Adaptogens: The Ayurverdic Ingredients You Need To Know


by Cassie Steer |
Published on

Adaptogens. They may sound like something out of a Ridley Scott movie but, having been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, this therapeutic collection of herbs and spices is much more rooted in science fact than fiction. What’s more, they could change the way you and your skin react to stress due to their ability to ‘keep the body adaptable in the face of a wide range of pressures’, according to master herbalist and natural health expert Philip Weeks.

The fact that we in the West are finally cottoning on to their myriad applications – which amount to way more than just an easy-on-the-eye turmeric latte – is welcome news indeed. ‘Adaptogenic herbs are going to be a big trend in 2018,’ predicts holistic nutritionist and life coach Pandora Symes (with ashwagandha set to tip turmeric off the top slot). ‘With up to 95% of all illnesses in the US caused or worsened by stress, our response to it is something that we all need to start looking at.’ 95% of all illnesses? It’s enough to get your heart-rate racing... ‘Stress has become an everyday word in the modern world,’ adds Jasmine Hemsley, a wellness and nutrition expert whose latest cook book, East By West (£12, Bluebird), is devoted to Ayurvedic cooking. These days, it’s almost seen as a good thing to show that you’re really busy and important,’ continues Jasmine. ‘Stress is not only about how we react to life on the outside, it’s how we react on the inside to what we put in our bodies.’ Which brings us on to our poor, stressed out skin.

Calm your complexion

Stress manifests itself in many ways, with inflammation often being the end result. For our skin, that means breakouts, sensitivity and inflammatory responses such as eczema and psoriasis, for those who are prone to them.

Pandora suggests introducing a variety of adaptogenic herbs into your diet, either as supplements, teas or smoothies, to help your body and ultimately your skin cope with stress.

‘Adaptogens help to regulate the stress responses in the body by bringing it into homeostasis,’ says Rebekah Hall of organic juice and tonic company Botanic Lab. ‘They have a normalising effect on the body’s physiological response to stress and decrease sensitivity to it at a cellular level.’ And it’s this cellular-level stress – caused by pesky free radicals generated by UV rays, pollution, poor diet and even just normal metabolic processes – that can ultimately lead to reactive skin and accelerated ageing.

Not keen on the idea of chowing down on holy basil and glugging vats of liquorice tea? The good news is the beauty big boys, such as ESPA, Aveda (which regularly consults with Ayurvedic practitioners about its formulas) and Origins (which is relaunching its best-selling cordycep mushroom-packed Dr Andrew Weil For Origins Mega Mushroom range later this year) are twigging that adaptogens can also be beneficial to your hair and skin in product form. ‘When used topically, adaptogens found in herbs such as turmeric and ashwagandha trigger cells to communicate and encourage a heightened state of repair,’ says Susie Willis, founder of Romilly Wilde skincare. ‘They adjust to your skin type, figuring out imbalances and stresses and adapt the cells to metabolise effectively, therefore allowing the skin to be more receptive to nutrients.’

‘Extracts such as rosemary or turmeric can help the skin quickly respond and adapt to the loss of nutrients and water caused by external aggressors, thanks to the powerful antioxidants they contain, which penetrate the epidermis to balance the chemistry of the skin,’ adds Dr Mariano Spiezia, medical herbalist and founder of Inlight Beauty. Here are the top three adaptogens to add to your skincare regime...

Soothing tumeric

Not just for curries and that Instagrammable ‘golden milk’ post, turmeric is a root also known for its skin-calming properties. ‘ The curcuminoid pigments in turmeric are highly effective antioxidants that dampen inflammatory responses,’ says Dr Perricone, who uses it in his Perricone MD Pre range to help preserve youthful skin, as well as his new range of Super Greens supplements, £80, designed to protect against free-radical damage and support immunity. For skin in need of some TLC, try This Works Stress Check Face Mask, £32, followed by Inlight Beauty Turmeric & Calendula Relief Balm, £22, where needed (this is particularly great for eczema and dermatitis).

Revitalising ginseng

Skin feeling sluggish? Gee it up with this raucous root known for its stimulating prowess. We love The Body Shop Roots Of Strength Firming Shaping Essence, £17, to help bolster flagging complexions, followed by Origins Ginzing Ultra Hydrating Energy-Boosting Cream, £25, which revs up your skin’s natural radiance while enveloping it in moisture to help stave off the cold. Even scalps can benefit, thanks to Aveda’s new and improved Invati Advanced Scalp Revitalizer, £47, designed to invigorate and boost the look of thinning hair.

Anti-inflammatory liquorice root

Known to help sooth sore throats and fight infection, liquorice is also perfectly equipped to dampen down reactive, reddened skin. Liquorice root contains a natural component that has a strong anti-inflammatory action on the skin, as well as having hydrating and anti-oxidant properties. Start with This Works Evening Detox Cleansing Water, £22, to calm an overwrought epidermis, followed by Paula’s Choice Brightening Essence, £40, where the liquorice root works to interrupt overzealous melanin (pigment) production and give you a healthy glow.

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