Customizing Your Skin Care Regimen with Secrets from Ayurveda
It's wonderful to have this opportunity to interview an ayurvedic expert from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians, who, from his earliest days, has been steeped in the knowledge of herbs and botanicals for rejuvenating the skin. In this interview he draws upon his vast experience with ayurvedic dermatology as well as his first-hand knowledge of treating Western skin to discuss customized ayurvedic skin care for all types of skin.
A: Hello. It's a pleasure for me to have this opportunity to present more skin care secrets from the treasury of ayurvedic knowledge.
Q: Let's start at the beginning. What is the real difference between ayurvedic skin care in its purity and conventional skin care?
A: Ayurveda is always about holistic support, holistic support and balance. Holistic means wholeness. Whether we are discussing general health, or the skin, or psychological health, or the treatment of any disease, we always view it holistically. Holistic support implies treating the whole person, not just the symptoms of the moment. If we take care of our skin from all aspects, not in a fragmented way, but holistically, from both the inside and the outside, then we are taking care of it ayurvedically. Conventional skin care may incorporate some herbal or botanical aspects, but true ayurvedic skincare goes far beyond individual herbal ingredients to a complete system of skin care.
Q: So the result is beautiful skin, well nourished, able to perform all its functions -- a part of a healthy, radiant you.
A: Exactly. And the second thing important in ayurveda is balance. Here balance means the total balance of the skin. Structure, texture, radiance, moisture, color -- all the aspects of the skin as well as its ability to perform all its functions -- everything should be in balance.
Q: Could you relate these ayurvedic principles of wholeness and balance to, say, the Youthful Skin Cream? How exactly does this anti-aging formulation support these basic principles?
A: That was precisely my challenge -- how to put supreme ayurvedic knowledge into a jar of cream! It was a difficult task, formulating one product to support the skin's physiology, support the skin's structure, support the skin's psychophysiology, and make sure that it does not disturb any aspect of the skin, but instead, helps to support all aspects of the skin. And for it to support balance, it meant that there should be nothing too much or too little in the formulation, that it should be precisely balanced to support balance of the skin. Research done on the cream in an independent laboratory here is saying yes, it is helping to getting rid of fine lines, it is enhancing the firmness of the skin, it is increasing hydration levels, it is taking care of dehydration also. Conventional skin care products focus on one aspect of support, like collagen support. That, according to me, is fragmented thought; fragmented thoughts are going to lead to formulations that have an imbalanced impact on your skin.
Q: Fascinating, because modern science has confirmed the truth of what you have been saying. That, for example, whatever is occurring in your nervous system will show up in your skin and vice versa. For example, it's proven by the galvanic skin response, which shows that resistance goes up or down depending on how much perspiration from anxiety is being generated. So your skin is a part of your whole being. It has been fascinating for me personally to see this holistic formulation of yours in action. I recommended it to some patients of mine. Of course they come in saying that their skin is remarkably improved, they do not have to wear tons of make-up -- in addition they report feeling more youthful.
A: That is very important, because in Charaka and in many other ayurvedic textbooks, there is discussion on psychological aging, physiological aging, and social aging. An ayurvedic anti-aging formulation that supports wholeness and balance has to take care of all these aspects, not just biological aging. In other words, multiple benefits on all aspects of the skin without any side effects. Other products may end up creating more photosensitivity or irritation; they create some good, but in the long term they can create some imbalance and actually damage your skin, sometimes seriously. That is very dangerous in my opinion.
Q: We are very fortunate then that you have devised a formula that research has shown increases skin hydration, means fewer wrinkles, makes your skin more moist and youthful in just a few weeks. I think your inner and outer beauty program is going to turn beauty literally upside down and inside out in this country! Why is it so important to take skin type into consideration when taking care of your skin? Of course, there is a wide range of skin types -- from dry and scaly to thick and oily. Why is your skin type so important to the care of the skin?
