Protecting Your Summer Skin
It used to be easy. Everyone headed for the beach in summer or spent hours soaking up rays in their backyards. But then the news broke — all that sun is not so healthy for your skin. Unfortunately, too much sun can result in those unsightly brown spots, burns, sensitive skin, and even skin cancer. The ultraviolet rays of the sun generate free radicals that can accelerate wrinkling, drying and aging of the skin as well. Yet some people never have skin problems no matter how much they sit in the sun.
"Photosensitivity is not the same for everyone," says an ayurvedic expert from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians. "It is a fundamental principle of Maharishi Ayurveda that your physical strengths and weaknesses depend on the climate and geographical area you live in, the time of the year, your genetic makeup, and your skin and body type." Having fair skin or a predominance of Pitta dosha, the principle of heat and metabolism in the body, for example, will make you more sun-sensitive. And in the summer season, when Pitta dosha is on the rise, everyone needs to protect their skin from the sun.
Heat Inside, Heat Outside
From the ayurvedic perspective, the body is made of five different elements. Fire, called tejas, has the qualities of transformation, burning, reflecting, shining, and sharpness. In the environment, this element of fire is found in the sun, while in the body, the element of fire is found in the eyes. Fire gives us the ability to see light, but it also gives the quality of being visible, of radiating light so that others can see us. The fire element is also found in the subdosha Bhrajaka Pitta, which governs the enzymatic changes of the skin.
Normally, there is a natural balance in the skin — if it gets too heated, the skin has natural means to moisturize and cool itself. If Bhrajaka Pitta is too heated, then the ultraviolet rays from the sun penetrate the skin and aggravate Bhrajaka Pitta. The overheated skin burns up the moisturizing functions of the skin. When this happens, people get sunburned even with a few minutes' exposure to the sun. If this happens on a daily basis, it can cause early aging, because there isn't enough moisture to prevent wrinkles and age spots from forming.
Preventing Sun Damage
To prevent damage to the skin in summer, you'll want to avoid any foods or behaviors that increase Pitta dosha. Eating red chili peppers, vinegar, or sour foods will heat your body. Consuming leftovers, alcohol, genetically modified foods, or foods with lots of preservatives, will also aggravate Pitta dosha. Avoid pungent, sour, or salty foods and favor the sweet, astringent and bitter tastes. This will have a cooling effect on your body and mind. Flavoring your foods with Organic Pitta Churna will have a balancing effect in summer. Diffusing Pitta Aroma Oil or Blissful Heart Aroma Oil as you sleep, taking Blissful Joy tablets after lunch and dinner, and adding a teaspoon of Organic Rose Petal Spread to water or milk (see recipe) can all help in keeping your skin cool in summer. Avoid constipation, as this can cause heat to build up in the body. Drink plenty of pure water and Organic Pitta Tea, and eat more squashes, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Stay away from strong, chemical-laden, artificial skin creams, lotions, soaps, or shampoos, as these directly aggravate Bhrajaka Pitta and increase your sensitivity to sun damage.
The Skin, Emotions, and Eyes Are Linked
Heated emotions can also heat the skin. This is because different subdoshas of Pitta govern the emotions and the skin, so they are closely linked. Watching violent movies, living with people who are angry, or feeling too much anger yourself can heat the emotions, and through them, your skin. You can see the connection between heated emotions and heated skin, because when people get angry, their faces turn red. There is also a connection between the eyes and the skin, because both are governed by Pitta dosha. Wear sunglasses to protect your skin. When the eyes get overheated, that heats the emotions, and the heat reflects back to the skin.
Cooling Sunburned and Sensitive Skin
In summer, you can massage your skin with Soothing Herbal Massage Oil, as it has a Pitta-pacifying effect. Using the Rose Herbal Soap or Cedar Sandalwood Herbal Soap in the bath or shower also cools and soothes the skin. "I'm so thankful for the Cedar Sandalwood Herbal Soap," says Patricia Smith from Texarkana, Arkansas. "I inherited seborrheic dermatitis from my dad, and my skin is very sensitive, thin and delicate. I had used another cleansing bar for thirty years, but when they changed the formula I broke out in a rash. I wasted lots of money trying to replace it. I love the Cedar Sandalwood Herbal Soap for my face and shower. My dad and two sons also use it. Please don't change the formula." If you work or play in the sun, then wear a good pair of sunglasses to screen out the UV rays, and of course, protect your skin by wearing a hat and sunscreen.
