Magnolia un dono della natura



Magnolia: a Nature’s gift! The beneficial properties of the Eastern bark

DR. Riccardo Matera

Magnolia officinalis is one of flowering plant of Magnoliaceae family, originating from Far East (China, Thailand, Korea and Japan). Several officinal extracts from bark and strobili have been used in traditional eastern medicine. In particular, special decoctions or teas from Magnolia bark have been used for 2000 years in traditional Chinese medicine for treating different disorders, such as cough, asthma and gastrointestinal or urinary tract illnesses. 

The eastern herbalist preparation, known as “Saiboku-to” – containing Magnolia bark – have been used up till now to alleviate asthma and  anxiety as well.

Magnolia property

The majority of beneficial activities of Magnolia derive from certain allyl-phenols, such as magnolol and honokiol. Several pharmacological activities are ascribed to Magnolia:  the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective activities along with the ability to inhibit platelets aggregation. Among the new promising actions it should be cited the action in contrast angiogenesis and certain tumor mechanisms. 

Bioactive components of Magnolia (above all honokiol) have been attracted deep interest: scientific community is investigating beneficial activity toward anxiety, depression and stress treatment. Among documented scientific properties, particular attention is addressed to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective properties.

The relevant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of Magnolia have been explored for cosmetic purposes, as well. Very recently, great interest have been addressed to antimicrobial activities in topical formulation: Magnolia shows beneficial effects in  young skin in limiting acne related bacteria. Moreover, recent studies on oral-care applications have been shown magnolol and honokiol are able to modulate cellular activities of microorganisms causing dental caries.

Thanks to antibacterial properties of Magnolia, the bark extract have useful cosmetic applications both as new organic or natural preservative and as active ingredient with antiseptic and dermo-hygienic properties, useful in preventing skin infections. Magnolia officinalis could represent an alternative preservative in skin-care cosmetics and a functional ingredient being twice as precious and useful.

Magnolia: a precious ingredient in the BeC lines

For these reasons, we envisioned to include Magnolia extract in several products of our traditional BeC cosmetic line. In particular, it is an ingredient of Nuova Maschera and Pasta Idrogel, contributing to important dermo purifying properties. The soothing cream VelvÈ contains Magnolia extract (rich in magnolol and honokiol) that helps in tackling cellular aging, alleviates irritation phenomena and contributes to limit skin oxidative processes.

Thanks to its clean and eco-friendly production processes, approved by certification bodies like Ecocert, Magnolia extract could be included also in our new organic cosmetic line Terra biocare, We include it in the specifically designed formulation for delicate and impure skin: the face organic cream PuraBi.Definitely, Magnolia bark with its synergic properties appears as a Nature’s gift: traditionally used for calming and relaxing properties since centuries, it has nowadays showed precious antioxidant, antimicrobial and dermo hygienic properties, exploited with knowledge in natural cosmetics.

Cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase and the inflammatory process

Cyclooxygenase and lipooxygenase are the two families of enzymes that are commonly involved in the inflammatory process, through a complex of reactions which is called arachidonic acid cascade. This complex of reactions develops as follows: a first enzyme, a phospholipase cleaves the phospholipids of biological membranes, releasing arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid with 20 carbon atoms (eicosa-5Z,8Z,11Z,14Z-tetraenoic acid ; C20:4; ω-6). The arachidonic acid is then transformed by two parallel enzymatic pathways, that is, by two families of enzymes: the cyclooxygenase which transforms it into prostaglandins and thromboxanes and the lipooxygenase which transforms it into hydroperoxides which in turn transform into leukotrienes .
There are two cyclooxygenase isoforms indicated with type 1 and type 2, briefly COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 is the enzyme present in most cells (except red blood cells), and is constitutive, that is, it is always present. COX-2 is an inducible cyclooxygenase isoform: it is constitutively present in some organs such as brain, liver, kidney, stomach, heart and vascular system, while it can be induced (i.e. developed if necessary) following inflammatory stimuli on the skin, white blood cells and muscles.
There are various types of lipooxygenase that lead to different products, the most important in the inflammatory process is 5-lipooxygenase, 5-LOX.