A: This again goes back to the concept of whole and balanced care. In order to be able to support all the aspects of the skin ayurvedically, you have to have an understanding of the fundamentals of ayurveda and your skin type based on these fundamentals of ayurveda. Ayurveda is not only holistic in its approach, it is also a very individual approach. So the more you learn about your skin, the better equipped you will be to take care of it.
Q: That is great. So what are the different ayurvedic skin types? And could you give us some characteristics of the appearance of the skin in each case so some of us at home can look at our own skin and see perhaps what type we are?
A: There are many skin types and several ways of classifying skin types. The first step to understanding ayurvedic skin types, or the easy way to differentiate, is by imbalance. Mainly here we are talking about three types of imbalance—Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are three ayurvedic principles called doshas, and they govern all the activities of the mind and body. In ayurveda we say someone is perfectly healthy when all these three principles are in balance in that person. These three principles are combinations of the five elements—Vata, for example is mostly air and space, Pitta is mainly fire and water and Kapha is primarily earth and water. An individual may have a particular skin type by birth and if that individual is keeping in balance, then he or she should select the herbs and program for that skin type. On the other hand, an individual may have a particular skin type by birth but have, over the course of their life, acquired some imbalance. They have to fix that imbalance first. So essentially we are talking about skin type in terms of original or acquired. There are three basic skin types; again everything in ayurveda is based upon Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata skin is in general dry, thin, cool to the touch, easily gets dehydrated, and is very vulnerable to the influence of dry windy weather. So these are the characteristics of the Vata skin type. Pitta is mostly fire, so the Pitta skin type tends to have more breakouts, photosensitivity, less tolerance to hot food, less tolerance to fieriness in temperament. It looks reddish, and is warm to the touch.
Q: Excuse me, is it also true that the Pitta skin type might have more moles, freckles, prominent veins in the skin, and suffer from hives and rashes?
A: Yes, that is so. All skin types can have these things, but they tend to be most common in Pitta skin type. And Kapha dosha is predominantly water and earth. So Kapha skin tends to have all the qualities of water and earth -- it can be greasy, heavier, more thick, and more tolerant of the sun. Essentially, here we are talking about oily skin. So to summarize, you can say that Vata skin is on the dry side, Pitta skin is more sensitive and Kapha skin is oily.
Q: Conventional skin care approaches talk about combination skin—does ayurveda discuss that as well? For example, maybe a person can have Vata-Pitta skin or Vata-Kapha skin? Can you tell us something about that?
A: Ayurveda does discuss combination skin. Based on the imbalance approach I just explained, there are three types of combination skin we see -- Vata-Pitta, skin which is both dry and sensitive, Kapha-Pitta, or oily and sensitive skin, and Vata-Kapha, skin which is generally dry with some oily zones. The ayurvedic approach to caring for combination skin takes into account environmental and seasonal factors. For example, a person with Vata-Pitta skin would follow the recommendations for Pitta skin in summer and Vata skin in winter. The Kapha-Pitta type would follow Pitta recommendations in summer and Kapha recommendations in winter. The Vata-Kapha type would be best served by generally following Vata guidelines, with extra cleansing of the oily zones.
Q: This is great! If you know your ayurvedic skin type, you have taken the first step towards a customized skin care regimen.
A: To have a perfect balanced approach like as we were talking about, the two principles of holistic support and individualized balance are critical. All our skin care formulations in the Youthful Skin line are holistic -- the cream, cleanser, toner, youthful skin oil and tablets. All are based on the holistic approach of ayurveda. The other important aspect is balance. But to achieve balance, you have to begin by knowing what imbalance you have. And that is where the skin type is important. For example, Vata skin needs more nurturing, more lubrication, because if Vata is not in balance, the skin will be excessively dry and even flaky.
Q: What is the ideal lubrication for the Vata skin type?
A: For Vata skin to stay youthful, skin care products used should be very nurturing, they must include some essential oils or herbs in combination which can nourish. Because what happens based on my experience is that in the case of Vata skin, all the nerves need constant nourishment to prevent premature aging.
