Cosmeceutical Critique

Exsanguinating the truth about dragon’s blood in cosmeceuticals


 

The use of dragon’s blood is renowned among various medical traditions around the world.1,2 It is known to confer anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antimicrobial, and wound healing benefits, among others. Dragon’s blood and its characteristic red sap has also been used in folk magic and as a coloring substance and varnish.1 In addition, dragon’s blood resin is one of the many botanical agents with roots in traditional medicine that are among the bioactive ingredients used in the booming contemporary Korean cosmeceutical agent market.3This column will address some of the recent research on the cutaneous benefits of dragon’s blood resin obtained from several species of plants.

Rod/Moment

Dragon's blood trees are native to the Socotra archipelago.


Many plants, only some have dermatologic properties

Essentially, the moniker “dragon’s blood” describes the deep red resin or sap that has been derived from multiple plant sources – primarily from the genera Daemonorops, Dracaena, Croton, and Pterocarpus – over multiple centuries.2,4 In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), various plants have been used as dragon’s blood, including Butea monosperma, Liquidambar formosana, Daemonorops draco, and, more commonly now, Dracaena cochinchinensis.5

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann, a dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami.

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann

Chemical constituents and activity

Dragon’s blood represents the red exudate culled from 27 species of plants from four families. Among the six Dracaena plants (D. cochinchinensis, D. cambodiana, D. cinnabari, D. draco, D. loureiroi, and D. schizantha) from which dragon’s blood is derived, flavonoids and their oligomers are considered the main active constituents. Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, and cytotoxic activities have been associated with these botanicals.6

D. cochinchinensis is one source of the ethnomedicine “dragon’s blood” that has long been used in TCM. Contemporary studies have shown that the resin of D. cochinchinensis – key constituents of which include loureirin A, loureirin B, loureirin C, cochinchinenin, socotrin-4’-ol, 4’,7-dihydroxyflavan, 4-methylcholest-7-ene-3-ol, ethylparaben, resveratrol, and hydroxyphenol – exhibits antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antidiabetic, and antitumor activities. It has also been shown to support skin repair.4

In 2017, Wang et al. reported that flavonoids from artificially induced dragon’s blood of D. cambodiana showed antibacterial properties.7 The next year, Al Fatimi reported that the dragon’s blood derived from D. cinnabari is a key plant on Yemen’s Socotra Island, where it is used for its antifungal and antioxidant properties to treat various dermal, dental, eye, and gastrointestinal diseases in humans.8Croton lechleri (also one of the plants known as dragon’s blood), a medicinal plant found in the Amazon rainforest and characterized by its red sap, has been shown in preclinical studies to display anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antineoplastic activity. Pona et al. note that, while clinical studies of C. lechleri suggest wound healing and antiviral effects, the current use of this plant has limited cutaneous applications.9

Wound healing activity

In 1995, Pieters et al. performed an in vivo study on rats to assess the wound healing activity of dragon’s blood (Croton spp.) from South America. In comparing the effects with those of synthetic proanthocyanidins, the researchers verified the beneficial impact of dragon’s blood in stimulating wound contraction, crust formation, new collagen development, and epithelial layer regeneration. The dragon’s blood component 3’,4-O-dimethylcedrusin was also found to enhance healing by promoting fibroblast and collagen formation, though it was not as effective as crude dragon’s blood. The authors ascribed this effect to the proanthocyanidins in the plant.10

Late in 2003, Jones published a literature review on the evidence related to Croton lechleri (known in South America as “sangre de drago” or dragon’s blood) in support of various biological effects, particularly anti-inflammatory and wound healing capability. The results from multiple in vitro and in vivo investigations buttressed previous ethnomedical justifications for the use of dragon’s blood to treat herpes, insect bites, stomach ulcers, tumors, wounds, and diarrhea, as well as other conditions. Jones added that the sap of the plant has exhibited low toxicity and has been well tolerated in clinical studies.11

In 2012, Hu et al. investigated the impact of dragon’s blood powder with varying grain size on the transdermal absorption and adhesion of ZJHX paste, finding that, with decreasing grain size, penetration of dracorhodin increased, thus promoting transdermal permeability and adhesion.12

Lieu et al. assessed the wound healing potential of Resina Draconis, derived from D. cochinchinensis, which has long been used in traditional medicines by various cultures. In this 2013 evaluation, the investigators substantiated the traditional uses of this herb for wound healing, using excision and incision models in rats. Animals treated with D. cochinchinensis resin displayed significantly superior wound contraction and tensile strength as compared with controls, with histopathological results revealing better microvessel density and growth factor expression levels.13

In 2017, Jiang et al. showed that dracorhodin percolate, derived from dragon’s blood and used extensively to treat wound healing in TCM, accelerated wound healing in Wistar rats.14 A year later, they found that the use of dracorhodin perchlorate was effective in regulating fibroblast proliferation in vitro and in vivo to promote wound healing in rats. In addition, they noted that phosphorylated–extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) in the wound tissue significantly increased with treatment of dracorhodin perchlorate ointment. The researchers called for clinical trials testing this compound in humans as the next step.15

In 2015, Namjoyan et al. conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 60 patients (between 14 and 65 years old) to assess the wound healing effect of a dragon’s blood cream on skin tag removal. Patients were visited every third day during this 3-week study, after which a significant difference in mean wound healing duration was identified. The investigators attributed the accelerated wound healing action to the phenolic constituents and alkaloid taspine in the resin. They also concluded that dragon’s blood warrants inclusion in the wound healing arsenal, while calling for studies in larger populations.16

Conclusion

The red resin extracts of multiple species of plants have and continue to be identified as “dragon’s blood.” This exudate has been used for various medical indications in traditional medicine for several centuries. Despite this lengthy history, modern research is hardly robust. Nevertheless, there are many credible reports of significant salutary activities associated with these resins and some evidence of cutaneous benefits. Much more research is necessary to determine how useful these ingredients are, despite their present use in a number of marketed cosmeceutical agents.

Dr. Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann has written two textbooks and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers. Dr. Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Galderma, Revance, Evolus, and Burt’s Bees. She is the CEO of Skin Type Solutions Inc., a company that independently tests skin care products and makes recommendations to physicians on which skin care technologies are best. Write to her at [email protected].

References

1. Gupta D et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Feb 12;115(3):361-80.

2. Jura-Morawiec J & Tulik. Chemoecology. 2016;26:101-5.

3. Nguyen JK et al. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020 Jul;19(7):155-69.

4. Fan JY et al. Molecules. 2014 Jul 22;19(7):10650-69.

5. Zhang W et al. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2016 Apr;41(7):1354-7.

6. Sun J et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Nov 15;244:112138.

7. Wang H et al. Fitoterapia. 2017 Sep;121:1-5.

8. Al-Fatimi M. Plants (Basel). 2018 Oct 26;7(4):91.

9. Pona A et al. Dermatol Ther. 2019 Mar;32(2):e12786.10. Pieters L et al. Phytomedicine. 1995 Jul;2(1):17-22.

11. Jones K. J Altern Complement Med. 2003 Dec;9(6):877-96.

12. Hu Q et al. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2012 Dec;37(23):3549-53.

13. Liu H et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:709865.

14. Jiang XW et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017:8950516.

15. Jiang X et al. J Pharmacol Sci. 2018 Feb;136(2):66-72.

16. Namjoyan F et al. J Tradit Complement Med. 2015 Jan 22;6(1):37-40.

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