The Story of the Next Generation of Skin Care: Youthful Skin Massage
Q: We discussed in an earlier interview the importance of a holistic and balanced approach to skin care. These two principles of wholeness and balance represent the cornerstones of an authentic ayurvedic program of skin care, and they apply to skin care at any age, but especially so as one is approaching maturity in years, in order to retard the effects of aging on the skin.
A: Very true. The ayurvedic approach is to look at all the factors that change as skin ages, and then work at balancing those factors both internally and externally so that the skin stays youthful and supple. There is no substitute for regular, systematic care. The third pillar of ayurvedic beauty, Vayastyag or lasting beauty, is something within every individual's reach so long as you pay attention to the needs of the skin at every stage in life.
Q: Beautiful. Good health and beauty are closely related, something we in the West tend to forget, because here the focus is so much on maintaining outer beauty only. From the ayurvedic viewpoint, that represents a fragmented approach, and can mean less benefit, and benefit that lasts for a shorter period of time. You just mentioned that in order to restore balance to the skin, you first have to know what the changes are that occur as one matures. Can you talk a little bit about the ayurvedic theory of aging?
A: Certainly. Ayurveda divides life into three time-cycles, based on the psycho-physiological principles of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Childhood is termed the Kapha period, adulthood is the Pitta period, and Vata takes over in mature adulthood. There is a period of transition as a person goes from one stage of life to another — a period when the person exhibits the characteristics of the stage being completed as well as the stage about to begin. This transitional period tends to be about five years or so when a person moves from the Pitta period to the Vata period. The transition can be shorter or longer depending on the basic doshic combination of the person, with predominantly Vata types transitioning relatively faster than Pitta types and Kapha types transitioning slowest. The length of the transition can also be impacted by a person's diet and lifestyle, the environment, and psychological and emotional circumstances.
Q: Of course. For example, if a person is leading a high-stress lifestyle, with a high level of day-to-day anxiety, the transition would probably occur faster. This would be the case if the person is dealing with a lot of environmental pollution, or eating a diet that is not appropriate to the physiology, or experiencing sleep deprivation over a period of time.
A: Yes. That is why ayurveda emphasizes an ongoing holistic program of staying in balance, taking care of the skin along with the rest of the body and the mind. A fragmented approach to skin care will not yield the best results. So, as the transition occurs from the Pitta stage of life to the Vata stage, a person starts to gradually exhibit one or more symptoms of aging skin, such as the surface level of the skin feeling dehydrated without a proper reason, relatively more photosensitivity than before, some lack of firmness, etc. But during this transition period, it is quite common for people to show symptoms that are both Pitta-related and Vata-related. Pitta-related symptoms can include breakouts, excess photosensitivity (due to Pitta aggravation, Bhrajaka Pitta becomes more active, and consequently, photosensitivity tends to go up), freckles, and age spots. Vata-related symptoms can include thinning of the skin, excess dryness and lack of glow or luster.
Q: It is quite amazing how much of this corresponds to the view of modern science. For example, the conventional view of aging skin concurs with the observation that photosensitivity increases with age, because with increasing age the mechanism that normalizes the skin's biochemistry works more slowly following stress caused by sun, heat, climatic changes and other such factors.
A: According to ayurveda, the over-aggravation of Vata that occurs with passing age results in the shrinking of the shrotas — the channels that nurture the skin. As a result, the skin gets less nourishment, overall circulation gets adversely impacted, and the skin starts aging faster.
Q: Modern science states that with advancing age, the disturbed balance and disturbed delivery of skin lipids means that dry skin conditions can increase dramatically. Amazing.
A: Due to the lack of adequate nourishment and lubrication, the layer that forms the junction of the dermis and the epidermis flattens, and the sweat glands shrink, impacting proper sweat production and disturbing the cleansing mechanism of the skin. Sebum production also declines. Female skin in particular gets impacted during later middle age. To get the full benefit of the ayurvedic anti-aging skin care regimen, therefore, it is crucial to start the program before the transition period starts. It is always easier to prevent or retard the development of the signs of aging skin than to try to reverse the process after it has begun happening.
Q: Ayurveda emphasizes prevention and maintenance of good health as important goals. That holds true in the care of the skin as well. You were explaining the ayurvedic factors that change when a person goes from the Pitta period to the Vata period.
