If you’re used to confining your skincare choices to a familiar pre-assigned skincare type, as most of us are, we’re about to ask you to think outside of the box, although really, considering skin from this particular P.O.V isn’t novel: it’s been practiced 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 dosha , get ready to consider your skin 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 basic premise within Ayurveda is that each of us is born with a unique constitution type. The three types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and each of these is characterised by a set of internal and external traits. There are various factors that can throw a person out of balance such as stress, pollution , seasonal changes and so on. In order for a person to be healthy and well, they need to balance their individual constitution. Lifestyle as a whole 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 label yourself as oily skinned forevermore because your t-zone is beaming, Ayurveda considers that this slickness is telling of your overall wellbeing and reflective of your natural tendencies, lifestyle and environment, rather than simply a surface issue to be ‘tackled’. It’s technically the opposite of cosmetic, as Ayurvedic experts and founders of Escapada Emilia Herting and Maeve O’Sullivan illustrate:
“Ayurveda, alongside traditional Chinese Medicine, was a very early adopter of the mantra that “beauty comes from within” as a system. 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.”
Basically, 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 be revealing of what’s really going on. As such it’s time to divine your dosha…
Doing skin by dosha
If we’re putting the common skin definitions aside for the purpose of this piece, how do you go about diagnosing your constitution? Emilia and Maeve give a rough idea of skin inclinations according to dosha:
“There are a few signs that will help you to determine your dosha based on your usual skin type:
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, there are many other holistic factors that 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, whereas Kapha leans towards a more relaxed disposition, with a heavier build, good long-term memory and preference for hot, dry weather. These are just a few characteristic qualities of the three doshas- there are many more indications of which dosha you may be most closely aligned with, and Abida has crafted a ten question quiz on her website to give you an idea of where you’re ‘centred’. You could also ‘sniff and see’, as Abida highlights that your dosha can show itself in a sensual manner:
“There is also 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 food shop, we don’t know what is, but be prepared for more confusion- I emerged as a double dosha woman post ten-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 360º thing, and a 365 process too...
Your dosha can change with the seasons
In addition to bearing flare-ups and any other dosha altering factors in mind, your doshas are also subject to shift with your yearly calendar, as Emilia and Maeve describe:
“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. Seasons change and our eating habits, lifestyle, physical activity and everything else needs 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 seems to fall apart, resulting in dryness, rashes and breakouts.”
In essence, it’s about tempering our approach depending on our environment and giving skin and body what it needs throughout the year, rather than subscribing to one particular skin type or health blueprint all year round. 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
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...
Oil and massage
“Abhyanga (pronounced Abhy-ang- ga) is is an Ayurveda self-massage technique using 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. Skin feels revitalised and radiant afterwards too.
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. Practiced 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."
There are many traditional natural remedies that Ayurvedic practitioners swear by, but from a skincare perspective Emilia and Maeve note that there are a few herbs, spices and kitchen staples that play a central role in Ayurvedic treatments:
“Turmeric: pure turmeric is well known for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties but in Ayurveda it is also widely used to treat acne breakouts and is often combined with lemon juice in masks and exfoliants. Which leads us to...
Lemon juice and honey: the natural antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties of lemon are also beneficial for those who have acne and pimple-prone skin. Lemon juice and honey are often applied directly onto affected areas in Ayurveda..
Ginger: Used as a natural cleanser in Ayurveda, ginger is packed with anti-inflammatory properties that can be helpful for those suffering from breakouts. There are several ways to incorporate ginger into your everyday skincare routine. Some followers of Ayurveda prepare a mask by blending dry ginger powder and dehydrated milk powder together with a small amount of water to form a paste, applying the paste directly to the face and leaving for fifteen minutes. Wash off and follow with moisturiser.
Ginger, when dried and powdered, can also be used as a toner. To prepare, add two teaspoons of dry ginger powder into four cups of water in a pan and bring to boil. Leave to simmer, allowing the concoction to reduce to half. Cool, then strain the mixture. Once you have a smooth, cooled mixture add five to six drops of rosemary oil. Mix well and store it in an airtight bottle.
Sesame seed oil: This is particularly popular during the winter months, as it has anti-inflammatory properties and regular application of this oil has been proven to heal allergic inflammations and redness of the skin.
Oatmeal: When ground down this makes a very gentle exfoliant that’s suitable for everyone, but especially Pitta doshas. It’s a moisturising, anti-inflammatory ingredient that’s great for reducing sensitivity. Try mixing finely ground oatmeal with honey and kefir , or experiment with yogurt or buttermilk depending on what’s available. Apply to your face in a circular motion, let it sit for 15-30 minutes and rinse and moisturise as usual.
Ghee: You may be more familiar with this ingredient as a base for curries, but ghee (clarified butter) has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic healing practices. It’s especially reparative for chapped skin and the fact that it’s rich in saturated fats makes it perfect for treating dry, cracked heels, quickly. Apply generously after a long, hot bath (or shower) and allow to soak in and get to work while you sleep. Apply for three to five days continuously until you see results.”
4 Ayurvedic brands doing skincare differently
If you’d rather not go all Masterchef during your morning skincare routine, dip your toes/ face into Ayurveda by way of the following…
Founder Abida grew up in following the rituals of Ayurveda in India, and she’s aiming to change the way we consider skin types with her dosha framed range:
“Our products are Ayurvedic so we stuck to the Vata, Pitta, Kapha nomenclature to be true to the basic principles of Ayurveda. The ingredients we use in each of the three ranges 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.
“Luckily, 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.”
There’s an oil for all occasions within this Indian grown and produced, 100 per cent organic range. 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.
Dosha diets: how Ayurvedic principles are applied at the dinner table
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