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Sometimes, life just seems unfair: No matter what season or what weather it is, once the afternoon slump comes around, one could use our forehead as mirrors. Don’t worry though, help comes in the form of a truly tree and tested herb: milk thistle. Its medical use goes back over 2’000 years and science still continue to uncover new nutrients that can improve the health of your skin.

In the career spanning over 2000 years of milk thistle, it has made its name as as a remedy for liver disorders. Just as it may help our liver repair by growing new cells, it shows restorative properties for our skin.

And there are many thinks in common between your skin and liver. Your liver cleans harmful substances out of your blood. In the same manner, your skin excretes toxins through your sweat. This is also why the appearance of your skin can be a a good indicator of your internal health.

What is milk thistle

This plant goes by many names

  • Mediterranean milk thistle
  • Blessed milk thistle
  • Scott thistle
  • Marian thistle
  • Holy thistle
  • Our Lady’s thistle

Its scientific name is Silybum marianum. As you can glean from “marianum”, it was a very useful plant. It was said its usefulness was second only to calling on the Mother Mary.

Milk thistle, photo by Dinesh Valke

The herb belongs to the same family as the daisy, the Asteraceae family. Originally, milk thistle was native to Southern Europe throughout Asia. Now it can be found all over the globe.

Milk thistle is a flowering plant. It can grow up to 2 meters. It has narrow and oblong leaves with spiny edges. The leaves are shiny green and hairless with white veins. The flowers are violet. It carries flowers from summer through autumn. So, in the northern hemisphere from June to August or December to February in the Southern Hemisphere.


Milk thistle has a long history of use in many cultures. Its healing properties were first documented by Greek physician Dioscorides in A.D. 40. It was a remedy mainly for the liver, but also for kidneys, bladder, heart, and lungs.

In the east, milk thistle was used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The parts of milk thistle (大蓟, in pinyin daji) used in TCM were seed, root, leaf, stem, and flower. It was (still is) associated with the temperatures bitter, warm, cool, and dry. And as in the west, it supports liver function.

You can also find that it was used in Ayurvedic medicine to enhance immunity, treat psoriasis and as a liver tonic. It also has found its way into Arab herbal medicine for liver ailments. As you see, there’s a clear thread that milk thistle support liver function.


Traditional milk thistle extract is made from the seeds. The main component of the seeds is silymarin, so you’ll see the terms “milk thistle” and “silymarin” often used interchangeably.

Silymarin is a group of flavonoids including silibinin, silidanin, and silychristin. Its other components are fatty acids, including linoleic acid and vitamin A and C, as well as minerals (including Iron, Zinc, Potassium).

What makes milk thistle so restorative is silymarin. This is a mixture of a large class of plant pigments called flavonoid that acts like an antioxidant.

As an antioxidant, silymarin protects from UV and factors from the environment like pollution and cigarette smoke. It also aids in reducing sebum production. This is really good for oily skin types.

Milk thistle is one of the most well researched herb for liver ailments. It was found that the main component silymarin can protect and repair damaged liver cells. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

So what can milk thistle do for your skin?

The flavonoid antioxidant silymarin not only offers protection against UV, pollution, and cellular damage, but can regulate sebum production.

Great for oily skin

Now you get something that helps you regulate sebum production and you get all the goodies that silymarin as an antioxidant can give. By reducing oiliness, it also refines your skin texture and improves clarity.

Save your skin from pollution

Air pollution is no joke. Being constantly exposed to air pollution not only from the industry or traffic but also cigarette smoke has effects on our skin that no one wants to see, such as sped up ageing process. In response, our skin uses its antioxidants stores such as vitamin E and C as defence against oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress happens when there’s an imbalance of free radicals in your body. This happens when you’re exposed to pollution and smoke. An antioxidant like silymarin protects and reduces the effects of free radicals.

Offer UV protection

It’s not only pollution and cigarette smote that contribute to an imbalance of free radicals in your body. Being exposed to the sun also does.

As an antioxidant, silymarin aids in reducing UV radiation-induced inflammation and oxidative stress.


Since silymarin is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also great to use to soothe breakouts or irritated skin. It’s also great to use when you had a procedure or in an after sun product to help heal your skin.

Lift dark spots

If you want to lift and fade dark spots, but don’t want to or can’t get your hands on hydroquinone, silymarin may be your hero. It’s effective in reducing dark spots but without the negative side effects.

Other uses

If you overindulged and don’t want the aftermath (also named hangover), think of milk thistle. On the serious side, milk thistle has many uses.


As you’ve seen, TCM uses all parts of the plants. The leaves, flowers, roots, and stalks can all be eaten. Use the leaves to make a salad or a substitute for spinach.

Personal care products

You can find milk thistle in a whole host of products and industries. It’s no wonder it can be found in soap, scrubs, lip balms, lotions and hair conditioners since it improves cell regenerations and has antioxidant effects.

In closing

You can get milk thistle

  • As supplement containing its extract
  • Drink milk thistle tea
  • In a beauty or personal product

Know though that the FDA has not approved it for any health conditions. Also, as a supplement, it’s not regulated in the same ways as drugs are.

Milk thistle is a friendly ingredient that plays along well with others. It also plays nicely with all skin types and offers most benefits if you’re looking to regulate your sebum production and counter the effects of pollution and the sun.

Milk Thistle - Your Shiny Skin's New BFF

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