The health of the skin is an important factor in Ayurveda, not only as an ascetic element of one’s being, but more importantly as an external indicator of one’s internal health. The skin health is a reflection of what is going on inside, both physically and emotionally. If you are experiencing skin issues such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, rash, itchiness, extreme dryness or dullness; this is a clear picture that there is an imbalance in the diet and/or lifestyle that may be a causative factor.
According to Ayurveda, the skin has a direct correlation to the liver, the blood and the gut. If there is too much heat, irritation or toxins in any of these areas, there is a good chance it will show up on our skin. The skin is also directly linked to Pitta dosha and more specifically Bhrajaka Pitta, the sub-dosha that governs the skin. Most skin issues therefore will have a Pitta involvement, however, Vata and/or Kapha can be involved as well.
One should always look at the potential physical elements to skin issues such as the diet and external “pollutants” (detergents, perfumes,etc), however, it is just as important to look at the more subjective factors such as stress, anxiety, anger, irritation, repressed emotions, over-working or lack of sleep. In order to obtain clear, radiant, healthy skin we must look at and improve on ALL of these areas together. Herbs are a great compliment to any skin healing therapy and can be used in conjunction with these other recommendations for more powerful results.
Common Factors for Skin Issues:
- Liver issues
- Digestion issues
- Toxins in the system
- Toxins in the liver or blood
- Excessive heat in the liver or blood
- Allergenic foods being consumed
- External irritants such as perfumes, detergents or chemicals
- Harsh face wash or soap (containing alcohol, dyes, perfumes or chemicals)
- Alcohol or drug use
- High stress
- Lack of sleep
- Lowered immunity
- Anger, irritation, frustration
- Anxiety, worry, fear
- Repressed emotions
Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Skin
1. Avoid any irritating, allergenic foods. Since allergies tend to show up on the skin, a skin disorder may be a clear indicator that you are consuming foods that are not healthy for you and your body. Some common foods that may cause skin issues include: dairy (especially milk and ice cream), soy, sugar, wheat, gluten, preservatives, additives, eggs and nuts. Of course this is a non-exhaustive list, so it is really important to know exactly what you are consuming and the effect it is having on your body. If you are not able to know which of these foods is the instigator, an “elimination diet” may be needed.
2. Take in hydrating, cooling foods. Since the majority of skin issues have a strong Pitta involvement, one must consume cooling foods and drinks to help balance out the excessive heat in the system. Take in cooling, hydrating foods such as coconut water, cucumber juice, coconut oil, organic ghee, lime, cilantro, parsley, watermelon, pomegranate (fruit or juice) and bitter greens such as kale, chard and collards. These foods are really effective for balancing Pitta, reducing excessive heat in the body, healing the liver, hydrating the system and detoxifying the body. Click here for my Cooling Cucumber and Coconut Juice recipe.
3. Avoid heating substances. Just as it is important to increase cooling foods in the diet, it is equally as important to avoid spicy, acidic or heating foods. Some examples include peppers (all varieties but especially hot), citrus fruit (except lime), fermented foods, alcohol, fried foods, nightshades (tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper), vinegar, extremely salty foods and pungent (hot) spices such as black pepper, dry ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek, cayenne pepper and ajwain.
4. Drink 16oz of warm-hot water with lime each morning. Although this is a simple recommendation, it has profound healing effects. Taking in 16oz of warm water, first thing each morning is an amazing way to hydrate the system, awaken the organs/digestion, flush-out unwanted toxins and promote a healthy bowel movement. The lime adds a bit of liver healing Vitamin C while balancing Pitta, detoxifying the body and increasing the digestion. With all of these health benefits, it is no wonder the skin health will naturally improve once this becomes a habitual practice.
5. Consume antioxidant rich, fresh foods. Make sure to consume a colorful array of fresh fruits and veggies everyday. Some of the best options are strawberries, blueberries, pomegranate, sweet potato, pumpkin, bitter greens, sprouts, cucumber, beets, burdock root, fresh ginger, summer squash or fresh turmeric. Cacao nibs are also a skin-healthy, antioxidant rich superfood and can be taken daily in moderation.
6. Eliminate improper food combinations. One of the major causes of disease is improper food combining. Improper food combinations cause confusion in the GI tract leading to indigestion, fermenation and toxic-build up. These toxins begin to clog the channels, causing disorder and disease. Once again, skin disorders are largely related to toxins in the system and our digestive health, therefore if you are experiencing skin issues it is essntial to see if you are regularly consuming any of these lethal combinations.
