Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that commonly affects children. Eczema is thought to be a result of problems with the skin’s natural barrier, which cause the skin to lose water and lead to increased inflammation.
Topical corticosteroids are the mainstay of therapy for inflammation and eczema, but these creams can be associated with side effects, such as stretch marks, if used improperly or for long periods of time. Given that many children are afflicted by eczema and that the potential side effects of the current treatments are less than desirable, some researchers are now seeking out more natural treatments for atopic dermatitis.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is one natural remedy that is currently being researched for eczema, as it has been reported to contain anti-inflammatory components, primarily a molecule called licochalcone A. Researchers recently conducted a study to test if a licorice-based moisturizer, containing licochalcone A, is as effective as 1% hydrocortisone for the treatment of childhood eczema.
Fifty-five children with eczema between the ages of 3 months and 14 years participated in this study. The two creams (licorice and hydrocortisone) were applied twice daily for four weeks on opposite sides of the children’s eczema lesions. The researchers periodically measured the severity of the eczema. After the first four weeks, fourty-three of the participants continued on with the study, applying the licochalcone A cream for an additional four weeks to investigate skin water loss, which is a marker for skin dryness. The researchers reported that both treatments, the licorice-based moisturizer and the hydrocortisone cream, resulted in a significant reduction in the severity of eczema. They also noted that there was no significant difference between the results of the two treatments. The evidence provided in this study demonstrates that extracts from licorice may be as effective as hydrocortisone 1% in treating childhood atopic dermatitis.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that hydrocortisone 1% is a very mild topical corticosteroid and, in clinical practice, it’s only used for very mild cases of eczema. This means that licorice-based products may not be a worthy substitute for the stronger steroids needed for cases of moderate to severe eczema. Further, it is also possible that the base ingredients of the cream used in the licorice product and control product acted as the effective part of the treatment, rather than the ingredient being studied. Given this confounding factor, it’s hard to draw strong conclusions about the treatments.
More studies are needed that compare different licorice-based treatments to prescription-grade topical corticosteroids in order to test if licorice extract is truly a therapeutic alternative for eczema.