A: Because of the imbalance in Vata and Pitta during the transition period, the metabolic capacity of the person becomes deficient, and the cell turnover ratio declines. Vyana Vata, which is the sub-dosha of Vata that governs circulation and sensitivity, fans an already-enraged Bhrajaka Pitta, which governs all the metabolic processes that occur over and under the skin. Because of this disruption in balance, metabolic processes get affected. An imbalanced Vyana Vata, with its excessive drying effect, and an imbalanced Bhrajaka Pitta, with its excessive burning effect, have a doubly harmful effect on Shleshaka Kapha, which governs moisture balance and lubrication. The water-building capacity of the skin gets affected and the production of collagen fiber gets disrupted. As a result, the glow and luster and lubrication of the skin suffer. The dermis gets stiffer and the skin loses its flexibility.
Q: You have given us a very thorough explanation of the aging of the skin and the underlying factors from the ayurvedic perspective. Once we know exactly what elements are responsible for the aging of the skin, we can use ayurvedic principles to keep them in balance.
A: Exactly. Always, in ayurveda, we go to the underlying imbalances in the physiology and try to correct those as a long-term solution for any problem. Here we are talking about ways to pacify Bhrajaka Pitta and Vyana Vata, to restore moisture balance and enhance lubrication. For facial skin, the Youthful Skin Oil provides deep lipid support and the Youthful Skin Cream provides rich nourishment. For the whole body, massage with the correct type of oil is an excellent way to accomplish this.
Q: What is the definition of massage from the ayurvedic point of view?
A: The generic ayurvedic term for massage is abhyanga — from abhi and anga. Anga means body. Abhi means "balanced movement towards perfect direction." The movement, pressure and direction should all be nourishing and uplifting to the body, mind and spirit.
Q: Beautiful. In the West, a therapeutic or restorative massage is generally associated with a spa or a massage therapist. In ayurveda, however, abhyanga can refer to a self-massage as well; a massage you perform at home every day.
A: Yes. Massage forms a part of the ayurvedic purification and rejuvenation program called Panchakarma, and these special massage routines are performed by qualified therapists under the supervision of an ayurvedic physician. But what we are talking about today is the daily self-massage you can perform at home before your morning bath or shower. All you need is the appropriate massage oil and twenty minutes of peaceful time.
Q: And is it correct to say that depending on the herbs and essential oils in the massage oil you use, you can get targeted benefit for, say, strength and vitality, or better sleep?
A: Yes. Abhyanga, or massage, is itself considered very beneficial in ayurveda. As you know, the daily self-massage is recommended as part of the ayurvedic daily routine for everyone. It is considered good for overall health, vitality and longevity. When the massage oils are infused with specific blends of herbs and essential oils, they can help targeted health goals as well. Thus, it is possible to blend proper herbs and oils together to balance the factors that cause aging skin.
Q: So what would be the benefits that a person could expect from such a blend?
A: The benefits of the ayurvedic anti-aging massage are actually well detailed in the ancient texts. Such a massage pacifies both Vata and Pitta, and it is nurturing (pushtikar). That means nourishing to the seven different layers of the skin as well as the seven different types of body tissue. It helps to provide the skin with highly enriched nourishment, which is the first need of this time. It is also considered ayushkar — conducive to longevity. It helps maintain long-term skin health and appearance by providing balance to the structure of the skin. Specifically, it is also considered twak-dardhya — helping to increase the firmness of the skin. Such a massage is considered jarahar — capable of "destroying" old age; shramhar — helping to reduce physical and mental fatigue; and mrijavard balapradha — something that purifies the skin, enhances the complexion and makes it more radiant and attractive. Of course, to receive ongoing, cumulative benefits, it is important to do the massage on a regular basis — daily, to the extent you can fit it into your routine. It should take no more than 15-20 minutes.
Q: The benefits appear to be truly holistic.
A: Yes, the benefits are firstly direct, positively influencing the skin's moisture level and supplying nourishment to skin cells. But there are indirect benefits as well. Muscles are toned, circulation is enhanced, and mind and emotions are balanced, thus reducing day-to-day stress, which can have a damaging effect on the skin, causing it to age prematurely. So the daily massage should be performed regularly as part of a holistic prevention program to address aging of the skin.
Q: So the actual massage itself is very beneficial, and using the correct oil can enhance the benefits manifold.
A: Exactly. Properly formulated ayurvedic anti-aging massage oils are in a special category — they are called bringhana-sneha. Bringhana is that which nourishes all the seven types of body tissue. The literal meaning of sneha is oil, but sneha also means love — pleasure-enhancing. So the ideal anti-aging oil both nourishes and lubricates the skin in a loving, nurturing way. The Youthful Skin Massage Oil is the perfect bringhana oil for both men and women. Because the biological needs of men and women vis-à-vis aging skin are different — with women's skin being more delicate, and because they are impacted differently by age-related factors — they each need targeted, special support.
Q: I see that the Youthful Skin Massage Oils for Men and Women have over a dozen ingredients each — is that for added potency and effectiveness? Most ayurvedic or herbal massage oils have at the most three to four herbs or oils.
