Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
Last year, the skincare industry generated record profits for sales of products like face masks, exfoliants, and moisturizers, responding to a growing desire for an age-defying look, but the allure of a glowing complexion is nothing new. Archaeologists have found evidence of early cosmetic regimes practiced by Egyptians dating back six thousand years, the Roman Philosopher Pliney the Elder extolled the benefits of almond oil to fight wrinkles in his first century text Natural History, and yoga’s holistic sister science Ayurveda outlines daily skincare regimens from oil massage to exposing the skin to the early morning sun.
Were humans always just vain, or is there a deeper reason for keeping our skin healthy? According to Ayurveda, the skin is not only a protective barrier keeping pathogens out and water in to maintain homeostasis, it’s a reflection of one’s inner state of being. An Ayurvedic practitioner may perceive dullness or lackluster complexion as representative of poor digestion, redness and inflammation as heat in the liver, or dryness and wrinkling as symptoms of stress. Healthy, glowing skin on the other hand depends on good digestion, strong immunity, balanced state of mind, and lots of oil!
Balanced Agni: the Digestive Fire
Unlike modern preference for topical applications, in Ayurveda the first key to healthy skin is a healthy diet. Ayurveda describes the digestion (Agni) as the root of all health, and closely links the state of your skin with the health of your digestion and liver.
Foods to Reduce:
Foods That Promote Healthy Skin:
Dark leafy greens (especially baby spinach)
Aloe Vera juice
Ojas: Strong Immunity
Ojas is described as a state of vitality, reflected in physical robustness, mental clarity, good immunity, emotional balance, and radiant skin. Since the skin is our first line of defense when it comes to pathogens, it can often bear the battle wounds when our immunity is weak. Boost your immunity with these simple measures:
- Get to bed by 10pm
- Rise with the sun
- Start your day with a cup of warm water
- Exercise daily
Sattva: A Balanced State of Mind
The skin and nervous system develop alongside each other in the embryo, and remain connected throughout our lives, making the skin as sensitive as it is protective. For this reason, many skin disorders like acne, eczema and psoriasis also have a psychosomatic component. Ayurveda recommends taking stress-reducing measures to improve your skin, such as Restorative Yoga, meditation and Yoga Nidra.
Oil: the Master Healer
Forget acids and scrubs, Ayurveda has long held that easily absorbable oil is the key to a youthful look. In addition to hydration, enjoy a daily full-body oil massage (abhyanga) to keep your skin naturally supple and soft. Sesame oil is the primary oil used in Ayurveda (and rumored favorite of Cleopatra!) but it has a heavy, warming quality. If you already have heat or inflammation in your skin, try cooling coconut oil, and if you tend towards oily skin, try lighter almond oil.
How to Give Yourself Daily Abhyanga:
- Submerge bottle of oil in warm water
- Dry brush your skin to remove dead skin cells and prepare it to absorb oil
- Begin your massage with circular motions on your abdomen and work your way out. Use circular motions on your joints and long motions on your limbs.
- Allow the oil to soak in for 5-10 minutes
- Wipe oil from the soles of your feet then take a warm shower
Ayurvedic Face Mask
¼ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp neem powder
2 tsp ground chickpea powder
Blend with rosewater and whole milk until you have a smooth paste
Apply to skin, leave for 5 minutes, wash then tone with rose water and moisturize using almond oil.
Photo courtesy of Julia Clarke.