In honor of this week’s SHINE sale, I’m dedicating a post to two superstars in SHINE’s formula: little-known (and very potent) skin brighteners bearberry extract and licorice extract.

A common skin care ailment that many people struggle with is skin discoloration. Whether the discoloration is from sun spots, age spots, acne scars or an uneven skin tone–we’ve all been hit with it at one point or another. Even if your sun damage isn’t showing itself on the surface just yet, it’s usually creeping underneath, and is readily visible with UV photography (look here) or the “structure” function on instagram’s editing suite.

In any case, who doesn’t want brighter, clearer skin?! It’s kind of a no brainer. Both skin texture (clarity) and even skin tone are top contributing determinants for facial attractiveness (read full paper).. that’s like 2 of the top determinants out of the main 5. So, what can we do to achieve it?

Enter nature’s heroes: bearberry and licorice extracts.

Today we’ll talk all about the skin benefits of bearberry extract and licorice extract, using science (Woo hoo!) and how to fit them both into your skincare routine.

Bearberry and licorice extracts sound like something you would find in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory instead of your bathroom vanity, but they are actually some of the hottest skincare ingredients on the market today! While I am generally very wary of “hot trends” in the skincare world, these ingredients may actually have some great benefits!



Everytime someone asks me about how SHINE works and I mention bearberry as the #1 brightening extract–after the main carrier oil, organic pomegranate seed oil, of course, which is high in brightening vitamin C–I get a “Bear what? Bear berry!? What’s that?”

Bearberry has risen significantly in popularity since it was featured in a 2014 episode of Dr. Oz.  Oz claimed that bearberry extract prevents visible signs of aging (like age spots). While I won’t comment on the reliability Dr. Oz’s advice or the sensationality of television, I can tell you that bearberry really works. Here’s why: the leaves of the common bearberry contain arbutin, a natural compound that has been shown to inactivate the enzyme responsible for skin pigmentation.


The leaves of the common bearberry contain arbutin, a natural compound that has been shown to inactivate the enzyme responsible for skin pigmentation.



Bearberry foliage, the part of the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi plant that is most commonly used in cosmetic formulations, has been shown to effectively scavenge free radicals, the unstable molecules that contribute to the formation of premature wrinkles and fine lines on the skin (source). A study published in the March 2004 issue of Food Chemistryfound that bearberry leaf extract had even stronger free radical scavenging (i.e. antioxidant) properties than extracts made from wild licorice, senega, narrow-leaved echinacea, and aerial parts of two varieties of horsetail.

Even though bearberry sounds like the name of a children’s cereal box character, it packs a serious punch when it comes to anti aging benefits!



Licorice, the third most potent brightening agent in SHINE, isn’t just for old-fashioned candy! Licorice extract has anti-inflammatory properties and may interrupt the stimulation of the enzyme that activates production of melanin, the skin’s pigment. This makes it a powerful ingredient for improving dark spots and areas of hyperpigmentation.

Not only does it improve the appearance of dark spots, but it also has the ability to clear up acne-causing bacteria. It contains a component known as glabridin that is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredient. This also makes it great for sensitive, reddened skin.


Glabridin, the main ingredient in the hydrophobic fraction of licorice extract, inhibits truosinase activity.. without affecting DNA synthesis.

Funny names and Dr. Oz hype aside, bearberry and licorice extracts are serious power players in the anti aging game. If you’re looking to clear up any dark spots and boost the antioxidants in your skincare regimen, I highly recommend looking into products that contain these two ingredients. They will help make your skin look clearer, brighter, and slow down the appearance of aging. And who doesn’t want that?!

“Licorice extract has several active compounds that may stimulate or suppress the formation of melanin.” According to one study, “Glabridin, the main ingredient in the hydrophobic fraction of licorice extract, inhibits tyrosinase activity…without affecting DNA synthesis. Other active compounds (such as glabrene, isoliquiritigenin licuraside, isoliquiritin, and licochalcone A) isolated from licorice extracts, were also shown to inhibit tyrosinase activity.” (source)



You can’t deny the benefits of (or research backing up) arbutin and glabridin, the natural brightening agents found in these extracts. Both offer the benefits of traditional whiteners like hydroquinone, without the potential side effects (see FDA Q&A here – which basically says “we’re letting companies keep using it while we do more research on its safety”.. eek). While hydroquinone use is still wide-spread and used in many OTC bleaching / whitening and brightening creams, I’ll be skipping it for now. If you still choose to use hydroquinone, please read this informative blog first.



Incorporating natural bearberry and licorice extracts into your skincare routine can be tough. As less-known brightening agents, not many products contain either extract yet. Even if the product contains bearberry or licorice extract, you need to consider the extraction process and source.


Do not apply a concentrated licorice or bearberry extract directly to your face.


In any case, you can add a small amount of licorice or bearberry extract directly to your skincare product, keeping in mind the formulation of the existing product and its solubility, as well as safe concentrations of the extract you’re using (that information should be readily available from the extract manufacturer). Remember that like mixes with like! With a little additional research online and some testing at home, you can probably get it right ?  If this is something you’re considering–awesome. I’ll get more into detail on oil and alcohol-based extracts below.

Do not apply a concentrated licorice or bearberry extract directly to your face. Extracts are highly concentrated forms of the ingredients. You should in general, be applying 1-10% concentration of an extract, depending on the ingredient and extraction method. If you’re DIY-ing this, read the instructions from the manufacturer, which will be pertinent only to that extract, in that batch, from that manufacturer.

If you’re not down to DIY and looking for an awesome product already containing these powerful extracts, look no further than our SHINE brightening face oil (here).



In general, I prefer to use oil-based extracts in my products because I believe in the process: oil extracts are those in which the active compound sits in a carrier oil at a low-temperature for 6-8 weeks, until the active compounds have been thoroughly extracted from the roots, leaves, flowers or berries. I make oil extracts myself and can tell you: the process (which is millenia old) works. 

Any product that’s using an oil-based extract will be an oil itself or a cream, created through an emulsion process. It can be difficult or impossible to know from the ingredient list whether the manufacturer used a water-based or oil-based extract in its ingredient list because.. trade secrets!

Many extracts, however, are tinctures: alcohol-extractions of plant matter. Two top skincare bloggers–Futurederm and Paula’s Choice–argue on whether or not alcohol can be drying or damaging to skin (Futurederm’s post here, Paula’s is here – it’ll just make your head spin) OR whether it can help penetration of key ingredients.

I’d say it’s safe for your skin to use alcohol-based extracts, but again, just keep in mind the concentration, formulation and solubility. It’s always a risk to the product’s stability when you add a new ingredient to an existing formulation, so do your research and don’t try this on a $100+ product (or don’t get mad at me if it doesn’t work out when you do!).



Again, don’t miss out on the skin brightening benefits of these two awesome extracts! Everyone can benefit from skin brightening–whether you have freckles, acne scars, scar-scars, or dark spots/sun damage on your face, hands, decolletage, or legs. We can all benefit from a little brightness in our lives! ?

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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