What are adaptogens anyway? And why do I want them on my skin?


Imagery: Drew Graham // Unsplash

Courtesy of Moon Juice // @moonjuice

Youth To The People // @youthtothepeople

Words: Sarah Tarca // @tarca



I’ve seen many a beauty buzzword in my time. I’ve also trialled enough new miracle potions (and swallowed enough marketing BS) to be naturally sceptical about beauty “trends”. So when adaptogens first popped up on my radar I had a lot of questions. These things weren’t “new” at all. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners had been all over them for centuries. So, why are adaptogens only coming into the mainstream limelight now? How did they become the wellness world’s new darling? And what do they do anyway?


Let’s start at the beginning. What are adaptogens, exactly? Amanda Chantal Bacon, CEO and Founder of pioneering, adaptogen-based beauty and wellness brand, Moon Juice explains, “Adaptogens are super herbs and mushrooms that expand the body’s capacity to handle stress.” As they’re native to some of the world’s harshest environments and were still able to thrive, they have a potent resilience. “Adaptogenic herbs help regulate stress hormones such as cortisol. They can help regulate the hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal access, HPA, and sympatho-adrenal systems,” she says. “Adaptogens are what is called ‘bi-directional’, which means they have the ability to calm hyper-functioning systems or strengthen the activity of low-functioning systems… they literally have the ability to adapt to the needs of your body.”


It makes sense to me that adaptogens would be effective when ingested (we wrote about them here), but when I started to see them pop up in beauty products I was dubious. How could they help you from the outside, when most of the goodness is done from the inside? How do they even work topically?

Chantal explains; “When ingested, adaptogens work internally on multiple systems of the body. When applied topically, they can help the skin’s resilience to stress that can cause accelerated ageing.” And resilience is something we all need with stress and pollution creeping into our lives – and our skin.


“When applied topically, they can help the skin’s resilience
to stress that can cause accelerated ageing”


The beauty world has firmly jumped on board, and though it’s definitely not mainstream yet, more and more brands are releasing their own adaptogenic lines. One of those brands is Youth To The People, the clean, vegan beauty brand known for their superfood ingredients (like kale and spinach moisturiser).

“We were inspired to put adaptogens in skincare when we experienced their internal benefits first-hand. You can feel the energy boost and the immunity boost you get from these incredible plants,” say Youth To The People co-founders Greg Gonzalez and Joe Cloyes . “The topical benefit really comes from their high antioxidant content; they have the unique ability to neutralise topical free radicals. We also cold-press our extracts to preserve the maximum amount of benefits from the live plant, so your skin is getting a serious dose of protection against oxidation.”


Their adaptogen skincare range (available from Sephora) uses ashwaghanda, a root from the nightshade family, and the mushroom reishi – both known to battle the effects of stress on the skin. “They are natural sources of powerful antioxidants that help neutralise the damage typically caused by oxidative stressors like pollution, smoke, UV and blue light, or physical and emotional stress,” they say.


So if these magical plants have been around for centuries, why are we only hearing about them now? "For a long time adaptogens were hard to find – they’re starting to become more widely available,” Greg and Joe say. And while they’re definitely part of a global wellness movement that has helped with a general open-mindedness to natural products, there’s also more research to show their effects. “While they’ve lost their semi-mysterious reputation, they’re more widely accepted as legitimate supplements to a healthy lifestyle,” Greg and Joe say.

Like a lot of wellness buzz right now, the hype just comes down to timing, trending… and probably a little bit of Gwyneth Paltrow, but this is one beauty craze we think may just be a keeper.