Healthy Skin from Within: A focus on liver health & milk thistle
- The skin has numerous functions, including playing a role in excretion and therefore detoxification
- Dysfunction in organs that play a role in excretion and detoxification can lead to skin problems
- Bringing a focus to supporting the liver can assist with skin conditions and skin health
- Milk thistle is a liver-loving herb to consider when looking to improve your skin health
By Tamara Welsh, Happy Herbalist
Our remarkable skin
If you stop and consider the functions of the skin that covers your entire body, you quickly realise the marvel that it is. Skin is incredibly porous yet protective. It shields us from the outside world including light, temperature extremes, chemicals and infection. It is soft and malleable all while helping to prevent injury. It is even home to its own natural community of micro-organisms. Our skin is truly amazing!
The skin is also a large detoxification organ playing a role in excretion, the elimination of substances in the body. Many of us a familiar with sweat and associate it as the mechanism our body uses to cool us down if we become hot. However, sweat is also a vehicle for excretion, it consists of water salts, carbon dioxide, ammonia and urea. Thus, any dysfunction of the skin in excretion will put stress on the other eliminative organs and visa versa. Often skin conditions are a result of internal dysfunction within these organs including the liver, kidneys and bowel or issues with the circulation. The use of herbs for skin conditions will therefore be highly individual depending upon the root cause or causes of the condition. That said, in my clinical practise I have often found that supporting the liver is paramount in shifting stubborn skin conditions. It can also help those who are just looking to boost their excretion pathways and glow, from the inside out.
Milk Thistle: The liver-loving herb
Silybum marianum known commonly as St Mary’s Thistle or Milk thistle is a well-known herb with a 2000-year history of use. It is indicated in liver disease such as hepatitis and cirrhosis but it is also useful for all conditions arising from hepatotoxicity. This can be from excessive alcohol use, prescription or elicit drug use, overeating or poor diet, environmental chemicals or an excess in hormones. When you consider the main actions of Milk thistle, you can see how why it is considered an effective tool in improving the function of the liver:
Main actions of Milk thistle:
- Hepatoprotective– protects hepatocytes (liver cells) against toxic damage
- Hepatotrophorestorative– restores the integrity of liver tissue
- Choleretic– increases the production of bile by the liver
- Antioxidant– protects against oxidation from free radicals
Interestingly, some studies have shown that the constituents in Milk thistle may also help to protect the skin from harmful UV damage and slow down skin photoaging. Silymarin, one of the active ingredients of Milk thistle has also been reported to play a role in the treatment of alopecia (hair loss), wound repair and healing. Additionally, Silymarin has also been shown to reduce the impact of acne medication on liver enzymes.
It is the seed of Milk thistle that is used therapeutically so the herb can be purchased as a powder to be added to foods or drinks or used in capsules, as well as liquid extract/tincture or spagyric.
Milk thistle is contraindicated only where a known allergy to the herb or other plants in the Asteraceae (Daisy) family is present. Milk thistle is cautioned in patients with gallstones, due to the potential for impacted gallstones and obstructed bile ducts. It is also necessary to take care when taking Milk thistle alongside other prescription medication as it may affect the clearance rate of the medication.
All in all, Milk thistle is considered a safe herb to take on a daily basis and could assist with skin health, particularly if the liver is under undue stress. Have you felt the benefits of Milk thistle or are you keen to try it? I’d love to hear from you! Email your comments or questions to [email protected].
- Vostálová J, et al., Skin Protective Activity of Silymarin and its Flavonolignans. Molecules. 2019 Mar 14;24(6):1022. doi: 10.3390/molecules24061022. PMID: 30875758
- Rajnochová Svobodová A, et al., A pilot study of the UVA-photoprotective potential of dehydrosilybin, isosilybin, silychristin, and silydianin on human dermal fibroblasts. Arch Dermatol Res. 2019 Aug;311(6):477-490. doi: 10.1007/s00403-019-01928-7. Epub 2019 May 11. PMID: 31079190.
- Cheon H.I., et al., Flavonoid Silibinin Increases Hair-Inductive Property via Akt and Wnt/β-Catenin Signaling Activation in 3-Dimensional-Spheroid Cultured Human Dermal Papilla Cells. J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 2019;29:321–329.
- Mirnezami M, et al., The effect of silymarin on liver enzymes in patients taking isotretinoin: A randomized clinical trial. Dermatol Ther. 2020 Mar;33(2):e13236. doi: 10.1111/dth.13236. Epub 2020 Feb 10. PMID: 31997509.
Happy Herb Co provides referenced information for educational purposes only and does not make any therapeutic claims for any of their products.
Please seek advice from a healthcare provider if you wish to use herbs for therapeutic purposes.