In Ayurveda, it is understood that health depends on the quality of health within digestion. Digestion has two aspects to it which include the body (the physical part of digestion itself) and mind (being that the mind is processing/transforming/absorbing/integrating information.) What we put into our bodies via the mouth is equally as important as what we expose our mind to. The building up of the body occurs with proper nutrients. The strengthening of the mind depends on practices that help to bring balance to it as much as possible. Ayurveda has much written on this and can be explored at a later time. Suffice it to say, the health of the skin has many contributing factors. We could also include in this the understanding that genetics plays a role. Ayurveda would go as far as asking "what foods did the parents ingest?" Additionally, it is understood in Ayurveda that even though there may be a genetic predisposition towards some condition, what is it in a person's diet and lifestyle that would contribute towards increasing the likelihood of that condition manifesting based on a gene expression? Just because there's a tendency it doesn't mean it actually always has to develop. What allows it to? That's what Ayurveda has us think about. Also, it is accepted in Ayurveda that even if all efforts have been made to prevent something from developing that if something still persists or exists, then this is part of the individual's inner work to find balance with and accept as part of their human journey. Yoga and Ayurveda can certainly help with all this.
I remember many years ago a patient came to me for Ayurvedic Facial treatments because she noticed that she had many wrinkles and wanted me to help her to get rid of them. She mentioned that she recently started smoking (after the age of 50) due to her divorce from a marriage that ended after almost 25 years. She said "I know you're going to tell me to stop smoking but I'm not willing to. I just want you to help me with the wrinkles." I told her we would do her best and that there was no point in me telling her that smoking wasn't a good idea because she already knew that. What I wanted to do was to support her in understanding the root cause that drove her to smoke and to redirect her stress in a different way, as we worked on the skin issue she came in with We started with her diet, which is where any kind of healthcare should be addressed.
Skin is a very meticulously complex system like much of the body. It is the largest organ of the body. This includes the lining of the digestive tract starting in the mouth and ending in the rectum, transitioning to the outside of what we see. It has an average weight of around 12 pounds. It is also an organ of immunity, breathable, and an organ of absorption. The health of the skin will determine the overall health of an individual. Beauty comes from the inside and makes its way outside. This makes sense considering that the body and its organs, tissues, and cells are made up of what we put into our body. If we want to understand the health of an individual, we can see what foods exist in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. Similarly, when we want to understand the health of an individual we assess what they are putting into their bodies.
Tvak Sara loosely translates to "healthy skin" in Ayurveda. What is the general definition of healthy skin according to Ayurveda? Ayurveda says "Excellence of Rasa Dhatu. The excellence of skin can be characterized by unctuous/oily, softness/smooth, clarity of complexion, glow, and fine deeply rooted lustrous hair." It is important to note that the word Rasa has several meanings and in Ayurveda one of them refers to the skin because it relates to plasma formation which is a vital nutrient of the body in which other cells and tissues require for health.
According to Ayurveda, we can classify skin types based on general constitutional considerations like this:
Vata skin tends to be dry, cracking, cold, rough, flaky, scaly, thin, and with small lesions. Complexion tends to be dull or dusty.
Pitta skin tends to be moist, prone to red rashes, hot, red, inflamed, smooth, and moderately thick. Complexion tends to be rosy or ruddy.
Kapha skin tends to be moist, prone to pustular lesions, cold, smooth, mainly thick. Complexion tends to be pale.
For the purposes of this article, here are some considerations to have in place to best support the health of the skin:
1) PROPER HYDRATION. Not just water but also electrolyte boosting beverages that are like natural "gatorade's." Proper hydration also includes knowing how much fluid intake based on your constitution, as well as understanding factors that involve whether you're working out and sweating a lot, or not. Whether you're in the heat a lot, or not. Overly hydrating with water can have a depletive quality as well, as this puts stress and strain on the kidneys and cells overall.
2) PROPER NUTRITION What does the food look like? Is it full and bountiful? Are you getting the adequate protein, carbs, veggies, fiber, and oils? Are you eating on the go or sitting with your food? Are you distracted while eating? Overeating? Undereating? Eating healthier foods or eating fast foods? Are the foods highly processed? Whole?
