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Q: What Are Adaptogens and What Do They Do for Skin?

08 Oct 2019

With a love for cosmetics from a young age, my curiosity knew that there was much more to the goop inside the jar than meets the eye. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Analytical Chemistry and moved to California to chase my dreams of becoming a cosmetic chemist, passionate in developing results-driven skincare. Now, I am the Product Innovation Manager for Youth to the People. My primary experience is in research and development, with a focus on both sustainability and the formulation of skincare, bringing natural ingredients to the forefront of the cosmetics market. I’m here to answer all your skincare questions.

Question: What are adaptogens and what do they do for skin?

Answer: When we talk about adaptogens, we often talk about their effectiveness against stress. Though it might seem obvious, let’s first talk about stress and how it affects our skin.

Stress is an overarching term that has many implications. In essence, it’s the body’s chemical response to different factors which can include studying for midterms or a daily commute with heavy traffic. Chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline amp up in response to these situations. 

When it comes to our skin, these chemical responses interfere with the normal routine of our skin’s barrier function. When our skin’s barrier function is compromised, we end up showing signs of stress through congestion and breakouts, inflammation and redness, fatigue, and oil imbalance or dryness that can result in premature aging. 

Regardless of what’s happening in your life, everyone deals with environmental stress, like ultraviolet rays from the sun and exhaust from cars on the street. UV rays and pollution in our environment produce free radicals, which can react with our skin cells and cause oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can manifest itself in the overproduction of oil, hyperpigmentation, and can be a precursor to premature aging.

So how can adaptogens help? Adaptogens are these amazing herbs, mushrooms, and plants that have a very significant antioxidant profile that allows them to not only survive, but thrive in areas that see extreme changes in environment; their biologies allow them to adapt to their harsh environments easily. 

Editorial Adaptogens

Rhodiola Rosea

A very significant adaptogenic plant familiar to the YTTP ingredient family is Rhodiola rosea. This amazing flowering plant grows in the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia, thriving amongst some of the darkest, coldest winters and sunniest summers. Most significantly, it thrives in the tundra with areas of very high wind all year round. Rhodiola is full of active compounds, including rosavin, that allows for this adaptation to its stressful environment. When isolated, rosavin has been clinically tested to fight against inflammation precursors, i.e. visible stress showing as redness and flushing which is called erythema. Most commonly this occurs with sunburn or windburn. Windburn depletes the skin of moisture, causing dehydration, and when dry, our skin is very vulnerable to stress. By using Rhodiola rosea in our skincare, we can utilize its active components to protect our skin before and after environmental stress. Essentially, Rhodiola rosea can handle wind, and when we use it, so can we.


To be fully protected, skin needs to stay hydrated. A fantastic hydrator in the adaptogen ingredient family is Ganoderma lucidum, also known as reishi mushroom. Reishi’s antioxidant profile is just as extensive as Rhodiola, but its most significant antioxidants are beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are long chains of glucose (sugar) molecules that work to bring water from the environment into the skin, and which also work as water reservoirs to keep skin hydrated at deeper levels of the epidermis than humectants typically found in skincare, like glycerin. This type of sustained hydration has also been clinically proven to protect against erythema caused by environmental stress. The antioxidants in reishi also aid in the regulation of our natural moisturizing factors such as hyaluronic acid, and ceramide synthesis, which in turn allow the skin to be more tolerant to environmental stressors. Just like drinking eight glasses of water a day, adding hydrators to your skincare routine is essential in keeping skin healthy.

Scientists have been studying the effects of Rhodiola rosea and reishi, along with many of the other adaptogens used in skincare, as food supplements for quite some time, and more recently they’re thankfully proven to protect skin, too. Simply put: adaptogens are nature’s shield against stress.

Do you have questions for The Chemist? Send ‘em over on email to [email protected], or shoot us a DM on Instagram.


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