Well that is exactly what is happening after new research, published in the January 2015 issue of Experimental Dermatology, shows that introducing the new plant-derived agent protects skin from the harmful effects of UV irradiation.
"We found out that the antioxidant active Licochalcone A, which is the main component of the root extract of the plant Glycyrrhiza inflata (Chinese Licorice), is able to protect the skin from subsequent UV irradiation damage from within by strengthening the skin's own defense systems,” says Gitta Neufang, a researcher involved in the work from Beiersdorf AG, Hamburg, Germany.
“Thus plant extracts with the described profile are able to provide a protective shield from sun exposure supporting and going beyond the action of sunscreens regarding sun protection.”
Licochalcone A has been studied in the past and is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties and for dealing with a number of medical symptoms.
The Beiersdorf findings show that the skin´s own defense system can be stimulated by the application of the licorice extract.
In combination with UV filters the research team says this approach may provide superior sun protection by not only offering physical but also biological sun protection.
"Even with the best sun-protecting filter system (SPF50+) 2% of UV-rays still reach the skin and cause damage. We hope that our study helps to improve the effectiveness of sunscreens to protect from the harmful aspects of sun exposure," adds Neufang.
In their study, the team tested the effects of Licochalcone A in cell culture, by isolating human skin cells and irradiating them with solar simulated light mimicking sun exposure.
They were able to show that skin cells pre-treated with Licochalcone A produced a higher amount of 'self-protecting', antioxidant molecules.
Consequently, significantly less harmful radicals were detected in Licochalone A treated human skin cells.
In addition, they also conducted a study with healthy volunteers demonstrating that the application of a lotion containing Licochalcone A-rich root extract on the inner forearms for two weeks protected the skin from damage after UV irradiation.
Kühnl, J., Roggenkamp, D., Gehrke, S. A., Stäb, F., Wenck, H., Kolbe, L. and Neufang, G. (2015), Licochalcone A activates Nrf2 in vitro and contributes to licorice extract-induced lowered cutaneous oxidative stress in vivo. Experimental Dermatology, 24: 42–47. doi: 10.1111/exd.12588