I recently received an email from a consumer asking for help to choose the right skin care products for her. She is a 21 year old girl who lives in a very hot and dry climate where temperatures are usually between 37 – 40 deg centigrade. She found that her skin was going dry in summer, so she opted for a reputed brand of moisturizing face wash (synthetic).
At first, her skin responded well and the sense of dryness was gone. Within a few weeks of continuing to use the face wash, this young girl found that her skin started to get much oilier than normal, and whiteheads and blackheads started to crop up.
Here’s where Ayurveda’s subtle nuances on diagnosing exactly which dosha is unbalanced can help us. Regular cosmetic science simply diagnoses dry skin as well, dry skin. So skin is simply subjected to an oilier lotion with a higher number of humectants. As all synthetic creams and lotions are made from a base that is derived from petroleum, we see that the product tends to be comedogenic (pore clogging) and is also not absorbed by the skin.
So any difference we see is surface, and we are not helping the skin at a deeper level. Also, because of the pore clogging nature of the products themselves, we are interfering with or impairing the normal functioning of the skin underneath.
Prakriti (individual constitution): a valuable tool to identify the correct dosha imbalance in skin
Ayurveda classifies our prakriti as the unique mixture of doshas that make up who we are. This is made unique by taking in factors like our age, the season, the climatic conditions where we live, the current stresses we go through, our life stage, etc.
Each of these factors contribute to our prakriti at any point in time. Depending upon where we live, season, age, etc, our natural prakriti may see an increase in specific doshas or a decrease in specific doshas. This can cause an imbalance which can lead to skin, hair or other health issues.
Example 1: Life stage and diet affecting prakriti
Take the case of a Vata-Pitta prakriti individual. She is around 30, and has just delivered a baby 2 months ago. She is not following standard pathiyam diet and is instead eating a lot of sour and spicy food. Her hair is greying and is also looking very dry, with brittleness and snapping of the hair when ebbing combed.
In Ayurveda, we would analyse her condition thus:
Being a Vata-Pitta prakriti individual, she is already subject to the drying, mobile influence of Vata and heating influence of Pitta. As she is in her 30s, age-wise she is in Pitta dominant stage of her life. As she has just given birth and has not followed proper pathiyam and post partum abhyanga, her Vata dosha will be in excess. As she is now eating Pitta increasing foods, pitta prakriti will also be in excess.
So we see vata and pitta vitiated condition in hair like premature greying, drying of scalp, and brittleness of hair. If we further question her, we may also see dryness and redness in skin, presence of youvana pidaka (acne on back and skin), aches and pains in the back and hips and IBS or constipation depending upon what is being eaten.
For this lady, we should give pitta and vata pacifying (shramana) measures. Her diet must be corrected, eating timings must be regulated, and vata pacifying measures like Abhyanga should be adopted. Hair oiling must be done with a pitta reducing oil and ghee intake and stomach and back exercises must be done to regulate both doshas and promote strength and vitality in the body.
How is skin diagnosed in Ayurveda: an example
Taking the example of the young girl who had written to us about her skin. She is 21, and lives in a hot and dry climate. In this age, pitta is generally dominant. Pitta may have gotten worse by the pitta in the environment because of high temperature.
Skin can go dry in Ayurveda because of 2 reasons: Vata dosha dominant climate so in peak winter, due to cold weather, we see “rooksha” or roughness in the skin.
Skin can also go dry in hot sum. So when we spend a day at the beach, or stay outside in very hot weather, we see that the skin goes dry and parched when the sun removes moisture from the skin. Tanned skin is also dry due to high heat. However, it does not crack like skin does in cold and dry weather. Instead it burns and becomes tight and uncomfortable due to excess pitta.
The herbs and anupana used for vata related dryness and pitta related dryness will therefore be completely different. For vata related dryness, we use moisture-rich herbs and seeds like almonds, charoli, and sweet herbs like Yashti (Liquorice) and damage repairing herbs like Ashwagandha.
The herbs and anupana used for pitta related dryness are quite different. We use pitta balancing herbs like Neem, Durva, Sariva, etc. All these herbs suck out excess Pitta and improve the skin pigmentation and darkening brought in by excess pitta. We use circulation and rakta rejuvenating herbs like Manjishta and Daru haridra. We also use rejuvenatory and skin improving herbs and fruits like Brahmi, Mangoes, etc.
Facial care in Ayurveda: cleansing rules
Skin cleansing is done following a rigid set of rules in Ayurveda. Skin is always cleansed with a well thought out combination of herbs, grains and lentils. This ensures that the skin’s pH and barrier function is well maintained. Depending upon the prakriti of the individual and ritukala (season), specific herbs are added to the base.
When cleansed this way, the sebum levels in the skin are never suddenly depleted or added to. Skin remains soft and does not feel parched and tight. Most importantly, the cleansing is strongly functional and removes clogs and toxins from the cells leaving the skin free to continue its normal functioning.
Facial skin is always cleansed in cool or luke warm water. The cleansing is done using gentle circulatory movements and is done after yogic exercise or any sort of movement to help flush out toxins from the skin pores.
The role of lepas (creams), oils and leave on masks in Ayurveda:
Try as we might we do not see references to leave on skin products in Ayurveda. Certain lepas (creams) are formulated specifically for diseased skin conditions like burns where the skin requires the healing effect of herbs and cannot be left open and unprotected.
Masks or short leave on products are routinely referenced too and used in Ayurveda. Sometimes this could be a part of the bathing routine itself where the ubtan / bathing powder is itself used like a mask. Sometimes, a specially formulated mask is used to transfer the healing and repairing properties of the herbs to skin.
