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.
Benefits of Licorice Extract For Skin
- Minimizes the production of tyrosinase to combat discoloration: The production of melanin (AKA pigment or color) is a complicated process, but at the heart of the matter is an enzyme known as tyrosinase. Licorice extract inhibits the production of tyrosinase, in turn inhibiting the production of dark spots.
- Removes excess melanin: Licorice extract brightens the skin in another way, too. “It contains liquiritin, an active compound that helps to disperse and remove existing melanin in the skin,” explains Chwalek. In other words, not only can it help prevent new spots from forming, it can also fade existing ones.
- Acts as a potent antioxidant: Like many other plant-based extracts, licorice contains a flavonoid, an antioxidant-rich component that decreases reactive oxygen species, which both age and discolor the skin, says Linkner.
- Offers anti-inflammatory benefits: While the flavonoid is anti-inflammatory in and of itself, there’s yet another molecule, licochalcone A, which inhibits two inflammatory markers that trigger the inflammatory cascade, Chwalek says.
- May help control oil production in the skin: Though this isn’t one of the more commonly agreed upon benefits, Chwalek says that there’s some evidence to suggest that that licochalcone A compound may have the added benefit of regulating oil production. It’s why licorice extract is often used in Ayurvedic medicine as a dandruff treatment.