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.
From an ayurvedic perspective, the quality of touch we receive affects our nervous system; it can excite, disturb, or calm the airy vata dosha.
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 dosha) determines our skin’s specific needs, the following advice applies to us all.
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.
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.
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.
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.