Our largest organ provides a detailed and insightful map into the goings on within our minds, bodies and emotions. From feelings of grief and anger, to food intolerances and internal imbalances, author of Sattva: The Ayurvedic Way to Live Well and holistic facial therapist, Eminé Rushton, guides us around the root causes of our most common imbalances
I’m with Einstein – I don’t believe in coincidences. During my study of Ayurveda, holistic therapies and the human skin, I’ve come to realise just how connected all things are. There’s a fascinating book by leading medical physician Dr Rachel Abrams, Body Wise, which shares stories of women whose bodies knew what their minds were unwilling to accept. A woman who was about to marry the wrong man found that her hand had broken out into a seemingly incurable rash – which cleared up almost as soon as she removed her engagement ring, and called off the wedding. Another dreamed that she was being repeatedly bitten in the neck and throat by a snake and awoke in real pain – Dr Abrams’ medical tests then revealed that she had endocrine neoplasia. Yet another found that her index finger would flare up with eczema whenever she argued with her husband’s family… the root? The ‘finger of blame’ pointed directly at her in-laws who were slowly ruining her happy marriage. These symptoms are far more than skin-deep. They are simply, signposts to things going on that cannot be seen, or are not yet realised or understood.
Being able, then, to read our skin’s signs can be incredibly helpful in deepening our understanding not just of our physical needs and inner workings, but of our entire mental, emotional and spiritual landscapes too.
In the examples below, I explore the most common ways in which minor imbalances might show up in our skin – but this is only a brief introduction to what is a deep, complex and lengthy subject. It’s a fascinating topic and I highly recommend the wonderful book Absolute Beauty by Pratima Raichur, which deep-dives into all things skin-related, through the richest lens of Ayurveda and holistic health. It’s a gem. And in our book Sattva, we also look into the myriad ways in which inner beauty is planted and nourished, and then comes to outwardly bloom. Roald Dahl had it absolutely right too – “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” The very essence of Sattva.
A basic understanding of your ‘type’
In Ayurveda, we talk a lot about how our innate characteristics and constitutions express themselves through our bodies – the ‘doshas’. The same is relevant to skin. Someone who is born Vata, and is therefore prone to dryness and brittleness, may show a temporary pitta imbalance – where the skin is redder, hotter, inflamed – but would still be fundamentally ‘vata’ in their skin type. There is a simple dosha test at our blog, thisconsciouslife.co if you’d like to discover more.
In Ayurveda, every part of the face is linked to a bodily organ, and also the associated dosha (the dominant, personal constitutional type). The symptoms we see and their location upon our face are also related to potential underlying emotional causes and triggers too.
The forehead is linked to Vata, and most commonly in a visibly dry forehead. If you are prone to deep dehydration lines across your forehead this is a telltale sign of vata imbalance. For Pitta, imbalances more commonly show up around the nose and cheeks. High colour, redness and a blotchy nose (tending towards rosacea), are all signs of a Pitta imbalance. Kapha is associated with the chin, jaw, neck and the area around the mouth – where skin tends to be oily. Kapha conditions tend to be wet – oozing, overly oily or seeping conditions would tend point to a Kapha imbalance.
Linked to the colon – the seat of Vata – and also the nervous system. If skin tends to break out here, there can be a link to internal stagnation (e.g. ongoing constipation). The most common underlying root causes of vata imbalance are emotional – fear, worry and anxiety. Think of how the mouth dries up when we feel nervous. Vata, which is much drier than the other two doshas, as it is made up of the ether and air elements, can cause the colon to dry up, which slows down elimination, and part of relaxing the colon – and thereby addressing the skin imbalance – is to release the worry, fear and anxiety that are causing it. Meditation, Yoga Nidra, slow and soothing restorative practices, warming, rooting and deeply satiating meals and slow baths, are just the ticket.
Deep horizontal lines on the forehead can indicate not just excessive worry, but also too much sugar, or water. In Ayurveda, water is not gulped down in excessive amounts – it simply flushes though the body, and this continual flushing can leach away some of our vitamins and minerals (and lower your body’s own salt and electrolyte levels). In Ayurveda we sip warm water with our meals, and drink warm water before if thirsty. We do not drink a lot of water after we eat, as it impeded digestion. We do not down large bottles in short spaces of time, or drink cold or iced water. Water is always room temperature, or warmer, and drunk in moderate amounts, regularly.
The Nose and Cheeks
The nose and cheeks are linked to the small intestine – the source of our internal digestive fire, and also Pitta dosha. The underlying emotional triggers are most often linked to ‘fire’ too – anger, frustration, over-competitiveness and jealousy. If there is a lot of redness in the skin, it’s important to redress the balance, and adopt ways in which to cool the skin (and mind/body) down. Reduce your intake of fire-building tastes (sour, pungent/spicy and salty), slow your life down, prioritise rest, choose gentle non-competitive activities, listen to gentle music and read soothing poetry. Try to cool EVERYTHING down – temper, diet, pace of life… and with skincare, move away from acids (natural or not) and peels, as these might be aggravating already sensitised-skins.
Tender, red, sore areas in the centre of the cheeks can relate to digestive disorders, but also sinus congestion. The nose is also linked to the heart and circulatory system. In Ayurveda, when the tip of the nose is red, it can point to the heart having to work overly hard… this might be a result of a life that is always fuelled with ‘doing’ – continually rushing, racing, competing (with barely a moment to catch your breath), or it may be that your heart is taxed in other ways: that you are continually giving and pouring love and energy out into others, but feel that little is being returned. It’s time to reassess, slow down, and think deeply about your priorities.
Mouth, Chin and Neck
These areas are linked to the chest and stomach, and are the seat of Kapha dosha. The most common underlying emotional root causes of symptoms that may appear here, are grief (imbalances in the lungs/chest, are commonly linked to grief), low mood, depression and fear of change (e.g. unhealthy attachments).
Spots on the lips may have varying underlying causes – if spots are white, this can indicate a colon parasite (which is not uncommon), if discoloured, purplish, or blue-tinged, that circulation is impeded in some way, which may be due to ongoing constipation. The best way to determine what is happening in your colon is to find a reputable medical, nutritional or Ayurvedic specialist. Functional tests – which test stools for parasites and imbalances, and then work to ‘rebuild’ the gut with targeted probiotics, herbs and supplements – are incredibly valuable and effective, while Ayurvedic doctors work in a more holistic way, to address root causes (you can seek out a reputable Ayurvedic practitioner via the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association ).
Adapted from Sattva: The Ayurvedic Way to Live Well, by Eminé and Paul Rushton (£12.99, Hay House); out on June 4th.