Sure, beauty from the inside is an age-old concept. Indian women have been spiking their food with turmeric for centuries to stave off skin aging, and the Japanese have gulped down gallons of collagen drinks in the name of dewy skin. But thanks to the renewed interest in a crop of highly prized and traditional beauty-enhancing herbs, I wanted to know if we should be surreptitiously adding them to our day-to-day beauty rituals?
Adaptogens—unique plants and herbs—are getting a lot of play these days. You may have heard about eating them to help normalize the body's stress response, making you more resilient (adaptive) in the face of physical/emotional stress and bringing you back to a state of true balance. Whilst they calm and nourish the adrenal glands, they also support all the processes that are controlled by the adrenals—from blood sugar and immune system regulation, to hormones and blood pressure.
I spoke to the renowned herbalist and proprietor of Naturopathica, Barbara Close, who says that "while adaptogens are a big buzz in the wellness community right now for boosting immunity and increasing stamina, they're also beneficial in skin care for their effect on modulating stress." A growing field of psychodermatology, the mind-skin connection addresses the apparent link between our emotional state, the body's physiological response to our emotional state, and the outcome of this response on our skin, body, health, and well-being.
"In addition to their effect on the adrenals, certain adaptogens like ashwaganda possess alkaloids that act on the nervous system to ease anxiety, while other adaptogens like schisandra are rich in antioxidants and support the liver in detoxification," says Barbara. All of this is good news for skin health—from the inside out. "Topically, there is no evidence or history of use that demonstrates adaptogens are effective in skin care. I would look to other herbs for topical support such as calendula, Oregon grape root, or oats to help with skin imbalances such as dermatitis, psoriasis or irritation."
As we shift from winter to spring in particular, Close recommends supplementing your traditional wellbeing practices with potent herbal offerings. "It's the time of year where people feel anxious. My remedy ritual is lemom balm, a soothing nervine with great research behind it to soothe anxiety. Drink 2-3 cups of lemon balm tea throughout the day to keep your skin glowing."
Spring is also a time of transition that can spell disaster for our complexion. "With changes in temperature leading to dryness and irritation, try an oat milk bath," says Close. "Place 1/2 cup of oats in a washcloth and tie with a rubber band. Fill sink with warm water and squeeze the ball several times until water turns milky. Splash oat milk onto your face or use the ball as compress to soothe sensitive skin and replenish moisture."
How to know which adaptogenic herbs or plants are best for your body takes a healthy combination of consulting an expert, knowing your body, and some good old experimentation. MD's recommend using a saliva test to understand which stage of adrenal fatigue your body is at, and choosing adaptogen blends designed for that specific phase in order to change the stress response.