Licorice root (liquorice root) extract protects skin against the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, according to new research published in the journal Experimental Dermatology.
Interestingly, the licorice root extract works by strengthening the skin’s own protective defense subsystems, rather than any specific direct action. Given the rising levels of sun-damage-induced skin damage in many parts of the world, the findings are certainly notable. And make you wonder if the rising levels of skin cancer seen over the last few decades are partly tied to changes in diet?
“We found out that the antioxidant active Licochalcone A, which is the main component of the root extract of the plant Glycyrrhiza inflata (Chinese Licorice), is able to protect the skin from subsequent UV irradiation damage from within by strengthening the skin’s own defense systems. Thus plant extracts with the described profile are able to provide a protective shield from sun exposure supporting and going beyond the action of sunscreens regarding sun protection,” explained Gitta Neufang, a researcher involved in the work, from Beiersdorf AG, Hamburg, Germany.
The process used by the researchers to test the effects of the plant-derived active Licochalcone A went like this:
– Researchers isolated human skin cells + irradiated them with solar simulated light mimicking sun exposure.
– It was observed that skin cells pretreated with Licochalcone A produced a notably higher quantity of ‘self-protecting’, antioxidant molecules — this coincided with the detection of significantly less harmful radicals in the Licochalone A treated human skin cells.
– The researchers then conducted a study with healthy volunteer research subjects — which demonstrated that the “application of a lotion containing Licochalcone A-rich root extract on the inner forearms for two weeks protected the skin from damage after UV irradiation”.
(Author note: Milk thistle extract has shown strong related effects in previous research as well.)
As noted in a recent press release: “These findings show that the skin’s own defense system can be stimulated by the application of licorice extract. In combination with UV-filters this approach therefore might provide superior sun protection by not only offering physical but also biological sun protection.”
“Even with the best sun-protecting filter system (SPF50+) 2% of UV-rays still reach the skin and cause damage. We hope that our study helps to improve the effectiveness of sunscreens to protect from the harmful aspects of sun exposure,” stated Gitta Neufang.
Interesting, makes you wonder what (if any notable) effect the consumption of licorice root extract has on skin defense. Licorice root extract of course has a number of other proven benefits, though, and a long history of medicinal use. (See: Licorice Root Extract, Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects)
So there are other reasons to eat it anyways. 🙂 Of course it should be remembered that most licorice sold in the US doesn’t actually contain licorice root anymore, but rather anise oil. The situation in Europe is a bit more varied — with licorice candy containing actual licorice root, and that containing anise, both being available.
A final note — while the type of licorice used in the study was Chinese Licorice, the active compounds are present in other varieties/species of licorice plant as well.
Image Credit: licorice plant via Wiki CC