Studies and Evidence
Ashwagandha root use is going up, as millions of people are distrustful of main-stream prescription drugs. Recent data suggests that less than half of all Americans trust pharmaceutical companies, with over a third actively distrusting them.
It makes sense, then, that people with a problem as common as acne would be interested in herbal remedies. Or, would be interested if the herbal remedy they’re taking for something else can actually make their acne worse. Acne afflicts up to 85% of adolescents (under 25), and can even hit millions of people well into their 40s.
In this article we’ll explore three distinct lines of thought: does Ashwagandha cause acne?; can Ashwagandha prevent acne?; and can Ashwagandha help with other problems that can lead to acne.
✲ No evidence exists that Ashwagandha can actively cause acne.
✲ Some preliminary studies suggested that layered treatments of Ashwagandha might help with some of the causes of Acne.
✲ Further studies have indicated that Ashwagandha root can help with underlying, hormonal triggers of acne, like stress and a rare disease called adrenal hyperplasia.
Can Ashwagandha Root Cause Acne?
The short answer here is no. I conducted exhaustive research into the side-effects of Ashwagandha, which you can read here, and nowhere in my findings did anyone mention acne or other skin conditions.
In addition to that article, I’ve conducted reviews of hundreds of rigorous scientific studies measuring the efficacy of Ashwagandha for everything from testosterone to stress. No trials to date have mentioned acne as an adverse reaction.
Can it Prevent Acne?
There are several root causes of acne, but according to experts, none of them are necessarily inside the body. The basic mechanism of acne is excess skin oil clogging hair follicles, wherein dirt and bacteria become trapped, causing inflammation.
Some internal triggers, such as hormonal changes or medications, can cause more oil to be produced at the site of acne, or weaken the epidural bacteria defenses, there is no evidence that Ashwagandha can help with either of these things.
Only one study, on record and publicly available, had any direct evidence that Ashwagandha could help with acne–but their data are hidden behind a paywall. What is visible indicates that topical treatments (salves, cleansers, etc.) were more effective than taking Ashwagandha internally. This study is also very old (early 2000s).
Another study was conducted quite recently, and was registered with the Clinical Trials watchdog agency, but tellingly, they have not published their results. The fact that the only clinical trials to date to study Ashwagandha and acne, directly, are either old or have not published their findings indicate that there was no solid evidence of success.
Lastly, a review of Ashwagandha health benefits cited a study indicating that it was good for pimples and other skin conditions–but this study is not available for review, which again, casts doubt on its veracity.
How Ashwagandha May Ease Acne Symptoms
As discussed above, acne is not actually caused by internal mechanisms of the body. Even in the case of adolescence, hormones only influence how oily the skin is. Topical remedies can, in many cases, clear this oil away. Some persistent acne can be treated with medication which affects the internal mechanisms of the body, but those are only available by prescription.
If a person has good reason to believe that one or more of these internal mechanisms may alleviate their acne, then Ashwagandha maybe an option to mitigate symptoms, if not the causes, of acne.
Acne and Stress
The medical community has studied the relationship between stress and outbreaks of acne for decades. Right now, there is no clear consensus on causation of acne, but that stress can and does worsen acne already present. In this isolated case of stress and acne, Ashwagandha can definitely help.
As I’ve previously reported, Ashwagandha is an excellent and proven reducer of stress and anxiety in human patients. These data are not solely based on self-reported studies, either. One study has actually demonstrated that after taking Ashwagandha, cortisol levels were reduced by over 20%. (Cortisol is the “stress hormone,” and when it goes down, the other biochemical reactions in the body decrease, as well; including acne.)
No studies to date have made the direct correlation between stress-induced acne and Ashwagandha, but the link is there to be made.
Several diseases that doctors had thought were rare are perhaps more common than previously suspected. One such disorder is called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH). While considered an outlier illness in the past, some estimates indicate it may affect up to one in every 10,000 people.
This disease wreaks havoc on the glands near the kidneys that regulate hormones like cortisol (stress), aldosterone (blood pressure), and the sex hormones testosterone and androgens.
Among the multiplicity of symptoms of Adrenal Hyperplasia is severe acne. Which leads us to two case studies wherein patients with CAH were treated with Ashwagnadha and saw noticeable improvements in symptoms. One case study hypothesized the herbal medicine mitigated an enzyme deficiency leading to CAH, while the other focused on hormone deficiencies.
Neither of these case studies present as strong of evidence as a full clinical trial, but they are worth noting for the quality of the science conducted by the attending physicians.
Acne can hit up to a quarter of adult women and almost half as many men, along with the overwhelming majority of younger adults. This makes it one of the most prevalent health concerns all over the world. Determining what medications may help–or exacerbate–acne can be a huge benefit to individual patients.
The present body of scientific evidence indicates that there is no direct link between Ashwagandha and the onset of acne–it neither causes nor prevents an outbreak. But there is strong ancillary evidence that Ashwagnadha root can help with factors that contribute to the severity of acne occurrences, though those data require further study to establish possible causation.