Licorice and Acne

Licorice (Liquirtae officinalis) has traditionally been administered orally or topically for herbal medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It was used to treat a variety of health conditions, including dermatitis, eczema, and infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.1-2

The two species of licorice that have been found to possess therapeutic properties are Glycyrrhiza glabra (native to the Middle East, Russia, and Mediterranean countries) and Glycyrrhiza inflata (native to China).3 Added to food and beverages as a flavoring, modern use of licorice also includes topically as an anti-inflammatory agent (in Europe) and in shampoo to reduce the secretion of sebum.1-2 Licorice continues to be frequently used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).4

Antibacterial, Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, and Androgen-Regulating

Laboratory and animal studies indicate that components of licorice root appear to possess anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that reduce redness. A form of licorice extract, licochalcone A, has been shown to effectively treat rosacea.2

In clinical studies healthy subjects who consumed seven grams a day of licorice showed decreased levels of testosterone in their blood.1 One constituent, glycyrrhetinic acid, appears to inhibit an enzyme that is a precursor to androgen hormones, which may explain licorice’s inhibitory effects on sebum production.1 Although normal amounts of sebum are necessary to keep skin healthy, excess production of these natural oils can lead to the development of acne.5 Other components of licorice have known antioxidant properties.3Laboratory experiments show that licorice also has antibacterial properties against Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), and does not appear to cause bacterial resistance. 6

Safety

Although licorice has GRAS status in the U.S., consumption of only five grams per day can cause serious health problems in people with high blood pressure or heart and kidney conditions. Combining this amount of licorice with high levels of salt consumption also increases the risk of severe adverse effects, as does long-term use or consuming 30 grams or more a day for several weeks.1 For these reasons patients with hypertension are advised not to consume or use licorice.4

People taking warfarin should not consume licorice because it appears to decrease the blood levels of this anticoagulant drug.1 It is also not recommended for pregnant women or patients with cirrhosis of the liver.4 Theoretically licorice’s hormonal effects could decrease libido and aggravate erectile dysfunction.1

How to Use

There are no formal recommended dosages for licorice to treat acne. One product sold for indigestion that contains licorice had a recommended use of one mL three times a day—the equivalent of 0.6 teaspoons in total daily.1 There are multitudes of skin care products that contain licorice readily available online and at retail locations. Be careful not to exceed 250 mg of glycyrrhizin daily.4

If your dog suffers from atopic dermatitis, Addison’s disease, or ulcers you can try adding some licorice-infused water to his food or drink. Steep 5-30 grams of the dry herb per cup of water to prepare. Daily dosage levels should be figured at 0.25-0.50 cups per 20 lbs. of body weight, and then divided into three separate doses.4


References:
  1. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Licorice Full Monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. [Online] 2011. [Cited: January 18, 2011.] http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=&s=ND&pt=100&id=881&ds=&name=Glycyrrhiza+Glabra+(LICORICE)&searchid=24700147.
  2. Baumann, Leslie and Allemann, Inja Bogdan. Depigmenting Agents. [book auth.] Leslie, Saghari, Sogol, Weisberg, Edmund Baumann. Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice. New York: McGraw Hill Professional, 2009, 33. ISBN 0071490620, 9780071490627.
  3. Castanedo-Tardan, Mari Paz and Baumann, Leslie. Anti-Inflammatory Agents. [book auth.] Leslie, Saghari, Sogol, Weisberg, Edmund Baumann. Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice. New York: McGraw Hill Professional, 2009, 35. ISBN 0071490620, 9780071490627.
  4. Wynn, Susan G. and Fougère, Barbara. Veterinary herbal medicine. s.l.: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007. ISBN 0323029981, 9780323029988.
  5. Layton, A.M. Disorders of the Sebaceous Glands. [ed.] D.A. Burns, et al. Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology. 8th. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010, Vol. 2, 42. ISBN: 978-1-4051-6169-5.
  6. Reuter, Juliane, Merfort, Irmgard and Schempp, Christoph M. Am J Clin Dermatol. 11(4): Botanicals in Dermatology: An Evidence-Based Review. Medscape Today. [Online] 2010. [Cited: January 18, 2011.] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/723144_2.
Many products that have licorice flavoring are actually flavored with anise, however, and do not actually contain licorice.
Found in Eucerin Redness Relief™ skin care products.
A common bacteria found on human skin that is involved in causing acne.
 
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