Q: What about the science behind MAPI's Youthful Skin Cream, that it is the best skin cream in terms of it having a very high percentage of herbal extract -- a level that has never been seen before -- that must have tremendous value for this type of skin. Also it has a kind of subtle aromatherapy integrated into it with the grapefruit seed -- to me that is part of its power, when I put it on I immediately feel more youthful. More liveliness of being is how I would put it. And then when I also take the Youthful Skin Tablets then I have found that to be a fantastic addition, for myself and for my patients.
A: Yes, the tablets are part of the holistic treatment, but here we are talking about balance also. This skin care line delivers holistic benefits, but if a person does not know that what other things to do for his or her particular type of skin, the full benefits may not be felt. How many times a day or week, for example, to apply the cream, how many times to apply the oil. That is what determines specific balance for a particular type of skin.
Q: I'm curious to ask, and I realize this may be a discussion worth a whole book: are there also dietary, sleep, detox or lifestyle considerations along with the ayurvedic skin care formulas that will help maintain perfect youthful skin?
A: As I was explaining, Vata skin needs more nurturing and a Vata-pacifying lifestyle, like going to bed on time, following a regular daily routine and eating foods that help balance Vata. If you lead a high-stress lifestyle, the Worry Free herbal supplement can help balance Vata-related stress. A stewed apple for breakfast can provide a healthy start to each day. The Pitta skin type needs both cooling and nurturing. Follow a Pitta-pacifying diet like several helpings of sweet juicy fruits each day, Organic Rose Petal Spread in cool milk or the cooling Organic Pitta Tea from Maharishi Ayurveda. In fact, each skin type will benefit if you sip the appropriate herbal tea for balance throughout the day. They are blends of herbs and spices specially combined for each type. Kapha skin, because of sluggishness and thickness, and oiliness, is more prone to accumulate ama -- toxins under the skin. People with Kapha skin need to do detoxification on a regular basis, both internal detoxification and external detoxification to flush toxins from the skin. Scrubbing the skin with bentonite clay can help. Kapha skin types may also need to take detox herbal formulations, such as Elim-Tox-O, to cleanse the skin from within. So essentially Kapha skin types need to focus more on detox, otherwise their skin has good properties; it is more resilient to environmental impact. More information on diet and lifestyle tips for balancing Vata, Pitta and Kapha is available online at www.mapi.com, or you can call 1-800-255-8332.
Q: Thank you. I am sure this service will be very convenient and useful, especially for those who are not familiar with ayurveda. Now let me ask some other important questions. What herbs are good for what skin type and what are the roles of oils and water temperature for cleansing?
A: Vata skin types need lubricating oils. The Youthful Skin Oil for face, which we have already, and the Youthful Skin Massage Oil for body, which will be available in September this year, provide this lubrication. The Youthful Skin Oil for face has the ability to pacify all three doshas because of the unique blend of herbs and aroma. But what would be nice, especially for Vata skin types, is that they should do a daily abhyanga, which is a daily self-massage. Twenty minutes before the morning shower or bath they should do a full-body oil massage with the Youthful Skin Oil for body, which is an herbal, therapeutic, anti-aging, aroma-infused massage oil, then take a warm bath or shower. This oil has all the properties for keeping the skin lubricated and balanced; Vata skin types just need do the applications more frequently, because Vata skin has the tendency to be drier than other skin types. This holds even more true if Vata skin types live in cold, windy weather areas -- in such cases, the Youthful Skin Oil for face should be diligently applied each night before going to bed. Use a moisture-balancing cleanser -- I have developed a special non-drying cleanser for all skin-types as part of this line which should be ready by September of this year.
Q: And what about Pitta and Kapha skin types?
A: Pitta skin types should apply the Youthful Skin Oil less frequently than Vata skin types because always their main problem is heat. So we have to balance the heat, and some oil is there already in this type of skin. So they can apply the face oil every other day instead of each day; that should be sufficient to keep it lubricated. Kapha skin types can also do with less lubrication than Vata skin types because their skin contains oil, applying the Youthful Skin Oil every other day will nourish the skin without making it too greasy.
