Eating for Good Health – An Ayurvedic Perspective : Part 1

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

I am often asked what Ayurveda prescribes as a healthy diet. I hesitate to write down a fixed diet plan for many reasons: there are many diet fads these days which have become accepted as healthy diets (for example the vegan diet, keto diet, millets diet, etc). Most of this is contrarian to the principles espoused in the texts.

1. universally healthy

The second is that Ayurveda is the ultimate customised medicine. The texts opine that health, regimen and medicine should all be customised to the individual, and what works for one individual is especially unique to him / her. Therefore, what works for you is a customised blend of your food culture, what you are used to your prakriti, and where you live.

2. customised approach
The third is a very interesting reason: Ayurveda recognises the importance of “patterns and habits” in the way we eat, behave and live. The Acharyas tell us that even a great diet. Or a set of behaviours considered universally healthy cannot be suddenly introduced to the system, as the system, which has reached a sense of balance with whatever it is doing, will rebel in shock. So for someone who has persisted on a diet of fried bacon, bread and no vegetables, cannot be suddenly asked to substitute fish for fried bacon and introduced to a whole lot of vegetables. The Acharyas tell us that for the system that has been used to food which we consider unhealthy will react to healthy food (if introduced suddenly) like it would react to poison!

3. gradual is better

Obviously our notion of what is healthy food ad not healthy food will have to vary by region, season and availability of food. So if you live in a dry, hot desert I cannot tell you to eat broccoli all the time, despite the fact that it is considered a nutritional superfood.

 

So rather than speak about specific foods to eat, we focus our posts on how to eat. We saw a post this week on eight Ayurvedic eating techniques, and how chewing food well, eating on time, eating when hungry, etc are timeless principles of healthy living. We saw how even the right foods eaten wrongly can cause distress to the body.

 

Speaking further on foods to eat, here is our 2 part series on Ayurvedic eating for good health. Again, these posts are in the form of eating principles, and cover aspects of eating like ethical diets (vegan / vegetarian), eating timings etc. These are atleast as important as what you eat, so do read on.

 

As with all new information, please read this with an open mind. The science of Ayurveda has evolved over thousands of years and is extremely sophisticated in its understanding of both food and its effect on human beings. Many of the things I have written down may seem contrarian to what we believe in now – but the system has survived and thrived for thousands of years

  1. Timing is everything (in health, food & life)

The time of eating is at least as important as what you eat and depending upon your body’s condition, it is sometimes more important than what you eat.

Every organ system is said to have a particular time to cleanse itself and do necessary repairs. For example, the liver, the seat of pitta in our body, cleanses itself around midnight. Cleansing of organ systems occurs ONLY after digestion is through, nutrients have been extracted and toxins have been removed from the body. So if you are eating dinner at 11 pm, your organ systems will NOT cleanse themselves, and will wait until the next available time slot to do so. Which means your body will feel dull and sluggish the next morning (especially if you are consistently eating late).

This does not mean you can get away with eating junk food like a burger everyday at 7 pm for dinner. Do read point 2.

This is corroborated by many systems of traditional medicine. TCM opines that the window to eat breakfast is between 7 am – 9 am. When you consistently eat breakfast after this window, your chi energy or stomach fire energy gets weak and dampened. This in TCM is said to lead to digestive disorders, high production of gas in the system and an inability to digest foods leading to a high accumulation of toxins.

4.damp agni

 

  1. Ideal food is local, freshly cooked, lightly spiced and eaten warm. No spoiled food should be eaten. And no food should be stored, re-heated and eaten.

