‘Double approach’: Skin care brands launching oral supplements for anti-hyperpigmentation as awareness grows

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Skin hyperpigmentation can be a result of acne scars, excessive exposure to UV light, and ageing. © Getty Images
Skin hyperpigmentation can be a result of acne scars, excessive exposure to UV light, and ageing. © Getty Images

Related tags: Pycnogenol, Pine bark extract, pigmentation

Skin care firms are increasingly launching supplements that claim to reduce skin hyperpigmentation, giving consumers an alternative to traditional topical creams.

Skin hyperpigmentation can be a result of acne scars, excessive exposure to UV light, and ageing. 

Geneva-based Horphag Research, the company behind skin health ingredient French maritime pine bark extract, trademarked as Pycnogenol, noticed that more skincare brands are launching oral supplements that could counter skin hyperpigmentation. This is often added to their products for topical application.

“The topical anti-hyperpigmentation category is by far the largest market, but oral supplements, beauty-from-within category is growing. We noticed this indirectly by noticing some trends in the recent years in our sales with companies producing oral supplements for skin,” ​said Sébastien Bornet, VP, global sales and marketing at Horphag Research.

“What we see from our customers is that they are looking for a double approach. Most of them now have both topical and oral skin care products.

“For example, they could have a lotion, a cream for topical application and at the same time, they also sell capsules with Pycnogenol inside. They make sure that they approach skin care from a holistic standpoint.”

He added that in the past, beauty-from-within products were not as popular because consumers thought that this was akin to “eating cosmetics”. ​However, today, more consumers understand the connection between beauty, health, and nutrition.

“What we have noticed and what is important is that the definition of beautiful skin is first and foremost, related to healthy skin. So, beauty is health.”

So far, there are more than 1,000 finished products, including both skin care and oral supplements that contain Pycnogenol worldwide.

Examples of brands that the company has worked with include GNC and ULife – a direct sales business selling health and beauty products previously under Unilever and later acquired by Thai firm RS Group this year. 

Within Asia, China, Japan, and South Korea are the biggest markets for anti-pigmentation, but the firm is also seeing fast growth in India, Thailand, as well as newer markets such as Vietnam and Philippines, said Bornet.

Not just skin health

On the other hand, Bornet noticed that firms are also adding more functionality, on top of skin health benefits, to their oral supplements.

“I think most people are not only looking at skin care, they might have other concerns, they might be willing to have a product that also helps for heart health, joint care, eye health, and so on.”

Of which, he said that women’s health and anti-ageing were the most common combinations that firms would want to address when designing an oral supplement for skin health.

“If you think about it, skin care originally comes from the anti-ageing or healthy ageing category. People want to look good for a longer period of time. So anti-ageing is important and within ageing, you have a number of different issues related to ageing, such as joints and mobility, heart health, and women’s health.”

The science

There are four basic mechanisms in how Pycnogenol works, including its antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities, its ability to bind to collagen and regenerate hyaluronic acid, as well as supporting blood circulation.

As such, research has found that the ingredient not only provides anti-hyperpigmentation benefits, but also helps improve skin hydration, elasticity, reduce inflammation and improve microcirculation.

For instance, the supplementation of Pycnogenol for 12 weeks among females aged 55 to 68 years showed increased hyaluronic acid synthase levels​ within the skin by 44 per cent, in turn leading to improved skin hydration.

When it comes to skin hyperpigmentation, Pycnogenol addresses different forms of skin hyperpigmentation through different mechanisms, according to Dr Franziska Weichmann, manager of scientific communications and product development at Horphag Research.

For example, the ingredient targets acne-related hyperpigmentation via anti-inflammatory activities.

For age and UV-related dark spots, the ingredient works by suppressing tyrosinase activity. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that activates the production of melanin – the pigment responsible for skin darkening.

"In terms of the acne, it's the anti-inflammatory activity of Pycnogenol that helps tackle this problem.

"In case of age-related hyperpigmentation, Pycnogenol can reduce the tyrosinase activity and also down regulate certain pigmentation related mediators.

"On top of it, there's also the anti-oxidant activities produced by Pycnogenol that protect cells from UV destruction," ​Dr. Franziska Weichmann, manager of scientific communications and product development at Horphag Research said. 

In a clinical trial with 20 women​, the intake of Pycnogenol ​was shown to significantly lower UV-induced expression of the pigment synthesising enzymes tyrosinase-related protein 1 by 75 per cent and tyrosinase by 51 per cent, which are both linked to long-lasting pigmentation.

One of its most recently published trials was a 12-week RCT conducted in China.

The participants were women who spent long hours outdoors in Beijing and were exposed to urban air pollution and environmental stress as well as seasonal changes in temperature and humidity from April to November.

From April to July, the intervention group reported improved skin elasticity and skin firmness by seven per cent.

From July to October, data showed that the intervention group had 14 per cent less transepidermal water loss (TEWL), indicating a significant improvement of skin barrier function. Comparatively, there was only 4.5 per cent increase in the placebo group.

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