Ginseng is a popular herbal supplement used to treat various health ailments and for general wellbeing. It is most commonly associated with the ability to improve energy levels and boost memory. Ginseng is found and marketed in supplements, candies, and energy drinks in various concentrations and forms.
There are many species of ginseng but two in particular, Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius, are considered adaptogens, substances thought to assist in the stabilization of a physiologic process. Panax ginseng is a perennial herb generally found in northern China, Korea and Russia. Panax quinquefolius, on the other hand, typically grows in various regions within North America.
Dr. KasprowiczPanax ginseng is variously referred to as Asian ginseng or, occasionally, Korean or red ginseng. This is thought to be the most reliable ginseng, as it contains the highest percentage of overall ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are the compounds in ginseng that are believed to contribute its medicinal properties.
Ginsenosides have been shown to have multiple medical effects such as anti-oxidative, anti-aging and anti-cancer properties. Ginsenosides are thought to be found almost exclusively in the Panax species, concentrated in the plant’s root system.1
Panax quinquefolius is also known as American ginseng and is thought to contain a lower concentration of ginsenosides. Most medical research is conducted on Panax ginseng.
The majority of studies focus on ginseng’s ability to affect mental function, sport performance and general well being, but there are some novel studies looking at possible dermatological applications, including melasma, atopic dermatitis and hair loss.
One study looked at the effect of Korean red ginseng powder on melasma when orally administered for a 24-week period. The level of pigmentation and erythema were determined, and clinical improvement was evaluated using standardized scales. The research identified that both pigmentation and erythema were decreased in the patients taking the oral supplement.2
Additional studies looked at the effect of ginseng, specifically ginsenosides, on melanogenesis. It is thought that through the inhibition of transcription factors or signaling pathways involved in melanogenesis, ginseng may be a potential addition to the skin-whitening armamentarium.3,4,5
Multiple studies have looked at whether or not Korean red ginseng may be helpful to treat or supplement treatment of atopic dermatitis. One study6 looked at thirty atopic patients who ingested Korean red ginseng. Serum Ig E levels as well as severity scoring of the atopic dermatitis (SCORAD) index were assessed. It was found that trans-epidermal water loss and skin hydration showed significant improvement after 16 weeks in the patients ingesting ginseng. In addition, there was a significant decrease in the SCORAD index as well as in serum IgE levels after 16 weeks.
Another study7 looked at whether or not ginseng had the ability to influence scratching behavior in an atopic dermatitis animal model. Red gingseng was found to significantly inhibit scratching behavior in the animal model. It was thought to function by attenuating both nerve growth factor expression as well as nerve fiber extension in this model.
It is unclear how ginseng can positively affect atopic dermatitis but one study8 looked at the effect of Korean red ginseng on human keratinocytes and determined that ginseng has an immunosuppressive response on keratinocytes, possibly through reduction of TNF-alpha and IL-8 expression.
One study9 compared Korean red ginseng to intra-lesional corticosteroid injections and reported efficacy (significance unclear) in the treatment of alopecia areata. Another study10 sought to try and identify how ginsenosides may be helpful in hair loss. This study determined that gensenosides may promote hair growth through p63 induction in follicular keratinocytes.
Another group looked at red ginseng’s effect on cultured human hair follicles and found that through up-regulating keratinocyte proliferation and inhibiting DHT-induced androgen receptor transcription, red ginseng may promote hair growth in humans.11 Although the studies are limited, additional investigation may be warranted to explore whether or not ginseng can play a therapeutic role in hair loss.
1. Kim YJ, Zhang D, Yang DC. Biosynthesis and biotechnological production of ginsenosides. Biotechnol Adv. 2015;33(6 Pt 1):717-35.
2. Song M, Mun JH, Ko HC, Kim BS, Kim MB. Korean red ginseng powder in the treatment of melasma: an uncontrolled observational study. J Ginseng Res. 2011;35(2):170-5.
3. Kim K. Effect of ginseng and ginsenosides on melanogenesis and their mechanism of action. J Ginseng Res. 2015;39(1):1-6.
4. Lee DY, Cha BJ, Lee YS, et al. The potential of minor ginsenosides isolated from the leaves of Panax ginseng as inhibitors of melanogenesis. Int J Mol Sci. 2015;16(1):1677-90.
5. Lee DY, Jeong YT, Jeong SC, et al. Melanin Biosynthesis Inhibition Effects of Ginsenoside Rb2 Isolated from Panax ginseng Berry. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2015;25(12):2011-5.
6. Lee KG, Son SW. Efficacy of korean red ginseng in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. J Ginseng Res. 2011;35(2):149-54.
7. Samukawa K, Izumi Y, Shiota M, et al. Red ginseng inhibits scratching behavior associated with atopic dermatitis in experimental animal models. J Pharmacol Sci. 2012;118(3):391-400.
8. Hong CE, Lyu SY. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Korean Red Ginseng Extract in Human Keratinocytes. Immune Netw. 2011;11(1):42-9.
9. Oh GN, Son SW. Efficacy of korean red ginseng in the treatment of alopecia areata. J Ginseng Res. 2012;36(4):391-5.
10. Li Z, Li JJ, Gu LJ, Zhang DL, Wang YB, Sung CK. Ginsenosides Rbâ and Rd regulate proliferation of mature keratinocytes through induction of p63 expression in hair follicles. Phytother Res. 2013;27(7):1095-101.
11. Park GH, Park KY, Cho HI, et al. Red ginseng extract promotes the hair growth in cultured human hair follicles. J Med Food. 2015;18(3):354-62.