What Do Adaptogens Really Do For The Skin?

A look into those stress-busting, plant-based wonder ingredients.
Written by Beth Shapouri
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What Do Adaptogens Really Do For The Skin?Merve Sehirli Nasir/Unsplash

‘Adaptogen’ has been a buzzword in beauty and skincare for a while now, but there’s a reason this category of plant-derived ingredients may feel a little extra buzzy right now: They’re all about addressing stress. Since we’re all dealing with that a bit more than usual at the moment, people are looking for all the help they can get. We’re breaking down the benefits of adaptogens in skincare with the help of a few skin experts.

The Benefits of Adaptogens in Skincare

Topical Adaptogens Skincare Benefits Infographic

Said to thwart signs of aging, soothe irritation, and make your skin glow, the idea is that adaptogens help your body, well, adapt to all the stressors life throws at you (think: pollution, oxidation, UV rays, etc.), so it can better fend them off.

The list of adaptogens is long, and their use dates back centuries in Chinese and Aryuvedic medicine. A few you might recognize:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Elderberry
  • Ginseng
  • Licorice root
  • Neem
  • Moringa
  • Reishi mushrooms

While adaptogens are seemingly everywhere in skincare formulas these days, you might be surprised to know that they’re not quite considered a slam-dunk in the dermatology world yet. Although there has been some research to support their positive impacts on the nervous system, many feel more studies are needed before drawing any big conclusions.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t have fans among complexion gurus who see these ingredients as potent helpers that soothe as they treat. Howard Murad, MD, has used an adapogents in his eponymous skincare line. Calling them “great ingredients” for skincare formulations, the dermatologist says adaptogens “reinforce and support the skin’s resistance against stressors that can accelerate visible signs of aging.” The one he’s leaned on for his own formulations? Holy basil, which, he says, “creates a soothing buffer that helps to accelerate skin cell recovery.”

New York City-based board certified dermatologist Dendy Engleman, MD, explains many in the industry find them exciting because they could help fend off damage from environmental aggressors — like UVA and UVB rays — before it happens. “Adaptogens interact with our hormones on a cellular level, as opposed to addressing the symptoms,” she says. “We see that [they] can lower our body’s stress response by interfering with released compounds as they are happening and prevent them from signaling overproduction, which can have wonderful implications for acne, wounds, hydration, and more.”

Who might see the most benefit? Anyone with compromised skin (read: dry, sensitive, redness, uneven texture), Dr. Engelman shares. And, luckily for those who want to give them a go, adaptogens are fairly easy to find in moisturizers, serums, and masks these days. One she says to keep an eye on is the hemp derivative cannabidiol (CBD), which is gaining popularity as research rolls out showing what it can do for acne and skin conditions like eczema.

Below, a selection of adaptogen-infused skincare to get you started:

The Glowifier: Moon Juice Acid Potion


If there’s ever a time to add an astringent to your skincare routine, it’s winter when dullness starts to pop up. This gentle resurfacer helps encourage cell turnover with five acids, then soothes and hydrates with the magic of adaptogenic reishi mushrooms. $42, sephora.com

The Masne-Tackler: Glo Skin Anti-Stress CBD Drops


A must in the era of COVID-19 face masks, this serum fends off irritation with an adaptogenic trio of full-spectrum CBD, ashwagandha, and reishi mushroom. Apply directly to the skin or mix with your favorite moisturizer. $125, bluemercury.com

The Prep Step: Guerlain Abeille Royale Fortifying Lotion


This lotion delivers proteins and amino acids thanks to the adaptogen royal jelly, which is sustainably harvested from bees on the island of Ouessant off the coast of Brittany, France. Swipe on after cleansing and before serums to help give your complexion an air of calm, cool, collectness worthy of a queen — bee or human. $75, sephora.com

The Flexible Booster: DERMAdoctor Urban Veil Anti-Stress Adaptogen Powder


This powder scores points for containing multiple adaptogens (cordyceps mushrooms, echinacea, and elderberry) and being so versatile. Just sprinkle it to your moisturizer, serum, or foundation as you please to address sensitivity and redness. $75, skinstore.com

The Bi-Phase Beautifier: Murad Replenish Peel


This two-step treatment sloughs away dead skin cells with gentle acids, then strengthens the skin’s surface with antioxidants and adaptogenic holy basil. In the brand’s clinical trials, it was found to accelerate cell turnover by 33 percent in seven days. $65, murad.com

The Eye Brightener: Mutha Up All Night Eye Cream


The herbal red seaweed, holy basil, centella asiatica, and licorice root in this eye cream send free radical damage packing. Then vitamin C, coffee extract, and pearl powder help to brighten for an instant awakening effect. $90, mutha.com

The Instant Soother: Biophile Bio-shroom Rejuvenating Serum


This protective skin potion uses the power of three adaptogenic mushrooms and niacinamide to calm inflammation, while vitamin C goes to work on fine lines and wrinkles. $148, thedetoxmarket.com

The Sleep Aid: Terraform Concentrated Overnight Repair Mask


With a medley of adaptogens — including CBD, reishi mushroom, and ashwagandha — as well as antioxidants galore, this restorative nighttime mask will have you looking more well-rested by morning. $95, terraformbrands.com

The Acne-Fighter: MMSkincare Balance Serum


With Canadian willow herb and prebiotics, this serum helps tackle break-outs, balance combination skin, and fight redness all at the same time. $85, mmskincare.com

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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BETH SHAPOURIis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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