Nutraceuticals, Adaptogens, and Beauty-Boosting Herbal Supplements
We know that beauty is on the inside, right? So, the idea that you can cultivate beauty from the inside-out isn’t such a leap.
Enter: The beauty-enhancing vitamins filling our shelves. You can even buy beautifying concoctions at the drugstore thanks to brands like Olly. (Although, I don't personally sample theirs because they contain gelatin.) That being said, I find that adaptogenic supplements, which yield beauty-boosting outcomes via a holistic understanding of nutrition, are more effective, particularly over the long-term.
To find out for sure, I called upon the loveliest guinea pig of them all: Shannon. My friend from college and former Theta sister is a fellow lover of high-end skincare products, and she was gracious enough to provide her invaluable feedback on two of Olly's beauty-targeting blends:
"I generally am very vigilant with my skin and have done a lot over the years in terms of products and medicines to get it in (fairly) good shape, so it was hard for me to tell if Olly Flawless Complexion ($14) was doing anything extra. I didn't notice much of a difference at all frankly. The taste took a little while to get used to (mixed berry-ish with a vitamin-y aftertaste), but once I did, I actually liked it."
The bottom-line? "Decent taste but probably not worth the cavities."
Ok, so you can definitely skip out on their skin boosters. Shannon had more positive feedback for their hair and nail supplement. "I definitely noticed my nails were strong after taking Olly Undeniable Beauty ($12) for a few weeks. As in, I peeled off two gel manis and my nails didn't completely shred-strong! My hair also felt strong and shiny — although, it was freshly trimmed, so..."
Her final takeaway, "I would definitely continue taking these."
Why Limit Your Wellness Benefits?
The question is, if you're taking the time to treat yourself to beautifiers, why stop there? Adaptogenic herbs and wellness-promoting supplements do more for both your beauty and wellness, particularly over the long term and for anti-aging goals.
I first began taking herbal wellness supplements when I was in my early 20s, living in New York and seeing the naturopath, Dr. Gabrielle Francis. She changed my life forever by giving me a glimpse of what is possible when you choose to make wellness a priority in the midst of chaos.
Dr. Francis, my health-saving angel!
I found out after she became my fave Dr. of all time that she treats literal rockstars.
My slow and gradual life-change began with holistic, gut health-boosting smoothies, which I talked about in Woman's Day. She gave me the recipe for a detoxifying shake, to which I was instructed to add organic berries for antioxidants, green powders and superfoods galore, flax oil, and probiotics. It quickly became a part of my daily routine — one that even my boyfriend, Tom, adopted.
This meal replacement shake ensured that no matter what my day looked like (I was working in foster care at the time), I got the essential nutrients I needed each morning. Thanks to the vitamins it contained, my hair looked great. It was thicker and shinier than ever before. My nails grew quickly and strong. Those smoothies provided me with the sustained energy that I needed to get through grueling days of field work, classes, and commuting.
She has since started her own line of these meal-replacement shakes. I just stocked up on The Rx Remedy Detox Elixir ($300) and bought her book. She sells an Anti-Aging Smoothie Bundle ($307), BTW.
The Stress-Beauty Connection
Adaptogens are functional herbs that promote well-being by buffering you from the effects of stress. When I was attending Columbia for graduate school, my stress-levels and cortisol levels were through the roof.
The constant activation of my nervous system was depleting my adrenal gland and making me feel tired-but-wired all the time. I had panic attacks, worried constantly, and had so much trouble falling asleep at night I used to dread going to bed and waking up.
And guess what — I have since learned that stress literally ages skin. As Dr. Jacqueline Schaffer of Schique Skincare explains in my Brit + Co. article, cortisol causes breakouts, raises blood sugar, damages collagen and elastin (the wrinkle-preventing components in the skin), and compromises the ability to retain moisture. She said it herself: stress ages skin.
A snapshot of my B+C Post on Stress and Skin
I tried to tackle my stress levels from all angles, including with adaptogens. I began sampling all the foods, medicines, herbs, facials, retail therapies (from Saks to the East West Bookstore), actual therapy (from CBT to DBT), and stress-reduction activities galore (i.e. working out, acupuncture, meditation, and more) that holistic health and beyond had to offer.
The Beauty Sleep Connection
Sleep was another major issue. At the time, I took benzodiazepines like Klonopin to help quell acute anxiety, but never felt rested (or well). I suffered from chronic insomnia until four years ago, when it miraculously resolved completely. The quality of my life improved drastically when I overcame my sleep problems — as did my skin.
Joanna Vargas first clued me in to the importance of sleep in skincare. When we sleep, our skin naturally regenerates and repairs itself from the wear-and-tear of the day. Diane Shimkus, LCSW and mindfulness expert of Everyday Mind, drove the point home: "The best skincare possible is a well-regulated mind and body." Stress and insomnia are co-morbid — almost inextricably linked — and regulating your body's stress response is key for restful sleep. (Her stress-reducer of choice is mindfulness, which can be practiced simultaneously with any and all beauty rituals.)
