For most of us, licorice is synonymous with candy. It’s more the sugar that helps the medicine go down than the medicine, as it contains a compound that is 50 times sweeter than sugar. In fact, the flavorful herb has been used for thousands of years to treat various ailments, from the common cold to liver disease.
The same soothing, healing, and anti-inflammatory properties that make licorice root—sometimes known as sweet root—popular in medicinal remedies also make it an excellent choice for body- and skincare. “Licorice root is a member of the bean family, and the beneficial properties are found in the plant’s roots and stem,” explains Teresa Stenzel, Bioelements education materials and communications manager. “Used for its calming, comforting, and anti-irritant properties, licorice root helps to keep the skin even-toned and soothed.”
And, says Jacob Vann, corporate educator at Pevonia Botanica, our collective childhood memories of the delicious candy create a buzz around licorice-themed spa services, because licorice extract can soothe more than just a sweet tooth. “Licorice root extract has been acclaimed since ancient civilizations for its empowering results, even prior to the discovery of its true components,” says Vann.
“Once modern scientists seriously studied this extract, they found it is a naturally rich source of flavonoids, polysaccharides, phytoestrogens, and amino acids. These same components make licorice root extract ideal for treating erythrose, erythrocouperose, acne, and rosacea by helping to decongest dilated capillaries, aid in healing, and serve as an anti-allergenic ingredient.”
The Spa at Le Merigot (Santa Monica, CA), for example, features Pevonia Botanica products in its Calming Rose Facial ($140, 50 minutes; $175, 80 minutes), which is designed to treat rosacea. In addition to licorice, it uses chamomile and green tea to bring visual relief to the skin.
Besides helping to treat rosacea, licorice root can be used to even out blotchy skin—from old acne scars, sun damage, or malasma, for example. “Licorice is great for those looking to reduce all forms of skin discoloration by brightening and evening the skintone overall with little risk of side effects and irritation,” says April Zangl, CEO of HydroPeptide.
Licorice extract contains glabridin, a flavonoid that inhibits pigmentation. It is a skin brightener rather than a bleaching agent—such as hydroquinone—so it can be used all over the face to lighten blotchy skin discolorations caused by skin trauma, acne, and more. In 2000, the International Journal of Dermatology published a clinical trial involving people with melasma and found that those who applied a cream containing the licorice extract twice each day for one month experienced a 70-percent improvement in their condition, versus 20 percent for those taking a placebo. “Because licorice is so soothing, it is also commonly recommended to help treat eczema, psoriasis, and canker sores,” says Zangl.
The HydroPeptide Facial ($99, 1 hour 45 minutes) at InSpa (Seattle) infuses skin with peptides and natural antioxidants—including licorice root—to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, immediately revealing smooth, glowing skin. “The coolest thing about licorice root is that it’s a lightener and brightener, so after several uses, it helps diminish hyperpigmentation,” says Kristi Slotemaker, chief director of stores and operations for InSpa. “Clients with skin problems from eczema to psoriasis will also benefit from licorice root’s natural analgesic qualities as it reduces irritation and soothes the skin.”
In a nod to licorice’s ancient roots, Faces Spa (Omaha, NE) uses American Indian spiritual techniques to incorporate healing hands, stone therapy, lactic acid, and licorice root to purge skin toxins, increase cellular activity, rejuvenate facial muscles, and reduce facial lines and wrinkles. Its Spiritual Skin Healing ($125, 40 minutes) treatment indulges the skin and refreshes the soul with GlyMed Plus’s Living Cell Clarifier, which contains licorice to help brighten the skin. “Every skin type is susceptible to inflammation, which drives the unwanted aging process of the skin,” says Christine L. Heathman, CEO and president of GlyMed Plus. “Licorice can be used to treat daily pigmentation and skin aging challenges.”
Snips SpaSalon (Bloomington, MN), which uses Bioelements products, also combines licorice root extract with powerful peptides to provide anti-aging benefits in its Classic Facial (starting at $65, 60 minutes) and Corrective Facial (starting at $80, 60 minutes). “Guests who are reluctant to have a facial because of sensitivity or who have previously had negative experiences with facials that were too aggressive leave with skin that feels calm and comfortable,” says esthetician Laura Kania. And because inflammation plays a role in acne, uneven pigmentation, and premature aging, licorice root extract can benefit spa guests who don’t necessarily use the word sensitive to describe their skin.
Licorice root’s healing properties work internally, as well. Jonathan Selzer, M.D., uses licorice root in most of HerbaSway’s liquid supplements—liquid concentrates are better absorbed into the bloodstream compared to multi-vitamin pills, he says—for its adaptogenic properties. “It helps people regain balance,” says Selzer.
While licorice, with the active ingredient of the sweet compound glycyrrhiza, can increase blood pressure, another type of licorice, DGL or deglycyrrhizinated licorice, doesn’t seem to have the same effects, and, as such, is used in HerbaSway’s products. “If you’re looking for detoxification, or to support liver health, licorice is very good,” says Selzer. It can be found in HerbaSway’s beauty drink, Purity, which helps purify the liver and cleans the body of toxins, and in the detox supplement Passion, a cranberry, elderberry, and licorice blend that addresses kidney concerns.
With its celebrated benefits for both internal and external organs, licorice root services provide a tasty treat year-round. “Licorice root treatments are easy to promote anytime of the year when you educate your clients about its supreme healing powers,” says Vann. “Once your clients are aware of the benefits this active extract has on their skin, then building a promotion is easy.”
Whet spa-goers appetites by adding licorice root-themed treatments to your menus. Educating your clients about its soothing, anti-aging properties is sure to entice more than just candy lovers, and the added business it brings into your spa is the sweetest taste of all.