A: Yes, the formulations are quite complex, but they address all the different factors related to the ayurvedic theory of aging we spoke about, to deliver a holistic, balanced benefit to mature skin. As in the case of the facial Youthful Skin products, we were quite meticulous about adhering to tradition in two important ways. The first aspect is sanyog, which refers to a proper combination of the most effective herbs for the purpose of skin lubrication and nourishment, in conjunction with balancing herbs to make sure no other aspect of skin structure or functioning gets imbalanced. The second principle is sanskar, which refers to the actual making of the product. The herbs and oils are processed in ways that preserve their integrity — their natural intelligence. Adding chemical preservatives or processing the herbs at high temperatures can destroy the natural intelligence of the herbs and the delicate balance of the formulation. So both the formulas, and the processing methods, are crucial to effectiveness. The Youthful Skin Massage Oils are thus powerful while being completely natural and balanced.
Q: Tell us more about the combination of herbs and oils in these extraordinary formulations — how they work together to balance all the factors related to aging you spoke about.
A: If you take the Youthful Skin Massage Oil for Women, for example, this formula includes oil extracts of Shankapushpi, Gotu Kola and Sensitive Plant to pacify Vyana Vata, which in turn helps to improve circulation, balance sensitivity, nourish both the epidermis and the dermis, provide support to the sweat glands and lubricate the shrotas or the channels of the body. Those are powerful effects.
Q: I understand that these three herbs are particularly beneficial for addressing aging.
A: Yes. Gotu Kola and Sensitive Plant are major components in the face-care products as well, mainly for that reason. Gotu Kola is a medhya herb and has a vayasthapani effect. Medhya herbs help balance the mind/body coordination, and vayasthapani means retarding aging. There is research that shows that it helps enhance collagen synthesis. It is considered a powerful anti-aging herb in ayurveda. But Gotu Kola should not be used alone, or without proper balancing herbs, or it may harm or irritate the skin. Sensitive Plant helps balance the skin and supports nerve regeneration. Shankapushpi, or Aloeweed, is also a medhya herb and is good for maintaining skin tone and luster.
Q: The great thing about these formulations is that you use the whole herb, not just the active ingredient.
A: While chemically isolated ingredients may help in the short-term, they often have detrimental effects or side effects that can show up after a period of regular use. That's why ayurveda recommends using the whole herb. In the Women's Massage Oil formulation, Silk Cotton Tree, Indian Madder and Woodfordia cordifolia pacify Pitta. They enhance the skin's own ability to pacify photosensitivity by pacifying Bhrajaka Pitta. Albizzia lebbeck, Lodha Tree Bark and Sacred Lotus provide support and enhance the skin's ability to tolerate allergens etc. Due to Pitta aggravation, the skin becomes more sensitive to allergens or environmental irritants at this stage of life.
Q: So the two sets of herbs you just spoke about help bring Vata and Pitta into balance, thus addressing the two stages of life that are involved in the transition.
A: Exactly. But that is not all. We have another set of herbs in this formulation that are especially nourishing and balancing for the female psycho-physiology. Indian Asparagus, White Musale, Sesame Oil, Country Mallow and Indian Gooseberry give pro-hormonal support to female skin. During the transition, estrogen and progesterone levels go down and impact collagen synthesis, so regular use of this massage oil can help pre- and peri-menopausal skin. This oil is rich in antioxidant herbs too — like Gotu Kola, Silk Cotton Tree, Indian Asparagus, Indian Gooseberry, Grapefruit, Sweet Orange, Lemon, Vitamin E and Holy Basil — this super-antioxidant quality helps retard dermal aging.
Q: Many researchers today suggest that free radical damage is the major reason for premature aging and damage to the physiology at the cellular level. So natural antioxidants need to be an integral part of a holistic anti-aging formulation, and you have included not one or two but several powerful antioxidant herbs in this formulation. That is fantastic. What about the men's formulation? That also contains over a dozen ingredients!
A: The Youthful Skin Massage Oil for Men contains Shankapushpi, Winter Cherry, Country Mallow, Rasna and Sensitive Plant to improve circulation and pacify Vyana Vata and all the factors associated with Vyana Vata. White Sandalwood, Indian Madder, Prunus padam and Sacred Lotus pacify Bhrajaka Pitta and the factors associated with an imbalanced Pitta. Albizzia lebbeck and Indian Barberry help enhance resilience to allergens and environmental irritants. Winter Cherry, Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit and Vitamin E are antioxidants and White Musale and Indian Asparagus provide support for men's hormonal systems. As you can see, the men's formulation is just as holistic and balanced.
Q: Indeed. I look forward to trying this oil for my daily massage very soon.