In the evening, splash your eyes with cool water. Apply a little Organic Rose Water to a cotton pad, then lie down with your eyes closed and the pad over your eyes for five minutes. Do this daily for a refreshing effect on your eyes, and consequently a cooling effect on your emotions and skin. You'll feel the emotional stress subsiding. It's cooling for the heart, mind, and eyes. If your face and hands get mildly sunburned, the Youthful Skin Herbal Soap and Cream will help cool and rejuvenate your skin, as they contain Pitta-pacifying agents. Youthful Skin Cream is the most effective cream for sun-damaged skin, because it pacifies Pitta dosha in the blood and the skin, and also supports the moisturizing function, so that heat cannot burn and dry out the skin. It is not a sunscreen, but it protects the skin from the inside.
Applying watermelon purée to the facial skin also helps cool and moisturize the skin. Mash it into a paste and apply it on your face, avoiding the area just around the eyes; leave on for two or three minutes, and rinse. By cooling your skin inside and out, you can enjoy the summer sun without damage.
Miriam Kasin Hospodar is the author of Heaven's Banquet: Vegetarian Cooking for Lifelong Health the Ayurveda Way, Penguin, 2001. She has recently toured California giving demonstrations and talks on cooking the Maharishi Ayurvedaa way. Her book has been highly acclaimed by food critics, including Deborah Madison, the author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. We recently interviewed Miriam about summer foods, tastes, and recipes.
Q: Why is a healthy diet so important in Maharishi Ayurveda?
A: According to Maharishi Ayurveda, health is really about mind, body, and spirit, and food affects all three of these areas of life. The whole science of ayurveda is about food for well-being on all levels — health of the body, emotional well-being, and spiritual well-being.
Q: Could you explain the connection between tastes and balance?
A: Ayurveda describes six major tastes, each of which can increase some doshas and decrease others. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salt, bitter, pungent or spicy and astringent. Ideally, to maintain perfect balance, one should include all six tastes at every meal. In addition, you can pay particular attention to foods/tastes that pacify specific doshas, to increase balance for yourself as an individual and also by season.
Q: What tastes would you recommend for pacifying Pitta in summertime?
A: For hot summer days, you'd want to eat foods that are as cooling as possible. Out of the six tastes, the most cooling tastes are sweet, bitter, and astringent. So you want to emphasize those tastes in food. You'd also want to emphasize cooler temperatures. So summer is the time to eat more salads, cooler drinks, and cooler, sweeter desserts. Generally, though, Maharishi Ayurveda doesn't recommend ice-cold drinks or foods, because these inhibit digestion. During the summer you can drink room-temperature or slightly cooled drinks.
Q: What foods are sweet, bitter and astringent?
A: Milk and desserts made with milk, such as rice pudding (Kheer), contain sweet tastes that are cooling in summer. Coconut can be added to foods in summer to sweeten them. Peach Chutney is a sweet condiment designed especially to balance Pitta dosha. Bitter tastes are found in green vegetables, especially the leafy greens. Cucumbers are also very cooling. Summer is the best time to enjoy fresh produce, so take advantage of all the fresh fruits and vegetables available. For the astringent taste, Cashew-Coconut Hummus, made from garbanzo beans, is an ideal summer sandwich spread. Dhal, made from any of several beans or lentils, is a good astringent food for any season, and you can flavor it with cooling Pitta-pacifying spices, such as fennel, coriander, cardamom and fresh cilantro. Cumin seed can be added to stimulate the digestion, because it can get a little sluggish in summer.
Q: What cooling summertime drinks do you suggest?
A: Mint is a cooling herb that can be made into mint tea or added to drinks, such as Mint Lassi. Cooling, Pitta-pacifying Organic Rose Petal Spread can also be added to lassi. Organic Rose Water can be added to sweet lassi or to desserts for a cooling effect.
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.