Do you feel under pressure to achieve a glowing, blemish free complexion year round? How much have you spent on skin products all touting to give you that perfect skin -hundreds or maybe even thousands of dollars each year? If you are anything like me – you probably have a drawer full of half used skin care products.
Ayurveda views the skin as a window into the health of the whole body. Your skin (tvak) weathers the storm through each season, keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It protects you from harmful pathogens and acts as a barrier, guarding your internal tissues and organs from the outside world. Let me share with you how to support your skin, including a number of traditional Ayurvedic herbs. By the end, you may just be thinking about your skin in an entirely new light!
The Problem with Topical Treatments
Keeping your skin healthy depends on a wide variety of factors. In Ayurveda, the quality of the skin is closely related to the quality of the blood (rakta dhatu). While external treatments are certainly used, Ayurveda focuses primarily on balancing your body’s internal environment to ensure healthy skin. If you rely on external solutions alone, the skin issues you are facing will likely return as soon as you stop using the current product. Not only that, skin health is conducive to overall health, and can reflect a deeper imbalance in the body. A consistent daily routine and a diet appropriate for your body type are essential components for healthy skin as they keep your digestion strong. But what does digestion have to do with your skin?
How Digestion Affects Your Skin
Digestion is the root of all health, including that of your skin. When digestion is strong, your internal metabolic fire, known as agni, can digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients from the food you eat. These nutrients are absorbed into your blood which goes on to nourish every organ in the body – and that includes your skin. When agni is weak or defective, food tends to be improperly digested and starts to ferment in the GI tract. This process leads to an accumulation of metabolic wastes known as ama or digestive toxins. Instead of rich nutrients entering the bloodstream, this toxic waste is absorbed by the spongy intestines and impairs the quality of the blood. Your body tries to expel these excess toxins through a number of routes, including the skin. The skin can be sensitive to these toxins and an accumulation may lead to dull, lifeless skin or this is where we say hello to pimples, acne, psoriasis and eczema and even skin allergies.
Herbs to Support Healthy Skin
As well as an appropriate diet and lifestyle, there are some wonderful and effective herbal supports to get radiant skin, primarily by improving the quality of the blood. However, it is important to be aware that most Ayurveda herbs should only be used under the supervision of an Ayurvedic Practitioner.
Start with Digestion!
In all skin conditions, it is essential to strengthen your digestive system first to reduce the accumulation of metabolic wastes called ama. However, if the skin is sensitive, inflamed or irritated, it is important to do so without overheating the body. There are a number of herbs that strengthen your digestive fire, agni, without provoking Pitta dosha. Some of the top herbs to do so include:
- CCF tea – This classic Ayurvedic formula is made from three seeds – cumin, coriander and fennel. It benefits digestion by soothing and calming inflammation and gently stimulating agni. It has a diuretic quality which helps expel toxins through the urinary system and is regularly used as part of Ayurvedic cleanses.
- Turmeric – Revered as one of the top herbs to benefit the skin, turmeric can be used both internally and externally for a glowing complexion. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which benefit digestion and purify the blood. This colorful spice has a particular affinity for conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema. A word of warning if you are using externally – it will turn everything yellow!
- Cilantro – Add fresh cilantro leaves to your meals as a mild digestive. They stimulate agni without overpowering Pitta dosha making them a particularly beneficial choice in summer months.
Cleanse the Blood
In some cases, blood cleansing herbs, known as alteratives, may be appropriate to clear lingering toxins from the bloodstream that are affecting skin health. Some of Ayurveda’s most effective blood cleansers that benefit the skin include:
- Aloe vera – Bitter and cooling, aloe vera is a classic blood cleanser. It specifically cools the body due to its cholagogue action that stimulates the release of bile. If bile is stagnant, it can create excess heat in the body, including the blood.
- Manjistha – Manjistha has a particular affinity for the blood, cooling and clearing excess heat. It is often useful in cases of acne, rosacea and eczema.
- Guduchi – Known for destroying toxins and cleansing the blood, it is a common Ayurvedic herb to alleviate skin disorders, specifically inflammation and disorders that involve a burning sensation on the skin.
Topical treatments alone are not enough and should be part of an overall regimen for your skin. However, they can still be incredibly valuable and provide a more immediate relief than internal solutions. Some of the most popular herbs to use topically on the skin include:
- Neem – Used widely in Ayurveda across a variety of skin conditions including infection, burning skin, and acne. Neem is a powerful antimicrobial and is commonly used in soaps and oils to reduce bacterial and fungal infections of the skin such as athlete’s foot. It can also be used topically as a natural insect repellent.
- Sandalwood – Helps reduce swelling, burning sensations and redness of the skin, and also reduces itching.
- Aloe vera – Aloe vera is used to soothe both internal and external irritation, wounds or abrasions. It is particularly useful in cases of sunburn, scars and stretch marks. Aloe vera gels demulcent quality specifically heals the mucous membranes and the skin.
Daily Skincare Practice
For a healthy complexion, Ayurveda goes much deeper than just the surface of the skin. For long-term care and management of the skin, remember to follow a diet appropriate for your body. Also, practice an Ayurvedic daily self self-massage (abhyanga) with an oil that works for your skin type. For dry, rough, Vata type skin that tends to feel cold, warming oils such as sesame or a nutritive blend of ashwagandha bala oil are most suitable. For Pitta type skin that is prone to inflammation and irritation, cooling oils like coconut or bhringaraj oil will calm hot flare ups. Kapha types tend to have clear skin but it can be oily at times. An invigorating oil such as mustard oil can be used. Otherwise, dry brushing is a great way to boost circulation to the skin and keep Kapha skin glowing.
To learn more about how to care for your skin naturally, download our free Anti-Aging Skin Care Regimen below.