In terms of water temperature for cleansing, Vata skin type can benefit from warm or lukewarm water, but Pitta skin types should use room temperature or cool water. Cool, not ice-cold, because we do not want to freeze the pores of the skin. Sometimes Pitta skin people love cold things, but cold things can freeze their skin and close the pores. Heat can really damage Pitta skin so use cool water for washing and bathing. For Kapha skin, water temperature slightly higher than body temperature is fine, but here again, don't make it too warm or it will imbalance the Pitta in the physiology. Particularly for Caucasian or fair-skinned people, anything too hot is not good because this ethnic skin type is essentially Pitta type.
Q: What about air conditioning and skin?
A: Air-conditioning is drying and Vata-aggravating from the ayurvedic perspective. It would be impractical to suggest in today's world that we do without air-conditioning, however, to counter its dehydrating effects, it is important to pay attention to external rehydration techniques -- using moisturizing oils and creams diligently, and internal techniques -- for example, drinking plenty of pure water everyday. If we carefully restore the moisture to the skin it loses by being in an air-conditioned atmosphere, the skin should be fine.
Q: I have noticed on my trips to India, how even on the hottest days I don't see Indians with sunburn whereas sunburn is becoming a very serious condition in this country because it is linked to a much higher rate of melanoma. That is a cancer that can truly kill. So can you explain this difference?
A: I am doing a great deal of research in this area and very soon we will have a specific program for all ethnic skin types. Very fair skin is more Pitta, these persons have less protection from sun in comparison to darker skin. So that is why anything too hot is not good for fair skin. They have less protective barrier from sun because of their Pitta. Nature has given this skin type more fire to tolerate all the wind and snow and a cold environment,
I think Nature planned this well! They have more fire in their body so they can tolerate cold well, but since they already have fire, if they go out into hot sun or try to tan, then it is always too much for this type of skin.
Q: This brings up a very important modern health consideration in the area of cutting down on our exposure to both infra red and ultra violet light, particularly in the hot summer months. What is the ayurvedic perspective on sun block and can you use a skin block with your Youthful Skin program?
A: I am currently in the process of developing a sunscreen; it is a new concept for ayurveda. The traditional ayurvedic response to photosensitivity is to learn to minimize it through a holistic approach. We have five kinds of Pitta governing our digestion and assimilation and transformation. So what happens if you eat too much hot food, or you stay hungry when your internal digestive fire is active, or you are angry? Your Sadhaka Pitta becomes high. Then if you expose yourself to the heat of the sun, you aggravate Pitta even more. Ayurvedically, and even some modern scientists will agree with me, this will increase the susceptibility to photosensitivity. And then that person becomes more prone to sunburn.
Q: Let me give you an example to support what you are saying. As you know I wrote a New York Times best selling book on St. John's Wort and depression. But as we have more experience with it, we find it has side effects, though not as bad as the synthetic anti-depressants. Again, many herbs used today in what is called European herbal care I believe increase photosensitivity, photosensitivity can be quite dangerous. None of the herbs that I have studied in the Maharishi Ayurveda system appear to do so.
A: I think that is due to the fact that we use a whole formula in balance, many individualized herbs can increase photosensitivity if used alone or combined improperly. Ayurvedically, a type of Pitta called Ranjaka Pitta governs the liver, and Bhrajaka Pitta governs the skin. So Ranjaka Pitta and Bhrajaka Pitta are closely tied to each other. If Ranjaka Pitta is balanced, it also helps Bhrajaka Pitta, which in turn balances the skin and its photosensitivity. It may sound far-fetched, but ayurvedically, we recommend that if someone is hungry or angry they should not go out into the sun. Because not only herbs but spices, food material, even thoughts can increase photosensitivity. So always in ayurveda we say when you are going out in the sun, make sure you eat some sweet juicy fruits before you step out, make sure you are emotionally quiet and calm -- happy, make sure your stomach is not completely empty, and make sure you have not eaten too many hot peppers. So these are some preventive measures to help your skin not get affected by the sun.
