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What Are Bearberries and Why Are They Good for Your Skin?

Bearberry Extract is Good for Your Skin

Bearberry supplements and skin care products are taking America by storm. In January 2014, Dr Oz, America's most famous TV doctor, revealed his whole-body anti-aging guide for 2014, featuring bearberry extract purported to prevent visual signs of aging such as age spots. But what on earth are bearberries, and what makes them so good for your skin? Continue reading the find out more about this skin-health protecting superberry.

What Are Bearberries?

The term Bearberry can be used to refer to either one of three dwarf shrubs in the genus Arctostaphylos:

  • The Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which produces red berries (the berries are edible but not very tasty)
  • The Alpine Bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpina), which produces berries that are dark purple to black in color
  • The Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos rubra), which produces red berries.

Of the three species listed above, the Common Bearberry, or Arctostaphylos uva ursi, is the species that has used as an ingredient in dietary supplements and skin care products.

How Does Bearberry Leaf Extract Work?

Bearberry foliage, the part of the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi plant that is most commonly used in cosmetic formulations, has been shown to effectively scavenge free radicals, unstable molecules that contribute to the formation of premature wrinkles and fine lines on the skin. Indeed, a study published in the March 2004 issue of the journal Food Chemistry found that bearberry leaf extract had even stronger free radical scavenging (i.e. antioxidant) properties than extracts made from wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), senega (Polygala senega), narrow-leaved echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), and aerial parts of two varieties of horsetail (Equisetum spp.). The researchers also pointed out that the polyphenolic compounds found in bearberry leaves appeared to be responsible, at least in part, for bearberry extract's antioxidant capacity.

But the extraordinary antioxidant properties of bearberry extract is not what Dr. Oz's anti-aging guide for 2014 highlighted. Turns out, the leaves of the Common Bearberry also contain arbutin, a natural compound that has been shown to inactivate tyrosinase, an enzyme that is responsible for skin pigmentation. In the skin, tyrosinase converts the amino acid tyrosine into melanin, a natural substance that gives your skin its color. Melanin also determines the color of your hair and eyes.

Hyperpigmentation occurs when the melanin-producing cells at the lower layer of the epidermis produce too much melanin which then forms deposits in the skin. This annoying, but not necessarily dangerous skin disorder can be caused by things like sun damage or other skin injuries, inflammation, or acne vulgaris. People with darker skin tones are more likely to suffer from hyperpigmentation, especially if they have had excessive exposure to the sun's UV rays

Due to its role as a tyrosinase inhibitor, arbutin has become a common ingredient in skin-whitening products designed to treat age spots, freckles, melasma, and other hyperpigmentation problems. In addition to bearberry leaf extract, common tyrosinase inhibitors include mulberry, blueberry leaves, cranberry leaves, licorice extract, vitamin C, kojic acid, and burnet root extract.

When Should You Have Brown Spots on the Skin Checked?

Although age spots and other hyperpigmentation problems are usually not harmful, you should have new and unusual brown or black spots checked by a dermatologist to make sure they are not signs of skin cancer.

1. R. Amarowicz et al (2004). Free-radical scavenging capacity and antioxidant activity of selected plant species from the Canadian prairies. Food Chemistry, Volume 84, Issue 4, March 2004, Pages 551-562.
2. Thongchai W, Liawruangrath B and Liawruangrath S (2007). High-performance liquid chromatographic determination of arbutin in skin-whitening creams and medicinal plant extracts. Journal of Cosmetic Science, January/February 2007, 58: 35-44.

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