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True or false: Can ashwagandha cause acne?

This herb is a popular wellness remedy, but it may have an unintended impact on your skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jan 24, 2024 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
ashwagandha withania somnifera capsules
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jan 24, 2024 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What is ashwagandha? 
More

The key takeaways

  • Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb from the Withania somnifera plant, native to India and Southeast Asia, traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine.

  • It’s utilized for a variety of conditions including stress, fatigue, pain, diabetes, and to enhance athletic performance.

  • Ashwagandha is known as an adaptogen, potentially helping the body manage stress and reduce anxiety levels.

  • Studies suggest ashwagandha may improve elements of physical performance like muscle strength and oxygen use.

  • Ashwagandha might increase testosterone levels, potentially aggravating acne. We advise caution with its use for acne-prone skin and suggest consulting healthcare providers before adding it to skincare routines.

  • Curology specializes in personalized skincare and offers customized skincare plans for various skin concerns. Battling acne? We can help! Check out our custom formula for acne!

If you’re interested in alternative medicine, chances are you’ve already heard of ashwagandha, a popular Ayurvedic herb. Ashwagandha’s properties offer a range of potential benefits, including enhanced concentration, stress relief, reduced inflammation, and boosted hormone levels. But whether you have dry, oily, or combination skin problems, can ashwagandha cause acne? Here’s the scoop from our experts.

What is ashwagandha? 

Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb from the roots and leaves of the Withania somnifera, a low-growing evergreen shrub native to India and Southeast Asia. Ashwagandha powder is often used in alternative medicine to help treat conditions such as stress, fatigue, pain, and diabetes. 

This herb is also thought to help boost athletic performance, treat arthritis, and help reduce anxiety.¹ While ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries (and is becoming more popular in Western medicine), research has yet to confirm it has these benefits.²

ashwagandha-powder-and-sticks

What is ashwagandha used for? 

Ashwagandha may be used for a range of things from stress relief to blood sugar regulation. It’s a key player in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, which is based on principles of natural healing. Promising research has been done on the uses of ashwagandha, but most claims have yet to be scientifically confirmed. The potential benefits of ashwagandha are as follows: 

It may help reduce stress and anxiety

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, a natural substance that may help the body adapt to stress.³ Research shows that ashwagandha may help regulate the chemicals in your body to help manage stress, like cortisol. In the same study, participants who took ashwagandha extract for eight weeks showed a reduction in perceived stress, a decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and improved sleep compared to those who took a placebo.⁴ 

In another study, individuals who took ashwagandha extract daily for 60 days showed significant reductions in anxiety compared to those who didn’t.⁵ Additional research conducted in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study suggests that ashwagandha root extract may improve sleep quality in patients with anxiety.⁶ If you’re looking for an herbal supplement that might lower your stress levels, ashwagandha could be a good option!

It may improve physical performance

If you’re a professional or amateur athlete or just like to stay active, ashwagandha could boost your physical performance. An analysis of studies on ashwagandha supplementation suggests that ashwagandha may boost elements of physical performance like cardiorespiratory fitness and strength.⁷ Another study showed a greater increase in muscle strength and size in individuals who took ashwagandha daily for 8 weeks alongside a resistance training regimen compared to those who trained without it.⁸

It may reduce inflammation

Ashwagandha may have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies on ashwagandha have shown that it has several health benefits. These include reducing inflammation, fighting off cell damage from free radicals (antioxidant properties), and influencing your immune system to work more effectively (immunomodulatory effects).⁹ Additional research in COVID-19-positive patients saw a reduction in inflammatory markers CRP, IL-6, and TNF-a after participants took a supplement containing ashwagandha and other herbs.¹⁰

It may reduce blood sugar levels

While the evidence of a relationship between ashwagandha and blood sugar levels is limited, a review of 24 studies found that this herb may reduce blood sugar and oxidative stress markers.¹¹ Withaferin A (WA), a compound found in ashwagandha, may act as an anti-diabetic, however, more research is needed.¹²

It may boost testosterone

Some research shows that ashwagandha may boost testosterone levels. In one 8-week study, participants took ashwagandha extract or a placebo daily. Those who took the ashwagandha extract showed a greater increase in testosterone and DHEA-S, a sex hormone involved in the production of testosterone, than participants who took the placebo.¹³ Additional studies show that ashwagandha may have a positive impact on sperm concentration and motility in people with low and average sperm counts.¹⁴

Always ask a medical provider before taking any supplements to help determine if they may be right for you. 

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Does ashwagandha cause hormonal acne?

