Lic-Or-Ice Is The New Spring Protective Ingredient

licoriceLicorice root extract has a long history for its flavor in food and drinks as well as for its anti-inflammatory properties in medicinal preparations, but did you know that it can also play a role in promoting healthy skin?  As an active ingredient in skin care treatments, licorice root extract does double duty by lightening dark spots as a botanical alternative to hydroquinone while offering protection against UV damage.

As a skin lightener, licorice root contains a compound called glabridin which suppresses pigmentation by stalling melanin production.  It accomplishes this by hampering tyrosinase activity, the enzyme responsible for producing melanin.  For those who are not able to tolerate hydroquinone, licorice root extract offers a plant-based option with few side effects or allergic reactions.  Irritation is also rare, most likely due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

As protection against UV damage, new research has been focused on another of licorice root extract’s compounds called Licochalcone A, an antioxidant that has the unique ability to boost the body’s own defensive system against skin-damaging free radicals.  When the skin is exposed to daily assaults by environmental hazards, pollution and UV rays, the body’s natural defense kicks in to eliminate the free radicals that are generated.  Using a lotion containing Licochalcone A, researchers found that pretreated skin cells in a laboratory setting produced a higher amount of antioxidant molecules and, as a result, significantly fewer harmful free radicals. A subsequent study on volunteers supported those findings by showing how licorice root extract was able to protect from UV damage by stimulating the skin’s own defense system.

Another new research project that backs this concept was published in Experimental Dermatology introduces a new plant-sunscreenderived agent, which protects skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation. “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,” says Gitta Neufang, a researcher involved in the work from Beiersdorf AG (Hamburg, Germany). “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.” Neufang and colleagues isolated human skin cells and irradiated them with solar simulated light mimicking sun exposure. They were able to show that skin cells pretreated with licochalcone a produced a higher amount of self-protecting, antioxidant molecules. Consequently, significantly fewer harmful radicals were detected in licochalone a treated human skin cells. In addition, they also conducted a study with healthy volunteers demonstrating 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.

The hope is to use licorice root extract as a means to boost the effectiveness of sunscreens. 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.  No sunscreen is able to block out 100% of the sun’s damaging rays.  Even SPF 50 products only block up to 98%. Researchers are hoping to make up the 2% gap by using new information about licorice root extract to boost the body’s own defensive systems.

~ Courtesy of American Spa Magazine

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