Ayurveda frowns upon the wonders of modern food preservation. In fact, the Charaka Samhita specifically says that for good health one should not eat too much of pickles, traditional papads or even traditionally salted and preserved vegetables (like vadagam and vathal).These references are to HOME MADE preserved vegetables, lentils and fruits. So this definitely rules OUT eating preserved, commercially processed foods like biscuits, sauces, etc which have a shelf life of 1 year or more (so most of the time we are eating stuff that has been made at-least 6 months ago in a factory and would contain several harmful chemical preservatives).
5. processed food
Local in Ayurveda means something that not only grows naturally within 100 miles of where you live. It also means eating foods you and your digestive system are accustomed to. So if you have grown up eating rice, rice will suit your system the most. Not quinoa. And not even millets. Any new food must be slowly introduced to your digestive system. (This does not take away from your responsibility of sourcing high quality food. Most of us grew up eating untainted, pesticide-free food – so this naturally means you should source the same now. And not just buy the first available pesticide sprayed pack of rice you find in the supermarket).

6. local food
The point about spoiled food is an interesting nuance and goes to our food culture. For example cheese eating is not a practice that is universal to many parts of India. It is usually common only in cold and hilly regions. In hot and humid regions, fermenting a dairy based food will quickly lead to rot, mildew and fungus. However the same food is very well preserved in a cold, hilly region.

Cheese, especially aged cheese, tends to be very salty, sharp and concentrated. In Ayurveda, this has all the makings of a pitta food group. So it makes sense to eat this food, if it is eaten traditionally, in a cold, hilly region where the atmosphere is low in pitta dosha. The pitta in the food is welcome to stimulate digestion.

7.cheese

However in a hot, humid city like Chennai or Hyderabad, where the atmosphere is full of Pitta, the pitta dosha from the cheese would over stimulate pitta dosha. Which is probably why in practice, it does not form a part of traditional food.

If you live in the city of your childhood, it is probably best to stick to your traditional food practice. If you live in a foreign city, it is still better to stock to your traditional food unless the weather and climate is dramatically different from what you are used to. If you are living in an utterly foreign land, it makes sense to slowly acclimatise and add foods and eating practices local to where you live, while continuing to eat traditionally most of the time.

 

  1. An ideal food for you is something that is digested quickly by you and puts the least amount of stress on your digestive system. This can differ from person to person.

Ayurveda believes the more effort the body has to take in digesting your food, the more energy is diverted away from your organ systems. Also, depending upon your state of health, if your food is difficult to digest, there is a possibility that your body will not complete the job of digestion within the allotted time. The longer your food sits in your body without being processed, the more poisonous it becomes to your body.

8.putrefecation

 

Food that is undigested and sits around in your body becomes “Ama” or undigested waste + toxin. Ama prevents the healthy functioning of your organ systems and leads to faster aging and illness. Ama can accumulate across every organ system, but is linked primarily to an improperly functioning digestive system, brought on by eating improper food.

Now how your digestive system will respond to your food group is completely unique. Some of us can easily digest fried food, and can eat copious quantities of this without losing sleep or productivity. Others are extremely sensitive to certain food groups: a single Chinese meal can set us back by 2 – 3 days when we feel dull and sluggish.

9.digestive ability
These digestion patterns tend to change as we age, and by season. They also change when we are under a high amount of stress. So it is important to listen carefully to your body and develop a sense of what works for you. Limit food experimentation to a window where you can take the consequences, and always plan for “cheat” or “treat” days.

  1. Many foods we think are healthy and should be eaten in copious quantities are considered unhealthy in Ayurveda

Many foods that we now consider healthy and are eating a lot of are considered difficult to digest in Ayurveda or are considered unbalanced as they are very high in one particular dosha: these include raw vegetables (yes salads!), raw sprouts, millets, brown rice or cereals with a high amount of husk on them, fermented foods like idly and dosa, cheese, curd, milkshakes. These must be eaten with the proper preparation and caution and at times when the body is capable of digesting them.

Example 1: Fermented foods like idly and dosa are considered high in pitta as they are sour foods. Eating them every day for breakfast will mean your pitta will increase. It is important to balance them with something like a coconut based dish as coconut is both cooling (and high in kapha) and will balance the pitta in the idly / dosa. (Please note that this does not apply if you spike your coconut chutney with an impossibly high amount of green chillies). Eating a fermented food with another pitta heavy dish like a Sambhar high in tamarind or acidic tomato based chutney will not be balanced.

