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True or false: Can ashwagandha cause acne?

All about ashwagandha—this powerful herb may make acne breakouts worse!

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Curology Team
Jan 23, 2023 · 5 min read

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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.
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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 treat conditions such as stress, fatigue, pain, and diabetes. This herb is also said 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 has many uses 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. Potential ashwagandha benefits include the following: 

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 your body all ready creates 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 12 studies on ashwagandha supplementation suggests that ashwagandha may boost elements of physical performance like oxygen use and strength.⁷ Another study showed a greater increase in muscle strength and size in individuals who took ashwagandha daily for eight weeks alongside a resistance training regimen compared to those who trained without it.⁸

It may reduce inflammation

Ashwagandha may have anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, adults who were experiencing stress were given ashwagandha extract daily for 60 days. At the end of the two months, the participants showed a reduction in their C-reactive proteins—markers of inflammation—compared to participants who took a placebo.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, could act as an anti-diabetic.¹²

It may boost testosterone

Some research shows that ashwagandha may boost testosterone levels. In one eight-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

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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 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.

You can trust Curology’s experts

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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, Curology is run by board-certified dermatologists, and we believe everyone’s skin is unique. We’re a full-service skincare offering products made with proven effective ingredients, including those that treat breakouts, signs of aging, and more.

Our experts can help take the guesswork out of your anti-acne skincare routine by providing a custom treatment plan and personalized prescription formula to help you meet your skincare goals. We’ll let you know which products could help you tackle your skin concerns, and our personalized prescription formulas can include active ingredients like tretinoin, a topical vitamin A derivative.

Ready to get started? Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers to start you on your skincare journey.

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 treat conditions such as stress, fatigue, pain, and diabetes.

What is ashwagandha used for?

Ashwagandha has many uses 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.

• • •

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).

  2. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2012).

  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. (December 2019).

  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. (December 2019).

  5. Lopresti, AL., et al. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). (2019).

  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).

  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).

  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).

  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).

  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).

  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).

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

  13. Lopresti, AL., 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).

  14. Sengupta, P., et al. Role of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) in the management of male infertility. Reprod Biomed Online. (2018).

  15. Ebede, T.L., et al. Hormonal treatment of acne in women. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (2009).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

• • •
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

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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