Prostaglandins, Thromboxanes, and Leukotrienes

Prostaglandins, Thromboxanes, and Leukotrienes are chemical messengers or mediators, that is, molecules that bring a message to specific cells and activate or deactivate metabolic responses in these cells. They, therefore, have a function similar to hormones, only that, unlike what hormones do, the chemical message is carried only at a short distance, that is, only to the cells that are in the vicinity of the place where the mediators were produced. There are different prostaglandins, different thromboxanes and different leukotrienes that carry specific messages. In many cases these act as mediators of the inflammatory process , therefore they trigger all the events that are involved in inflammation:
– vasodilation with consequent blood supply (redness),
– increased capillary permeability with consequent fluid exudation (swelling or edema),
– stimulation of nociceptive nerve signals (pain),
– on-site recall of immune system cells that attack a possible invader (chemotactic action)
– activation of the biosynthesis of fibrous tissue to strengthen or repair the affected part (even if there is no need)
– generations of free radicals that can chemically destroy an invader (but also damage our tissues, i.e. they just “shoot in the middle”).
Prostaglandins and thromboxanes, however, also play important physiological roles in normal conditions, i.e. in the absence of inflammation. For example, they regulate the secretion of mucus that protects the walls of the stomach, they regulate the biosynthesis of cartilages and synovial fluid in the joints, they regulate vasodilation, hence the correct flow of blood in the various local districts, and more.


Triglycerides are the main components of most oils and fats. These are heavy, non-volatile and little polar molecules, insoluble in water, made up of glycerol (or glycerin) esterified with three molecules of fatty acids: therefore, it is a tri-ester of glycerin, from which the name derives. Each fatty acid contains 8 to 22 carbon atoms (commonly 16 to 18) and can be saturated, mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated. The size of the fatty acids and their saturation determines the physical and sensorial properties of the triglycerides, which can appear as oils (liquids at room temperature) or fats (solid or semi-solid) and can have greater or less greasiness and smoothness on the skin. Unsaturated triglycerides or with shorter fatty acids are more fluid and have greater flowability.

Fatty acids (saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated)

The name fatty acids is commonly used to indicate those organic acids that are found in the composition of lipids, that is, in animal and vegetable oils and fats, both in the free form and in the form of esters with glycerol (e.g. in triglycerides), or they are esterified with “fatty” alcohols, that is, long chain alcohols, to form waxes. Fatty acids are carboxylic acids (formula R-COOH) which have a long carbon chain (R), unlike common organic acids such as acetic acid and propionic acid, which have 2 or 3 carbon atoms in total, respectively. Fatty acids are defined as saturatedif they do not have double carbon-carbon bonds, (called “unsaturations”), they are defined mono-unsaturated if they have only one, they are defined mono-unsaturatedpoly-unsaturated if they have two or more double bonds (see figure). The term omega-3 (ω-3) or omega-6 (ω-3), refers to the position of the first double bond starting from the bottom of the chain of carbon atoms: if the first double bond is encountered after 3 carbon atoms the fatty acid is classified as omega-3 , if after six carbon atoms omega-6 , as shown in the figure. The most common saturated fatty acids are palmitic acid (16 carbon atoms and no double bond, C16: 0) and stearic acid (18 carbon atoms, 18: 0), the most common mono-unsaturated is the oleic acid, typical of olive oil (18 carbon atoms and 1 double bond in position 9, C18: 1; ω-9), while the most common poly-unsaturated are linoleic acid and linolenic acid, progenitors respectively omega-6 and omega-3 (see figure).

Terpenes and terpenoids

Terpenes or terpenoids are a large family of natural molecules, typically containing 10 to 30 carbon atoms, which are biosynthesized from a common “brick”, isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP), containing 5 carbon atoms (see figure). The discovery that the repetitive brick consists of 5 carbon atoms is relatively recent, while it was once assumed that the entire family was created by repeating a brick of 10 carbon atoms, which was called “terpene”. Therefore, the molecules with 10 carbon atoms (such as limonene, see figure) were called mono-terpenes, i.e. composed of a single brick, diterpenes those with 20 carbon atoms (e.g. the cafestol that gives the aroma to the coffee), triterpenes those with 30 carbon atoms (e.g. beta-carotene). Since molecules made from 15 carbon atoms were also found (such as bisabolol), it was thought they contained a terpene and a half, and were called sesquiterpenes (from the Latin semis = half + atque = and). Today it is known that the repetitive unit is composed of 5 carbon atoms, therefore it is easy to understand how mono-terpenes contain two (see figure), sesquiterpenes three, diterpenes four, triterpenes six.