10.idly

 

In this there is obviously a gradation. Freshly fermented idlis are lower in pitta dosha than 3 day old batter. Batter made at home is obviously superior to something bought from outside, because we can guarantee that no other additives like baking soda have been added. Idlis eaten in cold winter season are better for the body compared to idlis eaten in summer.

 

This is because in winter, the heat of the Idlis through Pitta dosha is opposite to the cold produced by the winter – so the load on the body is less. But an idly eaten is summer is far more stimulating to Pitta dosha.

 

When you are suffering from an intense imbalance of Pitta dosha, eating an idly everyday for breakfast can throw you out of gear and is not advisable.  The key, as always is finding balance.

 

Example 2: Raw foods are considered “lekhaniya” (scraping quality), and depending upon what kind of raw foods we are describing, they may be “rooksha” (dry), rough, and “guru” or difficult to digest.

 

An example of a “guru” raw food is raw beetroot. An example of a “rooksha” and “guru” raw food are raw sprouts. From a western, raw food perspective, eating raw food is considered healthy as we get access to many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are destroyed when cooking. So eating the raw food as a juice, smoothie or as a salad is considered health boosting.

11.raw
Ayurveda however says that the process of digesting this raw food dampens or weakens Agni, hence this food is not properly digested (especially when consumed in quantities that are much higher than what we are used to). So despite eating healthy foods, we could be increasing the ama in our body as the act of digesting this healthy food has weakened Agni.

 

Seasonal fruits and fruit juices are not necessarily a part of this list. But even here, temperance is advised – you cannot suddenly force the body to eat, digest properly and assimilate a very large quantity of fruit juice of fruit salad. Depending upon your constitution this can aggravate Agni, leading to diarrhoea, or leave you feeling sluggish and listless.

12.fruits
Example 3: Millets are now extremely popular across South India as a healthy replacement to rice. Ayurveda however considers many Millets as dry and difficult to digest, which makes sense as they are traditionally dry land crop. Substituting rice completely with Millets will mean that your vata dosha will increase. This is welcome if you have a health condition like diabetes where kapha dosha is high – so here the vata of the Millets will balance excess Kapha. In fact, millet is prescribed in diabetes for just this reason instead of rice. But if you have no such health conditions and have decided to substitute rice completely with Millets, you will be drying out your body, especially if you do this very suddenly.

13.millets
The benefits of Millets must of course be experienced by you. But this should form a part of your experimentative 10% and must be prepared using the correct format and in doses where your body does not rebel or where other symptoms like aggravated vata dosha develop.

 

Here are some of the ways you can experiment with Millets:

Changing the format of the cereal changes how your body digests it – In millets, flour is easier to digest as you have broken down the cereal physically and are not depending upon your digestive system to do this job. So if you would like to introduce Millets into your diet, perhaps Millet flour is a better first step instead of the millet grains.

13.millet flour
The timing of eating is everything, especially for a difficult to digest food. Noon time, when the sun is at its peak, is considered the time when your digestive system is the strongest. So this is the time your body can handle the rigors of digesting a difficult to digest food. Like millets. OR Quinoa. (After preparing it properly).

14.lunch
This list which I have compiled is by no means complete or a prescription in itself. This merely represents a starting point to think about your diet and your health. As with everything, your body and your health are unique and what works for you is something you will have to evolve with time and experimentation.

Part 2 of this post will tackle more of what Ayurveda says about food. In the meantime, do remember, there are no shortcuts to good health and good looking skin and hair. It is built meal by meal, and choice by choice.


Krya’s range of skin care products for pitta prone, normal to oily skin can be found here. Our skin range for vata prone, normal to dry skin can be found here. Our anti acne skin care products can be found here.   Apart from this, we have a range of products for Sensitive Skin (skin that is eczema, dermatitis & psoriasis prone) and for Sun Tanned skin . We also have a large range of Abhyanga-Snana products. 

