Ayurvedic Holistic Skincare: Balancing Skin from the Inside Out

November 07, 2020 11 min read

Ayurvedic Skin Care Holistic Skin Care

I love skin care. And the fact that I couldn't find a truly nontoxic, reasonably priced brand is why I created our own skin care line. I believe that intelligently formulated skincare can work wonders. But I also know that topical products are not the whole picture. There's more you can do for your skin other than using good skincare products.

Taking care of your skin the holistic way means that you're caring for your external organ AND nurturing gut health, your lymphatic system, and your circulation.

Today I'm sharing some practical, concrete steps you can take to truly nurture your skin from the inside out, according to the ancient and enduring wisdom of Ayurveda (India's system of traditional and holistic medicine).

While it's tempting to skip over our introduction information, reading these sections will help you better understand the recommendations we make.

  • What is Ayurveda?
  • What makes Ayurveda different?
  • My approach to Ayurveda

  • Short on time? Skip ahead to what Ayurveda says about balancing the skin from the inside out in these sections below:

  • Ayurveda's view on skin care
  • Practical Guidance: 3 Key Factors to Healthy, Balanced Skin
  • + A Word on Herbs (Taken Internally)
  • + A Word on Hormones
  •  


    What is Ayurveda?

    What Is Ayurveda Ayurvedic Skin Care

    Ayurveda is India’s system of traditional medicine that developed in parallel to yoga over 5000 years ago in the Indus River Valley (modern day India and Pakistan). It was India’s primary form of medicine until the period of British colonialization. In true colonial fashion, the British severely repressed and restricted both the teaching and practice of Ayurveda.

    Since India’s liberation from British rule in 1947, Ayurveda has seen a slow but steady comeback, and nowadays it is back to its rightful place in Indian society and culture.

    I was first introduced to Ayurveda from studying yoga. In my 500 hour yoga teacher training program I learned about Ayurveda from Katie Silcox, a NYT bestselling author of a modern Ayurveda book and a student of one of the most prominent Ayurvedic physicians – Dr. Vasant Lad. After learning from Katie I went on to take an Ayurvedic counselor training from Arpita Shah, also a student of Dr. Lad. Most recently I completed an Ayurvedic Herbology class with Arpita.

    The #1 thing to know about Ayurveda is that everything is energy! Rather than talking about specific cellular processes, Ayurveda talks about energetics and qualities throughout our bodily systems. Ayurveda believes that the body's natural state is balance and seeks to help us restore balance in mind, body, and spirit. In Ayurveda, like increases like and opposites balance, so balance is restored by cultivating the qualities opposite to your imbalance.

    Something else important to know about Ayurveda? Rarely do treatment protocols involve treating just one thing - Ayurveda treats the body as a whole unit, so rather than covering up symptoms it is focused on addressing the root cause.



    What makes Ayurveda different?

    1. Ayurveda treats each individual as, well, an individual! While there are many universal lifestyle recommendations for health, when it comes to addressing your unique health and concerns, the treatment protocol is just as unique as you are, and takes into account your innate constitutional type (Prakruti), your current imbalance (Vikruti), and your digestive type (agni).
    2. Ayurveda focuses on the root cause of imbalance rather than controlling symptoms alone. While most allopathic medicine seeks to minimize or eliminate symptoms by treating the symptoms themselves, Ayurveda treats the root cause and symptoms all together - a truly holistic focus instead of siloed treatments and therapies.
    3. Ayurveda focuses on preventive health and maintenance. Ayurveda always seeks to prevent imbalance, dis-ease, and disease as much as possible. When that's not possible, there are still plenty of treatment protocols to regain balance.
    4. Ayurveda focuses first and foremost on lifestyle changes as a treatment protocol. Routine, diet, and movement are used as treatments. Herbs are often part of the picture, too.
    5. You can use BOTH Ayurveda and allopathic/Western medicine. No matter what anyone says, you CAN subscribe to Ayurvedic principles and still use allopathic medicine. Ain't nothing wrong with it. As someone who lives with multiple chronic illnesses, this is very important to me. I wouldn't be so into a system of wellness that vilified what is responsible for me being alive.

