Licorice in skin care

We have heard about the candy licorice but did you know that licorice in skin care can help brighten and lighten the skin? I do have to mention that candy licorice actually contains little licorice, most of the flavor comes from Anise which is a spice.

Licorice comes from the root of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra which is related to beans. It is a perennial, that is it grows year after year. Liquorice or licorice root extract is prepared by boiling the root of the palnt, the end result is a syrup.

Licorice has been used since ancient Egyptian times as a sweet drink. It is used in Chinese medicine to treat all sorts of ailments such as indigestion. Licorice is one of the most widely prescribed herbs in Chinese medicine.

Licorice in skin care has been reported to work as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-irritant,  skin whitening, and wound healing ingredient.

Licorice in skin care

Thera are a number of compounds in licorice that make it a suitable ingredient in skin care.

  • Triterpenoid glycoside

Glycyrrhizic acid is a triterpene which has been shown to decrease inflammation and has also has been shown to help reduce oxidative stress.

  • Amino acids -some amino acids have moisturizing effects on the skin.
  • Polysaccharides such as B-sitosterol also have moisturizing effects on the skin.
  • Anethole  gives licorice its smell, it is thought to be antibacterial.
  • Isoflavone (flavonoid)

Glabridin is an isoflavone that helps reduce inflammation. Mice studies did show less inflammation after injury but human studies are needed. We know that isoflavones have been shown to decrease sebum production which may help prevent acne breakouts. Glabridin is thought to act as a phytoestrogen, phytoestrogens are plant derived compounds with biological activities comparable to the human hormone. Glabridin has also been shown to inhibit tyrosinase. Tyrosinase is the enzyme that causes pigmentation in response to sun exposure.

Licorice contains a compound called liquiritin. This chemical is particularly useful for treating melasma. Melasma is a tan or dark skin discolouration. It may occur with pregnancy, oral contraceptive use and intense sunlight exposure.

Licorice in skin care

Licorice has been used to help with itchy skin. There is some evidence that applying licorice to the skin can improve symptoms of eczema. Applying a gel containing licorice three times daily for 2 weeks seems to reduce redness, swelling, and itching.

Licorice is thought to reduce redness and even out skin tone. You may see licorice used as an alternative to the skin bleaching ingredient hydroquinone whose use has been restricted in Europe.

According to Web MD, “Early research suggests that applying a cream containing licorice, emblica, and belides (Clariderm Clear, Stiefel Laboratories Inc., Guarulhos, SP, Brazil) twice daily for 60 days is effective for lightening skin in people with skin discolorations.” It is important to note that additional research is needed.

Licorice has also been used to lighten dark circles below the eyes and age spots.

licorice in skin careLicorice was shown to help lighten skin in another study as well. According to the journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, “Whilst aggressive treatments to enhance efficacy in Middle-Easterns always require attentiveness to the potential risk of complications, the combined topical formulation of licorice powder and L-ascorbic acid has proven to be safe and effective in the treatment of skin pigmentation. However, further investigation in a greater number of patients is yet to be pursued and the present results seem to indicate usefulness of the combined preparation as a brightening dermatologic therapy.”


Licorice by the mouth

You may see claims that licorice can help treat canker sores, hepatitis, high cholesterol levels, irritable bowel and stomach ulcers but this is unproven. Additional research is needed.

Licorice has been used to treat heartburn but it can be unsafe it eaten in large quantities.

According to WebMD, “Consuming licorice daily for several weeks or longer can cause severe side effects including high blood pressure, low potassium levels, weakness, paralysis, and occasionally brain damage in otherwise healthy people. In people who eat a lot of salt or have heart disease, kidney disease, or high blood pressure, as little as 5 grams per day can cause these problems.”

The University of Pittsburgh also showed concern for too much licorice, “Although the glycyrrhizin could provide anti-inflammatory effects in the body and help to break down cortisol, the substance also mimics the hormone aldosterone, which increases blood pressure, causes potassium loss and stimulates fluid retention.”

Drug interactions

Eating licorice can also interact with a blood thinner called coumadin.

Contact dermatitis

As with any topical ingredient contact allergy has been described. You should stop using any skin care product if irritation occurs.

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