Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion School
IntroductionBeautiful skin, in Ayurveda, is the ultimate measure of bodily health and well-being. The skin is like a window to the rest of the body. It can reveal what is happening on a much deeper level. An Ayurvedic practitioner can assess which doshas, organs, and systems are out of balance just by looking at the skin. Problems that appear on surface of the skin are usually caused by imbalances deeper within.
The quality of the skin is closely related to the quality of the blood. Poetically in Ayurveda, the skin is considered to be the cream of the blood that rises to the surface. The foundation of good skin, therefore, is balanced blood chemistry.
But what affects the quality of the blood? All of your organs and tissues affect blood chemistry. Therefore, the skin is truly connected to the health of the blood, all the organs, and the whole body.
Since skin is so important in assessing health, Ayurveda practitioners study the skin carefully, and can identify which organ may be causing your complexion catastrophes. By learning to recognize and decipher an imbalance of the skin, you will be able to understand and rectify its root cause, too.
About the SkinThe skin is an organ of protection. It is the physical barrier between your body and the outside world. It keeps you safe from harmful radiation and microorganisms. The skin also serves an important role of maintaining body temperature. It keeps you warm through body hair, an insulating layer of fat, and by contracting blood vessels and pores (goosebumps) when cold. It cools you down by sweating and dilating blood vessels in the heat.
The skin is a sensory organ that enables you to experience your surroundings through touch. Highly enervated, it allows you to experience pressure, pain, hot, and cold.
The skin keeps essential fluids within the body, assists in the removal of waste products through sweat, and also regulates the production of and stores vitamin D in the fat tissue.
Western science categorizes the skin into three main layers: the epidermis (the outermost layer that provides tone to the skin and acts as a barrier), the dermis (thick layer of tough connective tissue, sweat glands and hair follicles) and the subcutaneous layer (fatty layer that helps regulate body temperature). Ayurveda breaks the skin down into seven layers. Sushruta, the ancient Ayurvedic physician, outlines these layers in his seminal text, Sushruta Samhita. Each layer has its own role and, when out of balance, leads to certain disorders.
Ayurveda's Approach to the SkinAyurveda views skin disorders as a symptom of a deeper imbalance. Before treating a skin disorder topically, Ayurveda looks for the root cause. Addressing the root cause is more effective because it resolves the skin disorder at its source. Commonly, the root cause of skin disorders can be traced back to systemic imbalances.
Topical treatments may be used thereafter, but only as additional support. Topical treatments often reduce the symptoms of a skin condition initially and can be quite effective. But unless the cause is removed, the disorder is likely to return at one point or another.
The skin is a sensitive organ and Ayurveda treats the skin gently. Ayurveda suggests care regarding which substances touch the skin because the skin can absorb environmental and chemical toxins that come into contact with it. A popular saying in Ayurveda is, "Don't put it on your skin if you wouldn't eat it."
Soap is harsh. Most practitioners advise strategic use of soap in private areas only. Otherwise, rinsing the skin is sufficient for cleanliness, and helps maintain a healthy skin biome. Practitioners may also cleanse the skin by massaging oil into the skin and then, if desired, rubbing with a sea salt scrub to exfoliate and cleanse. Oils like coconut oil have antimicrobial properties, feeding the good bacteria and eliminating the bad.
Ayurveda also has a science of skin pastes (Ubtans) for cleansing the skin and improving skin health topically. An ubtan may be made from ground oatmeal, ground almond flour or chickpea flour, depending on the amount of moisturization, oils, and astringency desired in the formula. Herbs may be added to the ubtan for enhanced effect.
What Causes a Skin ImbalanceDiet is a main factor in skin disorders. A diet that is laden with sugar, highly processed foods containing chemicals and preservatives can lead to skin issues. Eating foods that you are allergic to can cause skin problems. For example, if you have an allergy to wheat you may get acne on the back, shoulders, and face. For healthy skin, it is important that you eat a diet that is compatible with your body type.
Lifestyle is another main factor in skin disorders. For example, your length and quality of sleep greatly affects the skin. Similarly, an irregular routine aggravates the liver, one of the organs that frequently contributes to skin problems. Many people notice their skin condition worsens when under stress, as stress affects the liver. When the liver is under stress, the skin is more likely to become imbalanced as the blood may not be filtered adequately. Using blood cleansing herbal formulas like Liver & Lymph Cleanse Tea can help clear the blood of impurities, giving your skin a healthy glow.
Toxins (ama) are one of the most common causes of disorders of the skin. Inflamed skin, puffy skin, acne and a gray, lifeless appearance all indicate there is a buildup of of toxins circulating through the blood.
Poor digestion, since it creates ama and poor nutrition, is frequently a root cause of skin disorders. The quality of the blood is a direct result of the strength of digestion. The stronger the digestive system, the cleaner the blood will be and in turn, the healthier the skin. The weaker the digestive system, the more toxins will be present in the blood and the more likely you are to get a skin condition. This is why, when looking to improve the skin, Ayurveda frequently looks to the digestive system first.
Finally, the skin can also be easily damaged from overexposure to the sun, fungal or bacterial infection, or physical trauma like an open wound.
Thin, Dry, Wrinkly SkinIn Ayurveda, thin skin is a disorder associated with lack of nourishment and deficiency (low ojas and Vata dosha). Physically, thin skin is often dry, wrinkly, and fragile. To nourish and build thicker skin, follow an ojas building diet. Golden milk with ashwaghanda is especially nourishing.
