POSTED: 4 May 2024

Here’s How Licorice Root Can Benefit Your Skin

Ok, sometimes its hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to skincare. From Snail mucin to Bakuchiol, the list of unusual beauty ingredients is seemingly endless. Licorice is making its way to a lot of skincare products thanks to its reputation for skin brightening and radiance. You’d be forgiven for wondering how this old fashioned confectionery has become a coveted skincare ingredient. Well, there’s a little method to the madness. Long before sweets and teas, Licorice root was essential in ancient apothecaries for its remarkable healing properties. In this article, we explore the Science behind using Licorice root extract in skincare, how it benefits the skin and how to introduce it into your beauty routine.

A Brief History of Licorice in Skincare

Licorice root is derived from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant which is a herb that is native to parts of Europe and Asia. The plant’s root is rich in a variety of compounds including glycyrrhizin, flavonoids and saponins. These are thought to be behind Licorice root’s multiple medicinal and skin benefits. Licorice has substantial anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties that have made it a valuable ingredient in both traditional and modern skincare formulations.

The history of Licorice in skincare spans several continents and thousands of years. Some of the earliest uses we know come from documentation from Ancient Egypt. These detail the use of Licorice root in teas and concoctions designed to alleviate various ailments including skin diseases. It was highly prized in the royal courts. In fact, often Licorice found its way into the skincare routines of Pharaohs for its ability to create a smooth and clear complexion.

In traditional Chinese medicine, Licorice was a common remedy for redness, itching and various skin disorders due to its soothing and curative properties. It was often applied directly to the skin as a paste to treat eczema and acne. The ancient Greeks and Romans were also in awe of Licorice’s healing effects. They used Licorice root in treatments for skin swelling and as a component in early cosmetics. By the Middle Ages, Licorice had made its way into European herbalism. Licorice root extract was generally seen as a silver bullet for a variety of ailments and skin conditions.

As technology developed and both medicine as well as the cosmetic industry evolved, Licorice root fell out of favour for a while. However, due to a combination of a trend towards more “natural” products and the popularity of Korean beauty which continued to embrace it, Licorice is experiencing a revival in skincare.

The Science Behind Using Licorice Skin Treatments

Modern science has provided better understanding of Licorice’s components and their effects at the molecular level. There is growing evidence that Licorice harbours a variety of compounds that have significant benefits on the skin. The compounds that provide the main skin benefits of Licorice root are:

  • Glabridin is one of the most studied flavonoids in Licorice root. It inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that helps make melanin, which is responsible for skin pigmentation. By inhibiting this enzyme, Glabridin helps to treat hyperpigmentation and age spots. Beyond that, Glabridin also has antioxidant properties and hence can help protect the skin from free-radical damage triggered by UV radiation and environmental pollutants.
  • Liquiritin also helps with hyperpigmentation but works differently from Glabridin. It disperses melanin, rather than inhibiting its production. This can help brighten and even out skin skin tone. Liquiritin also enhances the penetration of other skin brightening agents which boosts there effects.
  • Licochalcone comes from the root’s oil and is highly effective in treating redness and inflammation. It has strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Licochalcone also helps control oil production. This makes it great for sensitive, Rosacea or acne-prone skin.
  • Glycyrrhizin posses powerful moisturising and soothing properties. It mimics the structure and function of corticosteroids which can help with eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. Glycyrrhizin also supports the skin’s barrier function which helps to keep it hydrated and resistant to irritants.

This research has now made it possible to isolate and extract the skin benefitting compounds from Licorice root and use them for skincare. This has permitted the creation of skincare formulations to address specific concerns such as pigmentation, sensitivity and aging.

Benefits of Licorice Root Extract for Skin

There are a number of benefits that Licorice root can have on the skin. These have been known about for centuries but in recent decades, scientific research has further explored and shed light on the benefits of Licroice in Dermatology. Below are the key effects that Licorice root can have on the skin:

  • Skin Brightening: Licorice root’s ability to regulate melanin production makes it a cornerstone ingredient for those looking to brighten their complexion or treat hyperpigmentation issues like melasma and sun damage. Products containing Licorice extract can significantly improve skin brightness and decrease the visibility of unwanted pigmentation.
  • Anti-inflammatory & Anti-microbial: Licorice root offers calming effects that can help manage conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema and sensitive skin. Its soothing properties help reduce itchiness, redness and irritation.
  • Protection & Repair: Environmental pollutants and UV rays can speed up skin ageing and damage. Licorice’s antioxidant properties help defend against these harmful effects by neutralising free radicals. It can also help maintain and repair the skin barrier which can improve hydration and plumpness.

How to Add Licorice Root into Your Skincare Routine

You can easily find Licorice root extract in a variety of skincare products including cleansers, toners, essences, serums, creams and masks. It’s important to first identify your skin concern. You should also take into account whether you have any underlying skin conditions before deciding on whether and what form to add Licorice into your skincare routine. As a general rule, here are the main ways to use Licorice in skincare:

  • Serums, Toners & Essences often have higher concentrations of active product and are great for skin brightening and acne.
  • Creams, Lotions & Masks are ideal for treating sensitive, irritated, dry or reactive skin.
  • Cleansers work best for those without much time for skincare but want to gradually improve for overall skin clarity and radiance.

Potential Side Effects & Risks of Licorice Skin Treatments

Whilst Licorice root extract is generally safe and well-tolerated in skincare products, it’s important to be aware of potential side effects and risks. These are most likely to occur when used in high concentrations or over extended periods and include:

  • Excessive use of Licorice extract can sometimes lead to hypopigmentation, where patches of skin become lighter than the surrounding areas.
  • People with sensitive skin or allergies to legume family plants might experience irritation, redness or allergic reactions.
  • Licorice root contains glycyrrhizin, which in large amounts could potentially mimic the effects of corticosteroids, leading to skin thinning or other hormonal imbalances if absorbed systematically over time.
  • Those with hypertension should be cautious, as excessive use of Licorice can potentially affect blood pressure levels

For the above reasons, it’s vital to follow product directions carefully and patch test before full application. If you have existing health conditions or are on any medications, speak with your health provider about whether Licorice skincare products are safe for you.

As you can see, Licorice root extract is a potential skincare champion with centuries old track record and emerging research to support its skin benefits. Whether you are looking to clear up acne, brighten, protect or soothe your skin, Licorice skincare might help. However, as with all things skincare, there are no silver bullets. Licorice root is an excellent skincare ingredient but should be used as part of a personalised skincare routine. It’s also important to seek medical advice if you have any medical or skin conditions to avoid the risks and side effects of Licorice.

At City Skin Clinic, we are passionate about personalised skincare. Through our online skin clinic, our doctors offer safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone. We treat a range of skin conditions including  acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. To start your personalised skincare plan, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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