With new products, brands, and categories appearing every day, the beauty can be a bit overwhelming. Back to Basics is our rudimentary beauty series that serves as a crash course in the science behind some of the best formulations in the game.
Hyperpigmentation, sun spots, acne scars, melasma – these are just a few common skin issues that lead to bothersome dark spots and an overall uneven skin tone. While there are a number of treatment options available, from chemical peels to laser treatments, there are also many over-the-counter topicals that can help combat these issues in the comfort of your own home, including less well-known licorice root.
Vitamin C, niacinamide, and AHAs like glycolic acid are some of today’s most popular over-the-counter skin lightening ingredients, in addition to more potent skin lighteners like hydroquinone. However, if you are facing any of the above skin issues and are looking for a simple – and especially gentle – OTC treatment, this option might be worth your consideration.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is derived from the plant species Glycyrrhiza. According to Soraya Ali-Hope, cosmetic chemist and founder of My Skin Authority, its cosmetic and medicinal uses date back 4,000 years. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda for centuries, and as she mentions, licorice root has even been found in King Tut’s tomb.
Today, licorice root extract has found its way into many skin care formulations due to the skin transforming benefits of its many chemical components. Mainly, it is famous for its lightening and toning abilities. “Incorporating licorice root into your routine helps reduce the appearance of dark spots and age spots,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, certified dermatologist author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From A Best New York Dermatologist. “It’s great for lightening the skin and decreasing hyperpigmentation.”
One of the main components of licorice root is glabridin, a powerful skin lightener. “This molecule acts on melanocytes in the skin by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme that catalyzes the production of melanin,” explains Ali-Hope. Simply put, it stops the production of the enzyme responsible for melanin production, thus preventing the development of dark spots. That’s why she considers licorice root a “superb alternative” to more aggressive skin lighteners like hydroquinone for the treatment of melasma and hyperpigmentation caused by sun damage and natural aging.
Another component of licorice root is glycyrrhizin, which is packed with anti-aging and toning benefits. “This gelatinous saponin [an active substance found in plants] is a powerful antioxidant with a high concentration of flavonoids that provides regenerative effects, including lightening the skin and removing free radicals harmful and aging to the skin, ”she says.
Plus, it’s high in polyphenols – also powerful antioxidants – which she says help relieve irritation and inflammation. “These soothing and calming polyphenols with antifungal and antibacterial properties, making licorice root ideal for oily and acne-prone skin,” she says. “The same goes for atopic dermatitis and rashes. She points out that some of the polyphenols found in licorice, such as licochalcone, may also help the skin to regenerate collagen and elastin, improving the flexibility and strength of the skin and increasing its anti-aging benefits.
How to use licorice root
Licorice root can be found in all kinds of skin care formulations, but Ali-Hope recommends using creams, lotions, toners, serums, and masks: says. Cleaners and other rinse-offs can still be effective, but leave-in products are recommended for best results.
Because it’s mild, Dr Jaliman says licorice root products are generally safe for daily use, morning and night. However, how often you use it greatly depends on the type of product and the other ingredients in the formula. “Some licorice products contain more potent ingredients, and these products should be used with caution,” she says. “Always follow the directions on the label. “
When it comes to what to pair your licorice root products with, the general consensus among experts is that it’s safe to mix with most other ingredients. As dermatology resident Dr. Charles Puza explains, the major components of licorice root are non-reactive, so for the most part, you shouldn’t experience a negative reaction incorporating it into your existing routine. Dr Jaliman says licorice root works great with other brighteners like vitamin C and niacinamide, as well as with exfoliators like lactic acid and soothing ingredients like aloe. The only ingredient she’s hesitant to mix with licorice root is retinol, which she says can be too harsh on the skin.
Who is a good candidate for licorice root?
Licorice root is considered safe for all skin types – and like Dr. Jaliman mentions, it is even safe for pregnant women. Ali-Hope says it may be especially beneficial for oily or acne-prone skin, those looking to minimize the appearance of the aforementioned hyperpigmentation and sun damage, and anyone with dull skin. or lifeless needing a lift up.
However, as with any natural ingredient, there is always a risk of developing an allergic reaction. “So many natural products are actually a huge source of contact allergens,” says Dr. Puza. “We see patients every day who switch to a natural product, only to develop an itchy rash. Although generally non-irritating to the skin and harmless for the most part, the risk of developing a licorice root allergy is real. And while licorice root is also generally considered safe for darker skin tones, he still recommends people with melanin-rich skin to proceed with caution as it inhibits your body’s pigment production.
For these reasons, he says it’s best to patch any licorice root product on an inconspicuous part of the body (such as your inner forearm) for one to two weeks to see how your skin reacts, like you. would when introducing any new active into your routine.
So, if you’re looking to treat pigmentation issues with a mild topical product, it’s worth incorporating licorice root extract into your skin care routine. In fact, Dr Jaliman says it’s even more effective at treating these problems than vitamin C.
Coming up, eight remarkable products with licorice root extract to help brighten, unify, and revitalize your complexion.
We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR’s editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of the sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.