Massage your body with half and half mixture of Sesame oil and Vata Oil for especially supple skin. Oil hydrates and softens a brittle thin skin. For dry skin on the scalp, perform a head massage with bhringaraj oil.
Lusterless ComplexionThe healthy glow of a skin is a reflection of good overall health. Lusterless, gray skin, on the on the other hand, indicates the skin is cold and full of Vata ama, often due to poor digestion or stagnation of the bowels. The first step is to reduce gas and bloating by eating easy to digest foods. Secondly, clear the bowels with a mild laxative such as Gentle Laxative Tea. Finally, warm up the skin by adding turmeric to your food, and drinking Holy Basil Tea.. The use of a diaphoretic like Holy Basil will dilate blood capillaries, increase circulation and bring warmth to the whole body, including cold hands and feet. If you are anemic, strengthen the blood with foods containing iron.
Inflamed SkinHives, eczema, psoriasis and itchy, irritated skin are signs the skin is inflamed. These are frequently related to systemic inflammation and irritation of the liver associated with high Pitta dosha. Start by bringing Pitta dosha back into balance with a Pitta pacifying diet, making sure to include bitters like kale and herbs like Bhumyamalaki. Bhumyamalaki supports healthy liver function as it is a cholagogue, meaning it stimulates the release of bile from the liver and assists in efficient digestion. The liver must also be cared for when there is toxins in the blood. Consider adding alteratives like amalaki to your herbal tea. Alteratives are blood cleansers and purifiers, which can help clear up acne and reduce inflammation.
Acne, Oily SkinAcne, whiteheads, blackheads, and cystic acne are often the results of oily skin. Where there is acne, there is usually an imbalance of kapha, pitta, and ama. Add more bitters such as kale to your diet, and reduce oil and sugar if possible. Liver & Lymph Cleanse Tea will combat the heaviness of oily skin. It may help to wash the affected skin with neem tea, an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Neem also dries up excess oil on the skin. Or, add a drop of neem oil to a coconut oil massage. This combination is also a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Puffy SkinPuffy skin is often teamed with a clammy feeling in the hands. This skin condition is associated with Kapha dosha and excess water retention. To relieve the uncomfortable, puffy feeling in the skin, diuretics, such as punarnava and gokshura, are used to help clear the excess water weight. Taking in excessive amounts of water, sour, and salty foods will all increase water retention, so are best avoided if you are experiencing puffy skin.
Liver Spots & MolesIn Ayurveda, liver spots may appear on the skin if there is deficiency in the liver. In some cases, moles may also be a sign of liver stress. To keep the skin pigmentation balanced, the liver needs to be nourished and the blood cleansed. Blood quality can be improved by the use of alteratives like manjishtha. Manjishtha clears the blood of excess Pitta heat and ama. It stimulates blood circulation, so is known for its ability to remove stubborn lesions. It also rejuvenates the skin and supports a healthy, glowing complexion.
Skin TonicsCertain Ayurvedic tonics rejuvenate the skin. They keep your skin firm, toned, strong, and leave you with a glowing complexion. The below tonics can be categorized depending on your unique body type.
VataVata types should perform a daily self massage with sesame oil or Vata oil. The oil can be applied liberally to hydrate and replenish depleted skin. It's also important for Vatas to maintain good hydration throughout the day, or they are likely to experience dry and cracking skin. Shatavari and dashamoola are suitable general tonics for pacifying Vata and promoting ojas.
PittaPittas need to keep their skin cool and calm to reduce inflammatory outbreaks. A coconut oil or Pitta oil massage can be performed daily. Aloe vera juice is a suitable tonic for Pitta which coats and soothes the lining of the digestive tract and keeps inflammation at bay. Aloe vera also supports a healthy liver which is essential for maintaining clean blood. Used externally, aloe vera gel heals abrasions and soothes inflammatory conditions like psoriasis, ulcers, and eczema. A word of warning, Pitta skin is the most sensitive to the sun, so take care to stay out of the midday rays!
KaphaKapha skin only requires a little bit of oil, as it is naturally the most oily skin type. A hot invigorating oil like mustard oil added to a warming carrier oil like Kapha oil will help stimulate any lymphatic or circulatory stagnation beneath the skin. Kapha types can skip the oil massage every other day and practice dry brushing instead. This is a powerful lymphatic simulator that breaks down accumulations and promotes strong circulation. Kaphas also need to be more aware of their likelihood to retain water, so a diuretic tea like cumin, coriander & fennel tea can keep water levels balanced, while also stimulating a sluggish digestive system.
ConclusionThe skin is a sensitive and exposed organ that should be treated with care. It is designed to be a strong and protective barrier, and has the ability to shield you from harmful pathogens. However, the skin is prone to a variety of disorders depending on your age, diet, lifestyle and individual body type. Ayurveda provides a unique outlook on how to care for your skin. Although Ayurveda does offer excellent topical skin treatments, the internal imbalance that causes the condition is the first priority. The skin reflects the health of the blood and the digestive system. These systems are closely intertwined, so healthy blood chemistry and strong digestion are essential components for healthy skin. By supporting digestion and cleaning toxins from the blood, the skin will be soft, supple, clear, and strong. Skin can lose tone and strength over time, but you can care for it with rejuvenative tonics specific to your body type to keep your skin clear, smooth, and bright.
Find Ayurvedic health tips In these main areas:Skin Color