What Is Silymarin?
Silymarin is the active component of the herb milk thistle. Milk thistly was first grown in Europe and has a history of use for liver and spleen obstruction, making it a traditional medicinal for jaundice. More recently, milk thistle has gained popularity in the beauty and skincare industry for its antioxidant properties. These antioxidant properties are due to the active component of the herb, silymarin.
Silymarin has been studied for its potential benefits to the prostate, lungs, central nervous system, pancreas, and of course, the skin. While much of the recent research has focused on the benefits it may provide as a supporting treatment for a number of diseases and illnesses, the research has not had a strong focus on the benefits to the skin. However, there have been a few studies that have looked into the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunomodulatory benefits that it may provide to the skin in the context of skin cancer prevention.
Silymarin isn’t actually one single ingredient, like many plant-based ingredients they are usually a complex mix of a number of compounds. This can make them harder to study and determine efficacy and safety. Silymarin, is no different, being made up of at least nine identified compounds. These compounds include silybin A, silybin B, isosilybin A, isosilybin B and flavonolignants such as silychristin, neosilyhermin, silyhermin and silydianin.
the good: It may help to protect the skin from UV damage by acting as an antioxidant. Silymarin may also have mild anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin.
the not so good: There has not been much research into the ingredient in the context of skincare and cosmetics.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients.
Keep an eye on: Keep an eye out for more research.
What Are The Benefits Of Silymarin?
Silymarin has antioxidant activity. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals are produced by a process called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals in the body. Things like exposure to UV rays, pollution, diet and smoking can contribute to this imbalance. Free radicals have been linked with premature aging, inflammation, breakdown of collagen fibers, and skin diseases such as cancer.
As silymarin has antioxidant properties it may help to reduce the effects of free radicals on the skin.
As part of silymarin being an antioxidant it may help to reduce the free radical damage that is caused by exposure to the sun. Many other antioxidants are used for this purpose such as vitamin E and vitamin C.
Silymarin has also been studied for its potential anti-inflammatory abilities. While most of the studies concern its use internally, there are a few studies that suggest that it may have anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin as well.
Inflammation in the skin is associated with a number of skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema and can also be a symptom of oxidative stress.
Milk Thistle vs Silymarin
Silymarin and milk thistle are almost one and the same. Silymarin is actually the active component to milk thistle. This means that silymarin is the main part of the milk thistle herb that provided benefits to the skin.
Silymarin is contained in the milk thistle plant or Silybum marianum L. Milk thistle is a member of the Carduus marianum family and is well known for its use in ancient and traditional medicinal practices.
The milk thistle plant is often grown in North America, Canada, Kashmir, and Mexico. It is a plant with large leaves and a reddish-purple thistle. The medicinal part of this plant, or where Silymarin can be found, is in the seeds or fruits.
Milk thistle was a herb that was used to treat conditions such as liver problems, gallbladder issues, alcohol abuse, snake bites, and mushroom poisoning. While we have many better treatments now, the use of milk thistle for these purposes is due to the active compound, silymarin.
Is Silymarin Vegan?
Silymarin is derived from the milk thistle plant. As silymarin is plant-derived the ingredient and the herb from which it is derived is considered to be vegan. However, if you are looking for vegan products it is also good to ensure the other ingredients in the formulation are vegan as well.
Is Silymarin Safe?
The biggest challenge with identifying the safety and efficacy of plant-based ingredients is that they are usually a complex mixture of a number of different compounds. Occasionally these compounds can interact with the body or each other, producing the desired benefits or sometimes, when interacting with the body, they can cause negative side effects.
The complexity of silymarin and its derivative herb makes it no exception. However, unlike some other plant-derived ingredients, there have been a number of studies that have evaluated its uses both as a dietary supplement, adjuvant treatment, and as a topical skincare ingredient. Silymarin and milk thistle are considered to be safe in their current uses and concentrations.
Vostálová J, Tinková E, Biedermann D, Kosina P, Ulrichová J, Rajnochová Svobodová A. Skin Protective Activity of Silymarin and its Flavonolignans. Molecules. 2019;24(6):1022. Published 2019 Mar 14.
Singh RP, Agarwal R. Cosmeceuticals and silibinin. Clin Dermatol. 2009;27(5):479-484.