9-ubtan

Our products are inspired by Ayurveda. completely natural, toxin free and extremely effective. If you would like help choosing the right Krya product for your skin, please call us (075500-89090) or write to us.


 

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Treating open pores with ayurveda

Oily food aggravates pitta dosha clogging pores from within
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Reading Time: 11 minutes

Email 1:

“Dear Team Krya

I have large visible open pores, oily looking skin and craters and blemishes which are remnants of my acne filled youth.

Can you help with this?”

 

Email 2:

“Dear Team Krya,

I am 35. My skin tends to be normal – oily and has a tendency to break out around my periods. My pores are generally large and oily looking. And this is made extra obvious to me when I visit my parlour, and I am told to try chemical peels or microdermabrasion to minimise this.

Is there any natural, non invasive way to get better skin?”

What are open pores?

Have you been “expertly diagnosed” by your parlour facialist as having open pores? Or has a quick perusal of a beauty magazine suggested this term to you? Does your make-up look cake-y on application ? Has a makeup expert suggested that this is because of your open pores?

blog 1 - magazine

Open pores are our chief complaint at Krya as well, and the reason why so many women write to us asking for a better solution to their skincare woes.

Open pores are a mysterious animal though. While commonly experienced and often self diagnosed by many of us, there is no strict definition from a Dermatology point of view, as to what might constitute an open pore. Neither is there a precise definition of when the pilosebaceous ostia (sweat and sebum expelling openings) are enlarged enough to call them an open / magnified pore.

Clinical dermatological Research on open pores:

A study published in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology journal in 2015 gives us some clues about these open pores. This study analysed responses from a multi ethnic group of women (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Brazilian, French etc) of 2400+ women from the age group of 18 – 80.

Some of the conclusions this study drew were as follows:

  • There is no one definition of what is a common open pore. Pore sizes varied across ethnicity, age and region
  • The lowest variation in pore size was seen in Chinese and Japanese women
  • There is a slight increase in pore size from the age of 18 to the age of 40 across all ethnicities and regions. This increase was the most marked among Indians and Brazilians (this increase was not statistically significant nor was it rigorously tested having a reasonable sample size of the full age spectrum in each ethnicity).

Despite not reaching too many statistically significant conclusions, the study concluded that aging affected pore size in some way, and there were differences in pore size across ethnicities. Cultural conditioning and expectations of beauty largely determined each ethnic groups focus on open pores.

Unsurprisingly, the Brazilians and Indians were extremely concerned by their open pores.

blog 2 open pores

Current aesthetic beliefs and practices around open pores:

Pore shrinking is a very common beauty service offered at beauty parlours and dermatologists’ practice. This service exists despite the fact that open pores are not a serious part of any dermatology text. There is also no clear cut acceptable research to show what causes their enlargement to take place.

Opinions among dermatologists vary about the origin of these open pores. Some believe that we are simply referring to old acne scars and pits as open pores. This is explained by the fact that every open pore contains the openings to several pilosebaceous ostia (pores). So what we call an open pore is simply the unevenness of skin.

blog 3 pitting
Dermatologists attached to beauty companies have a different take on this. Many beauty companies say that open pores are a natural result of skin cells being clogged with dead cells, sebum and cosmetic products. As the ostia are clogged by these toxins, the opening of the ostia widens to help the skin perform its excretory function properly. This explains the slowly expanding nature of the open pore.
blog 4 activated charcoal

Depending upon whose explanation you choose to believe, different kinds of beauty products and services are now available to tackle open pores.

For those who believe in the “clogged pore” theory, products and services designed to “unclog” skin exist. Hence you have exfoliating scrubs, toners, and foaming / non foaming face washes being sold with claim ingredients as varied as tea tree ,rosemary to activated charcoal.