Lifestyle Recommendations for Healthy Skin
1. Perform Abhyanga each night before bed. Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic oil massage. This is typically done with a medicated, herb-infused oil to increase the skin health even further. If you are experiencing dryness, itchiness, eczema, psoriasis or dull skin; perform a self-oil massage on the effected areas before bed each night. Pitta Massage Oil is most recommended, but coconut oil can be used as a replacement if this is not available. Click here to read more about How to Perform Abhyanga.
2. Take a steam 1-2 times each week. A steam room can be a great way to induce sweating, remove toxins, increase the circulation and hydrate the skin. If you can find a (clean) steam room in your area, make it a consistent practice to go each week at least 1-2 times. If you can only find a sauna, this is a great replacement as long as you oil-up (see above) ahead of time to avoid increasing any dryness and only go in for 10-15 minute durations to avoid increasing Pitta (heat) any further.
3. Exercise 3 times each week. Having a consistent exercise practice each week will help the skin health in many ways. First, exercise is a natural way to detoxify the body; second, exercise is a well-known mood stabilizer and stress reducer; and finally exercise is a great way to increase the circulation. The best type of exercise will be a mild cardio practice such as the elliptical, treadmill or going for a brisk walk. No matter what type of exercise, it should be for at least 20-30 consecutive minutes, 3 times each week for the greatest benefits.
4. Make Yoga a regular practice. Yoga is a great way for reducing stress, enhancing the mood, releasing repressed emotions, detoxifying the body, increasing circulation and enhancing the digestion. Simply starting the day with a 15-20 minute gentle Yoga practice (such as 10 Sun Salutations) will increase the health and radiance of your skin, your body and your mind.
5. Meditate. We must practice inner healing to establish external radiance, and meditation is an essential factor in this subtle work. Creating a consistent meditation practice each day will manifest many health benefits, and your skin will definitely show for it! It is no secret that meditation reduces stress, heals the emotions and boosts the mood. Skin disorders have such a strong root in our mental/emotional health, and therefore these areas must be addressed. Sit for 10-15 minutes first thing each morning (after drinking your hot lime water, of course), 5-7 days each week. You will be sure to experience profound effects!
6. Avoid direct sun exposure. Direct sun exposure is drying to the skin, increases aging and leads to excessive heat in the body (increased Pitta); all of which are detrimental for skin disorders. If you are going to be exposed to the sun for a long period of time, make sure to wear a hat, proper clothing and sun screen. Try to stay in shaded areas and make sure to cover any of the effected skin areas.
Herbal Remedies for Healthy Skin
1. Tikta Ghrita. In the realm of herbal medicine for the skin, there is not much greater than Tikta Ghrita (AKA Bitter Ghee). This medicated ghee is a leader in cleansing the liver, blood and GI tract; reducing inflammation and heat; balancing the hormones; beautifying the complexion and healing the skin. Take 1/2 tsp each morning on an empty stomach in 1/2 cup of hot water. This formual can also be applied externally for even greater results.
2. Triphala Churna. Triphala is quite the herbal panacea in the world of Ayurveda. This traditional formula is packed with antioxidants and Vitamin C. It is a well known detoxifier, mild laxative, blood cleanser and is exceptionally healing to the liver. Triphala is a great addition to any skin healing herbal regimen and a 1/2 tsp can be taken each night before bed. In addition to taking Triphala internally, one can also make a facial scrub from this powder and apply it to the face to help clear the complexion and increase the radiance of the skin.
3. Aloe Vera Juice. Aloe is a well known healer of the skin when taken externally or internally (or both!). Aloe can be taken plain, added to water or added to an herbal formula. Take 1-2 Tbsp of organic Aloe 3 times daily before meals for at least 30 days (discontinue if it causes loose stools). Add a pinch of turmeric and neem for even greater results.
4. Cooling, liver herbs. Lucky for us, the Ayurvedic Pharmacopia thrives in detoxifying, liver healing herbs- which in turn leads to healthy, radiant, clear skin. Here are some of the top Ayurvedic herbs for general liver health:
5. Detoxifying herbs. Herbs that burn toxins in the system will naturally help clear-up the skin and skin disorders. Some great Ayurvedic options include:
- Triphala Guggulu
- Vidanga (specific for parasites)
6. Digestive herbs. One’s skin health relies strongly on one’s digestive health. To have a robust digestive fire (Agni) is to have vibrant health and radiant skin. Here are my top Ayurvedic herbal favorites for increasing the digestive force:
7. Antioxidant rich herbs. An essential factor of our skin’s health depends on the regular intake of antioxidants. Taking herbs that contain these nourishing nutrients will be beneficial and a great addition to any skincare formula. Here are the top herbs for antioxidant benefits:
- Rose Hips
- Lavanga (clove)