How does Ayurveda view skincare?
After seeing the power of Ayurveda in my own life, I decided to explore more about Ayurveda's uses of herbs in skincare and haircare.
One of the things I love most about Ayurveda is how much it focuses on the concept of balance. Rarely does Ayurveda recommend use of a single herb regardless of a person's condition.
Instead, Ayurveda teaches support for all three doshas (energies), and to do this properly, it's typically necessary to blend herbs so as not to push a person out of balance.
We've talked fairly extensively about doshas (the closest English translation for dosha would be energy). These are combinations of the 5 elements:
- ether (space)
into three distinct energies:
- vata (mobility): composed of the space and air elements
- pitta (transformation): composed of the fire and water elements
- kapha (stability): composed of the water and earth elements
While you are made up of a very unique blend of these three doshas, you also express these three doshas differently throughout your body.
For instance, it's possible to express imbalances in vata, pitta, or kapha dosha through different skin conditions.
Skin conditions associated with vata imbalance
When vata is vitiated or deranged, which basically means, when vata is high within your body and raging, the most common skin conditions are:
- dry skin
- flaky skin
- conditions like psoriasis, when psoriasis presents with scaly patches or lesions
- eczema, when eczema presents with cracked, dry skin
Skin conditions associated with pitta imbalance
When pitta is agitated, the most common skin conditions are:
- acne (also usually involves kapha)
- rashes (examples: atopic dermatitis, poison ivy)
- melasma (uneven skin pigmentation)
Skin conditions associated with kapha imbalance
When kapha is agitated, the most common skin conditions are:
- acne (specifically oozing acne, acne also usually involves pitta dosha)
- large pores
- easily clogged pores
- too much sebum production contributing to a greasy skin appearance and mid-day shine
- puffiness (from water retention or poor lymph drainage)
- bags under the eyes (from water retention or poor lymph drainage)
Something we haven't talked about yet on the podcast is about which dosha dominates in each stage of your life. The kapha time of life begins at birth through your teens.
During your teens and through early adulthood (30s or 40s), is the pitta stage of life. This is dominated by transformation. You're becoming an adult in all aspects, physically, mentally, and in how you show up in the world.
From sometime in your 40s or maybe 50s onwards is the vata stage of life.
If you've noticed that your primary skin conditions change as you move through life, this is common. For instance, it's most common to have pitta-kapha type skin conditions such as acne during your teens and 20s and vata type skin conditions like wrinkles or vata-pitta type skin conditions like irregular pigmentation during your 30s onwards.
You may have noticed how children's skin is different from the skin of teenagers and adults. This is because children are in the kapha stage of life.
We've talked in a previous episode about the characteristics of a child's skin compared with a teen's or adult's skin from a Western medicine view of things. In case you missed that episode, check out the link in today's shownotes to head back and take a listen.
Commonly two doshas (and sometimes all three doshas) play into skin conditions.
For instance, sex hormones begin to be formed and secreted during puberty, the onset of the pitta stage of life, and often this is when acne shows up for the first time. From the Ayurvedic view, pitta is moving in to upseat kapha, and both pitta and kapha doshas play a role in acne.
Conditions may present with different symptoms as well. For instance, eczema that's angry and oozing is dominated by pitta and kapha doshas. Eczema that's dry, itchy, and scaling involves all three doshas as dryness is associated with vata dosha, itching with kapha, and skin conditions in general with aggravated pitta dosha.
Classes of Ayurvedic Herbs in Skincare
Ayurvedic herbs for skincare are commonly grouped into one of four categories. Herbs that are:
- drying and cooling
- drying and heating
- moisturizing and cooling
- moisturizing and heating
It's common to blend herbs from across these categories to create a balanced concoction that maintains the balance of the doshas. This is true whether the herbs are intended to treat a skin condition or are used to maintain your skin's health.
The herbs treat the skin topically are often the same herbs used internally for other conditions. The reason why these herbs work topically and internally even for different conditions is because your body is whole, complete, & integrated.
Ayurveda's view of your body's detox process
That's one of the beauties of Ayurveda... it recognizes your body as a whole rather than divided into separate bodily systems with different treatment plans for each.
