Whether or not you indulge in licorice as a sweet treat, licorice root has been widely praised for its skincare benefits and efficacy in medicinal concoctions. Licorice root’s brightening and soothing properties make it a delight for your skin.
What Is Licorice Root?
No, you are not applying Twizzlers or Red Vines to your face. Licorice root extract, aka Glycyrrhiza glabra extract, is derived from the titular Glycyrrhiza glabra plant. Licorice root extract is obtained by boiling the dried roots of the fuzzy plant in water until it reaches a syrupy consistency.
Utilized in traditional medicine for more than 4000 years licorice root provides relief for everything from the common cold to digestion problems. It has also been used as a cooking ingredient to enhance flavor and moisture, in hair products for keeping dandruff and scalp sebum under wraps, and is extremely popular in Korean skincare.
How Does Licorice Root Work? What Does it Do?
Licorice root contains glabridin, liquiritin, flavonoids, and licochalcone A, which all contribute to its magical skincare properties.
Glabridin is an antioxidant that inhibits tyrosinase. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that causes pigmentation in response to sun exposure and when inflammation occurs from excess pimple popping (side note: you shouldn’t be popping your pimples!). It’s a chain reaction-- when your skin gets inflamed, tyrosinase turns its corresponding amino acid tyrosine into melanin, the dark pigment responsible for your age spots, acne scars, and all sun spots.
Liquiritin, a chemical that helps disperse and remove melanin, has lightening qualities that help improve the clarity of your skin over time. In combination with liquiritin, glabridin has the ability to defeat the final boss of skin destruction: the sun.
Because glabridin is an antioxidant, it helps soothe your skin. In addition to preventing hyperpigmentation, it’s perfect if you have sensitive skin and want a gentle skincare ingredient with anti-redness and anti-irritation properties.
Flavonoids help protect plants from harsh environmental stressors via their antioxidative properties. Antioxidants like glabridin and flavonoids target your free radicals. Free radicals cause aging, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. Totally not radical. Free radicals have an odd number of electrons, and antioxidants donate an electron to neutralize them.
So what does all of this mean for you? A more even skin tone, more youthful skin, and an overall stronger skin barrier.
But that’s not all! Licochalcone A, a phytochemical in licorice root, helps control your skin’s oil content. This makes skin care products with licorice ideal for acne-prone or oily skin.
What Are The Skin Benefits of Licorice Root?
When selecting skin care products, the ingredients can make or break (out) your skin. If your skin is sensitive, acne-prone, oily, sun-damaged, prone to redness, or has hyperpigmentation, licorice root could be exactly what you’re looking for. Even if you just want your skin to look more even and bright, licorice root will get the job done. No TikTok sparkle filters needed-- just licorice root.
Key skin benefits include:
- Calmer, hydrated skin
- Brighter, more radiant skin
- Reduction in appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation
- Tightening and firming of the skin
- Soothing inflammation
Don’t believe us? An article from the Journal of Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences stated that licorice root has been used to treat inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, pruritus, cysts, and general skin irritation. Also, the Journal of Pigment Cell Research demonstrated licorice root’s anti-inflammatory capabilities, in addition to affirming its ability to prevent UV-induced pigmentation.
Is Licorice Root safe?
Licorice root’s safety concerns are largely associated with consumption of licorice root, not topical use.
When orally ingested in large amounts and with long-term use, licorice root can cause high blood pressure and low potassium levels, which could lead to heart and muscle problems. Pregnant women should avoid consuming licorice root.
However, licorice root as a skincare ingredient is not only safe, but is a safer alternative than the gold-standard ingredients. Dermatologists frequently recommend retinol, vitamin C, and hydroquinone for fighting pigmentation, but these ingredients are infamous for causing irritation, dryness, and sensitivity. This study from the Journal of Dermatologic Clinics even suggested that licorice root’s depigmenting properties are superior to hydroquinone’s. Basically, licorice root is a gentler, natural alternative that is just as effective.
Using Licorice Root In Your Skincare Routine
Due to its soothing properties and ability to combat oil, licorice root is great for all skin types, especially great for sensitive and acne-prone skin.
Licorice root is commonly found in brightening serums, pH balancing toners, and moisturizers. Shameless plug: licorice root is a key ingredient in our Daily Moisturizer and our new Barrier Serum to bring you one step closer to that cream skin.
Note: if you already are using a retinol or hydroquinone, avoid adding licorice root to your routine because retinol and hydroquinone are already so potent.
With all brightening skincare products--including licorice root--you need to be extra diligent about using sun protection. However friendly the sun may seem, sun exposure will undo all of the skin-brightening and skin-evening that the licorice root is putting in overtime hours for.
Though hearing all of these benefits may entice you to slather some licorice root all over your face, as always, try out new ingredients via a small patch test somewhere else on your body. Give it a shot! Your skin will thank you for it.