milk thistle

The Power of Milk Thistle for Acne | A Comprehensive Guide

The Power of Milk Thistle for Acne | A Comprehensive Guide

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a natural herb traditionally used to support liver health.

Besides its use as a hepatic support, milk thistle can support detoxification and help with acne. The qualities of silymarin, silybin, silydianin, and silychristin combine to promote healthy skin.

Let’s explore the efficacy of milk thistle in detail, along with the mechanism of action and scientific evidence. Find out how it interacts with your body and deals with oxidative stress-induced skin damage!

The Science Behind Milk Thistle and Acne

Acne is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects 54% of people around the globe. Oxidative damage is one of the main contributors to acne, and the natural active compounds of milk thistle can help you with skin acne, redness, wrinkles, and dryness.

  • Silymarin and silybin can help reduce the adverse effects of free radicals. They act as antioxidants and enhance the activity of superoxide dismutase and other enzymes in the body. Also, they provide support against excessive accumulation of toxins so there are no acne flare-ups.
  • Along with handling toxins, milk thistle can help the liver to metabolize fats and store them in cells in the form of small packages. Hence, blocking them from reaching sebaceous glands and clogging the pores.
  • Hormonal fluctuations are one of the leading causes of acne. For example, a high level of estrogen increases skin oil production, clogs the pores, and leads to acne. Milk thistle can regulate your hormones and reduce sebum production. Hence, preventing whiteheads, papules, nodules, blackheads, and pimples.
  • To protect cells from oxidative damage, glutathione is a potent antioxidant compound. It detoxifies the chemicals that cause acne. Milk thistle can increase superoxide dismutase and glutathione levels to combat acne. Also, it can detoxify the heavy metals and prevent their interaction with the skin.
  • The anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle can relieve redness and skin irritation due to breakouts. The demulcent properties can make the skin smooth and glowing.

Scientific Evidence

The potential comedolytic properties of silymarin, a bioactive compound of milk thistle, are scientifically proven for scavenging free radicals and dealing with oxidative damage.

  • clinical trial tested the safety and efficacy of 0.5% silymarin-loaded antioxidant serum for moderate acne. The serum was applied two times a day, and after 4-weeks of application, sebum secretion, individual lesion count, skin pigmentation, and erythema were reduced. The melanin pigmentation was also decreased with no side effects.
  • Another research studied the effect of oral silymarin on oxidative stress and inflammatory processes of acne vulgaris. The treatment was compared to doxycycline and combination therapy. The results of doxycycline and silymarin were similar, and milk thistle can be used as a therapeutic option.
  • The UVB-protective properties of silymarin were also studied for skin protection against photo-aging. The results indicated that milk thistle can help with full-spectrum solar radiation and reduce sun damage.

Mechanism of Action

The flavonoids silymarin, including silydianin, silybin, and silychristin can interact with your body as:

  • Silymarin gets absorbed into your bloodstream and transported to the liver after ingestion. Phase 2 enzymes of detoxification metabolize it in the liver.
  • The antioxidant properties of silymarin counteract free radicals, preventing oxidative stress and enhancing the liver’s ability to remove harmful toxins.
  • Silymarin inhibits some inflammatory response enzymes and lowers inflammatory mediator production. It stabilizes the liver cell outer membranes and prevents toxins from entering. 
  • The choleretic effect of milk thistle increases bile production and flow, leading to better digestion and gastrointestinal health.
  • Milk thistle can benefit acne and skin health through anti-inflammatory properties, liver support, and antioxidant activity.

How to Use Milk Thistle for Acne?

Milk thistle is usually available as an oral supplement and you can use it two times a day. Topical milk thistle is sometimes found in moisturizers, face masks, and serums.

The composition and potency of milk thistle vary depending on the extraction method, therefore comparing treatments requires more research.

However, taking milk thistle supplements and using it topically is generally safe. Instead of replacing it with skin care treatments (salicylic acid or tretinoin), you can add it to your routine to prevent breakouts and improve your skin’s health.

Other Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

Apart from being a potential acne remedy, milk thistle offers other benefits:

  • Liver Protection: Milk thistle can offer complementary therapy for liver damage and conditions like alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and hepatitis. It can also extend the life expectancy of people with cirrhosis.
  • Bone Protection: For progressive bone loss and osteoporosis, milk thistle can stimulate bone mineralization and delay the loss.
  • Improve Cancer Treatment: The anti-cancer properties of milk thistle can make chemotherapy work more effectively and support undergoing treatment.
  • Regulate Blood Sugar: Milk thistle can decrease blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. They also reduce the risk of diabetic complications like kidney disease.

Precautions and Side Effects

Oral consumption is generally safe, but some people may experience side effects like loss of appetite, diarrhea, intestinal gas, nausea, fullness, and headache. Also, there is insufficient research about milk thistle use for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Better be on the safe side and avoid using it.

If you’re sensitive to the Asteraceae plant family, milk thistle may cause an allergic reaction. The members include ragweed, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and daisies. If you have any sensitivities, consult your doctor before using milk thistle.


Milk thistle is a promising remedy for acne, liver health, and bone protection. The anti-inflammatory properties support detoxification and prevent acne formation. 

Despite limited scientific evidence for its efficacy, there are minimal side effects of utilizing it as a supplement. Silymarin is a potent bioactive compound to improve skin complexion and overall health. You can reap the benefits of this holistic approach, and promote clearer and smoother skin. 

Disclaimer: Please note that the information in the article is for educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional before starting any supplement if you have any underlying conditions.


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