Are you feeling stressed out?
Silly question, right? Most of us do experience stress pretty regularly. The key is to engage in activities that help relieve it, like exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling, and time with the people we care about.
Sometimes, however, no matter what we do, stress can catch up with us. It’s the worst when it shows up on the skin, and have no doubt–it will.
According to a 2014 study, psychological stress is linked with the onset or aggravation of multiple skin diseases, including psoriasis, acne, dermatitis, dry skin, impaired wound healing, and even skin aging, including the formation of fine lines and wrinkles and sagging and bagging.
Now if you’re into natural treatments for stress, you may be familiar with herbs called “adaptogens.” These are plants that are believed to help the body resist stress and reduce the damage caused by it. Many people supplement with adaptogens during high-stress times. In fact, they have become so popular that now they’re starting to show up in beauty products, too.
Can adaptogens in your skin care really help your skin?
What are Adaptogens?
Though adaptogens are a new trend in beauty, they’ve been used in traditional medicine for centuries to support the health of the adrenal system. They’re called adaptogens because they’re believed to help the body “adapt” to periods of stress in ways that help promote optimal well being.
The adrenal system consists of two adrenal glands that sit on top of your kidneys. Each one is made up of two parts—the adrenal cortex, which produces hormones like cortisol, and the adrenal medulla, which products hormones like adrenaline.
These glands secrete these hormones when needed to allow your body to react to stress, but they also perform other functions like helping to regulate metabolism, blood pressure, and the immune system.
Adaptogens are herbs that help support the adrenal glands and the entire adrenal system. With their help, the adrenal system is less likely to become overtaxed, and is also able to recover faster after a stressful period. Centuries ago, soldiers used adaptogenic herbs to help them manage the stress of combat, and to recover faster after battle.
Modern-day research has found evidence that these herbs may be effective. In a 2010 study, for example, researchers acknowledged that adaptogens had neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, and antidepressive properties, and could help stimulate the central nervous system to boost energy. They also referred to clinical trials that showed adaptogens increased mental work capacity during stressful times, helping people to maintain attention even when mentally exhausted.
In other words, the adaptogens helped protect from stress and regulate the stress response. Researchers concluded that adaptogens could be helpful in treating stress-induced disorders, and could also help improve quality of life for those with chronic diseases like congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
With evidence showing that these herbs might help us manage stressful situations, the question then became: could they help skin do the same?
Can Adaptogens Work in Skin Care?
We now know that there is a definite link between the brain and skin, which means that when we’re stressed out, the skin suffers as well as the body and mind.
Since the skin is an organ—the largest one we have—it would make sense that something that works on interior organs may also work on our exterior organ. That’s the logic manufacturers who are adding adaptogens to their products are using. The question is, do these ingredients work?
The simple answer is that we’re not sure yet—we don’t have enough studies on these herbs to be sure, particularly when it comes to skin care. There are some things about adaptogens, however, that suggest they could help delay skin aging by preventing free-radical damage to the skin, and that they may also help give skin a boost during periods of stress.
While we wait for more research on these herbs, there’s nothing wrong with trying them out in most cases. They are natural plant-based ingredients, and they are not toxic or harmful. The plants may also have other properties, as well, that can be useful in skin care.
7 Adaptogens Found in Skin Care Products
Below are seven of the most popular adaptogens showing up in beauty products today:
- Ashwagandha: Also called “Indian ginseng,” this herb has a long reputation for helping to treat stress and fatigue. It also has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and skin-lightening abilities, and is known to help the skin retain moisture.
- Indian Gooseberry/Amla: This is a sour fruit that may help boost collagen production in the skin. It’s also a rich source of vitamin C, which helps protect from free-radical damage and premature aging.
- Rhodiola Rosea: This is a flowering plant that grows in the high altitudes of Europe, Asia, and Alaska. Called the “arctic root,” it may help reduce inflammation, as well as provide overall anti-aging care.
- Reishi Mushroom: These mushrooms have been used for centuries to promote longevity and enhance energy. Reishi is classified as an adaptogen, and shows promise in current studies in relieving stress, strengthening the immune system, and reducing the risk of allergic reactions. It also calms inflammation and helps the skin hold onto water. (Note: We love using Reishi in our CV Skinlabs products!)
- Siberian Ginseng: The root of this plant has long been used to increase endurance and mental clarity. It’s also a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory effects.
- Tulsi (Holy Basil): This is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine, and is used for its antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and stress-reducing properties. It may help to reduce acne breakouts, as well as tame the inflammation associated with acne.
- Chaga: This is another type of mushroom that has been used in wellness practices for centuries. It’s a great source of antioxidants, and may help to support the immune system and provide energy. In skin care, it’s believed to help protect from bacteria and allergens, reduce inflammation, provide antioxidant protection, and protect against DNA damage.
Do you look for adaptogens in your skin care?
Chen, Y., & Lyga, J. (2014). Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging. Inflammation & Allergy-Drug Targets, 13(3), 177-190. doi:10.2174/1871528113666140522104422
Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010). Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals, 3(1), 188-224. doi:10.3390/ph3010188