Originally posted May 2020 / Updated July 2023

What Is Pine Bark Extract?

Pycnogenol (Pine bark extract) is an antioxidant that stimulates collagen production. Collagen gives skin its elasticity and is produced less as a person ages. This collagen-producing property has led manufacturers of skincare products to include pycnogenol in many antiaging products.

While many skincare products contain harsh chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin, pycnogenol is gentle and all-natural. In its natural form, pycnogenol is derived from the bark of the French Maritime pine tree. 

There are many dietary supplements and natural products that promote skin health. 

Among the most well-researched is Pycnogenol®, or pine bark extract, a standardized extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree (Pinus pinaster). Multiple peer-reviewed human clinical studies have shown that Pycnogenol® and other pine bark extracts are compelling "beauty from within" skincare supplements and may promote skin health in topical preparations.  

Pine Bark Extract's Unique Flavanoid Properties

Pine bark extracts (as well as grape seed extracts) provide an essential class of flavonoid compounds known as proanthocyanidins. These plant pigments exert significant health benefits via many biological mechanisms. 

The most active proanthocyanidins are procyanidolic oligomers (PCOs), which are molecules of proanthocyanidins bound to other proanthocyanidins. Although PCOs exist in many foods, supplemental forms such as extracts from grape seed (Vitex vinifera) and the bark of various pine trees provide a high concentration of PCOs. 

These extracts have shown significant benefits in improving health in dozens of human clinical studies, primarily due to their actions on antioxidant defense mechanisms. 

Other Health Benefits of Pycnogenol

In addition to improving skin health, PCO-rich extracts are also helpful in improving the following:

  • Antiaging and antioxidant support
  • Blood pressure control
  • Brain and cognitive function
  • Bronchial and lung health
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Joint health and function
  • Menopausal hot flashes and hair thinning
  • Male sexual function
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Periodontal health
  • Varicose veins, venous insufficiency, and capillary fragility
  • Visual function, retinal health, and macular degeneration

Much of the clinical with PCO-rich extracts has featured Pycnogenol® and proprietary grape seed extracts like Enovita®. Other versions of pine bark and grape seed extracts may provide similar benefits if they have a PCO content greater than 90%.

Pine Bark Extract's Skin Benefits

Pine bark extracts have shown remarkable benefits in promoting skin health. Two main factors contribute to skin damage: free radicals and decreased fibroblast activity. Pine bark extracts offer significant support for maintaining healthy skin by addressing these issues.

Fighting Free Radical Damage

Free radical damage to the skin is most often due to exposure to the sun and highly reactive molecules known as free radicals, such as those associated with cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants, and lack of dietary antioxidants, including those produced in the body as well as consumed in the diet or environment. Pine bark extract supplementation has been shown to help prevent as well as improve sun-induced skin damage.

Improving Fibroblast Activity

Pine bark extracts and other sources of PCOs have also been shown to improve the activity of fibroblasts, the cells responsible for making the connective tissue matrix just below the skin's surface. This matrix supports the skin and comprises collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. 

Fibroblast activity slows with free radical damage, inflammation, and aging. One of the biggest reasons for wrinkle formation is the loss in the integrity of the connective tissue matrix associated with aging.

Boosting Collagen and Hyaluronic Acid in Skin

It is crucial to boost antioxidant intake and support fibroblast activity to prevent wrinkles from forming or at least slow the process down and improve the skin's appearance. 

Pycnogenol® has been shown to do both. In particular, Pycnogenol® supplementation (75 mg per day) was shown to produce a significant increase in the genetic expression of enzymes within fibroblast necessary to manufacture hyaluronic acid and collagen

Although collagen gets much attention, much of the blame for skin looking wrinkled is due to decreased hyaluronic acid concentrations. By age 70, most people will have lost approximately 80 percent of the hyaluronic acid in their skin at age 40. 

Hyaluronic acid helps the molecules of the connective tissue matrix (like collagen) "link arms" and form a cohesive structure. With a loss in hyaluronic acid content, the collagen fibers become fewer and farther between. 

This leads to reduced connective tissue strength and a loss of water content in the skin. The bottom line is that the skin becomes thinner, wrinkled, and weathered without sufficient connective tissue components, especially hyaluronic acid. Pine bark extract counters this scenario to improve skin hydration, elasticity, and " youthfulness." 

