Ginkgo: The Natural Skincare Ingredient Combating Acne & Eczema

Designed by Meg O'Donnell
When it comes to treating things like acne and eczema, there are heaps of proven ingredients that work, including salicylic acid, ceramides and retinol. But it looks like there is another component making waves in the skincare sphere. Enter: ginkgo.
From masks and cleansers to moisturiser and eye cream, you might have spotted ginkgo in the ingredients list on the back of some of your current skincare products already. Derived from the ginkgo biloba, an evergreen tree native to eastern Asian countries, formulators praise the plant's extracts for their antioxidant (aka pollution-busting) and circulation-boosting properties. In a step forwards, new research by Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found that extracts from ginkgo seeds have antibacterial properties, which have been proven to "fight off Cutibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus pyogenes — three types of bacteria that cause acne, psoriasis, dermatitis, or eczema."
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The compound with the ability to neutralise bacteria that leads to skin conditions such as these was pinpointed as ginkgolic acid, found in leaves, buds and nutshells, which Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, founder of SKNDOCTOR, points out has the most potent therapeutic benefit. So is it worth incorporating ginkgo into your skincare routine? "While the results from this study are extremely positive, there is a lack of studies of ginkgo in skincare," explains Dr Ewoma. "However, if you have a strict preference for 'natural' skincare, it may be worth trying it out." This is something facial therapist Nataliya Robinson seconds. "Ginkgo biloba has been used for many years in both China and Japan and is famous for its antioxidant-rich cells. In terms of acne, some people might find that their skin is very sensitive to being bombarded with acids and retinol. Introducing more soothing rather than aggressive ingredients may be beneficial."
However, Dr Ewoma highlights the importance of the dose of ginkgolic acid. As cited in the report, very high, concentrated levels of ginkgolic acid can potentially cause reactions. That said, many skincare products on the market use minimal ginkgo extracts, and as dermatologists will argue, it is all in the dose. In fact, all EU skincare products have to follow strict rules and regulations when it comes to dosage and ingredient safety.
Another plant-based ingredient that dermatologists rate for treating spots is tea tree. From the plant melaleuca alternifolia, it has been found in some studies to reduce the number and severity of acne lesions, according to consultant dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto, which is mainly down to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity. In other words, not only can it help minimise bacteria on the skin, which contributes to eruptions, but it can also aid in bringing down the raging redness typical of spots.
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Chemical exfoliators, such as salicylic acid and glycolic acid, can also help treat acne. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (otherwise known as a BHA) with anti-inflammatory properties. At low concentrations, such as 2%, it helps break down the outer layer of skin, speeding up the healing of acne lesions. Similarly, glycolic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA) helps reduce spots and inflammatory acne, and improves pigmentation or skin staining left behind by spots.
Regular use of retinol is also a derm-approved spot treatment, as it exfoliates the top layer of skin cells and encourages newer ones. If you're using any of these ingredients (here's how to combine them safely), it pays to apply SPF 50 on a daily basis. If you aren't seeing an improvement in your skin, it might be worth visiting a qualified dermatologist for further advice. Always check that they are on the General Medical Council register.
In terms of eczema and dermatitis, dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall explains that ceramides (lipids in between skin cells) are extremely effective. "Not only do they hydrate and calm the skin, but as they are part of the skin barrier, they start to repair it. As we know, barrier function plays a significant role in eczema and repairing the skin barrier is crucial to reduce subsequent skin flares." For those with very dry skin, using moisturisers high in occlusives or emollients (for example, glycerin) can also help. Dr Ewoma also rates an emollient like colloidal oatmeal as a natural remedy for dry skin and dermatitis. Try Aveeno Cream with Colloidal Oatmeal, £7.49, or First Aid Ultra Repair Cream, £25.
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