The Key to Radiant Skin
When we think of our skin—other than how it looks—most of us think of it as the way in which we experience touch.
By Felicia Marie Tomasko
When we think of our skin—other than how it looks—most of us think of it as the way in which we experience touch. From the ayurvedic perspective, the quality of touch we receive affects our nervous system; it can excite, disturb, or calm the airy vata dosha, which governs our nervous system and becomes rattled when we are under stress. The skin, the body’s largest organ, also acts as a protective barrier and an early warning system to the body. Its tiny hairs increase our sensitivity to physical sensations, such as heat, cold, and pain, and alert us to emotional pain as well. We talk about having a “thick” or a “thin” skin, and we feel our skin “crawl” when we are frightened or uncomfortable.
Even though the skin can be viewed as our outer shell, it is linked to and reflects the inner workings of our body. In other words, we can tell how healthy a person is by looking at her skin. Radiant skin usually indicates hearty circulation, good digestion, and a strong ability to detoxify (which can sometimes occur through the skin). Although in ayurveda our constitution (our unique combination of vata, pitta, and kapha) determines our skin’s specific needs, the following advice applies to us all.
Give Yourself a Daily Massage
Ayurveda recommends self-massage both to nourish the skin and to calm the body as a whole. Daily massage can increase circulation, strengthen the immune system, and remove impurities from the skin. Soothing oils massaged into the skin provide a protective barrier that leaves us less vulnerable to being thrown off-kilter by the overstimulation of everyday life. Choose organic unrefined sesame or almond oil.
Drink Hot Water with Lemon
Start the day with a cup of hot water with lemon (or lime, which is more cooling) to improve digestion and elimination, which in turn support clear, healthy, radiant skin.
Supplement with Turmeric
A signature spice in Indian dishes—and an important element in ayurvedic medicine—turmeric has a powerful, almost magical effect on clearing the skin. Traditional ayurveda and modern research both agree this culinary root herb (related to ginger) has potent anti-inflammatory properties and antimicrobial effects; it also strengthens and supports liver function. Add it to your food or favorite recipes—a pinch of black pepper along with the turmeric helps enhance its effect—or take two tablets before meals.
Pay Attention to the Seasons
From the spring rains and summer heat to the cool autumn evenings and harsh drying winds of winter, each season offers benefits and challenges for our skin.
Fifteen minutes of sun on our unprotected skin gives us all the vitamin D we need—an essential cofactor for a variety of physiological functions. More than that may cause skin damage, however, so don’t skimp on the sunblock. Nourish the skin with lotions containing coconut oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E. Avoid essential oils like bergamot, which can increase sun sensitivity. Drink plenty of green tea: its antioxidant effects have some skin-protective qualities.
Summer lifesaver: Lavender—it reduces heat and inflammation, and a lavender-infused lotion can soothe sunburn.
As the days shorten, the vata dosha becomes progressively dominant, increasing our internal dryness, no matter what our constitution. Wrap up in a warm scarf and apply lotion throughout the day to keep your skin hydrated. Choose a lotion with a nourishing oil base of avocado, almond, jojoba, sesame, or even olive; steer clear of anything synthetic or petroleum-based.
Fall lifesaver: Organic unrefined shea butter—it easily penetrates and moisturizes the skin.
Wind and cold can leave us with chapped raw skin. Reach for shea butter, which is solid at room temperature but absorbs readily, sesame oil, or even small amounts of castor oil. Castor oil can be a little sticky, but it calms the vata dosha and smoothes dry, cracked skin. Spritz a little valerian, jatamansi, or ruh khus essential oil on your pillow to calm the flighty vata dosha and promote a sound beauty snooze.
Winter lifesaver: Lotions with small amounts of ginger or rosemary—they stimulate circulation and warm the skin.
The increased moisture and warmth of spring soften the skin but can increase heaviness and stagnation. Go lighter on the moisturizers now but don’t give them up. Misting with rose water or orange flower water has a gentle astringent effect, as do cool wet tea bags placed on puffy eyes, or a toner made with a tulsi base. Also, consider detoxifying from the inside to stimulate circulation. Improve spring skin with juices that contain kale, parsley, ginger, or cucumber.
Spring lifesaver: Citrus essential oils—used in lotions, they slough off dead skin and promote circulation.
Read Between the Lines
The skin is the largest organ of absorption, which means that what we put on our skin can affect the rest of the body. So choose your skin care products carefully; look for those that contain only a few ingredients and learn what each ingredient does. Unfortunately, the label doesn’t tell the whole story. Cosmetic companies don’t have to list everything they put in their products and can hide harmful chemicals under the term “fragrance.” Look for the words “paraben-free,” “phthalate-free” or “made with 100% pure essential oils.” When in doubt, go to safecosmetics.org for a list of healthy (and not-so-healthy) products.
Felicia Marie Tomasko, RN, E-RYT 500, is a yoga teacher, the editor in chief of LA Yoga magazine, and maintains a private practice in the healing tradition of ayurveda. She serves on the board of directors of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine and the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.