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Skincare Redux: Why Your Skin Needs Adaptogens

Need to Know:

  • Adaptogens are plant-based ingredients like turmeric, mushrooms, holy basil, maca, and ginseng that provide benefits to your body.

  • They work like the body’s thermostat, helping to re-establish balance and maintain calm in the face of internal and external stressors, including hormonal imbalance. 

  • When included in skincare, adaptogens help calm skin that has suffered from biological or environmental stressors and provide protection against future damage.

If you’re into health and wellness, then chances are you’re already familiar with adaptogens, though you may not even know it. You may not quite be at the level of your yoga-obsessed, daily green juice-drinking friend who keeps a tincture of ashwagandha in her bag and fancies herself a soul sister of Shailene Woodley. But if you’ve ever cooked with turmeric or ginger, then you too have consumed an adaptogen.

Adaptogens are plant-based substances like ginseng, maca, and holy basil that help the body respond to physical, emotional, and environmental stressors. To be classified as an adaptogen the plant must help bring the body back into equilibrium, be non-toxic, and provide health benefits. You can think of adaptogens as a biological thermostat for stress — when they register that your body is stressed, they step in, helping you to adapt so that you stay in that sweet spot of being neither depleted nor anxious and remaining calm and clear-headed.  

How Do Adaptogens Support Your Skin? 

Adaptogens are plant extracts that help balance stressed skin, such as skin that has suffered from spikes in the stress hormone, cortisol. “Studies have shown benefits when adaptogens are taken as oral supplements, but now they're becoming popular ingredients in topical skincare products as well,”  Dr. Hadley King, board-certified dermatologist says. “Although we do not yet have a thorough understanding of [how], we do know that stress and anxiety can impact most inflammatory skin conditions, including acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, hives, and alopecia areata.”

King explains that stress elevates cortisol levels, which affects the immune system, and the immune system creates inflammation which may manifest as a flare-up in any of the above conditions. “Cortisol levels can also affect other hormone levels, which can play a part in skin conditions as well,” King says. 

If you’ve ever gotten a breakout before a big presentation or felt oily before a first date, then you’ve seen firsthand how internal stressors can affect the way your skin looks. In addition to the flashes of mental anxiety most of us know all too well, your skin can also get stressed by exposure to external environmental factors like UV rays, pollution, and smoke.

This is where adaptogenic skincare comes in. Just as adaptogens like ginseng or maca can increase focus and endurance, while others like valerian root or holy basil can promote feelings of calm and well-being, adaptogens used in your beauty products can assist your body’s natural defenses in its efforts to combat both internal and external stress.

Today, these buzzy ingredients may be popping up in everything from supplements and drinks to premiere skincare. But the health benefits of these plants have been known for centuries: Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have used them in their healing practices for thousands of years.

Some Adaptogens That Shine in Skincare

Simply put, all stress can throw your skin out of equilibrium to some extent, which is where adaptogens step in, working to gently guide your skin back to where it wants to be. They do this in two ways: in the short term, they help bring the skin back to baseline after exposure to stress. In the long term, they protect your skin against future effects of stress, including signs of skin aging. Some of the best adaptogens in skincare are:

  • Poria Mushroom + Tall Reed Extract: Mushrooms in general contain compounds that “show excellent antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, anti-wrinkle, and moisturizing effects, which make them good candidates for skincare products,” Dr. King says. Poria mushroom extract is a great example of this. Because poria mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, they are able to combat oxidative stress on the skin caused by environmental factors like sun exposure or pollution. When paired with tall reed extract, which comes from tropical perennial grasses, the powerhouse duo helps to reduce inflammation, protecting and re-establishing the skin’s barrier function.  

  • Snow Mushroom Extract: In addition to antioxidant powers from the adaptogenic mushrooms, snow mushroom extract has the added benefit of being a lightweight, yet powerful source of hydration. It acts like a natural hyaluronic acid by pulling moisture into the skin, but it is even more effective. Because its particles are actually smaller than those of the acid, it can deliver moisture more deeply into the skin.

Several Veracity skincare products feature these key adaptogens:

  • Garland Lily Extract: This plant-based extract comes from the rhizomes (underground roots) of the butterfly ginger plant. It protects the skin against external and environmental stress, including blue light, UV rays, infrared light, heat, and air pollution, which makes it a staple for anyone who lives in a city or spends a lot of time in front of a screen.

  • Cherimoya Extract: Cherimoya fruit is sweet and creamy with characteristics that allow it to adjust to its environment (meaning it can withstand changes in temperature or humidity). These qualities also help relieve skin stress helping to reduce redness and rebalance your complexion. 

  • Turmeric root: Turmeric is more than just a common yellow spice used all over the world. It’s packed with antioxidants that can combat inflammation, helping to even skin tone and enhance skin radiance.

Our Experts

Dr. Hadley King, MD

Board-certified dermatologist in New York City

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