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How Effective Is Milk Thistle for Acne?

By Brandon May
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Herbalists and natural nutritionists often recommend using detoxifying herbs to cleanse the liver, which is said to hold on to toxins that contribute to acne. One of those herbs, called milk thistle, can be used for increasing urine flow and detoxing harmful toxins, making it a popular herb for treating acne. There is no science to determine that any herb can greatly influence the detoxifying processes of the body, and no research to prove the effectiveness of using milk thistle for acne or any other disorder. Many doctors caution patients on taking herbal supplements like milk thistle for a long period of time, and disagree on the claimed benefits of using the herb for acne.

The liver is the main detoxifying organ in the body, and is constantly filtering and removing toxins from the environment and food by excreting them through the urine. Herbalists suggest that toxins that build up in the liver can contribute to side effects that show up on the skin, such as acne. It is suggested that the use of milk thistle for acne can help detoxify the liver by being a diuretic, which promotes more frequent urination. The actual science of dermatology in regards to herbs and their effects on the skin has shown no benefit to using milk thistle for treating acne.

Milk thistle can still provide some antioxidants when used in moderation, which is beneficial for skin and bodily health for many different reasons. Some individuals may actually experience side effects from using milk thistle for acne, such as increased acne flare ups, if he or she has a strong allergy to the herb. Dermatologists often recommend more conventional treatments that have been thoroughly studied to prevent or treat acne, such as prescription face soaps or astringents. Although milk thistle is safe for the majority of people, it should be used with caution.

As with all herbs, using milk thistle for acne treatment as a sole treatment option can result in a disregard for other preventable treatments that have been shown to work. These include keeping oils away from the face and washing the face one to two times a day. Nutritionists may often suggest a diet low in sugars and fried foods and high in vegetables, fruits and fresh water. Physicians may warn against the continual use of milk thistle for supplemental reasons, as long-term studies on its health effects are rare.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon968551 — On Sep 04, 2014

I have use Milk Thistle and will say that yes, it does clear up acne.

By anon964035 — On Aug 02, 2014

First of all, acne is a result of the liver not functioning well. If the liver doesn't function, it will excrete through the skin. And that is the main problem of acne.

Milk thistle increases glutathione in the liver and makes the liver healthy. Glutathione is one the most powerful anti-oxidants. So yes, in my opinion, milk thistle works for acne. Also, very important: if the acne is a problem caused by make up or other external influences, then it will disappear very fast after cleaning the skin, but this is rarely the case for people with lots of acne.

Acne mostly comes from the inside, so stop looking for external treatment because some external solutions can do more harm to your skin. Also antibiotics are not a solution. They might work while you take the antibiotics. But there is link between what you eat and whether you have acne. Also, alcohol damages the liver and can result in acne. So having healthy internal organs it he best way to go solving acne.

And the liver is a great part of the food digesting process. Have a small body and eat a lot of food? You might overload your system, so supporting it with milk thistle is very important. The liver size will increase and make digestion easier.

By anon939334 — On Mar 13, 2014

There actually has been research done that demonstrates the positive effect of silymarin (milk thistle) on acne. I'm not sure how much searching you did, but it's certainly not purely anecdotal. Nobody's arguing that it's a panacea or should be used in place of pharmaceutical treatment, but it has shown quantifiable positive results with cystic acne reduction. This article reads as though it's all "he said, she said" when it's actually quite trivial to find the data. The paper "Effects of Oral Antioxidants on Lesion Counts Associated with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Patients with Papulopustular Acne" by Sahib et al. (2012) in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology Research explains it.

By anon339927 — On Jun 28, 2013

I've been using hepasil by USANA and it contains milk thistle. At first, I had breakouts but after more than three weeks of using it, I've noticed my face has slowly cleared up.

By titans62 — On Sep 17, 2011

I have a friend who always tries using different herbal remedies. She was talking about using milk thistle for acne a couple days ago.

She said when she used it she didn't notice a difference. She has had some herbal remedies work, though.

At least with me, I can usually predict when I will have a breakout just based on my stress level and the things that I have been eating lately. At least to me that is a good sign that acne isn't caused by my liver storing up toxins.

By Izzy78 — On Sep 16, 2011

Has anyone ever tried to use milk thistle for any purpose, acne or not? I always think it is odd when herbalists suggest using certain plants whose effects are only indirectly linked to the real problem.

In this case, I guess the thought is that the toxins in the liver somehow interact with pores on the face and end up causing acne, so you should take something to cleanse the liver. It seems like the more accepted medical solutions are always to attack the problem where it occurs.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In this case, the fact that milk thistle causes increased urination seems to show that the plant makes the liver or kidneys filter out extra material that maybe should be staying in our bodies.

By Emilski — On Sep 15, 2011

This is really interesting. I like reading about different herbal remedies, but I guess I've never explored acne treatments. I never try any of them, so I'm always interested to hear people's results.

I have never heard of the liver being linked to skin conditions. Is there any basis for this, or is it just what the herbalists have come up with? From what I know about acne, I don't see how impurities in the body would be able to clog pores. I would think if the liver did have an effect on the skin, you would be able to notice changes in the skin on other parts of your body.

As far as the plant goes, where is milk thistle found? What part of the US or the world?

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