For dermatologists who are still on the fence about the cause behind open pores, services to peel or sandpaper away the top layer of skin are the treatments of choice. Hence chemical peels and micro dermabrasion are suggested to literally sand paper the skin and remove its outer layer and encourage a new and smoother layer of skin to grow back.

blog 5 peel

The Ayurvedic point of view on open pores:

Let’s start with the most obvious point: Ayurveda does NOT have any point of view on open pores. What Ayurveda does have, is a very strong, well researched point of view on skin health, and several rational explanations to make us understand why our skin texture and nature changes with age. Ayurveda also focusses heavily on health of Srotas. Through various practices and products, Srotas are supposed to be kept pliable and clean in order to function well.

The Rise of Pitta dosha in middle age:

First, Ayurveda says that “pitta” strikes us at 2 phases in our life. The first is at puberty, when it is triggered by hormonal changes in the body. The second time Pitta strikes is in middle age (defined in Ayurveda and Siddha as the age between 30 – 60). The increase in Pitta in middle age is due to the increase in responsibilities that we face in this period, necessitating the gifts that enhanced Pitta dosha gives us.

blog post 6 teenage pitta
Pitta dosha is the dosha responsible for decisiveness, an ability to complete things, the ability to lead. In short the ability to lead your family, shoulder responsibilities, make financial decisions , plan your career, etc. When we enter Ayurvedic middle age, we throw away the carefree nature of childhood and become responsible . We get married, perhaps start a family, shoulder responsibilities for our parents, take charge of our careers, etc. It is therefore no wonder that we draw upon the qualities of Pitta dosha to see us through this time.

blog post 7 middle age

However, high use or over use of a dosha, leaves the body vulnerable to the effects of that particular dosha being aggravated. Also, as per Ayurveda, like attracts like. So when we are overusing a particular Dosha, we tend to aggravate it further by eating Pitta stimulating foods or doing Pitta increasing activities.

So in our Pitta phase of life, we may see ourselves gravitating towards sharp, spicy, tangy foods (Chinese hot and sour anyone?). We may also became more impatient, get stressed out more, and become less tolerant to things not proceeding as per our plan.

blog post 8 eating pitta
When this mixture of life phase, foods and behaviour all overload Pitta dosha, we see its effects on the way our body functions and the way our skin and hair looks.

Pitta aggravated skin and hair symptoms:

We have seen the basic nature of Pitta dosha before: Ayurveda terms Pitta dosha as “sara” or liquid, “teekshna” or intense, dravya (oily and spreading nature), foul smelling, hot and quick to spread.

If we interpret this in skin terms: we see that Pitta afflicted skin is oily, sweats easily, reacts quickly to disturbances in pitta (quick skin rash), is usually warm to touch or flushed looking, and can have a foul odour .

blog post 9 pitta skin
On hair and scalp we see something similar: pitta afflicted hair has an oily scalp, can sweat easily, and hair is usually prematurely grey, and has reddish tints in it naturally (like Agni / fire). Pitta aggravated hair thins easily especially in the parting and the hair is usually fine and not very thick.

blog post 10 pitta hair

How pitta aggravation enlarges and worsens open pores:

High pitta in the body dilates the blood vessels, and heats up skin. In this scenario, you will have a greater amount of sebum being secreted. This excessive sebum attracts the invasion of micro organisms. As they multiply, they fill the skin surface with debris and dead cells.

When pitta is aggravated, we are repetitively drawn to eating Pitta aggravating food. If you respond to this call and eat junk food, and sharp and spicy food, you are also reducing the body’s ability to metabolise food properly . As metabolism is impaired, there is an internal build up of Ama / toxins.

Oily food aggravates pitta dosha clogging pores from within

This internal toxin build up and external clogging affects Srotas at both ends. Without enough free space to perform their normal functions, they are forced to expand further resulting in larger and more visible open pores. The excess material in the srotas is ejected improperly onto skin in the form of whiteheads and black heads and acne.

