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Korean Red Ginseng protects skin from particulate matter exposure

Article-Korean Red Ginseng protects skin from particulate matter exposure

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Saponins of Korean Red Ginseng appear to reduce levels of reactive oxygen species, leptin, inflammatory cytokines, and melanin

There is increasing awareness of the harmful impacts that particulate matter (PM) exposure can have on various organs and systems in the human body. The respiratory system is exposed to airborne pollutants including PM, which exacerbates underlying respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer.1,2 Other at-risk organs include the eyes and skin which are thought to experience negative reactions when exposed to PM.  

Korean Red Ginseng (KRG) extracts and individual ingredients contribute to suppression of reactive oxygen species (ROS), inflammation, and resultant skin ageing. The principle active substances of KRG can be divided into saponin fraction and non-saponin fraction. The saponins in KRG are a diverse set of compounds that include ginsenosides, which are key components of ginseng extracts due to their health-promoting properties.  

In a recent journal article published in Nutrients (DOI:, researchers hypothesize that saponins of KRG may protect or reverse the negative impacts of exposure to PM. The researchers investigated the effect of exposure to three types of commercially available samples of PM measuring between 2.5 µm and 10 µm (PM10) in size as well as one type of local PM measuring less than 10 µm from outside the research institution located in Seoul, Korea. 


The ex vivo investigations discovered that PM10 can penetrate the skin and alter cutaneous physiology, including melanogenesis. In vitro tests revealed that PM10 decreased keratinocyte viability at elevated concentrations; however, the results also indicate that the saponins from KRG can help protect keratinocytes from PM10-induced cytotoxicity by attenuating intracellular oxidative stress. Exposure to PM10 was also found to promote melanin synthesis in a dose-dependent manner. 

In addition to the suppression of inflammation-associated pigmentation, the study results suggest the possibility of using saponins to prevent subsequent metabolic and hormonal derangement following exposure to PM. Another key finding is that KRG extracts can suppress the increase in matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) levels after being exposed to PM. Significant increases in intracellular oxidative stress, expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, leptin, and dermal MMPs were observed after treatment with PM. Furthermore, melanin production was promoted by exposure to PM. All these alterations could be reduced by treatment with saponins. 

The researchers conclude that the study results “[provide] evidence that saponins possess multiphase anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimelanogenetic effects on PM-exposed skin.” This indicates the potential for saponins from KRG to treat PM-induced cutaneous changes including inflammation and hyperpigmentation. 




1. Huang YC, Li Z, Harder SD, Soukup JM. Apoptotic and inflammatory effects induced by different particles in human alveolar macrophages. Inhalation Toxicology. 2004 Jan 1;16(14):863-78. 

2. Soukup JM, Becker S. Human alveolar macrophage responses to air pollution particulates are associated with insoluble components of coarse material, including particulate endotoxin. Toxicology and applied pharmacology. 2001 Feb 15;171(1):20-6.