A: So to summarize, in ayurveda, in order to get balanced trans-dermal absorption, we have to have herbs that balance all three biological principles — Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Bhrajaka Pitta metabolizes and absorbs whatever we apply on our skin, whether it is oils or pastes. Bhrajaka Pitta helps metabolize the herbs and oils, and Vyana Vata releases all those molecules into circulation in our physiology. Shleshaka Kapha helps maintain these two aspects so that the skin does not become overactive, whether in terms of metabolism or flow. When a formulation balances all three aspects, the skin can get benefit without us adversely affecting any psycho-physiological aspect of the skin. So this massage, and the special massage oil, helps men's and women's skin holistically, but in a balanced way.
Q: You also mentioned sanskar, the traditional method of preparing ayurvedic formulations.
A: The method of preparation and the processing is as important, if not more important, than the formulation itself. Since ayurveda relies on the natural intelligence present in each healing plant to provide the benefit, it is important to ensure that that intelligence is preserved in the final product. Like other traditional ayurvedic massage oils, the Youthful Skin Massage Oil is prepared by a series of special, traditionally authentic, meticulous processes. The method is so specific that the final oil contains only the oil-soluble substances from the herbs. This allows the value of the herbs to be more readily absorbed by the skin, and it helps the formulation to be naturally self-preserved, which is important because we are aiming for a good shelf life without adding chemical or artificial preservatives. Even the aroma of the Youthful Skin Massage Oil has a purpose. The aromas act as a vehicle to carry all the properties of the herbs to deeper destinations within the physiology.
Q: Beautiful. Do you also recommend the Youthful Skin Herbal Tablets as support from within?
A: Definitely. The holistic approach of ayurveda means dealing with the factors that affect aging both internally and externally. The Youthful Skin tablets contain many of the same herbs as in the topical products, so they enhance and support the action of the topical products, whether it is the cream and the oil on the face or the massage oil on the body.
Q: I know ayurveda also emphasizes certain diet and lifestyle aspects to help support the health and longevity of the skin.
A: Two aspects of diet and lifestyle in particular are very important to get maximum benefit from the massage with the Youthful Skin Massage Oil. The person should do something to cleanse the channels of the body and burn ama, which refers to digestive impurities in the system. If ama is minimized, the effect of the herbs will be maximized. Post-lunch fatigue or a coated tongue in the morning is an indication that you may have accumulated ama in your physiology that needs to be flushed out. Avoid eating foods that are heavy and take time to digest, foods that are too cold, and overeating. Add spices to your foods — such as equal amounts of turmeric, cumin, coriander and fennel. Spices are not only toxin-hunters and digestion-enhancers, some of them have anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties as well. Internal cleansing products like Elim-Tox or Elim-Tox-O can help cleanse the entire body. A stewed apple in the morning with figs and prunes is good for internal cleansing. Favor healthy grains like oats, quinoa and millet.
Q: How are these grains cooked?
A: They can be cooked in water to which a little ghee has been added. You can add vegetables and spices to the grains and then cook them to make a nutritious one-dish meal.
Q: Recipes featuring some of these grains are available in the Ayurvedic Recipes section at http://www.mapi.com.
A: Yes. You can also sip herbalized water through the day to help burn ama and cleanse the channels: Boil 2 quarts of water and pour it into a thermos. Then add 1/4 tsp. whole cumin, 1/4 tsp. whole fennel, and 2 leaves of fresh mint. Keep this mixture warm in your thermos by leaving the lid on. When you wish to drink the water, pour out into a cup, let cool to room temperature and then sip it. Drink as much as is comfortable throughout the day and in the evening throw the water out. Make a fresh batch each day.
Q: And what is the second aspect of diet that is important?
A: The skin needs extra nourishment at this time. Try to provide this added nourishment with milk, whole grains, fresh vegetables and sweet juicy fruits. Deep breathing, particularly before, during and after massage is also important. Deeper breathing helps to coordinate and improve circulation and helps the person get maximum benefit from the therapeutic aroma blends in the massage oils, which work both through the sense of smell as well as transdermally.
Q: So you get dual benefit from the essential oils in the formulation. Are there any other recommendations when using this powerful oil?
A: Make sure you have a bowel movement every day and try to get enough sleep. For women, if you are having your menstrual cycle, massage only your hands and feet during that time to help balance Apana Vata. You can resume the whole-body massage once menstruation flow stops. For everyone, do not apply the Youthful Skin Massage Oil to your face or scalp. If you have a serious clinical condition, you should check with your personal health care provider regarding the suitability of a daily massage and this oil. These may sound like simple, basic recommendations, but they are integral to the holistic ayurvedic approach to skin health and longevity.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.