Body exfoliation has long been part of Ayurveda's deep-cleansing philosophy. On a physical level, daily light exfoliation can stimulate the skin, eliminate toxins more efficiently, and remove dead cells. It also helps clear the mind, according to Janet Wright, author of Ayurvedic Beauty. "In modern Western terms, we might call this a symbolic cleansing, or note that mindfully carrying out a physical process, like body care, can have a meditative effect," she says. Simply put, the benefits are more than skin deep.
Ayurvedic beauty treatments are gentle and natural—about as far from harsh chemical treatments as you can imagine. Yasmin Sadikot, owner of OmVeda, an Ayurvedic skin-care company in Rozelle, Australia (and a contributor of many of the recipes in Wright's book) offers a simple guideline: "If you can't eat it, do not put it on your skin. What is put on the skin should be filled with nourishment and safe enough to be taken internally."
Dry body brushing is excellent for stimulating circulation and removing dead skin. Use a natural-bristle brush or a loofah glove and brush toward the heart. Dry brushing is believed to stimulate the lymphatic system, which is important for developing a strong immune system. Lymph ducts are located all over the body and drain into the blood circulatory system just above the heart. So, in theory, brushing toward the heart could improve the function of the lymphatic system.
Start with the soles of your feet, brushing in a circular motion. Move up the legs, then do the hands and move up the arms. Do your back and abdomen last. Avoid any irritated skin. Brushing is best done before your daily bath or shower, when the skin is completely dry.
Once a week, consider treating yourself to one of Sadikot's body scrubs. (The ingredients can be found in Indian grocery stores or at bazaarofindia.com.) If you have sensitive skin, try the mixtures on the inside of your arm first. If no sign of irritation shows up by the next day, apply to your whole body.
For Oily or Blemished Skin: Combine one cup of chickpea flour, one teaspoon of turmeric, two tablespoons of white sandalwood powder, one tablespoon of red sandalwood powder, two tablespoons of neem leaf powder, and two tablespoons of powdered orange peel. Add enough water or yogurt to create a thin paste. Brush the paste over your skin, working toward the heart, and leave on for about 20 minutes. Massage off, vigorously for unblemished kapha skin and gently for sensitive, blemished pitta skin. Pitta skin also often benefits from a cool rinse, such as a splash of milk. Because of their tendency toward dryness, vata types should skip this scrub and try the one for dry skin below.
For Dry Skin: Combine one cup of chickpea flour with one tablespoon each of red sandalwood powder, white sandalwood powder, Indian madder, arjuna, brahmi, and shatavari. Add slightly warm milk to make a paste. Brush the mixture onto your skin, working toward the heart, and leave it on until dry. Remove with more warm milk.