    Our approach to Ayurveda

    Ayurvedic Health Consultation Ayurvedic Skin Care

    Like all good Ayurvedic practitioners, I believe that Ayurvedic lifestyle changes should happen gradually and incrementally. If you try to change everything in your life at once, you will (a) not succeed, (b) become frustrated or despondent, and (c) abandon it altogether. Rather than setting yourself up for failure, focus on changing just a few things at a time. Give it 90 days or so to become habit, then add on some more changes. Slow and steady wins the race.

    That said, I've encountered my fair share of holistic wellness practitioners who shame people for needing and using allopathic/Western medicine. They make you feel like you just haven't done enough or tried hard enough to be able to abandon Western medicine. F*ck that.

    While a commitment to lifestyle changes is absolutely crucial to enjoy the benefits of Ayurveda, there are many times when people truly NEED allopathic therapy. As someone who lives with three chronic illnesses - 2 genetic, 1 tickborne - I can tell you firsthand that allopathic medicine saved my life even as I implemented every possible lifestyle change to support my body. Needing allopathic medicine is NOT an indication of a personal failure. At the same time, I'm the first person to admit that allopathic medicine is nowhere near perfect.

    I have a lot of things to say on this topic, but suffice it to say that I profoundly understand and respect the benefits and purpose of both Ayurveda and Western medicine. It is frankly a very privileged view to say that everyone "should" be able to only use holistic methodologies - typically those are people who (a) have never had serious health problems and/or (2) have always had access to great holistic care. That's all I'll say on that for now.

    My approach to Ayurveda is always rooted in the WHY. I'll never give someone advice without explaining the mechanism behind it. I'd never recommend something if I don't understand it or wouldn't do it if I were in their shoes. Client education is an integral part of how I do my Ayurvedic Health Consultations.


     

    And while I always make a point to explain the why, ultimately all my advice is rooted in concrete, practical, and implementable strategies that you can easily incorporate into your life.

    Ayurvedic Skin Care

    Ayurveda believes that skin health begins on the inside (there's that focus on root cause), supported externally by well-formulated nontoxic products and home remedies. Today we're focusing primarily on internal skincare, but I want to give you a quick crash course on what Ayurveda says about skincare:

    • If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.If you've ever met me at a pop-up market, you likely have heard me joke that you could technically eat our products even though they wouldn’t taste good. At Bright Body, our high standards for ingredients exist because of how we feel about Environmental Working Group safety ratings AND how we feel about the Ayurvedic view of skincare.
    • Organic, gentle, whole ingredients. Ayurveda says that the more we can use whole, plant-based ingredients, the better. Harsh, drying, and toxic ingredients are not Ayurvedic. In particular, Ayurveda loves skin care products containing or infused with herbs like: gotu kola, manjistha, neem, aloe, turmeric, and sandalwood. Ayurveda also loves ingredients like yogurt, honey, and oats. You’ll find these types of ingredients in our skincare, whether they have “Ayurvedic” in the name or not.
    • Oil is king. I cannot overstate the importance of oiling one's skin in Ayurveda. Despite claims in the 80s, 90s, and 00s that oil is the enemy and the resulting boom of oil-free and moisture-stripping products, oil is your BFF and Ayurveda knows it. Maintaining the healthiest skin requires nurturing your skin's barrier function - you know, the thing that makes skin behave like actual skin, protecting our organs from the outside world. Stripping oils, not adequately moisturizing, and using products with the wrong pH will damage your skin's barrier.

      Conversely, using the right oils on face and body will nurture your skin, its barrier function, and even your nervous and circulatory systems. In general, Vata dosha needs the most oilation, then Pitta, then Kapha. However, ALL of the doshas need to be regularly oiling their skin with high-quality oils that balance the qualities of their unique type.

       

      Practical Guidance: 3 Key Factors for Healthy Skin

       

      In Ayurveda, most imbalance begins in the gut. If it doesn’t begin there, it will always make itself known in the gut, it’s just a matter of whether we’re paying attention. I can't tell you how many times people have told me, “my digestion is normal"but when I ask them more specific questions about appetite and bowel movements, it becomes clear it is anything but "normal," or in Ayurvedic terms, balanced. The problem? We get so used to being imbalanced that it becomes our "normal." Normal is not the same as balanced.

