The world’s oldest surviving system of natural medicine, Ayurveda, offers a simple guideline to determine whether a beauty product is safe: If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t apply it to your skin.
“Skin isn’t just a dead layer covering your body,” notes Nancy Lonsdorf, a physician and the medical director of the Raj, an Ayurvedic health center in Fairfield, Iowa. “It’s the body’s largest organ and also one of its most sensitive.”
So sensitive, in fact, that when we put products on our skin, they are absorbed by the pores and travel into the bloodstream. Proof of this can be seen in one of the newest methods of drug delivery, the transdermal patch. “Transdermal delivery is the reason it’s important to use only all-natural products that are free of synthetic ingredients,” Lonsdorf says. “If you apply a skin cream with additives, preservatives, and other chemicals, you will be introducing toxic substances into your blood, which can aggravate your liver, your immune system, your pitta dosha, and your skin.”
For further proof of the skin’s sensitivity, consider that each square inch of skin contains 1,300 nerve endings. Lonsdorf recommends thinking of your skin “as an extension of your nervous system that can be directly influenced by your thoughts and emotions.” This is why skin problems—such as rashes, hives, and eczema—are common during times of emotional upset. And it’s also why a peaceful, happy mind is a key ingredient to healthy, radiant skin.
Simply stated, healthy living makes for healthy skin, says Mary Jo Cravatta, an Ayurvedic physician and chiropractor in Grass Valley, California; beauty problems such as acne, dark circles under the eyes, and puffiness can be reflections of internal imbalances. Cravatta’s beauty regimen includes eating fresh foods, drinking plenty of pure water, going to bed by 10 p.m., rising with the sun, and performing abhyanga—a daily oil self-massage that is said to enhance skin tone, balance the nervous system, and boost immunity. Try sesame oil if your constitution is dominated by vata or kapha; coconut or almond oil if pitta predominates. In winter, abhyanga is especially important for moisturizing the skin and for warming the body. In summer, kapha types can skip abhyanga.
In addition, Cravatta recommends the following Ayurvedic beauty enhancers, available right in your grocery store:
Tumeric: This bitter, astringent spice has natural antiseptic and antibiotic properties that make it effective against blemishes. Mix a half teaspoon with one ounce of heavy cream, apply to the skin with a facial sponge, and rinse off. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Sea Salt and Sesame Oil: Mix into a paste for a wonderful weekly exfoliating scrub. Add a few drops of essential oil for scent if you like.
Fennel Seeds: Chewing fennel seeds after eating helps digestion, which is why you’ll find them offered at Indian restaurants. Ayurvedic theory suggests that good digestion is necessary for clear skin.
Ginger Tea: This pacifies kapha and aids digestion. Sip small amounts between meals.
Lemon and Honey: Help rid your body of ama (toxins and impurities) by drinking a cup of warm water with honey and lemon juice first thing in the morning. Blemishes and acne result from ama and pitta, Cravatta says, while cellulite deposits come from a build-up of ama and kapha. To help eliminate ama, you may also drink this cleansing beverage in the midafternoon and sip plain hot water throughout the day.