Ayurveda does away with the notion of oily/ combination/ dry and the unattainable ‘normal’. For a whole new way of looking at your skin (that’s actually ancient), read on…

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If you’re used to confining your skincare choices to a familiar pre-assigned skincare type - dry combination, oily –  we’re about to ask you to think outside of the box. Although really, this way of looking at your skin isn’t novel: it’s been practised in Ayurvedic medicine for circa 5000 years and forms part of a daily and seasonal routine in India to this day. If you’re already eating for your Ayurvedic dosha, (your constitutional 'type') get ready to consider your skin in that way too. 

Here’s why Ayurveda looks at skin differently, and how to build a skin routine accordingly.

You are not your skin ‘type’

Ayurvedic skincare goes a whole lot deeper than ‘acne prone’, as founder of Ayurvedic skincare brand  Samaya  Abida Halstenberg explains:

“The premise within Ayurveda is that each of us is born with a unique constitution type or dosha. The three dosha types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and each of these is characterised by a set of internal and external traits," she says.

"For a person to be healthy, they need to balance their personal constitution. Many things can throw a person out of balance such as stress, pollution, seasonal changes, and so on. Lifestyle is important because what you eat, how you exercise and the skincare you use all play an important part in achieving this balance.

“In Ayurveda, skin is considered a manifestation of inner health. Our skin is our largest organ and what we apply on it is absorbed to a far greater extent than most of us realise. So skincare can also be a tool to balance one’s constitution and achieve healthy and beautiful skin. This is the theory behind choosing skincare according to dosha.”

So, rather than labeling yourself as 'oily skinned' for evermore because your T-zone is beaming, Ayurveda considers that this slickness is indicative of your natural tendencies or dosha, your lifestyle and environment, rather than simply a surface issue to be ‘tackled’. It’s technically the opposite of a cosmetic approach, as Ayurvedic experts and founders of Escapada  Retreat Emilia Herting and Maeve O’Sullivan tell us.

“Ayurveda, alongside traditional Chinese Medicine, was a very early adopter of the mantra that 'beauty comes from within'. The centuries-old science (Ayurveda means ‘science of life or longevity’ in Sanskrit) shows the benefits of balancing the whole body, supporting digestive health, optimising energy, and treating the whole individual according to their constitution.”

 Whacking on a spot cream will likely not address the root cause of your breakouts; adapting your skincare, diet, lifestyle, and outlook to your unique constitution, on the other hand, could help address what’s really going on. 

As such it’s time to divine your dosha…

Doing skin by dosha

“There are a few signs that will help you to determine your dosha based on your usual skin type," say Emilia and Maeve.

  • Vata: Thin, dry, fine-pored, delicate and wrinkle-prone skin.
  • Pitta: Susceptible to rashes, breakouts and rosacea  if your dosha is out of balance.
  • Kapha: Oily, prone to enlarged pores, blackheads and pimples, commonly suffer from eczema.

Alongside these external skin manifestations, however, many other holistic factors will align you more closely with one dosha than another. 

For example, if you err towards Vata, you may be very energetic, lively and impulsive and have a tendency towards cold extremities and have a tall, slender build. 

Pitta meanwhile is typified by a focused mind, strong appetite, tendency to overheat easily and a medium build.

Kapha leans towards a more relaxed disposition, with a heavier build, good long-term memory and preference for hot, dry weather. 

Take a dosha quiz 

These are just a few characteristic qualities of the three dosha. There are many more indications of which dosha you may be most closely aligned with, and Abida has crafted a 10-question quiz on her website to give you an idea of where you’re ‘centred’. You could also "sniff and see", as Abida highlights below – your dosha can show itself via your senses.

“There is a link between scent preference and constitution type. People who like rose typically have dry skin and tend to be Vata types, people who like jasmine tend to have sensitive skin and are usually Pitta types and people who like earthier aromas like vetiver and sandalwood tend to have combination or oily skin and are typically Kapha types.”