      In both allopathic and Ayurvedic terms, we know that we get all of the building blocks for our bodily tissues through our food. So, our overall health, including skin health, depends on good digestion + lymphatic system health + circulatory system health.

      Key Factor #1 For Healthy Skin: A Healthy Gut


      Gut Health Holistic Skin Care Ayurvedic Skin Care
      You will have one primary digestive type (agni) though it is quite common that you might be a combination of a few with one as your predominant type. Here's a summary of the 3 types of imbalanced digestion.
        1. Vishama(Vata type). Irregularity, gas, bloating, constipation, light appetite. Prone to irregularity/variability. Shows in the skin with dry, rough, dull, wrinkled skin prone to hyperpigmentation. The hallmark: variability, irregularity.
        2. Tikshna(Pitta type). Hyperacidity, diarrhea and soft stools, overactive appetite, gets hangry. Prone to inflammation. Shows in the skin with acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis (any inflammation or redness). Lighter skin tone Pittas typically have a ruddy undertone. The hallmark: inflammation.
        3. Manda (Kapha type). Slow, sluggish, heavy digestion, stools with mucus. Strong appetite, prone to stagnation in digestion. Shows in the skin with cystic acne, puffiness/water retention, clogged pores. The hallmark: stagnation.

        Follow these universal recommendations for a happy belly + happy skin, too.

        1. Stop drinking ice water/ice cold drinks. Drinking ice water and ice cold smoothies is like throwing a blanket over your digestive fire (yes, even if you have the inflammatory type digestion), which slows your ability to properly digest and break down food. It constricts blood flow to the stomach and slows or inhibits the release of enzymes which directly affects your digestive, metabolic, and lymphatic systems. Instead: Drink room temp water and hot herbal (non-caffeinated) teas like ginger, holy basil, peppermint, fennel, or classic Ayurvedic coriander-cumin-fennel tea.

        2. Eat without distractions. Slow down to eat, get settled before you dig in. If you’re in fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system mode, your digestion will not go very well! Eat slowly and mindfully so you can really taste, chew, and properly digest your food.

        3. Minimize your consumption of leftovers. The longer food sits, the more nutritional value (prana) it loses, they harder it is to digest, the more flavor it loses (taste, or rasa, is important to digestion), and the more toxins (ama) they create in the digestive tract. If you do eat leftovers, try to eat them within 24-48 hours, and add some black pepper – it helps reduce the heavy (tamasic) and the toxin-creating (ama-genic) qualities of leftovers. Microwaves specifically alter the nutritional content of food, creates by products that the body cannot metabolize, and can disrupt your endocrine balance. Reheat using a stove or toaster oven when you can.

        4. Get comfy in your kitchen. Rather than being super restrictive, Ayurveda encourages us to follow simple guidance: eat whole, fresh, homecooked foods, mostly plants. Yes, there is more specific guidance on what tastes and foods to emphasize/minimize by dosha, but if you’re just starting with Ayurveda, start with the basics of whole, fresh, homecooked food. If you’re not comfortable cooking, start experimenting. Check out this Ayurvedic cookbook to start.

        5. Spice your food. In the West we tend to believe that bland food is easier to digest. It is the exact opposite in Ayurveda. Basically, don’t be a Karen, spice your food! To be clear: I don’t mean spicy like hot peppers. In fact, some doshas need to be careful with heat. I just literally mean use more herbs and spices in your cooking. Start simple: go buy some bulk spices (start with 4-5 new-to-you-ones) and play with them in your cooking! Your belly will thank you. Some Ayurvedic spice favorites to always have on hand are: cumin, coriander, fennel, asofoetida, garlic, onion, ginger, and turmeric.

        Key Factor #2 For Healthy Skin: A Healthy Lymphatic System

        Lymphatic System

        In Ayurveda, there are 7 bodily tissues, created in sequence, each giving rise to the next. The 1st tissue is rasa dhatu – the primary waters of the body. In allopathic terms, this translates the lymph/lymphatic system. Without healthy lymph and lymph circulation, none of the other tissues can be their healthiest.

