Licorice Root for Skin: Can it Really Help with Dark Spots & Wrinkles?

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Just about everyone is familiar with licorice. Whether you love it or hate it, this ingredient not only features in numerous sweet treats, but has also been used in traditional medicine for centuries. While its reputed benefits have always been quite anecdotal, science has now caught up. Turns out, in addition to offering a range of health benefits, licorice root can also work wonders on the skin.

What is Licorice Root Extract?

Licorice root is a herb. It comes from the licorice plant, which is officially known as glycyrrhiza glabra. The licorice plant is fuzzy and leafy, with an extensive root system that’s harvested for its medicinal prowess.

Once glycyrrhiza glabra roots have been dried and trimmed, they look just like a bunch of sticks. They’re then processed to produce licorice root extract, which is how the ingredient is used in skin care products.

Licorice roots on the table

The Skin Benefits of Licorice Root

When it comes to your skin, licorice root extract can help in a number of ways:

Fades and Prevents Dark Spots

The most revered benefit of licorice root extract is the way in which it can treat hyperpigmentation. It can lighten and brighten dark spots without any of the side effects that other brightening ingredients bring.

How exactly is it able to target hyperpigmentation so effectively? Firstly, it contains a compound called glabridin that inhibits the production of the tyrosinase enzyme in the body [1]. This enzyme is responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Sun exposure causes melanin production to go into overdrive, meaning that interfering with this process stops excess melanin production, therefore preventing dark spots from forming.

But what about those dark spots that are already there? This is where liquiritin comes in, an active compound within licorice extract that’s able to disperse melanin clusters in the skin. This helps to fade existing areas of excess pigmentation, leaving you with an even and balanced skin tone.

Antioxidant Effects

Not only does over-exposure to UV rays lead to hyperpigmentation, but sun damage also triggers the development of free radicals in the skin. These are unstable molecules that wreak havoc in skin cells, destroying structural protein fibers and damaging cell DNA. Free radicals are to blame for premature skin aging and so many other skin conditions.

The only way to fight free radicals is with the use of antioxidants. There are hundreds of antioxidants out there, but licorice root extract contains a couple of extra-potent antioxidant compounds. The first is called glycyrrhizin. Not only does this acid give licorice its sweet flavor, but it also acts as a powerful antioxidant [2].

Next up, we’ve got licochalcone A. This molecule has a few interesting properties, one of which is its ability to stimulate the skin’s production of natural antioxidants. This then leaves the skin better equipped to defend itself against environmental damage, including the sun and UV rays, in the future.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is something that everybody should be trying to avoid. Not only is it responsible for several inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and acne, but it also speeds up the skin aging process.

Fortunately, licorice root extract contains a few different compounds that can help. Licochalcone A, which was mentioned above, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It puts a stop to inflammation before it even begins, enabling it to protect the skin from all of the damage that inflammation can cause. You’ll notice a reduction in redness and irritated skin after using licorice root extract for a while.

Woman having irritated skin gestures

Glycyrrhizin, another compound that we’ve already discussed, contributes to this too. It’s also an effective anti-inflammatory that can soothe irritation and calm the skin. This is why research on the use of licorice root extract as a topical treatment for eczema and acne has shown great promise so far [3].

Regulates Oil Production and Prevents Breakouts

There’s definitely not a shortage of acne treatments available on the market. However, many of these act as a treatment for existing breakouts, failing to protect the skin from future spots. The only way to really do this is to tackle the root cause of pimples, which is usually down to over-active oil glands. This means that you’ll need to use topical ingredients that can regulate the amount of oil produced by your sebaceous glands, which is something that licorice root extract excels at.

Again, these properties are thanks to the licochalcone A in licorice extract. The fact that licorice also has anti-inflammatory properties helps with breakouts too, making this ingredient a very promising way to treat pimples.

Boosts Collagen and Elastin Production

We’ve already touched upon a couple of the ways in which licorice extract can help with skin aging. It contains antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, and also keeps inflammation to a minimum. However, these are preventative steps – if you really want to eradicate fine lines and wrinkles, you’ll need a more proactive approach.

Just about every dermatologist will agree that it’s extremely important to boost collagen and elastin production if you’re looking for significant anti-aging results. Collagen and elastin are the two main proteins that give your skin its firmness and smoothness. Sadly, they decline with age, which is why wrinkles and creases become more prominent.

Increasing protein production is yet another benefit that comes from using licorice extract for skin. Apply it regularly and these anti-aging benefits will become even more apparent – your skin will look tighter, bouncier, and younger. It will also thicken up and become stronger, enabling your skin cells to function more efficiently.

Woman taking collagen pills

How to Add Licorice Extract to Your Skincare Routine

Licorice root extract is available in many forms – the best one for you will depend on the skin conditions you’re trying to treat. Serums containing the extract tend to be popular for dealing with pigmentation and sun damage, simply because they usually contain higher concentrations of the ingredient. Search for a serum that’s also formulated with vitamin C, ideally in the form of ascorbic acid, for even better lightening and brightening benefits.

If you often experience irritated skin, a serum may be too strong for you. In this case, search for a cream, a face mask, or a gel that features licorice extract. Gel products are especially beneficial for those with redness or sensitivities, as they feel very soothing and cooling when applied to the skin.

When it comes to anti-aging, search for a licorice product that also contains vitamin A, vitamin C, and green tea. This combination provides the skin with a potent blend of compounds that will not only treat fine lines and wrinkles, but will also protect the skin from environmental damage.

Does Licorice Root Have Any Side Effects?

Being a natural, plant-based ingredient means that licorice root extract is generally safe for all skin types. That said, those who have sensitivities may experience some irritation, making it worth doing a patch test before using this active ingredient on your face for the first time.

Please note that while licorice root extract itself may not cause any serious side effects, you’ll need to also pay attention to the other ingredients in the licorice product that you choose to ensure that you aren’t allergic to any of them.


Beautiful woman at the seaside

Does licorice root lighten skin?

Licorice root extract lightens areas of the skin that contain excess melanin, meaning areas that are darker than the rest. However, while it’s great for brightening hyperpigmentation, it won’t lighten your natural skin tone.

How do you apply licorice root to skin?

Look for a serum, cream, or gel that has been formulated with licorice root extract, and then apply the product to your face as part of your existing skincare routine.

Can you put licorice root on your face?

Yes, licorice root extract is safe to be used on the face. It’s a popular beauty ingredient that will help to soothe and brighten the skin on your face.


If you’ve been looking for a multi-purpose, plant-based skincare ingredient that offers anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and brightening benefits…you’ve found it. There are now so many studies out there confirming the many ways in which licorice root extract can improve the skin, making it hardly surprising that more and more skincare brands are now including this botanical in their formulas. This means that the ingredient is now easier than ever to find, making it well worth adding into your skincare routine.



Avatar for Megan Foley

Megan has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. In that time, she’s penned a diverse collection of articles for online publication, with a focus on skincare and beauty. From in-depth product reviews to concise marketing content, Megan is passionate about developing content that informs, entertains, and inspires.