If that’s not an excuse spend an afternoon deep breathing in the aromatherapy section of your local health shop, we don’t know what is, but be prepared for more confusion. You may emerge as a double dosha person post 10-step quiz. That would be because...

You can have more than one dosha

Just as we don’t all neatly fit into a skin type, many of us can have a ‘combination’ dosha, and working out where you are on the dosha spectrum is a case of monitoring how you feel both emotionally and physically. Emilia and Maeve recommend nourishing all three doshas, rather than simply focusing on one, but noticing where skin, mind and body might need some extra TLC and adjusting your activity levels, diet, skincare and lifestyle accordingly, depending on what you need more of at any given time, and what’s available to you. 

For instance, if your skin has come out in an unexpected rash, you may want to adopt a Pitta approach, even if that’s not your usual dosha, which could translate to prioritising soothing ingredients in skincare such as aloe vera, incorporating cooling, refreshing food and drink into your diet and bypassing spicy, pungent options for a bit, plus adding in a meditation session and swapping a HIIT session for Hatha yoga to promote mental calm. As skincare goes, this is a 360-degree approach.

Your dosha can change with the seasons

“It is helpful to follow the Ayurvedic daily routine that best suits your dosha, but it is equally important to follow the Ayurvedic seasonal routines (ritucharya) for us to stay in good shape and health and keep skin balanced," say  Emilia and Maeve.

"Seasons change and our eating habits, lifestyle, physical activity and everything else need to change accordingly. This is simply because our body is built in such a way that it responds to every season in a unique fashion and we need to aid our body in doing so by adapting according to the needs of the season. When we fail to do so, our skin can sometimes seem to fall apart, resulting in dryness, rashes and breakouts.”

Think cooling, soothing skincare and a lifestyle to complement the calm come summer, and comforting skincare and habits during the winter months if that’s what your system’s craving. Of course, you may suffer from aggravated rosacea in December, in which case a light, cooling, anti-inflammatory Pitta-style routine may be just what the doctor ordered. You don’t necessarily need to faceplant warming oils or thick face creams. ‘You do you’ is pretty much the Ayurvedic mission statement.

DIY Ayurvedic skincare

Ayurvedic skincare for your body

Given Ayurveda’s age-old heritage, it’s not surprising that many skincare routines and rituals are homemade and originate in the kitchen. What’s beneficial for your body in terms of nutrition is often incorporated into skincare preparations, with traditions tailored to balance your dosha(s). One particular staple of Ayurvedic skincare aims to chill out both skin and mind according to Emilia and Maeve is Abhyanga (pronounced Abhy-ang- ga)  an Ayurveda self-massage technique.

"It uses warm oil (usually infused with herbs) which deeply nourishes the face and body, hydrating skin, stilling the mind and leaving you feeling grounded and re-energised," say Emilia and Maeve.

"Ideally, Abhyanga should be done every day before you shower but if you can add this to your daily routine at least three to four times a week it will make a huge difference to how you start or end the day. Practised regularly, it boosts immunity and improves circulation, and it’s beneficial for maintaining wellbeing in general. It has been used therapeutically for centuries. Abhyanga can be incorporated into a routine for almost everyone but for each dosha there are recommended applications and ingredients to incorporate into your Abhyanga routine.

Vata: "Sesame oil is considered to be the 'king of oils' and is the preferred choice for Vata doshas because it is inherently warming, but opt for organic and untoasted to keep it completely natural (toasted varieties have a very strong natural scent). If you can’t use sesame oil, use try almond oil as an alternative for to its warming effect."

Pitta:" If your Pitta is high, the best oils to use for Abhyanga are coconut oil or sunflower oil. These oils are particularly good as they pacify sensitive or reactive skin, and can also help to smooth the skin after sun exposure, Aloe vera is known to support the natural healing process of the skin and it has a particular affinity for Pitta doshas."

