Is Licorice in Skincare Safe During Pregnancy?

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One of the first things newly pregnant women do after confirming their pregnancies is to start researching the things they shouldn’t eat while pregnant. Most women find out early on that they should avoid eating licorice, but what if licorice is part of your daily skincare routine? Is it safe?

There’s little to no scientific evidence concerning the safety or dangers of licorice skincare products. However, most doctors advise pregnant women to err on the side of caution and avoid skincare products with licorice in them while they’re pregnant and while breastfeeding postpartum.

This article will shed a little more light on this situation and give you some alternatives for licorice-based skincare products. Keep reading to find out more. 

Powder and licorice root on the table – Glycyrrhiza glabra.

Is Licorice Root Extract in Skincare Safe for Pregnancy?

Licorice root extract in skin care products may be safe for pregnant women to use. However, there’s no science to back this up, so if possible, avoid using any products with licorice root in them until after your baby is born and you’re done breastfeeding them.

It is unequivocally and without a doubt unsafe to ingest too much licorice while pregnant. Even eating just 250 grams (8.81 ounces) per week can put you at a higher risk for premature delivery or even a miscarriage.

Because of this, most women – even those who love licorice – cut it out entirely while pregnant (sources: WebMD & University of Rochester Medical Center). 

There hasn’t been enough research conducted on the ingestion of licorice while breastfeeding or the potential dangers of using licorice skincare products while pregnant to ascertain whether or not these things could harm your fetus or newborn. 

Plenty of websites and mommy blogs advise against using licorice skincare products during pregnancy. However, none of these – at least as far as my research has turned up – link to any conclusive scientific studies to back up their recommendation that you should not use skin care products with licorice in them.

However, when ingesting such a small amount of something (250 grams or 8.81 ounces) could have such potentially disastrous consequences, it’s always best to be overly cautious and avoid it altogether, even on the skin. 

Companies primarily use licorice in skin-lightening products because of an active ingredient, glabridin, that inhibits the enzyme that reacts to sun exposure (tyrosinase).

Glabridin also has the following biological properties:

  • Anti-osteoporotic 
  • Estrogenic
  • Antioxidant
  • Neuroprotective
  • Anti-atherogenic
  • Anti-inflammatory

Additionally, it may help regulate energy metabolism. In short, when you aren’t pregnant, it can do a lot of great things for you (source: Fitoterapia). 

In addition to the skin-lightening products, you can also find licorice and its active ingredients in products to treat the following issues:

Given these many benefits, companies often use licorice (or at least its active ingredient) in all kinds of cosmetics and body care products, including eye makeup, face creams, lip balm, lotions, and more. 

Fortunately, even though it’s used in so many different things, licorice is pretty easy to avoid. 

Simply check the ingredients list for either: 

  • Licorice
  • Licorice root
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra
  • Glabridin
  • Sweetroot (less common)

If you see any of these ingredients on the ingredients list, simply put the product back and get a similar one that doesn’t include any licorice-based products (sources: Cosmetics Info & University of Rochester Medical Center).

St. Luke’s Hospital has an entire list of licorice alternatives for every possible use for licorice. It breaks the other options down into different categories based on ailments. 

For example, licorice is suspected (but not proven) to treat gastritis. For people who may want to use it for this purpose, St. Luke’s offers these alternatives: 

Under the “inflammation” section, St. Luke’s lists over 25 different herbs you can use to treat inflammation other than licorice. However, make sure to also check those herbs to ensure they’re safe for use by pregnant women. Many of them will be, but as with all things when you’re pregnant, you need to be sure before using any of them.

To make your life a bit easier, I’ve provided some of the pregnancy-safe alternatives for topical licorice products below:*

  • Aloe vera: Use it for burns, inflammation, and acne
  • Echinacea: Use it for inflammation, psoriasis, and skin ulcers
  • Lavender: Use it for inflammation, burns, skin ulcers, dry scalp, and scalp itching
  • Roman Chamomile: Use it for eczema
  • Turmeric: Use it for pruritus and inflammation

*Note: These same products may not be safe if ingested. This list is for topical use only (sources: Moreland OB-GYN & RxList). 

Additionally, there are plenty of skincare products explicitly marketed for pregnant women. You should still check the ingredients list to be sure, but most of those should be safe to use.

Final Thoughts

There’s no conclusive evidence that using skincare products with licorice in them would hurt your baby if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. However, since ingested licorice can be dangerous, it would be best to avoid licorice-based skincare products if at all possible.