How can milk thistle benefit my skin?

Concerned a little too many summer days and nights out might be starting to show on your skin? Read on for milk thistle’s skin benefits, so you can keep a healthy complexion through a sociable summer, and beyond.

As longer days spill into warmer nights, it feels only right we celebrate with a drink or two — or three! If you’re feeling a little jaded, milk thistle can help relieve the symptoms associated with occasional overindulgence of food and drink, such as an upset stomach. But did you know this mauve marvel works wonders for your skin, too? Here we explain the relationship between the liver and the skin, and how you can support your liver to help your skin function at its best.

What is milk thistle?

This prickly plant with its burst of amethyst petals is a centuries-old herbal medicine used to relieve symptoms associated with overindulging in food and drink.

The flavonoids in the plant — silybum, silydianin and silicristin — extracted from the milk thistle seed, help repair liver cells damaged by alcohol and other toxins. Silybum, a deceptively ‘sily’ name, prevents toxins from attaching to liver cells, and has demonstrated significant regenerative and liver-protecting qualities in scientific study.*

Milk thistle can be taken when planning a big night out, as a preventative, and to alleviate symptoms the morning after. Taken daily, it can support a healthy digestive system, and improve liver health.

Aside from the role the liver plays in skin health, because of its detoxifying, protective and repairing qualities, milk thistle is highly beneficial for skin, too.

Skin: what’s your liver got to do with it?

You might be wondering whether your liver really has much to do with your skin.

It really does.

Your liver is your body’s second largest organ. Because of its far-reaching roles, when the liver isn’t working properly, it creates a range of other problems that end up affecting your body’s largest organ – the skin.

The liver is a hero. Its responsibilities are so many it would be exhausting just to read them listed out! The liver has around 500 essential jobs. Chief among them is the removal of all toxins — a hefty task in itself. But the liver is also responsible for making proteins and bile, breaking down all food, balancing cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and regulating your hormones.

A tired liver is no better than you at work after a heavy night. Tasks take much longer, and sometimes the job — cleansing the body of toxins — doesn’t get done at all, and someone else — the kidneys — have to pick up work that, technically, isn’t theirs. Predictably, the job doesn’t get done in exactly the same way. Without the liver taking control, the toxins end up getting processed through the skin, which makes skin conditions, like eczema, a lot worse.

A struggling liver causes constipation and bloating; problems with regulating sex hormones, blood sugar, and sleep. All of this will almost certainly show on your skin even in the short term, causing a dull complexion and/or breakouts.

Knock-on effects of these issues can cause further, longer-term problems. For example, imbalanced blood sugar can cause cravings for high-sugar foods, which, in turn, cause a loss of skin elasticity over time.

As well as helping the liver do its job, does milk thistle have specific skin benefits?

Milk thistle has a number of skin benefits.

This purple powerhouse is phenomenal at fighting free radicals, that is, chemicals that have built-up in the body and damage cells. It also protects the skin’s surface from other oxidative damage, such as from UVA and B rays, and pollution.

Milk thistle has been shown to have anti-aging effects on human skin cells in a laboratory environment. A 2019 study also found that the protective compounds in milk thistle may slow down skin ageing.

In addition to this, milk thistle’s high content of linoleic fatty acids helps create a shield on the epidermis, preventing moisture loss, which can lead to premature ageing, drying and breakouts.

How can I limit the amount of toxins in my body?

There are some toxins that are particularly damaging to the liver. These are called hepatotoxins (hepato meaning liver). Apart from certain fungal and bacterial toxins we might consume by accident, toxins that affect our liver — and (therefore) the rest of our bodies including the skin — include very ordinary things, like some medications. Paracetamol’s long term, continuous use can harm the liver, for example.

The liver is used to the many toxins it dispels on a daily basis, and not all of them will cause damage. There are some toxins we can’t do a whole lot about, and we shouldn’t worry excessively about those. But helping limit the number of toxins the body takes in, will ultimately help the liver, and ultimately improve your overall health — and your skin.

To limit the number of environmental toxins:

  • Wash non-organic fruit and veg  to remove pesticides and insecticides
  • Filter your drinking water
  • Reduce use of plastic in storing food (and never heat food in plastic)
  • Opt for more natural skincare, personal hygiene, and household cleaning products

How can I detox my liver for healthy skin?

A simple detox can help give your liver and elimination organs a spring clean and boost your skin. The most effective liver detox needn’t be complicated:

  • Drink less alcohol
  • Drink more water (approximately two litres a day)
  • Move your body through regular exercise
  • Eat organic where possible
  • Eat a rainbow of liver cleansing plants, from dark polyphenol-rich berries, like blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, right through to leafy greens like spinach, and kale and broccoli, whose bitter tastes mimic the secretion of digestive juices and ensure the functioning of the body’s detoxification process
  • Support your whole body with a herbal medicine to benefit the skin at a deep level, like HRI’s Milk Thistle, which is the highest strength milk thistle available on the market. The product also carries the THR (Traditional herbal registration) logo as a sign of high quality and safety.

A word on spinach: buy organic if you can, which can come at around the same price as non-organic in some supermarkets. Spinach has been shown to have more pesticide residue by weight compared to any of the other produce tested, according to the Environmental Working Group, 2019.

A healthier liver means healthier skin. Milk thistle’s antioxidising, protective and regenerative properties benefit the skin and the body as a whole. Try including milk thistle as part of a healthy lifestyle, to help the body cleanse itself, regenerate cells, and make for clearer, brighter, more beautiful skin.

*Gazak, Walterova, & Kren, 2007

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