It’s the root of a widespread plant found in rural areas all across the world. Dandelion root could be in your garden or a field nearby at this very moment. If you live in a village, then you might be walking past the cure for acne every day, if the theories are correct.
The main acne power of the dandelion root supplement is said to be detoxification. You might have read the claims. Dandelion root can treat liver problems and prevent toxins from entering the skin and inflaming acne. Dandelion root can cleanse the blood of impurities. It’s a cleansing herb that can detoxify your body of a variety of acne causing chemicals.
This isn’t a recent marketing strategy; traditional Chinese medicine believed in dandelion root for “cooling the blood” in addition to increasing a mother’s milk flow. You can buy dandelion root extract as an herbal supplement, but health gurus advocate drinking it in tea form as well, sometimes as a coffee alternative.
Usually, the word detoxification alone is a good reason to be suspicious of a supplement. In acne land and the world of health, “detox” has evolved into a classic marketing buzzword to make anything seem natural and pure. Chlorophyll is a classic fake supplement which claims to detoxify the body.
However, dandelion root does in fact have some detoxification powers, and they may be useful for acne.
Dandelion root increases glutathione levels
All the powers used by the Chinese and Native Americans and all the beliefs today may stem back to one thing. A power to increase levels of glutathione, a compound made by the human body which both functions as an antioxidant and detoxifies the blood.
Dandelion root is similar to milk thistle, another detoxification supplement, which contains the silymarin antioxidant that increases glutathione formation.
STUDY ONE – this study gathered 28 male rabbits and divided them into four groups: a normal diet group, a high cholesterol diet group, a cholesterol plus dandelion leaf group, and a cholesterol plus dandelion root group.
Both dandelion leaf and dandelion root significantly increased levels of glutathione peroxidase, the antioxidant form of glutathione, with the root being even stronger. Levels of free radicals and oxidative stress in the rabbits fell significantly.
STUDY TWO – scientists gave a group of mice liver damage by feeding them the chemical carbon tetrachloride. This altered many liver enzymes for the worse, and significantly decreased glutathione levels and increased lipid peroxides (a type of free radical). The next step was to feed the mice two Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) root extracts. The suppressed glutathione levels were restored and lipid peroxide levels fell again.
Two forms of dandelion extract were tested; an ethanol extract of the whole dandelion root and an extract enriched with sesquiterpene lactones, plant compounds found in dandelion root. Both performed well, but the latter was particularly effective.
Therefore, the study suggests that the mystical detoxification powers of the dandelion root are down to the sesquiterpene lactones. The scientists reached the same conclusion.
STUDY THREE – in this study we have some information on real world benefits, specifically that dandelion root could protect against glutathione depletion and liver damage from alcohol consumption.
Glutathione-S-transferase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, and glutathione all increased after supplementation with dandelion root. Malondialdehyde, a close indicator of bodily free radical levels, fell substantially. Overall, dandelion root was found to have protective effects against alcoholic liver damage.
STUDY FOUR – this study was similar; dandelion extract could protect the liver from a paracetamol overdose. An ethanol extract of dandelion root was fed to rats whose livers had been damaged by paracetamol. The dandelion increased glutathione levels and even prevented detrimental changes in the liver tissues.
All this data suggests that dandelion root has at least mild detoxification powers, and that they exist because of elevated glutathione formation.
How does dandelion root benefit acne?
It’s pretty simple – glutathione is one of the most overlooked compounds for acne in existence.
Few acne patients focus on glutathione, but this study found that acne patients have 20% less glutathione in their skin than clear skinned people. It’s the master antioxidant of the human body and it deactivates a very wide variety of free radicals. If dandelion root can increase glutathione levels, then that alone is promising for acne.
In particular, there are two key forms of glutathione, which are glutathione peroxidase and glutathione-s-transferase. The former acts as a potent antioxidant while the latter is the master of detoxification, removing acne-causing chemicals and heavy metals from the bloodstream.
The cleansing tales from the medical books of China, Native Americans, and all the legends suggest that dandelion root is very potent at increasing glutathione-s-transferase. Take dandelion root and you might enjoy protection from pesticides, heavy metals in apple juice and cigarettes, toxic chemicals absorbed through the skin from make-up, and more. Your acne defences might strengthen substantially.
Make no mistake that dandelion root is not a scam supplement, not like chlorophyll; there is some decent science behind it.
The chinks in the armour
But how solid is the science – is it strong enough to actually recommend dandelion root?
The answer is no, because firstly, none of the glutathione studies were conducted on humans; they were performed on rats, rabbits and mice. The rabbit study observed a significant increase in glutathione, but the rabbit is the mascot of herbivores. It spends its day running through the grass, finding small plants and flowers to eat.
Consider a rabbit which you get excited to spot in a field or woodland. The dandelion is exactly the kind of plant that a rabbit would be adapted to live off; a small flower which it can easily eat. In humans, the increase in glutathione could be far more limited. We can eat dandelions, but we are omnivores and the benefits from a single flower root could be far less dramatic.
Rats are closer to humans biologically, but not identical; the benefit of rat studies is to back up human studies. Adding to the confusion is the lack of an increase in glutathione-s-transferase in the rabbit study. Only glutathione peroxidase increased; GST actually fell. In the alcohol study, both forms increased.
