By Kaitlyn McNab, she/her
For those that experience hyperpigmentation in any of its forms—sun spots, melasma, post inflammatory pigmentation—it can feel like treating dark spots on the skin is an endless process. The severity of hyperpigmentation depends on multiple factors, like one’s skin tone or how deep the excess pigment runs in the dermis. Usually, it’s the same reliable cocktail of ingredients that’s recommended for those hoping to reduce the appearance of dark spots: vitamin C, glycolic acid, retinoids, niacinamide. But there’s one more ingredient that can help brighten and even the complexion that deserves inclusion in that roundup: licorice root.
Licorice is an herb grown in eastern Mediterranean countries and western Asia that since ancient times has been used medicinally for its adaptogenic properties, as an expectorant, and even non-medicinally as a flavoring agent. (Though licorice isn’t actually what flavors the beloved movie theater snack; most “licorice” candies are actually flavored with the similarly-tasting anise oil.)
Licorice root’s primary active compound, glycyrrhizin, is what provides the plant’s anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. This triple-threat ingredient is still used medicinally today in supplement form to alleviate heartburn, acid reflux, coughs, and certain types of infections, in tea to soothe sore throat symptoms, and in topical gels to relieve eczema.
This is exactly what makes licorice root worthy of inclusion in skin brightening routines—as an antioxidant, it defends the skin from free radicals, which can stress and discolor the skin by increasing the spread of pigmentation, and inhibits tyrosinase, helping to prevent the over-production of melanin.
Licorice root’s anti-inflammatory abilities can help with the effects of PIH, soothing the skin and therefore helping to reduce the inflammation that causes the secondary pigmentation. Ideal for those hoping to manage and fade dark spots or treat irritated skin, licorice root is safe and gentle enough to be combined with certain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as mandelic acid, which smooths skin texture by lifting dull skin cells from the surface. Together they work to reduce the look of dark spots and even skin texture without irritation.
As always, when managing hyperpigmentation and using any ingredients that target pigment, be preventative by making sure to wear SPF daily to protect the skin from UV damage—regardless of whether you’re outside or inside.
Written by Kaitlyn McNab for Youth To The People