Research on Pine Bark Extract's Skin Benefits

Six weeks of Pycnogenol® supplementation increased skin hydration by 8% in those with normal skin types and 21% in those with dry skin. Flavangenol®, another French maritime pine bark extract, was shown to improve skin health in 112 healthy women under 60 with age spots and multiple signs of sun-damaged skin (mottled pigmentation, roughness, wrinkles, and swelling). 

A study with Flavangenol® was designed to assess a low dose (40 mg per day) vs. a high dose (100 mg per day) and short-term vs. long-term supplementation. Eighty-eight women were given 40 mg per day for 24 weeks, and 24 were given 100 mg per day for 12 weeks. At the end of the low-dose study, 24 subjects (out of 88) were treated with 40 mg daily for 24 weeks to evaluate the long-term efficacy at the lower dosage. Results showed both the high-dose and low-dose groups demonstrate a similar trend of digitally-verified improvement in signs of sun-damaged facial skin and age spots. In the group getting 100 mg a day for 12 weeks, 72% of the subjects showed improvement. While in the group getting 40 mg a day for 24 weeks, 87% showed improvements. In the long-term study, 100% of subjects taking 40 mg daily for 15 to 18 months showed improvements. In both short-term and long-term trials, subjects exhibited a reduction in skin pigment melanin, indicating visible improvements in sun damage.

Pine Bark Extract's Skin Protective Effects 

The ability of pine bark extracts to protect the skin against the sun and environmental stress has been shown in preclinical and human trials. For example, in a double-blind study of pycnogenol® given to subjects working outdoors in Beijing, China, during the summer months. The 76 subjects took either pycnogenol (100 mg daily) or a placebo for 12 weeks. The workers were constantly exposed to sunlight and increased air pollutants, humidity, and temperature. Despite the increased sun exposure and environmental stress, pycnogenol® supplementation prevented a decrease in skin hydration and increased skin darkening. Pycnogenol® supplementation also improved measurements of skin elasticity. 

A preclinical study also showed a pine bark extract to protect the skin against the harmful effects of cigarette smoke.

Pine Bark Extract and Melasma

In addition to helping sun-damaged skin, pine bark extract may help improve melasma, a common skin disorder found primarily in individuals with light brown skin to darker skin color. 

Melasma is characterized by hyperpigmented patches primarily on the skin of the face. It affects women more often than men (only 10% of cases are male). Sun exposure is a factor, but hormones also play a role. Melasma is more common during pregnancy and in women taking oral contraceptives.

Pycnogenol® has shown benefits in two studies in women with melasma. In the first study, 30 Chinese women with melasma took 75 mg daily for one month. The subjects were evaluated before and after supplementation. Pycnogenol® improved the melasma area's size and the pigmentation's average intensity. The study concluded, "Pycnogenol was shown to be therapeutically effective and safe in patients suffering from melasma." It was effective in 80% of cases. And while no side effect was observed, symptoms such as fatigue, constipation, pains in the body, and anxiety were also improved with Pycnogenol® supplementation.

The second study was a more detailed double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 44 women with facial melasma. The women were randomly assigned to take either Pycnogenol® (75 mg) or a placebo twice daily for 60 days. The women also received a topical sunscreen (SPF 50) for daytime use and a "triple treatment" night cream containing hydroquinone, tretinoin, and fluocinolone acetonide. The results from the Global Aesthetic Improvement Scale showed an improvement of 86% for the Pycnogenol® group versus a 55% improvement in the placebo group. The improvement in the Modified Melasma Area Severity Index score was 49% for Pycnogenol® and 34% for the placebo. These results show oral Pycnogenol® supplementation can help improve melasma along with the use of conventional topical therapy.

Pine Bark Extract Can Be Applied Topically 

Pycnogenol® and other pine bark extracts have become popular in many skincare products, especially those promoting antiaging or skin rejuvenating benefits. Although there are no human clinical studies with topical application, there have been quite a few studies in human skin cell cultures and animals showing considerable benefits with topical application of pine bark extracts.

Whether applied to the delicate skin on the face or used as a supplement to nourish the body, pine bark extract'sextract's health-promoting properties help boost health inside and out.


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