The concept of emulsions is very well known in Ayurveda: so many ancient recipes for Ayurvedic creams exist. However, lotions are not a common skin care format in Ayurveda. For skin application, different kinds of oils are routinely used.
Many specific facial oils are referred to in Ayurveda: kumkumadi tailam is one such formulation, which has now become extremely well known (we will do a separate post on this later on the Krya blog). This is a very ancient formulation said to have been developed by the Ashwini Kumaras. Kumkumadi tailam is generally used for youvana pidaka (Acne) or skin which has hyper pigmentation, blemishes and darkening due to excess pitta or sun exposure.
Generally even these facial oils are used pre-bath. The texts also allow for application at night on damp skin in very minute quantity. When doing a leave on application of any skin care product, we must take great care to understand the right dosage of the product for our skin. The product must be easily absorbed by the skin and should not persist, and clog its pores.
How does very dry skin occur as per Ayurveda:
I often receive emails from consumers stating that their skin is very dry and literally “drinks up” moisturiser. So they are dismayed when I tell them I have no natural substitute to their leave on moisturiser. Being used to routinely applying a leave on moisturiser, our no-moisturiser-on-skin policy is received with dismay.
Here are some points where Ayurveda differs when it comes to slathering skin with moisturiser:
- Skin is supposed to perspire and do heat exchange with the atmosphere keeping the rest of the body cool
- Sweda (sweat) is an important vehicle to remove excess salts, and toxins which are excreted form the body. The proper production of Sweda supports other excretory organs like the kidneys which can get overloaded if your skin does not do its work
- Therefore the goal of Ayurvedic skin care is to properly moisturise the skin and all its layers and then cleanse it well so the minor srotas (circulatory channels) are open and functioning well to do their job of heat regulation and cleansing.
This leads me to the main reason many of us like using a moisturiser: dehydration due to the AC at home / work.
Skin dehydration due to high usage of the air conditioner:
If we work in an air conditioned environment, we are subjecting our skin and body to microbes which are constantly being circulated in the stale air, low humidity and temperatures which are not ideal for the body. Living and working in an air conditioned environment sharply increases vata in the body so skin becomes dry, and aches and pains increase. When vata aggravating food is added to this (tea, coffee, crisp, and dry food, junk food), the vata aggravates even more.
In this environment, it is good to eat a meal which is rich in good fats like ghee, avoiding dehydrating drinks like tea and coffee and taking breaks from the ac environment to give your body a break. It is also important to stay hydrated and ensure you drink a minimum amount of clean water (preferably warm) to keep vata from being unbalanced.
The use of Ayurvedic facial oils to supplement skin healing, nourishment and moisture retention:
When you eat right, cleanse right, and broadly live right and either avoid the ac or supplement for the AC, you will find that your skin is able to generate enough sebum to protect it. A weekly Abhyanga is a very important health giving practice that is extremely beneficial to skin and hair health as well. Once this is done, skin requires only small amounts of external moisturisation to aid it during difficult seasons like winter or to overall boost its radiance and lustre.
Therefore a popular Krya recommendation is the use of appropriate facial oil, in very small doses to help the skin balance and heal itself. The facial oil is usually applied in very small quantities before a bath and left on for 15 minutes before cleansing, if the skin is very dry to begin with. This helps protect the skin until its health is restored and it is able to help itself.
Another very beneficial way to use facial oil is at night. Here we use even smaller quantities of oil, as a little oil goes a very long way o skin. Facial oil is applied 1 hour before sleeping on clean, damp skin. The slight amount of dampness on skin helps take up the oil being applied. Precisely 3 – 4 drops of facial oil are used and very gently and lightly massaged onto damp skin using the ring finger. The oil is left on at night.
The needs of different kinds of skin vary, and skin also needs sometime getting used to a new routine. We advise that you start slowly (application before bath) and then graduate to night time use. When in doubt, use less product and not more.
The Krya Classic skin oil with Papaya and Jatamamsi:
We have been working and re-working our formulation with the classic range for some time now. This variant has been in existence at Krya for more than 1.5 years now, and with every successive batch, we have made minor tweaks to the formulation based on our growing body of research and consumer feedback.
The Krya Classic skin oil with Manjishta and Chandana has been formulated with 22 nourishing, oil balancing and pitta balancing herbs and fruits like Manjishta, Chandana (Sandal), Lodhra, Brahmi, Neem. We also add complexion enhancing and blemish reducing seasonal fruits like papaya into the oil.
The oil also uses sneha (oils) like Neem and Tamanu which classically help balance sebum secretion and are useful for pitta prakriti skin.
As we have seen in the example shared above, even Pitta prakriti skin can go dry in certain conditions. This is a dryness which comes with excess heat, so a skin moisturising product that works with skin without disturbing Pitta and adding excess oiliness will suit this skin. Continued use of the product helps work on minor skin blemishes, scars and evens out skin tore and lustre. The anti bacterial nature of many of the herbs and oils used also helps preventing microbial infection and the occurrence of cystic acne with regular use.
To sum up:
On Formulation Tuesdays, we generally focus a lot on how we make the formulations we discuss for that day, and our philosophy behind the herbs, oils and manufacturing process followed. As I re-read my post, I notice that the post discusses the concept of Ayurvedic skin care in much greater detail than the formulation itself.
I hope this background was useful to you and you were able to understand, appreciate and resonate with the differences between how Ayurveda cares for your skin (vs. modern cosmetic products). Our ongoing Formulation Tuesday series is designed to improve transparency and give you a greater understanding into how we think about, design and manufacture our products. We believe that greater transparency promotes better choices and helps you make better decisions on what you apply o yourself or use around you in your home.
If you have any questions on our products, the philosophy behind our products, or a specific question on skin and hair, please do get in touch with us.
Krya’s skin oils can be explored here: