World Wide Wellness: Better Skin Through Ayurveda
by Catherine Morris | July 2, 2020, updated about 1 year ago
Some scholars consider the Indian practice of Ayurveda to be the world's oldest healing science. Roughly translated as 'the knowledge of life', this ancient medicine takes a whole-body approach to wellness, emphasizing alignment and balance as the key to preventing illness.
“Ayurveda is the science of living,” says Ayurvedic skin care chemist Shilpi Jain. “The principle behind it is that the absence of disease does not mean good health. Good health is your physical, mental and emotional well-being and to achieve that you have to learn to listen to your body.”
While Ayurveda has been widely adopted in Western cultures, its practice is usually limited to nutritional treatments and herbal remedies––but there's so much more to Ayurveda. Modern-day applications of this ancient medicine are putting it to use in a range of innovative products such as cosmetics and skincare treatments.
So if you're one of the millions of people who suffer from acne, dry skin, rashes or allergies, it might be time to look to Ayurvedic options for your skincare routine.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda practitioners believe there are three distinct energy types or 'doshas' in the body:
- Vata – the energy of movement
- Pitta – the energy of digestion or metabolism
- Kapha – the energy of structure and grounding
While all three doshas are present in everyone, people tend to be predominantly one or the other. A typical Kapha is pragmatic and unflappable; Pittas are passionate and athletic; Vata types are always on the go, but prone to anxiety and insomnia. Your particular dosha signature governs every aspect of your mental and physical health, according to Ayurvedic principles. If the three energies aren't in balance, there's a lack of order in the body and this is how disease takes root.
In Ayurveda, anything we do or put into our bodies can disrupt this delicate balance. Eating the wrong foods, emotional stress, over-exercising, negative thoughts, exposure to toxins, injury, unhealthy habits, and even the weather can all push the doshas out of whack.
“Our lifestyle, our environment, our work, the food we eat––everything plays a role in our health,” says Jain. The body cannot heal itself if it's not balanced, and Ayurveda is focused on switching on our system's natural restorative abilities so that healing can come from within.
Just as each dosha is related to a different temperament and health profile, the three types can develop different skin issues, and that's why it's important to know your dosha before you create a customized Ayurvedic skincare routine. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help pinpoint your unique dosha formulation, but your skin issues can also provide some clues.
- Dry, cool skin with fine lines and tight pores? You're likely Vata, the dosha associated with the elements of air and ether.
- Sensitive, oily T-zone (the area around your forehead, nose and chin)? Prone to blemishes and acne? Burn easily in the sun? That's the Pitta dosha of fire and water.
- Large pores, oily skin, and blackheads mean you're probably a Kapha.
If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, it's a warning sign that your dosha isn't in balance.
Bringing your skin back into balance means finding the right treatment according to your dosha. Ayurvedic skincare uses a number of medicinal plants to create harmony in the body for glowing, healthy skin.
Jain, an R&D scientist, created her own line of Ayurvedic skincare products, Skinveda, after noticing that her son was suffering from dry, irritated skin. Reluctant to use conventional products, she turned to the natural remedies she grew up within her East Indian family, where potent plants like turmeric and neem were always on hand. Her son's skin problems quickly resolved thanks to an oat-based solution that became Skinveda's Replenishing Serum.
Using natural ingredients is important to Jain whose line is vegan, and doesn't use any artificial fillers or fragrances. She says, “The skin is the largest organ, and it is a gateway to your internal environment. It is really important to look after it. The skin is porous so what you put on there can get into your body.”
One of her favorite ingredients is tulsi, or holy basil, an adaptogenic herb––i.e. an herb that regulates the body's response to stress, soothes, and detoxifies.
According to Jain––
“Tulsi is an amazing ingredient internally and externally. It is a great antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. I use it in a mask and it doesn't dry the skin. It's very gentle and there's no harsh effects. It helps remove dead skin, and is good for acne and enlarged pores,”
Another powerhouse is turmeric root, one of the most commonly-used remedies in Ayurvedic medicine thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Delicious in curries, it's also used directly on the skin to cleanse and remove impurities, which makes it perfect for acne treatments.
Acne sufferers might also want to explore neem, another potent anti-bacterial, and calendula which soothes irritated skin. Both are also used for treating rosacea, sensitivity, rash and skin allergies.
With any herbs, Jain says it's important to know their properties, and how they interact with each other for maximum effect, “In the right proportions and with the right delivery system, [these plants] can be magic on the skin. That is the beauty of these ingredients, they are so powerful.”
She is quick to emphasize that Ayurvedic skincare isn't about short-term glamour, but rather lasting health, and says, “There are no miracles, there's no cream that will get rid of wrinkles overnight. Looking better comes automatically if you feel better. It's not about using make-up to hide your flaws, it is about healthy skin.”
How to Create Your Own Ayurvedic Skincare Routine
Jain says there should at least be a good day and night moisturizer, and a cleanser in your cosmetics kit. Then, if possible, you can build on this with a mask, toner or serum, “Toner is good for women on the go, they need to refresh their skin after a busy day at work. Choose one that is alcohol-free and boosts circulation to give skin an instant glow.”
It's not just what you apply to your skin that makes a difference. How you apply those products is equally important.
Massage is a central practice of Ayurveda. Practitioners often use essential oils such as orange, lemongrass or rose, to invigorate the skin, encourage better circulation and promote healing. This type of Ayurvedic massage is known as 'Abhyanga' and the oil used is known as 'Sneha' which also translates to 'love'.
You can show your skin some love with a short daily self-massage for the face. Jain says to use small circular motions, and to do it just after a hot shower when your skin is warm and supple. You don't have to stop at the face––areas where fat is stored can also benefit, a quick self-massage in the morning can help reduce the appearance of cellulite and stretch marks.
Jain says––“It is very important to massage the skin. Massage is so good for detoxing. It helps facial muscles, it's anti-aging [...] People think they do not have time, but they do. I'm done with my routine in less than a minute. Once you get used to it, it becomes a habit.”
For a practice that began in South Asia around 10th-century B.C.E Ayurveda is surprisingly popular in the modern West, helped by high-profile advocates and more awareness around the dangers of conventional products. A 2017 study from the David Suzuki Foundation revealed that 80 percent of cosmetic products contain at least one of the so-called 'dirty dozen' toxins such as parabens and sodium laureth sulphate.
Since Jain first launched Skinveda in 2013, she's seen a shift in attitudes as consumers gravitate towards alternative healthcare and natural products––
“It is something that is growing. In the last few years, I've been hearing more and more about Ayurveda as all these celebrities are now talking about it. It is catching up to the mainstream and people understand it now. When I started I had to explain everything with demonstrations, now people know. Things have changed, people are more educated and they do their due diligence about cosmetics.”
Most of us have heard the oft-repeated advice about not putting anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat. It's a high standard, but one that Ayurvedic medicine, and Jain, take seriously. Since Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of nutrition in health, it makes sense that the quality of food that you put into your body, and on your body, be as good as possible. What you put in your body, will show on your face.
As Ayurveda's popularity peaks, Jain hopes that people will look at all aspects of their well-being through the Ayurvedic lens––not just skincare.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.