[This article originally appeared in Asia Spa Magazine, 2012]
It was the ancient Indian Rishis (or Sages) who originally developed the concept of Ayurveda, who are thought to have first suggested that the skin is the external evidence of our inner being. Considering the skin is the only body organ that is constantly exposed to the destructive power of the elements (pollution, a toxic environment, sun etc), it's hardly surprising that it will eventually bear the brunt of our current lifestyle choices.
At the heart of Ayurvedic philosophy is the concept that our bodies are a microcosm of the universe with three governing forces (or doshas) at work: Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth). And just as each of us has an individual face or thumbprint, we also have a unique pattern of energy, or combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics that is our inherent constitution and corresponds with these doshas. We are said to be in good health when the doshas are balanced and the key to health and beauty, Ayurveda style, is treating the body, mind and spirit as one to maintain this balance. Those who practice this self-healing philosophy understand it to be a long-term lifestyle choice, with the full benefits reaped only if its principles are followed in every respect.
Facialist Bharti Vyas
Shop-bought skin care is rare in traditional Ayurvedic households where women have been mixing their own for centuries, sharing the ancient secrets of a cornucopia of indigenous herbs, spices and oils for generations. “Stress is a fundamental cause of imbalance within our bodies and on the skin, as the nervous system helps sustain life and anything that affects this will effect the skin through sensory receptors,” says Bharti Vyas, one of London’s most celebrated facialists. Vyas was reared through Ayurveda and in her book Simply Ayurveda, she says that “Glowing skin is the natural condition of all skin types (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) when mind, body and spirit are healthy, happy and fulfilled. But differences in skin types mean that our skin responds differently to the reality of modern life – emotional and work pressures, environmental stresses, stimulants and artificial diet – all elements that exacerbate the visible signs of ageing, wrinkles and skin disorders.”
Regardless of the skin’s dosha, Vyas says that the basic principles are similar to Western thinking (i.e. cleanse, tone and nourish the skin). This said she is adamant that a good facial oil is the most important step in a healthy skincare routine. “A light massage with pure argan, rosehip or coconut oil, or any other dosha-specific oil is the best anti-ageing therapy your skin could ever receive. When massaged onto the skin they penetrate far better than many complex brands to gently rebalance, simply and beautifully.” She recommends removing make-up and surface toxins by adding a few drops of organic oil (specific to your dosha) on a cotton pad and wiping gently over the face. This done, skin should be fed with pure natural essential oils.
What's your skin type?
Deciphering your skin type is relatively easy, explains Dr John Santhosh, Ayurvedic expert at The Banjaran Hotsprings in Malaysia: “Vata skin is thin, dry, fine-pored, delicate and cool to the touch. When out of balance, it can become dry, rough or flaky. Vata types are particularly sensitive to mental stress and due to the dryness of the Vata dosha, skin is prone to wrinkles and a tired, stressed look. Pitta skin corresponds with the warm, fiery pitta dosha. Generally fair or rosy in colour, soft and warm to the touch, when imbalanced or stressed, pitta skin is prone to rashes, breakouts, acne and rosacea. Earthy kapha skin is cool to the touch and thicker, softer and oilier than the other doshas, much like the strong qualities of the kapha dosha.
While we all have a certain amount of each of the doshas, when it comes to the skin one dosha generally dominates. For example, dry skin prone to sensitivity is most probably vata-pitta; and oily and sensitive skin is kapha-pitta. These combination types should tailor their regime to the seasons: When the weather is cold and dry (vata season) favour the recommendations assigned to vata skin, while during fiery summer heat, follow the regime for kapha skin.
As Ayurveda is a holistic therapy and skin is the visible reflection of events occurring from within, working with your dosha is the best way of rebalancing your skin and your life.
Vata: Moisture is key. Keep the skin moisturised from the inside by drinking at least eight glasses of water a day and eating plenty of sweet, juicy fruits. Eat warm, nourishing foods and try to maintain a regular routine and eating habits. Include regular abhyanga or oil massage to moisturise the entire body.
Pitta: Avoid excessive heat and direct sunlight and use warm to cool water for cleansing and bathing. Avoid hot, spicy foods. Eat more sweet, bitter and astringent foods and drink pure water to calm the skin and stop breakouts.
Kapha: Regular deep cleansing is the basis of the kapha beauty regime. Avoid eating foods that are excessively oily and heavy. Eat more light, astringent and bitter foods. Olive oil in small quantities is the preferred cooking oil for kapha types, as it is light and easy to digest. Exercise every day to keep the body’s detoxification and digestion systems in good working order.
Ayurvedic beauty solutions
Acne: Avoid harsh ingredients, use gentle soothing care. To calm the skin, combine one teaspoon each of turmeric and sandalwood powder with enough water to make a spreadable paste. Apply to the area (every night until skin is rebalanced) and leave for 15 minutes before rinsing with warm water.
Blackheads: Symptomatic of excess kapha. Add half teaspoon of Epsom salts to a cup of warm water, dip cotton ball into the liquid and use to clean the face. Grind fresh parsley to a pulp and apply to the affected area for 15 minutes. Then cleanse and nourish as normal.
Skin Rashes: Externally: Chop some fresh cilantro to a pulp. Apply on the affected area of the skin and leave for up to 15 minutes before rinsing in warm water. Internally: Steep one teaspoon of coriander seeds in a cup of hot water. Drink every night until the itching and redness has disappeared.
Sunburn: Coconut oil used topically helps heal and hydrate the skin after any form of burn. Aloe Vera is also excellent for calming burns.
Finally, for instantly bright sparkling eyes, simply apply cold milk to the eyelids with cotton wool each morning.