This can make your scars and pits look larger, and generate a lot of excess material which should be removed gently from skin.

How is Pitta aggravated skin treated in Ayurveda?

All Ayurvedic skin and hair care starts with the right diet and regimen. So, there is no point in treating pitta aggravated skin without correcting the underlying diet or behaviors.

Once we have tackled the diet, and adopted the right lifestyle practices to control excess Pitta, we look at specific herbs and products that Ayurveda recommends for Pitta aggravated skin.

Pitta aggravated skin is treated extremely gently in Ayurveda. This is because pitta reactions start very fast and spread in an uncontrolled manner through the skin (imagine a forest fire raging out of control, and you will get this analogy). So Ayurvedic skin care for pitta problems (open pores, oiliness and acne) has a very gentle approach.

blog post 11 treat gently

Ayurvedic Srota cleansing

The original Ayurvedic equivalent of ostia is the Srota. We have seen how Srota are present all over skin and help in heat exchange, excretion of sweat and toxins and also produce minute amounts of sebum to help skin stay at the right pH and well moisturised. Ayurveda says it is critical to cleanse these Srotas properly to ensure they are debris and clog free and open to doing their job well. This cleansing has to be done WITHOUT drying out the srotas. When Srotas are dry, they do not expand and contract properly, so the skin’s job of toxin removal and heat regulation is not done properly.

Srotas have to be cleansed with the adsorption and pressure method as per Ayurveda. As Ayurveda says each Srota is like a tube, we have to scoop out debris and dirt from inside the tube (think of cleaning a slim plastic straw). Soaps and face washes use surfactants that only clean the opening of the srotas.  But, because of their drying nature, they also suck out moisture from skin. So the dirt and debris lodged in the srotas still remain and the srotas lose their elasticity.

So a mixture of grains and lentils and herbs that are ground and sifted to a very small particle size are used. By the gentle pressure they exert on the skin surface, the Srotas are encouraged to open up and dislodge dirt trapped inside. The cleansing base adheres to this dirt and excess sebum and sponges off the dirt and debris by skin.

As there is no surfactant use, there is no stripping of sebum from skin.

blog post 12 srota cleansing

Use of pitta balancing, cooling herbs

To counter excessive pitta, Ayurveda suggests using specific, pitta balancing herbs. These herbs counterbalance Pitta in the skin surface by using sweet and bitter qualities to pacify aggravated Pitta. Therefore herbs famously used for Pitta aggravated skin are Usheera (Vetiver), Chandana (Sandal), Sariva (Indian Sarsaparilla), Avartaki (Cassia auriculata), Bilwa, etc.

blog post 13 pitta balancing

These herbs counter the warm and hot nature of Pitta aggravated skin and bring a soothing, cooling effect on skin, besides balancing Pitta and improving the complexion.

Use of bitter, anti bacterial and anti fungal herbs

Because of the nature of Pitta to generate so much liquid (sweat and sebum), it tends to create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.  Hence all Ayurvedic formulations for pitta prone skin use bitter, anti bacterial herbs to help keep invasive micro organisms out of skin. Obviously, these herbs do not work like standard synthetic anti bacterial ingredients like Triclosan do.

Instead, Ayurvedic herbs work along with the body’s microbiome layer and helps keep invading organisms out by boosting conditions for friendly organisms, and working on keeping out only harmful micro organisms. Most importantly, we do not develop resistance to anti bacterial herbs – like we often do to ingredients like Triclosan.

Some of these herbs include Nimba (Azadirachta indica), Bhui nimba (Kalmegh), Triphala (blend of 3 Ayurvedic fruits), Bakuchi (Psoralea cordifolia), etc.
blog post 14 bitters

Use of complexion improving and blemish correcting herbs

Ayurveda classifies many herbs as “Kantivardhaka” herbs, which means complexion improving. When we use the word Kanthi vardhaka, we mean something that is very different from “fairness”.

