Milk Thistle Seed Extract Matches Doxycycline Antibiotic for Acne Without the Side Effects

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Antibiotics can clear acne yet wreak internal havoc. Emerging research suggests a plant compound mirrors drugs' skin-clearing potency without the battering

Cystic acne suffers know well the formidable power yet steep costs antibiotic treatment entails. Though doxycycline proves among dermatology's most potent weapons against severe breakouts, its formidable side effects spanning digestion disturbances to antibiotic resistance eclipse benefits for many.1 But what if nature offered an equally mighty acne aid without microbial collateral damage? Startling new evidence suggests just that.

In this 60-patient trial, researchers pitted the herbal supplement silymarin against acne's antibiotic mainstay doxycycline head-to-head...and found scarcely any difference in efficacy.2 This milk thistle derivative -long employed as a gentle liver tonic -beat out the prescription drug stalwart for acne-clearing might. After two months daily oral treatment, both silymarin and doxycycline significantly reduced inflammatory and non-inflammatory facial lesions compared to baseline with nearly identical potency.2 And combining the two multiplied acne-calming effects slightly further still, suggesting supplementary potential. Yet unlike doxycycline's extensively documented downsides like antibiotic resistance and tolerance concerns, gastrointestinal upset, yeast infections, and photosensitivity spanning retinal damage to extreme sunburns3, no significant safety issues emerged for solo silymarin therapy even after months of use.2

Silymarin's anti-acne aptitude likely traces to antioxidant, cell-reinforcing, and inflammation-calming activities that translational studies confirmed accrue generous skin benefits.4 Indeed, silymarin application already earned European Union approval for treating skin damage ranging from rosacea to sunburns.5 Its apparent ability to rival pharmaceuticals for acne -an exceedingly common condition affecting up to 80% of teens alone 6 -further spotlights natural medicine's overlooked promise. Particularly as microbial resistance and antibiotic avoidance trends increasingly limit anti-acne drug deployment, non-toxic plant compounds offer invaluable options minus unpalatable downsides. Of course, appropriately rigorous longer-term effectiveness and safety studies should continue investigating silymarin's therapeutic role. But for now, this clinically supported herbal approach deserves much needed attention. 

For more information on natural approaches to acne, visit our database on the subject here.

Explore the wide range of health benefits of silymarin (milk thistle) here.


1. Smith, K et al. Doxycycline and Photosensitivity. Am Fam Physician. 2020 Aug 15;102(4):229-231. 

2. Shie Morteza M et al. Efficacy and safety of oral silymarin in comparison with oral doxycycline and their combination therapy in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Dermatologic Therapy. 2019 Oct 18. 

3. Lohner, Schetelig et al. Adverse drug reactions: classification, susceptibility and predictability. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 2014 Aug 15;111(33-34):581-7. 

4. Mohd Fozi NF, et al. Milk Thistle: A Future Potential Anti-Osteoporotic and Fracture Healing Agent. Curr Drug Targets. 2013 Dec;14(15):1659-66.

5. Berardesca E, et al. Clinical and instrumental evaluation of the activity of silymarin-MSM combination in the topical treatment of skin verrucae in horses in veterinary practice. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2012 Sep 1;32(9):561-5. 

6. Williams HC, et al. The U.K. Working Party's Diagnostic Criteria for Atopic Dermatitis. I. Derivation of a minimum set of discriminators for atopic dermatitis.  Br J Dermatol. 1994 Sep;131(3):383-96.

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