Most of us are under a lot of stress these days. It seems we never have time to just relax, right?
Believe it or not, your skin goes through daily stress, too. It’s affected by the internal stress you feel, as well as by external assaults from the sun, pollution, and weather.
Hopefully you’re already eating healthy as much as you can, and finding ways to nurture yourself with daily walks, yoga classes, or time with a good friend or beloved pet.
Meanwhile, you could be doing more for your skin. How? By looking into a unique class of herbs called “adaptogens.” These herbs can help your body and your skin better resist the effects of stress, and who doesn’t need that?
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a unique group of herbal ingredients that work with the body’s adrenal system to help you better manage stress. They’re called “adaptogens” because they can adapt to what your body needs at any particular time.
You can think of them like thermostats-they turn their effects up when stress goes up, and down when you relax. They help calm you down when you’re too stressed, and give you energy when you need it.
These herbs have been used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine. We don’t have a lot of modern-day studies on them, but we do have a few showing their effectiveness.
In a 2010, for example, researchers referred to studies showing adaptogens helped fight fatigue and depression, and helped stimulate the central nervous system. Several clinical trials had demonstrated that “adaptogens exert an anti-fatigue effect” that increased mental capacity and attention. Other studies showed adaptogens were protective against stress, regulating key factors of the stress response in the body.
In a 2009 review of several studies, researchers found that adaptogens increased tolerance to mental exhaustion and enhanced attention and mental endurance. They added that adaptogens work on the stress response at the molecular level, actually reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
How Stress Impacts Skin
Why is stress-relief important to skin care? Because science has found that much like stress can negatively affect your cardiovascular health, it can also negatively affect your skin. Stress hormones like cortisol can create breakouts (you’ve probably experience that), dark circles under the eyes, redness, inflammation, and more, damaging the skin and potentially accelerating signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.
Stress can exacerbate skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis, too, causing flare-ups of redness, dryness, and flaky, irritated skin.
Adaptogens can help protect you from these damaging effects of stress by dealing with the stress, itself. They help to normalize the adrenal system and reduce levels of cortisol, which can help skin to maintain a more normal, healthy condition.
In addition, adaptogens come from plants, which means they contain phytochemicals that may help fortify and protect skin from outside stressors like pollution and other free-radical inducing elements.
You know how your skin tends to look worse when you’re stressed out? That’s your clue right there that stress is affecting your appearance. Adaptogens in those circumstances may help!
7 Adaptogens that May Help Body and Skin
Traditional medicine, along with some modern-day research, has identified which herbs work well as adaptogens. Here are seven of the most commonly recommended:
Also known as Indian ginseng, this herb is often considered the “best” adaptogen available to us. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and is said to help boost the immune system. The root of the plant is used in supplements, and helps balance and restore while reducing fatigue and stress.
This is an herb frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine to help stimulate the immune system, treat infections, reduce fatigue, and help restore overall vitality. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. Again, it’s the root that is used in most supplements and liquid extracts.
You’ve probably heard of ginseng, because it’s often recommended for a number of things. In the Greek language, the botanical name, Panax, means “all-healing.” Studies have shown that it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory, and that it also helps boost the immune system, fight free-radical damage, and calm the nervous system. It’s also been linked to reducing the frequency of the common cold.
4. Holy Basil
This herb is a member of the mint family, and has a reputation for easing stress. It’s promoted as an immune booster, and has shown in some small studies to help activate the immune response. One study even found that it helped reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
5. Rhodiola Rosea
This herb is so effective at reducing stress that it’s been studied in night duty physicians and found to help fight off fatigue. It has also been linked in studies to improving attention and mental performance. It’s native to the high altitudes in Asia and Europe, and has an active ingredient called “rhodosin” that has shown promise is helping to reduce depression.
Studies have shown that rhodiola may also have an antiviral activity that could help reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections.
6. Schizandra Berry
Berries from this plant have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to boost strength and endurance, stimulate the immune system, and enhance concentration. Laboratory studies have indicated that it has anti-inflammatory and metabolism-boosting action. Older human studies also showed that it seemed to help enhance endurance and mental performance in patients experiencing mild fatigue and weakness.
7. Reishi Mushroom
We use Reishi mushroom in our skin care products because of its ability to boost immunity, reduce risk of allergic reactions, fight off free-radical damage, and help calm inflammation. Reishi is also classified as an adaptogen because it’s said to help reduce stress and even help combat the side effects of cancer treatments.
Always Check with Your Doctor
You can take any of these herbs in capsule or tincture form, but do be sure to check with your doctor before you start. Some of the herbs have a natural blood-thinning activity, so if you’re already taking a prescription blood-thinner, they could be dangerous. Some may also lower blood sugar levels, so if you have diabetes, be sure to ask before you try them. Finally, if you have an autoimmune disorder or are taking any sort of medications that suppress the immune system, proceed with caution.
Understand, too, that everyone is different, and you may react differently to an herb than someone else would.
Because we have only a few studies on these herbs so far, we can’t promise miraculous results, but as long as your doctor gives you the “okay,” there’s no reason you shouldn’t try them to see if they help, particularly during really stressful times. They may help you cope, and may support healthy skin in the meantime.
Of course, the best approach is always a healthy diet, regular exercise, and more sleep, but if these things are happening less often because of a stressful time in your life, a little herb could help you survive until things calm down again.
Have you tried adaptogens?
Alexander Panossian and Georg Wikman, “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity,” Pharmaceuticals, January 2010; 3(1):188-224, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/.
Panossian A, Wikman G, “Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity,” Curr Clin Pharmacol., September 2009; 4(3):198-219, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19500070.
Jeanine Barone, “Adaptogens: Herbs for All that Ails You?” Berkeley Wellness, April 27, 2017, http://www.berkeleywellness.com/supplements/herbal-supplements/article/adaptogens-herbs-all-ails-you.