Licorice Extract for Skin: Benefits and How to Use

Dermatologists weigh in on this natural remedy.

When it comes to fading spots, hydroquinone is the often-recommended derm favorite, available both by prescription and in lower concentrations over- the-counter. But there are numerous drawbacks to the highly potent ingredient, which is why more and more products now rely on natural alternatives. One of the best among them? Licorice extract, which, incidentally enough, works in a very similar way to hydroquinone. Here, dermatologist Rita Linkner, MD and dermatologist Jennifer Chwalek, MD, explain exactly how this natural standout gets the job done, and what else you need to know about it. Read on and see spots run.

Licorice Extract

Type of ingredient: Skin brightener

Main benefits: Inhibits the production of an enzyme needed to produce melanin (pigment) in the skin, helps remove excess melanin, has anti-inflammatory benefits.

Who should use it: Anyone looking to reap the spot-fading, skin tone-evening benefits, as well as those looking to soothe irritated skin. Plus, unlike many other similar ingredients, it's a good option for pregnant women looking for a safe way to treat melasma.

How often can you use it: This largely depends on the particular product formulation, but in most cases, once or twice a day, maximum, says Chwalek.

Works well with: Because of its main benefits, it's often mixed with other antioxidants and skin brighteners, such as niacinamide and vitamin C.

Don't use with: Because it does have the potential to be somewhat irritating, Linkner advises not using it in conjunction with retinol and/or hydroquinone.

What is Licorice Extract?

Like the sweet treat, it all comes back to the licorice plant (scientific term: Glycyrrhiza glabra...we'll just call it the licorice plant). The root of the plant has been used for medicinal purposes for years, and is where black licorice the candy comes from, but it's also the source of licorice extract used topically for skin. This extract is filled with a variety of beneficial compounds, which do everything from deliver antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to help fade dark spots. It's this latter effect that makes it a choice ingredient in many skin-brightening products. It even acts in a similar manner to hydroquinone (more on that in a minute), considered to be the gold-standard brightening ingredient, though notorious for its unwanted side effects and even potential safety concerns.

Side Effects of Licorice Extract

While this is a rare allergen, meaning it in and of itself is unlikely to cause an actual allergy, depending on what other ingredients it's mixed with, it can sometimes cause a reaction, notes Chwalek. Linkner notes that it can also be irritating for some. As a general rule, if you're concerned about it stressing out your skin, try any new products out on a small test spot before applying all over your face.

How to Use It

Like other spot-faders, it's a good idea to look for this in a serum, which will be more concentrated and contain higher amounts of the ingredient. Per the point about it being potentially irritating, be sure to follow exact product directions when it comes to how often and when to use it. And, while it should go without saying, be extra diligent about sun protection and daily SPF when using licorice extract (or any ingredient targeting hyperpigmentation). Sun exposure may counteract and thwart any of your skin-brightening efforts.

The Best Products With Licorice Extract

Along with licorice root, this product also contains kojic acid and lactic acid to help brighten dark circles, says Chwalek. Other high-power ingredients—think a non-irritiating retinol, vitamin E, green tea, hyaluronic acid, and algae extracts—also help hydrate and treat fine lines. Use it twice daily, underneath and around the eye (though avoid applying on the upper lid).

As anyone who has ever dealt with a massive, stubborn pimple (AKA everyone) will tell you, even once the culprit itself is gone, it can leave behind a lingering reminder in the form of a pesky new dark mark. (The technical term for this is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.) Enter the beauty of this treatment, which packs both ingredients to knock out current blemishes, such as salicylic acid, as well as ingredients to ward off any accompanying spots, such as licorice extract and glycolic acid.

Naturals for the win. “This product contains two other plant-based, skin- brightening agents—Gigawhite and a natural hydroquinone alternative derived from the African potato and tara tree—in addition to the licorice root extract,” says Chwalek. Couple that with the addition of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and Coenzyme Q10, and you have a recipe for a more even and radiant complexion. Also nice: You can use it on its own, or mix a few drops into a mask for added brightening benefits.

Per the point of licorice extract being a great anti-inflammatory and calming ingredient, this serum works quickly to soothe stressed skin. Glycerin combats dryness, green tea extract offers antioxidant protection, and licorice extract tamps down redness. Also worth noting: The brand uses a unique type of seaweed encapsulation technology to ensure all of these active ingredients stay fresh and potent...AKA effective.

Long story short, yes. Studies have shown that licorice root extract contains compounds called liquiritin and licochalcone which both inhibit your body from making tyrosinase. This slows down the process where your skin produces melanin, so over time, your skin can become lighter.

Licorice root extract has no known side effects on acne prone skin.

In most cases, products containing licorice root extract are safe to use up to two times a day.

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