Q: Let me ask you some very practical questions. How about the area of the skin underneath the eye? Do people have to be careful about using the Youthful Skin products around the eyes? Could you make some recommendations in that regard?
A: Whether you are talking about skin care or enhancing beauty, the eye area is very important. What kind of make-up or care you are using. Usually what happens when people are talking about skin care is that they focus on the face. But the eyes need special attention because the skin around the eyes as you know is very delicate and easily shows signs of aging, more so than the rest of the face.
Q: Ninety percent of the information we take in comes from the eye -- they constitute an important sense organ.
A: Yes, and our eyes can get tired. So again in ayurveda whenever we talk about taking care of the eye area, we have to discuss how to take care of the stress of the eyes, the eyelids, very safe cleansing, very nurturing even when you are cleansing. In ayurveda, what we do basically is to clean the eye area with special eye bags, which are also going to be available soon as part of our Youthful Skin program. Before going to bed, dip those eye bags in lukewarm water and when they cool down, then pat on your eyes, for five minutes for each eye. This is going to calm down the stress and gently clean and exfoliate the eye area. That is the safe way: these bags contain organic green tea and rose petals.
Q: That is great because eyestrain is one of the major causes of stress.
A: What this does basically when you do this before bed is that it is going to take out major stress and it is going to help support the eyes, but it doesn't end right there. We have formulated a special eye gel and again it contains a blend of very rare herbs, and this eye gel will provide support for the delicate skin around the eyes. I call this eye gel Chakshushya. I picked all the herbs with the blessings of my father, from whom I learned ayurvedic dermatology. Chakshu means eye, and ayushya means long life or longevity -- this formulation will impart health and longevity to the eye area. This eye gel will be available in September as part of the Youthful Skin program. As with all our other skin care products, this formulation is also pure, gentle, balanced and holistic -- I work with the intelligence of the herbs to provide natural support.
Q: I love that about you. Even though you deal with incredible seeming complexity in terms of the herbs that are primarily for effectiveness, the herbs that are there to balance so there are no negative side effects and the formula is completely safe and the herbs that help carry the treating herbs to the site precisely so they can have maximum impact. That in addition to mastering that complexity you also have the gift of simplicity so that you know when simple is best.
A: Yes, ayurveda is about balancing complexity and simplicity.
Q: Modern western life I think is Vata aggravating and Pitta imbalancing, and this is, interestingly enough, related to the stress syndrome. The first stage of stress response is that your body mobilizes adrenalin -- that is more Pitta. The state of resistance puts out cortisol, and that is much more Vata. Actually cortisol over time makes for very thin skin. The skin becomes very thin and even very fragile. And the third stage of stress response -- exhaustion -- is characterized as Kapha. There is always a sense of tiredness and dullness, the skin becomes oily and the skin is even sluggish. I find that truly remarkable -- the correlation --- because what is stress? It is excessive wear and tear upon the mind, emotions and the body. So that modern science is completely in tune with ayurveda in this regard.
A: According to me there is much in common between the ancient system of ayurveda and modern research into health.
Q: I wanted to pose to you this question -- do you recommend specific internal supplements for each skin type?
A: Yes, the Youthful Skin Tablets are good for all three skin types, but especially so for Vata skin -- mature skin, because Vata skin can get dull and less radiant due to stress.
Q: Can you talk more about how particularly for the skin it is important to regularly flush toxins out so that the skin stays in balance?
A: Toxins of any kind are bad for the skin. Because toxins have to go through the liver to be purified. Ranjaka Pitta governs the liver. And Ranjaka Pitta and Bhrajaka Pitta, which governs the skin, are closely related. So if the liver is subjected to toxic overload it immediately impacts the skin, for example, making it more susceptible to exposure to sun, and other environmental allergens and bacteria. Then rashes and dry patches show up on the skin. Ayurveda recommends staying away from toxins or at least minimizing their impact by following a diet designed to correct imbalances in the physiology. A Pitta pacifying diet, for example, would include lots of fruits and vegetables and some spices that have a detoxifying impact.