        Imbalanced lymph (rasa dhatu) can show up in the skin as:

        • Vata. Dry, rough, itchy skin. Delicate, thin skin.
        • Pitta. Any inflammation in the skin – eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne. Redness/ruddiness.
        • Kapha. The qualities/energetics of Kapha and rasa dhatu are the same. This is why we say that Kapha dosha has naturally the most beautiful, low-maintenance skin. However, when there is excess Kapha you’ll likely see water retention/puffiness, clogged pores, and cystic acne.
        Follow these universal recommendations for a happy lymphatic system + happy skin, too.
        1. Everything from digestion recommendations. It’s all connected!
        2. Hydrate. Most people walk around chronically dehydrated to some degree. Excellent hydration is KEY for everyone, but especially for people with predominant Vata. Again, don’t play yourself with ice water – go for room temp water and hot herbal teas. Most adults need ~65 oz of water daily.
        3. Get moving, regularly.The lymphatic system does not have a pump. The way we move lymph is by moving our bodies! Making some form of moderate exercise a regular part of your routine is key to keeping lymph healthy, happy, and circulating. Please note: overdoing exercise actually depletes rasa dhatu and ojas, the subtle essence of immunity. Ayurveda in general does not support excessive, high intensity exercise. To learn more about Ayurveda's view on healthy exercise, read this blog.
        4. Add lymph drainage to your routine. Check out this blog with short free videos on using your hands and a dry brush to drain lymph from your face and neck. If you would like more detailed guidance on lymph drainage using your hands and a gua sha tool, check out this recording of a detailed workshop we hosted all about lymph drainage.


        Key Factor #3 For Healthy Skin: Healthy Blood + Circulation

        Holistic Skin Care Ayurvedic Skin Care

        Blood (rakta dhatu) is the 2nd tissue developed after digestion, and is the tissue developed after lymph (rasa dhatu). Here we’re not just talking about whether you have blood or not, but also nutrient content, lack of pathogens, oxygen, quality of circulation, and more. A lack of healthy blood with good circulation leads to a whole host of problems for the body as a whole, including the skin.

        For healthy blood, healthy circulation, and happy skin, see all of the aforementioned recommendations - remember, it's all connected!

        A Word on Herbs

        For balanced digestion (agni), healthy lymph (rasa dhatu), and healthy blood (rakta dhatu), consider herbs taken internally, but only as appropriate. I’m not going to go into recommendations here because herbs should be treated with respect and I never make general recommendations about herbs to take without understanding the whole picture of someone’s innate constitution, imbalance, and digestive type. It's endlessly frustrating to see Ayurvedic herbs touted as a panacea for everyone's problems without considering whether the herb is appropriate for the person (here’s looking at you, Ashwagandha).

        However, just know that there are many Ayurvedic herbs with a special affinity for lymph and blood as well as the digestive system. If you want to learn more about herbs you can take for your unique body, you can sign up for an Ayurvedic consult.

        A Word on Hormones

        At this point, you might be wondering: but what about hormones? You’re absolutely right, hormones are part of the picture for healthy skin. However, in Ayurveda they are addressed holistically, not in isolation. Every single one of the above recommendations also works wonders to balance your hormones.

        Other key lifestyle interventions to balance hormones include:

        1. Get good sleep. Your body – including your skin - repairs and restores itself overnight. Good sleep is key to healthy skin, beauty sleep is actually a thing.
        2. Wake/sleep, eat your meals, and exercise at approximately the same times every day. Routine is therapeutic, period.

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        Looking for more guidance on what to do for your unique skin and body, specifically? Read more about our Ayurvedic Health Consultations and schedule a 15 minute discovery call.



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        I realize you might be thinking: but does this stuff really affect my skin? Yes, it will. Is any of this a quick fix? Absolutely not. But incorporating these routines into your lifestyle will address many of the root causes of skin issues!

        To learn more about Ayurveda, check out these blogs next:

        If you're looking for more personalized guidance on balancing your skin, learn more about our Personalized Ayurvedic Health Consultations here.

        Until next time,

        Gabi Day


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