3) PROPER EXERCISE. Supports oxygenation and strength to the skin and all connective tissue. Of course, over-exercising can also cause stress and strain on the body which will have negative consequences on the skin. Overly sweating can also cause harm internally and therefore external what we see, as a result of dehydration and depletion. There is a perfect balance and your body will tell you in many ways.
4) PROPER REST/SLEEP. This is a rejuvenative process for the body and stress reduction. Sleeping is a natural anti-inflammatory process (usually and ideally.) Staying up late at night increases inflammation and increases aging, due to the various levels of stress. Daytime sleep lacks the adequate and full qualities of sleep that nighttime sleep can offer. Simply following our internal clocks, known as the circadian rhythm, can be our guide. Trust it! It's been around for millennia and since the dawn of "human." Check this article HERE for more sleep information
5) ALCOHOL consumption and excess consumption can be an accelerant in aging. It is depletive and consumptive overall, like adding fuel to a fire that causes the breakdown of tissues. The body tries to remove alcohol as fast as it can from the body through sweating and urination. This tends to be why we pee a lot when drinking, usually. The body views alcohol as a type of poison, especially in excess. Due to this, the body ages faster over time. Therefore, avoid or really minimize alcohol intake. Properly hydrate the body when alcohol is being consumed but remember that too much fluid intake of any kind will also wreak havoc in the body. Alcohol is acidic and affects the pH levels of the body which not only puts stress on the liver and kidneys but the whole body. There is no judgment of drinking but Ayurveda would ask the question "what is the root of the drinking?" and "what is it about drinking that acts as a supplement and support for something else going on in the deeper terrain of being human and consciousness?"
6) SMOKING, in general, but specifically cigarettes we know also increases aging as well as this prevents the strengthening of tissues, as well as compromising the oxygen resources in the body. The elasticity of the skin is lost over time and based on the amount of smoking. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor and reduces blood flow and oxygen to the skin which means the skin lacks nutrients for strengthening and building. The lungs support oxygenation of the blood which feeds all cells in the body and compromising such a vital part of existence causes severe harm. There's no way around it. There is no judgment around the smoking but a question Ayurveda asks is "what is the smoking a supplementation for?" and "what is at the root that causes an individual to smoke?" Smoking is a learned behavior. It is not one that comes naturally.
7) Oils and Oil therapy is highly recognized in Ayurveda as being a major asset to supporting immunity, vitality, peace of mind, and healthy skin. Ayurveda suggests the proper intake of oils via ingestion and via topical application. Oils should always be applied warm, and based on constitutional necessities. Remember, the skin IS an organ of absorption and anything, I mean ANYTHING, we put on the skin is getting absorbed. There is a saying in Ayurveda that "If you're not able to eat it, then why would you put it on your skin." Technically, any oil is good but the best oil is the oil used as per the constitution. For the purposes of understanding internal oil suggestions consist of: Fish Oils, Flax Seed Oil, Ghee, Coconut Oil. External topical oils that are really good include Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Sesame, Coconut, Olive, and Almond. Within this category of oil therapy we can add how amazing and vital it is for the body to get massaged regularly. This has so many benefits, including how it helps the skin to be healthier, but also involves contact itself. A loving touch can help the skin and overall mind and body to feel amazing!
8) HYGIENE/SKIN PRODUCTS that aren't natural should be minimized or avoided completely. I'm sorry to say but this is for your own good. The typical products such as deodorants, hair sprays, colognes/perfumes, laundry detergents/softeners, powders like talcum, and any other products that are meant to treat the skin, should be considered harmful if it's not natural. The body is made of nature, natural elements and minerals. When we apply substances that aren't pure and natural we are force-feeding the body to eat junk which has an overall negative influence on health and vitality, causing stress and inviting harmful conditions in many ways. How do we deal with this? See point #7 above. If you're one of those individuals that says "using natural products doesn't feel the same" or "doesn't work" or "doesn't work the same"...then Ayurveda says see point #1-7 for understanding. It is very difficult to treat the external parts of the body when the internal balance hasn't been established. It's like putting on a new fresh coat of paint on a wall that's peeling or a wall that the sheetrock is slowly crumbling. It just can't be done, but people try. Nature always wins in the end, so why not give it more of a chance and look at the internal landscape so that the outer architecture can be amazing?!