Q: It is so important in the West that we realize the importance of eliminating toxins from the body and strengthening our immune system. Couple of other questions about the skin. How is perspiration different for each of the skin types and is there such a thing as under or over perspiring and what would be your recommendations?
A: Perspiration is discussed in ayurveda in great detail. The sweat is the by-product of fat metabolism/fat tissue; the sweat is the by-product coming out of the skin. Vata skin types will tend to sweat relatively less because they have less fat activity -- it is very hard to put on fat. More fat metabolism will give more sweat. Pitta types will always have more sweat but sweat will be produced by more activity. Kapha types will always have more sweat because they have to deal with more fat metabolism, more transformation, more by-products. In ayurvedic dermatology there is a great deal of discussion on taking care of sweat related imbalances, sweat related problems of the skin. There are many purifying herbs to detoxify the skin and have toxins released through the skin. So one of the symptoms of healthy skin is that the sweat should be pure.
Q: So called conventional deodorant products for using under the arms: they are simply astringent -- they shut down the pores.
A: What ayurveda says is try to purify the sweat. How to purify the sweat? Try to help your fat metabolism stay naturally balanced and then we will have pure sweat. If fat has a lot of toxins (Ama) and reactive toxins (Amavisha), the sweat will always be reactive and when the toxins come to the skin they will always damage the skin. Elim-Tox-O from Maharishi Ayurveda is very effective for purifying the sweat.
Q: Is there any relationship between the kidneys and the skin since they are both involved in eliminating water and eliminating toxins?
A: Always there is a fair amount of relation between all the systems in the physiology. They are connected to each other. The skin secretes the sweat. Sometimes what we do if the sweat is loaded with a lot of toxins or Ama, what we do is we try to redirect those toxins through the urinary system to avoid damage to the skin. Because when that reactive sweat comes to the skin the skin will have problems, irritation and itching. So what we do is we give these people a blend of special herbs to redirect those toxins through the urinary tract. So always there is a very good relationship between urinary system and sweat system.
Q: Fascinating once again the correlation between modern science and ayurveda. We know that fat is where all of the long lasting toxins are stored. For example if you were exposed to DDT or other herbicides they will be found in your fatty tissues. In your liver also because the liver is trying hard to eliminate the toxins, but generally in your fatty tissues. Long fasts are sometimes prescribed to starve out these toxins from the fat tissues.
A: That is pretty harsh for Pitta types, fasting will further aggravate Pitta and then these persons produce a lot of toxic Ama.
Q: What is the relationship between the Youthful Skin products and aging -- the products have an anti-aging quality to them, correct? Are they good for the young as well as mature individuals? Are there any distinctions we need to make?
A: It is good for all ages, but of course more targeted to anti-aging properties. If you see the research, it focuses on the anti-aging aspects, but it is good for all ages. What it does is support the skin and feed the structure of the skin -- it delivers balanced support to the function of the skin. Physiology as well as psychophysiology, so it helps the skin to age in a healthy manner. People like to age healthy -- that means not only protecting from faster aging but also preventing the side effects of aging. That is why this line is good for any age any time.
Q: Another factor is that people forget the skin is semi-permeable. Healthy skin keeps out what is toxic. Quite literally our skin breathes. It is the first line of defense against any kind of toxicity or invasion. Your contribution to a prevention program for skincare not only treats the symptoms but by using it on a regular basis you are going to be preventing the skin from aging prematurely and also allowing it to function at its very best.
A: This goes back to where we started -- ayurvedic skin care is all about the health of the skin -- keep the skin healthy and functioning at its best and it will automatically be beautiful. The Youthful Skin program does this for your skin, if you understand your skin and follow the customized program according to your ayurvedic skin type. Our new Youthful Skin products coming out in the fall will augment and support the basic line.
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.