It’s unlikely that ashwagandha is directly related to acne, but early research indicates that it may increase testosterone levels, which could link this supplement to an increase in breakouts. While ashwagandha’s effect on testosterone levels has not been proven, testosterone and its conversion to DHT are the primary androgens in acne,¹⁵ which means ashwagandha could potentially play a role in aggravating existing pimples or causing new blemishes. 

Herbs like ashwagandha can cause different reactions in different people. Because there is some reason to believe it may not be suitable for acne-prone skin, our dermatology providers recommend being cautious when using this herb. Always consult your medical provider before adding new supplements or skincare products to your routine, especially if you have existing medical conditions.

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You can trust Curology’s experts

Some supplements aren’t proven to help your skincare concerns, so you may be able to save time, effort, and money by consulting a dermatology provider. Founded in 2014 by board-certified dermatologists, Curology believes everyone’s skin is unique—that’s why we specialize in custom skincare. We offer products made with proven effective ingredients, including those that treat breakouts, signs of aging, and more.

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FAQs

What is ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb from the roots and leaves of the Withania somnifera, a low-growing evergreen shrub native to India and Southeast Asia. Ashwagandha powder is often used in alternative medicine to help treat conditions such as stress, fatigue, pain, and diabetes.

What is ashwagandha used for?

Ashwagandha may be used for a range of things from stress relief to blood sugar regulation. It’s a key player in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, which is based on principles of natural healing.

Does ashwagandha cause hormonal acne?

It’s unlikely that ashwagandha is directly related to acne, but early research indicates that it may increase testosterone levels, which could link this supplement to an increase in breakouts. While ashwagandha’s effect on testosterone levels has not been proven, testosterone and its conversion to DHT are the primary androgens in acne, which means ashwagandha could play a role in aggravating existing pimples or causing new blemishes.

Can ashwagandha creams improve skin health and complexion?

While ashwagandha supplements may not be ideal for your skin, using a cream infused with ashwagandha may be beneficial. Topical application, especially in the form of a lotion containing ashwagandha root extract, can be good for your skin. Research shows it enhances your skin’s quality, reducing signs of aging and improving facial appearance.¹⁶ Although, more studies are needed.

Ashwagandha also reduces water loss, enhancing your skin’s barrier for better moisture retention and less dry skin.¹⁷ It’s generally safe and well-tolerated for regular skincare. It may be particularly effective for concerns like wrinkles and uneven texture.¹⁸

Can ashwagandha be beneficial for stress relief and anxiety?

Yes, ashwagandha may offer potential benefits for stress relief and reduced anxiety levels.¹⁹ So, if you have extreme anxiety, anxiety attacks, and anxiety disorder, you might want to discuss this with your doctor as an alternative treatment option.

Does ashwagandha have anti-inflammatory properties?

Yes, ashwagandha does have anti-inflammatory properties.²⁰

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Singh, N., et al. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. (2011, July 3).

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Ashwagandha. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. (2019, May 2).

  3. Salve, J., et al. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. (2019, December 25).

  4. Salve, J., et al. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. Ibid.

  5. Lopresti, A.L., et al. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. Medicine (Baltimore). (2019, September 13).

  6. Langade, D., et al. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study. Cureus. (2019, September 28).

  7. Bonilla, D.A., et al. Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) on Physical Performance: Systematic Review and Bayesian Meta-Analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. (2021, February 11).

  8. Wankhede, S., et al. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2015, November 25).

  9. Auddy, B., et al. A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. JANA. (2008, n.d.).

  10. Devpura, G., et al. Randomized placebo-controlled pilot clinical trial on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatment regime on COVID-19 positive patients. Phytomedicine. (2021, February 4).

  11. Durg, S., et al. Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng) in diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis of scientific evidence from experimental research to clinical application. Phytother Res. (2020, January 23).

  12. Gorelick, J., et al. Hypoglycemic activity of withanolides and elicited Withania somnifera. Phytochemistry. (2015, March 18).

  13. Lopresti, A.L., et al. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study Examining the Hormonal and Vitality Effects of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Aging, Overweight Males. Am J Mens Health. (2019, March 10).

  14. Sengupta, P., et al. Role of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) in the management of male infertility. Reprod Biomed Online. (2017, December 7).

  15. Ebede, T.L., et al. Hormonal Treatment of Acne in Women. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (December 2009).

  16. Narra, K., et al. A Study of Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Lotion on Facial Skin in Photoaged Healthy Adults. Cureus. (2023, March 15).

  17. Narra, K., et al. A Study of Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Lotion on Facial Skin in Photoaged Healthy Adults. Cureus. Ibid.

  18. Narra, K., et al. A Study of Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Lotion on Facial Skin in Photoaged Healthy Adults. Cureus. Ibid.

  19. Salve, J., et al. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. Ibid.

  20. Lopresti, A.L., et al. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract. Medicine (Baltimore). Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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