Licorice: you either love it or you hate it. But when it comes to skincare ingredients, we truly believe licorice has much to offer.
The line between what you eat and what you apply to your hair and skin has recently become thinner and thinner, meaning your favorite scrubs, masks, and serums often bear more resemblance to something you’d find at the candy store than effective beauty treatments.
We’re sure you have no complaints about this (chocolate body scrub anyone?), but the question is how can you distinguish what really works and what’s been added to a product to simply make it smell good, look pretty, or tempt your taste buds?
Well, when it comes to licorice root, the facts speak for themselves.
What Is Licorice?
A perennial herb of the pea and bean family, licorice is grown primarily across Southern Europe and Western Asia and is considered one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies. The root of the licorice plant (aka glychrrhizin glabra for all you science fans out there) is packed with hundreds of potentially healing substances and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. The medicinal powers of licorice root extract are harnessed to treat anything from the common cold and asthma to liver disease and depression.
Licorice has an intense sweetness (studies indicate it’s 150 times sweeter than sucrose), but if you thought your favorite licorice candy was the real deal, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The truth is that most licorice-flavored candies have been blended with anise oil rather than actual licorice to create their often polarizing taste (yes, we feel cheated, too). Licorice tea, however, is widely available, and the extract is also used in various cuisines to flavor food and drinks.
The Skincare Benefits of Licorice
This is all well and good, but does licorice really have a place in your beauty cabinet? And do you even want to slather it all over your skin? We think so, and here are five valid reasons why licorice smashes it as a skincare ingredient.
Licorice Is A Powerful Antioxidant
You’ve probably realized by now how much we love antioxidants. Well, like vitamins C and E, retinol and hyaluronic acid, licorice root is a rich source of potent antioxidants – due mainly to its high levels of flavonoids.
Flavonoids are plant-derived chemicals known as phytonutrients, which are found in most fruits and veggies as well as in various grains, bark, roots, flowers, tea and wine. Flavonoids are responsible for the vivid colors of almost all fruit and veggies, but they’re not just a pretty face because they offer a whole host of health benefits, not least of which is to provide powerful antioxidant activity.
When applied topically, antioxidants help the skin fend off harmful free radicals caused by lifestyle and environmental stressors such as pollution, UV radiation, smoking, alcohol, and a poor diet. Without antioxidants to counteract their destruction, free radicals cause oxidative stress which damages the skin’s DNA and breaks down the production of collagen and elastin. Poor levels of collagen and elastin = buh bye to a plump youthful complexion.
This is why antioxidants are a key player in both your diet and your skincare regime. To help boost your levels, our Overnight Star Lactic Acid Treatment contains prickly pear, licorice and hyaluronic acid which all boast potent antioxidant properties. Add this to your skincare regime and you’re well on the way to winning the free radical war. You could also eat more antioxidant-rich foods, such as dark chocolate (love!), berries, kale and spinach.
Nobody wants dark spots on their skin. Whether caused by sun damage, hormonal conditions such as melasma, or the lasting reminders of acne, discoloration can age you up instantly.
Treating discoloration can be almost as frustrating as the problem itself. How so? One word: hydroquinone. While deemed safe by the FDA, hydroquinone is one of the most controversial ingredients in skincare. It’s banned completely in Europe, Australia, and Japan and only available at certain percentages here in the US (currently 2 percent for over-the-counter products and 4 percent on prescription). Why the controversy? Well, it’s undisputedly a skin irritant, but more seriously, hydroquinone can be linked to cancer, respiratory tract irritation, and organ-system toxicity, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Research continues on these strong claims, and the whole debate is best left for another day, but let’s just say that many consumers are understandably concerned and are constantly on the lookout for less scary alternatives to help lighten dark spots or acne scars.
This is where licorice steps in. Licorice contains two ingredients known to help with pigmentation issues – glabradin and liquiritin. Glabradin obstructs melanin production by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase – the main cause of excess melanin in the skin – while liquiritin helps break down and remove any excess melanin that’s already there. This means that together they work like a fine-tuned machine to fade existing spots and prevent new ones from forming. Impressive, right?
Licorice is Perfect for Sensitive Skin
As well as being a potent antioxidant and melanin-blocking substance, glabradin boasts strong anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s a great play for anyone with sensitive skin. It works by blocking the signaling pathway for inflammation which stops it in from manifesting itself on the surface of your skin. This helps reduce redness, flushing, peeling, itchiness and many other side effects of sensitive, irritated skin – just like that.
Research also shows that due to its antimicrobial activity, licorice root extract is an effective choice for the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis and eczema (atopic dermatitis).
According to the National Eczema Association, eczema affects over 31 million people in the US. Symptoms can range from slightly itchy skin to extreme inflammation, swelling and bleeding and while it’s not contagious it can develop at any time. Many sufferers turn to treatments such as steroids and cortisol, but glycyrrhizin, another active found in licorice root, has similar anti-inflammatory properties so is a golden alternative, with minimal side effects.
Licorice Protects Skin from Sun Damage
Not only does licorice root prevent and protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation (hello again, antioxidants), but research shows that it can help relieve the nasty side effects of sun exposure. Sunburn is loathsome business and is instantly painful as well as damaging in the long-term. So, your best bet? Avoid it, at all costs.
That being said, accidents happen. We get it. And this is why a good post-exposure action plan is key.
First up, GET OUT OF THE SUN. Obviously. Then, cool your skin down in a refreshing bath or shower and apply a gentle lotion or after-sun while your skin is still damp. This helps lock in moisture and soothe redness. Look out for products containing anti-inflammatory licorice and/or aloe vera for a real hit of calming comfort. Why licorice? Because studies show that licochalcone A, a molecule produced by licorice root, may help reduce the painful sensation associated with sunburn. It does this by suppressing inflammatory enzymes that are triggered by the sun.
Licorice Helps Prevent Breakouts
Speaking of licochalcone A, this is one neat molecule (read: a bit of a show-off, if truth be told). As well as offering sunburn relief, licochalcone A helps regulate sebum production – the oily substance secreted by sebaceous glands, which helps protect and moisturize your skin.
While sebum is essential for the look, feel, and overall health of your skin, too much can lead to an excessively shiny finish to your complexion. And not the good, glowy kind, either. Sebum also has a tendency to latch onto unwanted debris such as makeup and pollution which gets trapped in your pores and causes all manner of surface carnage in the way of blackheads and pimples. This is why oily skin sufferers loathe sebum and spend their lives trying to keep it balanced and under control.
Great cleansing and regular exfoliation with an AHA or BHA are some of the most effective ways to keep sebum levels in check, but products formulated with licorice root extract are another great strategy. And it’s all thanks to licochalcone A, whose sebum-balancing skills, coupled with its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, are hard to bet against.
Thinking about incorporating licorice into your skincare routine? Then check out Overnight Star Lactic Acid Treatment which is chock-full of premium ingredients like licorice, aloe and hyaluronic acid. All without the luxury markup.