Here is how I delineate the sleep-skin connection for myself: First, poor sleep minimizes the amount of time spent in the medically-verifiably healing state of deep relaxation. The activated stress response thereby prevents your body from undergoing its naturally reparative and detoxifying processes, directing your energy towards danger-escaping mechanisms (i.e. the fight or flight response). When you're in danger, your evolutionary survival mechanism doesn't want you to fall asleep — historically speaking, passing out might just get you eaten. At the biological level, my brain didn't know the difference between falling short at Columbia, and coming up against an actual lion, their mascot. Very telling, indeed.
Letting the self-perpetuating stress model cheat you out of the body's youth-preserving and health-promoting functions is not on my agenda anymore. When you're constantly go-go-go-ing, your adrenal gland is overworked. Adrenalin and stress-hormones activate nervous system responses like elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, chronic worry, and even leg and back pain. Have those symptoms ever interfered with your ability to fall asleep? Same.
Unmitigated stress squanders energy that would otherwise aid digestion, repair, and detoxification. Living in straight-up survival mode leaves no time for vanity. To survive, your body functions on short-term bursts of energy to help you escape the perceived threat. Of course, in my case, the predator was lifestyle- and self-imposed stress.
The point is, no matter your situation, adaptogenic herbs and stress-reducing supplements will go a long way thanks to the documented mind-body connection. As the experts reveal, managing your stress isn't just improving your life, health, and mood — it's also improving your skin.
The Stress-Reduction Solution
When it comes to stress-reduction, too much of a good thing is definitely a good thing. Here is the key: Knowing that a high-stress lifestyle, without sufficient periods of restful relaxation, deprives your body of what it needs to undergo its self-maintaining functions, find as many ways as possible to induce deep relaxation. Of course you can pick your favorites, but don't limit your exposure to health-promoting activities. Keep as many stress-reducers in your tool-kit as possible!
There is an actual brain state that imparts the healing described as “deep relaxation with attentional focus." It is visible on MRIs and essentially means you're conscious — not simply daydreaming or asleep — while in a deeply relaxed state! This optimal state of healing can be brought about with practices like mantra meditation (such as TM), MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), and more.
The studies I've read — and I've read a lot of them — are truly fascinating. I can also vouch for the effects firsthand, as I learned the technique during my 20s. (I also wrote about it in a paper on the effect of Transcendental Meditation on the brain, physiology, and mental health outcomes of vulnerable populations.)
(Photo via TM For Women)
I can't meditate all day everyday, but taking stress-regulating supplements is one of the many angles from which I choose to approach the issue of managing and regulating my body's stress response. Thankfully, evidence-based, holistic modalities are popping up more and more frequently of late.
Moon Juice Super You Daily Stress Management ($49) hit shelves and is truly revolutionary in how it is making functional medicine available to the mainstream. It uses adaptogenic herbs — including Organic Ashwagandha, Organic Amla, Organic Rhodiola, and more — to reduce your cortisol levels by 24%, while enhancing your energy, mood, focus, and calm. Brit + Co. writer Gabi Conti announced its launch on the blog.
Another company whose products are raved about is Sun Potion. They sell this drool-worthy Sun Potion Brain Set Gift Box ($125) that contains cognitive-enhancing blends that you can also purchase individually. For example, Sun Potion Brain Tonic Rhodiola ($57) is sworn by as an alternative to Adderall. Their Organic Ashwangandha ($43) is an Ayurvedic medicine to protect your from stress that No Whey Lady's founder, Jenna Schrek, takes daily. Since I am obsessed with the pollution-fighting properties of algae right now, their Organic Chlorella Powder ($35) appeals to me as well.
This H20 contains nano-CBD which is instantly absorbed, along with CoQ10 (great for the skin), D-Rbose, vitamin B complex, Folic Acid, and ASHWAGANDA EXTRACT, an adaptogen that Jenna Schrek of No Whey Lady takes daily and swears by. She is a holistic nutritionist to be — I trust her taste in herbs! P.S. I call her Baby Gwyneth.
Funny story: Yesterday I tried Sun Potion Mucuna Pruriens ($43), AKA the dopamine bean, thinking it would help me focus. I added it to my Bulletproof coffee, sat down at my computer, and then promptly fell asleep. Hours later, I was still relaxed-to-the-max — I spilled the coffee I made to wake myself up and wore my sunglasses around indoors without even knowing it! Needless to say, I slept like a baby last night and longer than usual this morning. Although it wasn't intended to be a full-on sleep potion, boy do I feel rested!
I would also look into The Nue Co., The Beauty Chef, and even Goop's line of vitamins. Clean retailers who emphasize non-toxic beauty have vetted their brands and carry supplements whose benefits are based in research, healing modalities, and traditions. I have been wanting to try The Beauty Chef Glow Advanced Inner Beauty Powder ($70) forever. It contains 24 ultra-potent fermented ingredients, prebiotics and probiotics, and vitamins that are all designed to unleash your inner glow in a way that shows.
Finally, these beautifying supplements are not only anti-aging because of their connection to the stress process; they also contain beauty-enhancing ingredients. The potent antioxidants these blends contain are remarkably protective for the skin. Ultimately, these incredible herbal supplements are helping to protect your whole self — hair, skin, and body included — from the effects of stress and oxidative damage. I am a firm believer in letting "Thy food be thy medicine."