Rather than seeing your body as your nervous system, your skeletal system, your reproductive system, your digestive system, Ayurveda instead views your body as a complete, holistic system composed of various layers. The health of each layer depends on the health of all the other layers, and it's vitally important to keep each layer clean through appropriate detoxification.
We'll explore the layers of your body according to Ayurveda more in another episode. For now, the basis is that clean blood nourishes all tissues of your body including your skin. And, often skin conditions are a result of inefficient elimination of the metabolic wastes within your body.
From a Western science perspective, this would be why conditions like acne and other skin conditions pop up during adolescence rather than childhood. Suddenly, your body's having to handle hormones that weren't present before, so your liver, which is one of your body's detox organs, is having to break down those hormones for elimination.
Your liver also cleans your blood, so when it's taxed... like for example through a new environment of hormones to deal with plus your regular diet and lifestyle (i.e. too much stress hormones produced along with your sex hormones), then it's overburdened and not able to deal with all the stuff it needs to deal with, and this comes out instead through your skin because your skin is also a path for detoxification.
In case you've ever experienced an acne flare or flare up in a skin condition when you're stressed, say from a new job, a new responsibility at work, a move, or a major change in your life (marriage, a sick loved one, etc.), then you've seen this in action.
The extra stress hormones generated during this time coupled with your body spending more energy in dealing with the stress taxes your body's natural detox system (your liver and also your kidneys and even your lungs, which all play a role in detox).
And, the result of that is your skin takes on more burden for detoxing your body through your pores.
You're able to support your body's natural detox processes through:
Sweating: Here it matters how you sweat.
Ideally, you'd use a sauna or natural heat cave or hot springs or hot tub to make you sweat rather than vigorous exercise.
The reason for this is that you want your body to be in a parasympathetic state (the rest, digest, & relax state) rather than a sympathetic state (fight, flight, freeze).
In a pinch, yin yoga in a hot yoga classroom will work or a slower flow yoga in a hot yoga classroom.
What if you aren't able to make one of those passive sweating conditions work for you?
Take the gentlest hot yoga class you can find... and hang out for as long as you can (like 15 maybe even 30 minutes) for savasana afterwards.
Dry brushing: dry brushing helps stimulate lymph flow within your body which supports movement of metabolic wastes to your detox organs
Check out these posts for more on dry brushing:
Deep breathing: when you breathe deeply, the movement of your diaphragm provides an internal massage to your liver and other internal organs
Because your lungs are also one of your detox organs, by breathing deeply, you're helping your body detox.
Pilates: Because Pilates focuses so heavily on moving your core, an area that's often not moved a whole lot during regular exercise (think about walking/running/cycling and weight lifting), you're also massaging those detox organs and stimulating deeper lying lymph nodes
Read more about Pilates and lymph in these posts:
- Pilates, lymph flow, and weight loss
- Pilates and the Spanish Flu: the story of Joseph Pilates and his work with POWs during the Spanish Flu pandemic
Drinking more pure water: drinking the purest water you can find (fluoride free preferably) supports your body's detox processes.
The key is not to over-drink, instead, be sure you're drinking when you're thirsty and monitor how much you're drinking a day.
Water keeps both lymph and blood at proper volumes and viscosity, helping both lymph and blood flow through their channels.
Diet: Diet plays a huge role in your body's ability to detox, and by adjusting your diet, you're able to reduce the demands on your detox organs while also supporting proper detoxification.
For example, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies contain a compound known as diindolylmethane (DIM), and this compound supports healthy estrogen metabolism down the C-2 pathway rather than the C-4 or C-16 pathways.
Diet's also where herbs play a role. And, herbs, whether you eat them or apply them topically are part of your body's diet.
Common Ayurvedic Herbs in Skincare
In the next post, we'll talk about many of the common Ayurvedic herbs used in skincare and how these herbs support healthy skin.
About the Author
Brandy's a formulation scientist and self-proclaimed health geek who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding.
Her struggle with acne during her teens and 20s led to a holistic and healthy approach to skincare, embracing skin as an organ to be loved and cared for rather than a canvas to wage war on.
Since 2008, she's been developing all-in-one products for a simple routine at home, & Rain Organica started when her backpacking friends asked for a portable skincare routine to keep their skin healthy & happy on and off the trails.
You can try Rain Organica for yourself with The Essentials Kit, a complete skincare routine in just 3 steps.
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