Licochalcone (Licorice Root Extract)
Powerful Molecule Contained in Licorice Root Extract
The Essential Information
Licochalcone is a molecule derived from a specific species of Chinese licorice root that helps calm acne-prone skin through its ability to:
- Control oil production: Less skin oil normally means less acne
- Keep acne bacteria in check: Acne is in part a bacterial disease
Reduce inflammation: Acne is at its root a chronic inflammatory disease
What Is Licochalcone?
Licorice root has been used in skin care for millennia. According to the National Cancer Institute, licorice root has "potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant...activities."
Licochalcone is a specific molecule contained in licorice root extract which helps control oil production, is anti-bacterial, and acts as an anti-inflammatory.1-4 In short, it helps calm and soothe acne-prone skin.
Expand the section below if you would like to read about the evidence showing that licochalcone may help with acne.2-4
Expand to read research evidence on licochalcone and acne
A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research in 2018 tested licochalcone on human skin cells grown in the lab and also on animals. The researchers found that licochalcone reduces skin inflammation caused by acne bacteria. They wrote, "Collectively, these data provide a novel...insight into the function of licochalcone A in the prevention or treatment of acne vulgaris."2
A study published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology in 2019 tested a licochalcone-based treatment on 91 patients with mild acne. The patients applied a fluid containing licochalcone A, salicylic acid, and L-Carnitine in the morning and a cream with licochalcone A and 10% hydroxy-complex at bedtime for 8 weeks. This treatment reduced the total number of acne lesions: the number of comedones decreased by 64% and the number of papules by 71%. In addition, skin oil production decreased by about 52%. The scientists wrote, "Our results suggest that the daily regimen based on Licochalcone A with Salicylic acid/L-Carnitine as fluid or with Hydroxy-Complex 10% as cream represent an interesting cosmetic approach for treating mild acne."3
Another study published in the same journal in 2019 tested a topical treatment containing licochalcone on 25 patients with mild-to-moderate acne. Each patient received a topical retinoid product containing adapalene and another product that contained adapalene together with licochalcone, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and gluconolactone. The patients applied one product to the left side of the face and the other to the right side of the face for 28 days. After this period, the researchers compared the two sides of the face. They found that both products equally reduced the number of acne lesions. However, a computer analysis of patient photos found fewer red acne lesions on the side treated with the product containing licochalcone. The researchers wrote, "this cosmeceutical product showed some benefits in reducing complications from acne."4
My Bottom Line on It
"I am skeptical of most extracts that come along, but when I learned about licochalcone at the Society of Cosmetic Chemists meeting about 12 years ago, I found it intriguing and decided it was worth a closer look. After doing more research, I found myself impressed by its potential. Several trustworthy mentors of mine in the acne community also espoused its oil-reducing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory capabilities--specifically its ability to interrupt the inflammation cascade right where acne-prone skin needs it. But as we all know, the proof is in the pudding. So I worked with our team of biochemists to make some test products with this ingredient, and I loved what they did for my skin. It is an extremely expensive ingredient to include, particularly when using it at its efficacious level, but I made the decision that it was worth it."
One Challenge It Presents
Licochalcone is not run-of-the-mill licorice root extract. Instead, it is one molecule from a specific species of licorice root extract that is isolated for our use. This makes it very expensive (over $7000 per kilogram). This is why you will not see it used in many products.
Where to Get It
Our store: Licochalcone is a key ingredient in Acne.org Moisturizer and Acne.org AHA+ (10% glycolic acid plus lichochalcone).
- Definition of licorice root extract. National Cancer Institute Drug Dictionary. 11 Jun. 2008. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/licorice-root-extract
- Yang, G., Lee, H. E., Yeon, S. H., Kang, H. C., Cho, Y. Y., Lee, H. S., Zouboulis, C. C., Han, S. H., Lee, J. H. & Lee, J. Y. Licochalcone A attenuates acne symptoms mediated by suppression of NLRP3 inflammasome. Phytother. Res. 32, 2551-2559 (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30281174
- Dall'Oglio, F., Fabbrocini, G., Tedeschi, A., Donnarumma, M., Chiodini, P. & Micali, G. Licochalcone A in combination with salicylic acid as fluid based and hydroxy-complex 10% cream for the treatment of mild acne: A multicenter prospective trial. Clin. Cosmet. Investig. Dermatol. 12, 961-967 (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32099436
- Kantikosum, K., Chongpison, Y., Chottawornsak, N. & Asawanonda, P. The efficacy of glycolic acid, salicylic acid, gluconolactone, and licochalcone A combined with 0.1% adapalene vs adapalene monotherapy in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris: a double-blinded within-person comparative study. Clin. Cosmet. Investig. Dermatol. 12, 151-161 (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30858720