(Photo via Gaia's Lab)
A Quick Word On Collagen Supplements
I do not personally support the use of collagen supplements, largely because animal-derived products are both inhumane and potentially damaging to the delicate immune system. Sonia Park, founder of the fabulous science-backed green skincare line, Gaia's Lab, put it perfectly: "I won't ruin your night by telling you how collagen is made..."
But I probed, and she relented. "Collagen is produced from the bones, cartilages, and waste from cows, pigs, and fish after they are slaughtered for meat," she shares. "The collagen I use is reverse engineered using the protein sequence that is publicly available. No need to kill animals for this collagen."
In other words, most collagen on the market is literally coming from carcasses! It's the polar opposite of the raw, clean diets that people love these days. There are marine sources of collagen (i.e. fish), bovine (i.e. cow), porcine (i.e. pig), and poultry-derived (i.e. chicken). Even if you aren't a veggie-supporter, there's a reason to hold back which is that animal-derived products can be devastating for those of you with autoimmune sensitivity.
Sonia Park, Formulator and Co-Owner of Gaia's Lab
My health was severely impacted by a porcine form of Thyroid hormone that a former doctor insisted I take until I finally gave in. I'm talking, sicker than I've ever been. I was pre-diabetic with high blood sugar and ever-worsening insulin-resistance. I was completely FREAKED out about my health — and it was Dr. Francis who turned things around for me completely.
Before even knowing what was causing me to feel so awful, I found myself simply not wanting to take my Thyroid medicine. Weird, considering I've been taking supplemental Thyroid hormones since I was 16... On some level, my body knew that pig hormones were causing the immune dysfunction, and I felt repulsed by the little pills.
I got into an actual argument with my former doctor, who insisted that my thyroid levels were low and I had to take my medicine! All I knew was that something felt off. The inflammation was so severe that you could see it outwardly — I looked puffy! And on the inside, my immune system was being activated and attacking my own body, wreaking havoc on my health. I felt so sick that I took a leave from school to recover.
Naturally compounded, phyto-T3 and T4
When I finally set up an appointment with Dr. Francis, The Herban Alchemist and my personal hero, she switched me over to plant-based T3/T4 immediately, and my health improved immensely. Based on my horrific experience with autoimmune backlash from animal products, I just can't do collagen supplements. The thought of drinking them makes me gag.
But, I get that they are super buzzy right now. If you really want to try a collagen supplement, I would suggest a phyto-sourced blend, like MyKind Organic Plant Collagen Builder ($27). Or just apply it topically, with something like Gaia's Lab Anti-Pollution Serum with Collagen ($50). After all, pollution is one of the four anti-aging causes responsible for 85% of skin damage! (Thanks, Dr. Loretta!)
Prolonged periods of chronic stress will deplete your body's adrenal hormones, which I experienced firsthand. When you are pushing yourself too hard for too long, an overload of stress can become toxic for your health, resulting in exhaustion, dizziness, and even fainting. This happened to me before I quit my job as a therapist and started writing full-time a little over two years ago.
At the beginning of the career shift, I could barely keep my eyes open. Getting to the doctor to undergo testing was a challenge, as I suffered from severe dizziness that prevented me from driving. I almost fainted in my kitchen — all due to extreme adrenal fatigue from prolonged, toxic stress.
Learning about the various forms of stress-reduction (which I was thankfully studying in school, too) helped me begin to incorporate them into my life whenever possible. As I have mentioned before, beauty and wellness treatments went hand-in-hand for me. I would fall into that coveted not-asleep-but-deeply-restful space on the acupuncture table, as well as at the spa for my monthly facial.
To bring the point home: Adaptogenic herbs and supplements are one ultra-effective way to help fortify your body's ability to withstand stressors. Incorporating them into my life helped begin a shift that was life-changing for me.
Whenever possible, find ways to cue the relaxation response — this is when true healing takes place.
As your biological antidote to toxic stress kicks into gear and counters the stress response, you will feel a gradual shift away from the "Must flee!"-mentality, and back to a less spastic baseline. At first, these escapes from a stressful reality with come in fleeting moments — like when you're on the acupuncture or massage table. But the more you cultivate this zen-like state, you can choose to make it your new baseline if you so desire.
This is the gist of why my new lifestyle emphasizes the "Just Stress Less" mantra. Wellness and beauty are merging because a critical protective factor against stress-induced aging is activated via the relaxation response. When you're stressed out, your beauty will suffer — and I have upcoming posts on Brit + Co. with expert quotes demonstrating just this. (Links to come.)
If you choose to supplement your anti-aging regimen with a supplement, I highly suggest grabbing one that prioritizes holistic health, as well. Adaptogens and stress-reducing herbal blends have been critical for me, and they are becoming so readily available! I emphasize purity of ingredients, organic whenever possible, and companies whose founders and principles I trust.
Do you take stress-reducing supplements or adaptogens? Tell me on Instagram!
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