Margot Robbie in ‘Barbie.’ Share on Pinterest
Milk thistle has been found to have numerous health benefits, including reducing acne and signs of aging. health benefitsWarner Bros
  • During filming, the Barbie cast drank milk thistle tea for clear and brighter skin.
  • Milk thistle may help tackle some skin concerns, including signs of aging and acne.
  • The plant is also known to be highly beneficial for liver function.
  • While side effects are rare, people should still exercise caution before drinking milk thistle.

From weekly facials and chemical peels to IPL and laser therapies, Hollywood A-listers use all kinds of treatments to keep their skin fresh and glowing.

But there’s a new player brewing in popularity: milk thistle tea.

Jasmine Vico, a London-based skin health specialist, worked with the Barbie movie cast to ensure their skin was beautifully doll-like before and during filming.

In a recent Vogue interview, Vico revealed that part of the skincare routine she established for Margot Robbie and co. involved drinking milk thistle tea.

Originating from the Mediterranean, milk thistle is a plant that’s been used in herbal medicines for centuries.

“What was once thought of as an invasive weed has tremendous therapeutic properties,” said Dr. NavNirat Nibber, ND, senior medical advisor at AOR.

However, the beneficial active compounds are “concentrated in seeds, with some in fruits and leaves,” she explained to Healthline. “So, tea should contain the seed — [and] the longer we steep, the more potent the actives are.”

But exactly how can milk thistle benefit our skin and wider well-being?

Milk thistle is far from the first plant to be incorporated into skincare products, but its natural ingredients rival those in best-selling facial creams and serums.

Found within the plant are myriad active compounds, minerals, and vitamins, all of which can aid in treating concerns such as redness, acne, wrinkles, and dryness.

The key to milk thistle’s skin-boosting powers are antioxidants — including a potent and unique antioxidant called silymarin.

“Silymarin is a flavonoid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” said Dr. Allison Leer, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Unity Skincare.

Antioxidants are particularly important as they “help reduce the negative effects of free radicals,” she told Healthline.

Free radicals are molecules that damage the body’s cells — and, when this occurs in the skin, signs of aging begin to arise.

In addition to acting as an antioxidant, silymarin “can increase the activity of superoxide dismutase and other enzymes in the body,” said Dr Naana Boakye, MPH, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist.

Superoxide dismutase is found naturally in the body and works to target free radicals.

As for silymarin’s anti-inflammatory properties, these “help with certain skin conditions, such as redness or acne,” Leer shared.

One study found that taking silybin orally (albeit in supplement form rather than tea) for eight weeks significantly reduced signs of acne.

However, silymarin also aids the skin by route of the liver.

By helping restore and repair cells in this organ, silymarin can “indirectly impact the skin by improving cell turnover and supporting the health of skin cells,” said Dr. Rahi Sarbaziha, an integrative aesthetics doctor based in Beverly Hills.

Other powerful ingredients in milk thistle also support and rejuvenate the skin.

Essential fatty acids — including linoleic acid — can be found in milk thistle. These “can enhance the skin’s barrier function and improve moisture retention,” explained David Petrillo, a cosmetic beauty chemist and founder of Perfect Image.

The result? “Well-hydrated skin that appears plump, smooth, and healthy,” he told Healthline.

Zinc is another key player, said Petrillo. As well as helping lower inflammation, this nutrient aids “in wound healing and cell regeneration.”

Last but not least, there’s vitamin E — which “helps maintain the skin’s elasticity, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” Petrillo noted.

If a warm beverage isn’t your (tea)bag, you can find milk thistle extracts in skincare products.

“It may be present in products aimed at reducing inflammation, combating signs of aging, and controlling acne,” said Sarbaziha.

Various studies have explored the benefits of topical application and found it can significantly reduce signs and symptoms of rosacea and atopic dermatitis.

And, although it’s not a substitute for regular SPF, milk thistle can also be found in products designed to “protect the skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays,” Sarbaziha added.

As well as affording a level of protection, milk thistle can “assist with DNA repair from UVB exposure,” noted Boakye.

Research indicates that silymarin contains “photoprotective mechanisms,” which can aid in reducing the impacts of UV rays on the skin — such as cell damage and oxidative stress.

One study of mice found topical milk thistle to be as effective in preventing signs of UV-related skin aging as vitamin C.

So should you drink milk thistle tea or apply it topically for maximum results?

“There isn’t definitive research as to whether one method is more effective than the other,” stated Leer.

However, “both approaches can be beneficial,” Sarbaziha said. “Consuming milk thistle orally, such as in tea form or as a supplement, is likely to have more comprehensive benefits for the skin and overall health.”

She continued: “When ingested, the active compounds can work throughout the body, including the skin, providing hydration, anti-inflammatory effects, and supporting the skin’s health from within.”

On the other hand, Sarbaziha noted, topical application might be better suited to “provide targeted effects for specific skin issues.”

Consuming milk thistle, either in tea or via an extract or supplement, is believed to support various other aspects of well-being.

The main benefit — thanks to silymarin — is liver function and health.

“Milk thistle supports liver function and can even be hepatoprotective, meaning it protects the liver from damage,” said Megan Lyons, a double board-certified holistic and clinical nutritionist, functional nutrition expert, and founder of The Lyons’ Share Wellness.

“If people are beginning to show moderate signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or impaired liver function, or if they’re doing something that significantly taxes their liver, like drinking alcohol or taking too many medications, milk thistle is recommended,” she told Healthline.

For those with diabetes, milk thistle “may help with blood sugar control,” shared Lindsay Malone, a registered dietitian and an instructor for the nutrition department at Case Western Reserve University.

One meta-analysis of scientific studies indicated that silymarin could improve insulin resistance.

Other studies have also linked it to reduced LDL cholesterol and even symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“Some research also demonstrates it can improve milk production of lactating mothers compared to placebo,” said Malone.

Milk thistle is generally considered safe to drink.

“I very rarely see side effects with my clients who use milk thistle,” stated Lyons. “The reported side effects are usually mild, such as nausea or digestive upset.”

However, certain individuals should be more cautious.

For instance, those on long-term medications such as “nitroglycerin, anticoagulants, or antiplatelet drugs may experience an increased risk of bleeding when using milk thistle,” Lyons said.

She added that people taking anti-hypertensive drugs should also be wary — as, when combined with milk thistle, these drugs may cause lowered blood pressure.

Those with liver health concerns are also advised to speak with a doctor. Plus, “liver enzymes should be monitored for significant fluctuations,” stated Nibber.

Malone added that pregnant and breastfeeding people should consult their healthcare provider before taking milk thistle. “While there are studies on these populations, there aren’t many large, long-term studies.”

Just like many other plants, milk thistle can also cause an allergic reaction — with potential symptoms including rashes or redness, sneezing, and watery eyes. These can occur when taken orally or topically.

Finally, “People with certain skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, should exercise caution when considering milk thistle,” said Petrillo.

Such individuals should “consult a healthcare professional to ensure it won’t interfere with their treatment plan or worsen their condition.”