saliou C, Rimbach G, Moini H, et al. Solar ultraviolet-induced erythema in human skin and nuclear factor-kappa-B-dependent gene expression in keratinocytes are modulated by a French maritime pine bark extract. Free Radic Biol Med 2001;30:154-160.
- Juturu V, Bowman J, Deshpande J. Overall skin tone and skin-lightening-improving effects with oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 2016;9:325-332. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S115519.