For centuries, women in the Eastern world have been looking to nature for beauty solutions. Indian women have laced their food with turmeric and other anti-inflammatory spices to retain their youthful looks. In Japan, women have traditionally consumed copious amounts of antioxidant-rich green teas and matcha, even applying them as a concentrate to acne.
We’re becoming increasingly aware that our hectic lifestyles are having a negative effect on our skin. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it. After a particularly bad night’s sleep, we can expect to see dark circles, fine lines and a dull skin texture in the bathroom mirror come morning. But low-level stress and fatigue just chip away gradually at our skin over time, and no amount of sleep will fix it.
With a renewed interest and extensive scientific studies and research, superfoods and adaptogens are now proving that we can achieve our beauty goals through what we eat. We are now literally eating ourselves younger and more beautiful. Adaptogens are popping up everywhere right now, but just like turmeric and green tea, they've been healing generations for thousands of years in Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic traditions; they're just new to the Western world.
Adaptogens come in various forms of plants and herbs, which, when eaten, rebalance the body’s stress responses. They effectively help the body adapt to stress, be it work stress, the changing of the seasons (which can affect the immune system) or emotional stress. They're also nourishing for the adrenal glands, can stabilize blood sugar, and aid with immune system regulation. They also help restore blood pressure to a healthy level and even rebalance hormones.
Of course, we need a go-to stress response (also known as “fight or flight”) to help us out of those tricky life and death situations. What we don’t need is to be triggering this extreme stress response daily, but we often do—thanks to more everyday concerns like a buildup of emails, or a bad traffic jam. When the body is living in a constant state of stress, your digestive system shuts down because energy is moved away from digesting food to the arms and legs for quicker movement, and to the brain for quicker thinking; the body becomes ready for battle. The knock-on effects of this heightened state of constant stress can be numerous, but includes digestive issues, illnesses and even skin issues.
As we now know, the health of our digestive system affects everything from our mood to our skin. In Eastern medicine, the large intestines reflect the skin, so an over-congested digestive system will present itself as congested skin. Even the best topical products out there won’t be able to help if the issues are an inside job.
Ashwagandha, one of the buzziest adaptogens, is a herb that alleviates many of the symptoms of a stressful modern life. It contains chemical compounds called alkaloids, which are beneficial for the nervous system, and it eases stress and anxiety.
"Ashwagandha acts on the endocrine system by encouraging hormone balance," says Dr. Ashutosh Gautam, clinical operations and coordination manager at Baidyanath. Studies even suggest a reduction in menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and mood swings.
It also contains potent antioxidant properties that help protect the skin against free radical damage and slow down the ageing process by firming up your skin for a more youthful look. You can find it in Moon Juice's SuperYou ($49).
A type of medicinal berry, schisandra has multiple healing properties. It is a powerful natural skin tonic that can protect the skin from sun, wind, other environmental toxins, allergies and prevent dermatitis. In 2015, the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published studies that determine the anti-inflammatory effects of schisandra. The study observed the effect on ear swelling by lowering skin dermatitis, immune cell filtration and cytokine production, which are all markers of inflammatory skin disorders in humans.
In Ayurveda, triphala is known as “three fruits” and is made from the combination of three myrobalans, fruit-bearing trees: amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki. The benefits of this adaptogen are hugely amplified when the three are combined. Dr. Michael Tierra, LAc, OMD, researched triphala and reported that it improves the digestive and liver function. Amalaki is said to contain 20 times the vitamin C of an orange, which is essential for collagen synthesis. Triphala can also be applied topically to the skin to speed the healing of bruises and sunburns.
A plant from Peru, it is one of the more popular adaptogens on the market. It is known for its energy-enhancing effects, however studies have shown how it can also benefit skin health. According to the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, it can act as a protectant against the sun. One beauty company found that Maca can increase collagen synthesis in the skin.
If fine lines and wrinkles are your concern, then get to know this herb. It has been found to support collagen and elastin production in the skin, which are the building blocks of young, plump skin. The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California-Irvine reported promising anti-ageing benefits when they investigated the effects of rhodiola on the life span of fruit flies. It has been proposed that rhodiola could extend longevity and improve health span by alleviating oxidative stress.