Kapha: "While sesame oil, almond oil, olive oil and corn oil are all warming, herbal oils are a superior choice for Kapha doshas. This is because the herbs impart more purifying properties to the oil, and they aren’t too heavy. It is also best to use less oil on Kapha doshas as Kapha and oil share common qualities, and you aiming to decrease or stabilize your kapha, rather than increase it. It’s all about balancing out your natural tendencies."

Best Ayurvedic skincare 

Best Ayurvedic skincare regime: Samaya Ayurveda, from £69

Founder Abida grew up following the rituals of Ayurveda in India, and she’s aiming to change the way we consider skin types with her dosha framed range, with a full routine from cleanser, exfoliator, moisturiser to face oil for each dosha.

“We stuck to the Vata, Pitta, Kapha nomenclature to be true to the basic principles of Ayurveda. The ingredients have been used for millennia to balance those particular constitution types. For example,  Pitta types tend to have a lot of inflammation so our Pitta range has several cooling and calming anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. You will find jasmine, saffron, turmeric, gotu kola, lotus seed, neem and shatavari among clinically-proven anti-ageing ingredients such as ribose and spilanthes acmella in our Pitta range.

"The dosha types loosely map to skin types, so to help out those who might not be familiar with their dosha we also include skin type guides on the front of our packaging: Vata roughly applied to dry skin, Pitta to sensitive skin and Kapha to oily skin, although if you have two doshas then you can use products from either range. It's fine to mix the two. For example, I am a Vata-Pitta. I have dry and sensitive skin and also love both rose and jasmine. I use both the Vata and Pitta cleansers, the Vata cream and the Pitta oil. I love all of our new exfoliants but am using the Pitta one at the moment.”

Samaya facials are available in Fenwick, London until February 2024. Enail info@samayaayurveda.com. 

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Best science-backed Ayurvedic skincare: Kama Ayurveda, from £23

A long-standing best-selling premium skin and haircare range in India that's new to the UK, this is science-backed beauty (much of it clinically trilled) meets traditional wisdom. Ingredients are harvested according to the time of their greatest potency and synergistically blended. If you love your cosmeceutical skincare and want to try Ayurvedic skincare this is the one for you. The hero products are the  Kimkumado facial oil –  great for mature skin – and the Brogandi Scalp and Hair Oil. Kama Ayurveda treatments are also available in Harrods, London. 

Best budget Ayurvedic Skincare Urban Veda, from £7.99

Using natural, vegan and PETA-accredited cruelty-free ingredients, the British brand’s four skincare collections refer to the three doshas, with a gentle ‘tri doshic’ range for those days when you just don’t know what’s up. A what’s your dosha?’  questionnaire will help you to determine your Ayurvedic leanings, whether you’re in the market for dosha tailored skincare or not.

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Best for Ayuvedic skincare beauty tools, and supplements: Mauli Rituals, from £8.50

Mauli has a huge range of face and body care, candles, nootropic supplements, sleep aids and traditional beauty tools such as the cooling, circulation-stimulating Skin Massage Tool, £64, (also known as a Kansa Wand) designed to be used on the face and body in conjunction with oils during Abhyanga rituals.

The  ‘mauli’ is a sacred red thread used in blessing rituals in India, given to symbolise connection, protection and good health. The founders of Mauli Rituals give £1 from every purchase directly to children’s charities, and also by producing each product sustainably and in collaboration with Ayurvedic practitioners. 

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Uma Skincare

There’s a face oil for all occasions within this Indian-grown and produced 100 per cent organic range, which also has cleansers, a body balm and hair oil. Whether you need some tranquility on the yoga mat or a herbal Ayurvedic blend to address congestion if your Kapha is out of whack, there’s a blend to suit. They certainly don’t come cheap, but the purity of the oils is revered by royalty and longstanding customers alike, and each bottle is handcrafted to meticulous recipes to ensure consistent high quality without over-harvesting natural resources. Aloe vera, honey, rose and sandalwood are key components of Uma’s skincare roster.

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Dosha diets: how Ayurvedic principles are applied at the dinner table