The results are confused and inconsistent. At first glance, it’s exciting to see that dandelion root can protect against paracetamol and alcohol poisoning; you might realise you have the secret to drinking unlimited beer every night within your grasp.
However, the rats and mice had defences which were severely depleted. The average 15 year old with acne has below average glutathione levels, but they’re not low compared to a guy in hospital overnight from alcohol poisoning. The increase in glutathione may not occur anywhere near as strongly in a moderately healthy teenager or adult.
Dandelion root also falls short compared to other glutathione-boosting herbs. Milk thistle, for example, was demonstrated in this study to increase glutathione levels by 271% after eight weeks, in humans. It was shown to reduce acne by 50% in the same timeframe. Dandelion root lacks any studies on humans or on acne directly.
All dandelion root has to its name is a big mess of inconsistent studies. At best we can confirm that dandelion root moderately increases some forms of glutathione, in some species of animals.
The verdict – dandelion root fails to gain entry into the hall of elite acne supplements.
On the ground acne reports
What do the testimonials say? Most are mixed or even negative. I haven’t seen any amazing reports of acne reductions.
There are tales of acne outbreaks, in addition to red rashes. Some attribute the breakouts to a “healing crisis” which must be battled through, a purging period during which the dandelion root successfully removes stored toxins. Once this period is over, your skin will be truly clear, and you just have to endure it.
The healing crisis theory is brought up a lot in testimonials and progress reports for herbal acne supplements; maybe you too have seen it being discussed. Usually, it’s a complete myth. Most herbal supplements don’t have a purging period. It’s simply a way for people to maintain hope when any given natural acne treatment doesn’t work. That’s the reality of the situation.
Your body often stores toxins which it fails to metabolise in adipose tissues, or fat tissues. The liver itself doesn’t store toxins; it manufactures detoxification agents and processes the toxins.
There’s a small chance that dandelion root could cause a healing crisis. Once your glutathione levels have been increased (if they do increase in humans), and the existing toxins in the bloodstream have been removed, your fat tissues could release stored toxins into the bloodstream as they sense the increased detoxification capacity. This would create a fresh burst of inflammation and a fresh burst of acne.
However, the healing crisis will never happen in the way that common testimonials portray. For a good example, look at the famous silymarin study. Milk thistle and its compound silymarin increase the liver’s production of glutathione, and are proven to do so in humans. This study analysed acne levels in humans fed silymarin after 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, and 8 weeks. The decreases in acne were 18%, 26%, 40% and 50% respectively.
There’s no sign of any healing crisis at all. There’s no initial deterioration followed by a sudden drop off in acne, despite detoxification being milk thistle’s bread and butter.
If dandelion root clears your acne, then excellent. If it worsens your skin, then switch to something else fast and stop losing valuable time.
If dandelion root was proven to reduce acne by 50% like n-acetyl-cysteine, then it would be worth powering through some short term irritation, but it cannot compete with other supplements.
The best use for dandelions – free acne nutrition
By far the best strategy for acne is eating the entire dandelion plant. The completely free and ubiquitous dandelion flower is one of the most nutritious vegetables or herbs available anywhere.
However, even those foods are commercial, cultivated crops. They are distant from the raw, ancestor species which humans planted thousands of years ago. Bananas originally had seeds, wild apples are far smaller. The most nutritious foods on earth are wild ones which still produce their own antioxidants and nutrients to fend for themselves against the elements, and dandelions fit the bill perfectly.
Dandelions contain 7 times more phytonutrients than spinach. They’re rich in acne-clearing carotenoid antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. They have four times as much beta carotene as broccoli, and their vitamin A count per 100 grams is even higher than sweet potatoes – 338% of the RDA versus 283%.
Dandelions are a great source of inulin, an insoluble fiber which enriches and diversifies healthy gut flora. There’s also two unique antioxidant compounds with a bitter flavour called taraxacin and taracerin. Taraxicin is known to be a diuretic, but its other powers remain unresearched. You could turn yourself into a human test subject.
The petals, the leaves, the stem and the root of the dandelion plant are all edible, and all nutritious for acne. The biggest benefit is that dandelions are completely free. If you live rurally they’re everywhere; you can pick them at will, and easily add them to an acne-friendly meal by steaming them for 5 minutes.
Don’t waste your time pulling up the dandelion root and distilling it into a tea like some people recommend. Just eat the whole flower. Judging by the studies I’ve seen, the root is one of the less nutritious parts.
Dandelions rank alongside blackberries as one of the top free antioxidant and nutrient sources for acne. They’re one of the top secret hacks for clear skin.
If some guy sees you picking all the dandelions in the meadow and declares you to be the village idiot, sit back and laugh as your skin clears and nobody can work out why. The principle applies to other wild fruits, or even semi wild fruits. An apple tree planted decades ago will produce more nutritious fruit than a tree that remains in a professional orchard.
Dandelions are an excellent plant for acne, but taking the root as a supplement is not what you should focus on. The detoxification properties might exist, but they’re not proven in humans and they’re nowhere near proven to clear acne.
Perhaps you’ve discovered that you’re breathing in too much air pollution, or absorbing too many chemicals in makeup. Maybe you’ve read that in addition to dead skin cells, household dust is filled with toxic chemicals like phthalates from fabrics and plastics (it often is).
For a bonus herbal supplement, milk thistle beats dandelion root for acne easily.
Thanks for reading!