9) AVOID SUN during peak times as the sun can be damaging and cause the skin to breakdown. We know that many forms of skin cancers develop as a result of consistent and direct sun exposure, especially when the proper measures aren't taken such as using appropriate sunscreens (which tend not to be natural in the source but helpful with regard to protecting the skin probably better than natural sunscreens.) Collagen breaks down. Damage occurs at the junction of the epidermis and dermis resulting in an inability of the cells and microstructures to receive proper nutrients. Also, too much UV-B radiation affects DNA causing mutations that lead to cancer. It is also important to note that there are several skin types that range from pale to olive skin to dark and darker skin. This also plays a role in protection from the sun due to melanin (skin pigmentation) and the lighter the skin the more prone to skin damage and other issues with aging skin, such as wrinkles.
10) SUPPLEMENTS can be helpful as well, but again, this is optimized when diet and lifestyle are being supportive. Supplements like Vitamin A, B, B-complex, C, D, E, Magnesium, Zinc, and Iron help on many levels and contribute to the whole package of well-being. If you're not sure of your levels in the blood, there are lab tests to examine this and determine what vitamins and minerals may be lacking. Or, the alternative is to slowly introduce one of these and spend an extensive time with individual ones and determine what you're feeling like. No one knows you better than you when you tune in and trust the inner physician and inner wisdom. The body knows best!
11) COFFEE can also be harmful, in excess. The western dosage of coffee has exceeded the normal quantity that the body can actually handle healthily. A good example of coffee consumption is by observing traditional European countries. They don't have 8-12-16-20-30 ounces in one sitting. These amounts are highly toxic for the body. If there is pre-existing inflammation, coffee will only magnify this. If there isn't pre-existing inflammation, then the excess consumption of coffee will create inflammation. Coffee is acidic and reduces the pH in the body and has a rippling effect overall on health. Ayurveda would ask "why is this much coffee needed?" We would determine where the imbalance is and what coffee is doing as a supplement for this. What is lacking? Not enough energy? No time to eat? (because coffee is an appetite suppressant.) Is it used to stay up late? Is there an emotional comfort around it? Is it just the taste and smell? A little bit goes a long way. Ayurveda would also suggest coffee based on an individuals' constitution. For instance, Pitta predominant individuals would benefit from less coffee for sure. Pitts predominant individuals are heated naturally and coffee is heating due to its acidic nature. Vata predominant individuals should generally stay away (especially if they have anxiety) since they are naturally stimulated and coffee is a natural stimulant. Kapha predominant types would benefit from some, but not too much as this negatively affects the fat/adipose tissue, as well as sugars/glucose/insulin relationship. European dosage, which consists of infrequent small cups is best, if consumed at all.
12) TO STRESS OR NOT TO STRESS! It is already is known that stress is considered the number one killer. Stress affects everything, body, mind, and spirit. This has to do with mind. As mind is agitated, so shall digestion be. As mentioned before, when digestion is compromised, then what happens internally will express itself externally. Yoga, massage, meditation are all great tools to de-stress. Seeing a therapist or counselor/couch of sorts as well. Connecting with nature, either camping, hiking, or simply being outdoors and around less technologies, less people, and more with critters, plants, trees, lakes, mountains, and the beauty of sunrises, sunsets and everything in between can all be helpful methods of supporting de-stressing by decompressing and discharging these highly sensitive and highly charged up nervous systems.
Ayurveda is not a system of "spot treatments", "spa treatments", or "quickies/quick fixes" around getting optimal health. It is a system of holistic medicine that requires investment and discipline to a certain degree. Sometimes simple antidotes can be successful but that is simply a moment of grace. Usually, the right foundation has to be established in order to obtain the desired results that are expected of the body and mind.
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only and not considered medical advice. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed by a qualified practitioner and/or primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.