Milk Thistle for Acne
Disclaimer: This content has been produced purely for informational and educational purposes only and is never intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical guidelines including diagnosis, advice, and treatment.
Milk thistle is a natural herb with purple flowers and has been used in traditional medicine to treat liver diseases. The plant originated in Mediterranean regions and is grown in California and other parts of the world. Milk thistle possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, also known as “hepatic galactagogue, demulcent, and chalogogue”.
Besides using as a hepatic tonic, milk thistle is also widely used to treat various skin diseases including acne. Modern science has unrevealed its various health benefits and beneficial effects of milk thistle for acne and other skin diseases.
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle scientifically known as Silybum marianum is a herb that has been used for thousands of years due to its healing properties. In 40 AD a Greek physician and philosopher named Dioscorides described the health-promoting abilities of this natural herb.
On crushing, the plant’s leaves give a milky white liquid and contain a white pattern of spots that looks like leaves are dunked in the milk giving the herb name "milk thistle or Mary thistle". It is also referred to as holy thistle and Silybum.
Milk thistle has been used to treat a broad spectrum of health conditions ranging from weight loss to skin health and increasing milk production. This potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb is available in different dosage forms like milk thistle capsules, tablets, powder, extract, tincture and tea.
Is Milk Thistle Effective for Acne?
Acne is a common skin condition affecting 54% of people around the globe in their teens or adulthood. Acne sufferers go for different creams, lotions, and soap to get rid of acne. Most of the cream contains benzoyl peroxide which gives temporary relief from acne but can cause skin cancer.  
You may have heard a lot of natural remedies that treat and prevent acne breakouts. One of those herbal remedies includes milk thistle with skin protective properties.
How does It work?
Milk thistle contains two bioactive compounds silymarin and silibinin that are potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds help the liver in detoxification and prevent acne in the following ways.
Fight of Toxins
Acne appears when there is an excessive accumulation of toxins, and the body tries to get rid of these toxins. Liver is responsible for detoxification and converting these toxins to waste products. These waste products are then excreted through urine, stool, and sweating. If there is a disturbance in this normal process, toxins get accumulated, and the body attempts to push the toxins through the skin leading to acne flares.
Milk thistle contains antioxidant compounds silymarin which counteracts the effects of free radicals and supports the liver in detoxification that prevent acne. 
In addition to handling toxins, the liver also helps metabolize the fats and transform them into small packages which are then stored in the cells. When liver is unable to metabolize fat, fats circulate in the bloodstream and reach sebaceous glands leading to clogging the pores.
Milk thistle has potential to metabolize fats by increasing bile production and preventing the formation of acne.
Balance Hormone Levels
Acne may also result from a disturbance in hormone levels, for instance, increased estrogen levels stimulate oil production on the skin that clogs the pores leading to the development of acne. Milk thistle can regulate hormone levels which reduce the risk of acne.
Reduce Sebum Production
Overproduction of sebum makes the skin prone to acne and pimples. This sebum interacts with skin dead cells and acne-causing bacteria resulting in clogging the pores. Clogged pores may cause whiteheads, blackheads, papules, nodules, and pimples. Chemical compounds in milk thistle have the potential to naturally suppress the enzymes responsible for sebum production. 
Improve Glutathione Production
Glutathione is a compound with potent antioxidant properties protecting the cells from oxidative damage. Most people suffering from acne have low levels of glutathione than normally required. Glutathione helps the body detoxify the chemicals responsible for causing acne. 
Heavy metals like mercury and arsenic interact with skin cells and cause inflammation and acne. Milk thistle can detoxify these heavy metals and convert them to compounds that are not reactive to skin cells and prevent acne and other skin conditions.
In addition to glutathione, milk thistle can also increase levels of superoxide dismutase, another powerful antioxidant. This antioxidant compound has the potential to reduce inflammation, prevent clogging of pores, and combat acne. 
May Reduce Cellular Inflammation
Owing to anti-inflammatory activities, milk thistle is considered an effective remedy for inflammatory skin conditions including acne. This anti-inflammatory potential can relieve skin irritation and reduce redness caused by acne breakout. 
Silymarin and silibinin also possess demulcent properties that can improve skin tone making it smooth and glowing. Chemical compounds in milk thistle may reduce ugly scars caused by acne breakouts. This is the reason most dermatological products contain milk thistle extract containing silymarin and silibinin that help soothe skin conditions.
Other Benefits of Milk Thistle
- When exposed to sunlight, ultraviolet rays of the sun can damage the skin resulting in sunburn and skin cancer. Research revealed that silymarin and silibinin protect the skin from harmful rays of the sun and reduce the risk of cancer.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of milk thistle neutralize harmful effects of free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, prevent cellular damage and slow the aging process. 
- These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of silymarin and silibinin help relieve skin rashes. Milk thistle extract when applied topically or taken in a supplement, can treat skin irritation and rashes.
- Studies concluded that the application of creams with 4% milk thistle extract provides moisturizing effects on the skin.
- According to a study, 96 individuals with hyperpigmentation (melasma) were divided into 3 groups. They were instructed to use either 7mg/ml silymarin cream, 14mg/ml silymarin cream, or placebo cream. After 4 weeks, there was reported a significant reduction in melasma in 2 groups treated with silymarin. 
- Milk thistle supplements, when used in moderate quantities, can reduce triglycerides, LDL (bad cholesterol), and total cholesterol levels and protect heart health. 
- A study showed that silymarin supplement, when used for 4 weeks, resulted in regulating blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of diabetes. 
- Milk thistle has the potential to stimulate bile flow, improve liver detoxification, prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases and reduce the risk of gall stones. 
Possible Risks or Side Effects
Milk thistle is usually safe when used in moderate quantities however, it may cause some side effects including gastrointestinal problems.
It may interact with some medications like blood thinners, antiallergic, and anti-anxiety drugs and should be consumed after consulting with your health care provider.
Milk thistle has strong antioxidant properties and can interact with chemotherapy medication and prevent cell death of cancer cells.
Milk thistle is a natural remedy to treat a variety of conditions such as high cholesterol, raised sugar levels, preventing gallstones, and helping in liver detoxification. Silymarin and silibinin, the bioactive compounds of milk thistle, contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and make this herb an effective natural remedy to treat acne and other skin conditions.
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