Bearberry extract is made from the leaves of the bearberry plant. It is commonly used as an astringent in cosmetic preparations and skin care products. Astringents are cleansers that remove dirt and oil from the skin's pores. It is also used as a lightening agent to fade freckles or skin discoloration which may be caused by sun damage or hormonal conditions.
The bearberry plant is also known as the beargrape plant or mountain cranberry. Its Latin name is Arctostaphyllos Uva Ursi. Another term for bearberry extract is uva ursi extract. Bearberry extract is reputed to have antibacterial and antioxidant properties that may be beneficial for cleansing the skin and improving its appearance. It is thought by some to increase cell turnover rate, thus shedding old skin cells which do not reflect light as smoothly and make the skin look dull.
The extract from the bearberry leaves was traditionally used in Northern Europe and Russia to tan leather and even out the color of the hides. Similarly, the extract also is used to help improve skin tone and coloration. Hydroquinone and arbutin are the two active components of bearberry extract thought responsible for its ability to reduce skin pigmentation. Hydroquinone is known to inhibit melanin production in the skin. Melanin is a pigment found in skin that determines a skin's color. Arbutin is also reported to have melanin-inhibiting properties but not to the same extent as hydroquinone. However, arbutin is thought to be less irritating to the skin and is used more frequently in cosmetics. Hydroquinone is recognized by the United States Food and Drug Administration as a bleaching agent.
Other ingredients in skin creams designed to lighten skin must legally be called skin brighteners or skin whiteners. Although cosmetic companies may tout the benefits of bearberry or uva ursi extract, there is no definitive scientific proof that the amounts may be enough to lighten a skin discoloration or change the appearance of the skin.
It is considered best to use a product made from bearberry extract only on the spot one wishes to lighten. Applying a cream or lotion with bearberry extract all over the face could conceivably cause undesired results such as removing too much pigment from the skin and increasing discoloration and the uneven appearance of skin tone.
Bearberry extract has also been used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic and possible remedy for urinary tract and bladder infections. It commonly is available in a liquid, tablet or teabag form. A physician should always be consulted before using any herbal supplement.