Ayurveda does not especially value “fair skin”. Skin is only measured for its health aspects and ability to function well. So smoothness, quality and evenness of complexion, etc are all ways of understanding the underlying balance of skin.

Kantivardhaka herbs work to improve micro circulation of the skin and boost cellular repair. They therefore promote an even skin tone, good texture and good elasticity in skin. Some of these herbs include Kushta , Punarnava , Durva, Ashwagandha, etc.

blog post 15 even out

Judicious use of skin balancing facial oils to maintain elasticity of Srotas :

Ayurveda suggests a 2 pronged approach to skin care. The first is cleansing with live, whole grains and herbs. This ensures the srotas are thorough cleaned and that skin is not stripped of its natural protective oils. The second is to augment the skin’s natural facial oils by a carefully prepared botanical oil.

An ayurvedic botanical oil judiciously adds nourishment to skin and srotas leaving teh skin system healthy, supple, elastic and well nourished.

When we apply herb, flower and fruit infused botanical oils on skin, we help improve the elasticity of the srotas. We also selectively encourage the growth of a healthy microbiome.  Balance and health are restored to skin.

To sum up:

We have discussed open pores, and seen the differences between how they are treated by Western Cosmetic ‘Science’ and Ayurveda.

Ayurveda focuses on holistic living and looks at the sum of everything an individual is doing to treat problems that may arise. Therefore, this post discussed how the right diet, right lifestyle practices combined with the right herbs and skin care routine can help look after pitta prone skin.

One of the biggest differences in how Ayurveda treats skin lies in the ayurvedic concept of Srotas. This post saw how Srota health = Skin health . We also discussed why Ayurveda recommends the use of special facial cleansers made of grains , lentils and herbs to cleanse and care for skin.

This is why chemical peels or microdermabrasion are not a long lasting holistic solution to open pores, breakouts and oily skin. Unless we tackle oily skin both internally and externally, we cannot reverse the appearance of oily pores or blemishes.

We hope this post gave you good insights into your skin and explained how to care for skin. Please do try the methods we have recommended to cleanse and care for oily, pitta-prone skin.

If you have any queries on the above, please write to us. 

Krya Products suggested for Pitta prakriti Skin :

Visibly reduce open pores, heal oily skin and improve skin functioning, appearance and texture:

 

 

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Krya formulation Tuesdays – Krya classic skin oil with Manjishta & Chandana for oily skin

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

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.

1.when dry skin isnt really dry 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.

2.post partum greying

 

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.

3. sun aggravated dryness

 

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.

4. neem

 

 

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.

5. gentle ayurevdic clenaisng

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.

6. lepas and masks

 

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.

7. kumkumadi tailam

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.

8. Sweda

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.

10.ac and coffee

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.

9. moisture plus skin oil

 

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.

11. Krya classic skin oil resized

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:

 

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The SLeS & SLS free soap: bathing without sulphates

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

Krya’s skin and hair care products contain an interesting declaration which we are proud of. It states that our products are free from SLS, SLES, Parabens and other synthetics including (but not limited to) chemical fragrances, colours, thickeners, fillers, foam boosters and any other weird substance you could think of. This means that our cleansers (both hair and body) are an answer to your search for an “SLS free soap” or an “SLES free shampoo”.

Our post today will focus on SLS and SLES and why we believe that these 2 ingredients should NOT be present in any personal care product. The post will also focus on many natural alternatives to SLS and SLeS.

The original SLS free soap: made from 2500 BC

Detergents, car washes, pet washes, shampoos, baby washes, face washes – if something foams a lot, and comes from your favorite brand of hair/skin/home care (other than Krya), the chances are it uses Sodium Lauryl Sulphate or Sodium Laureth Sulphate as a surfactant.

Originally the only cleaning products in the western hemisphere was a a soap. And it tended to be a naturally SLS free version.

Soap has a hoary old history and we have archaeological evidence of the Babylonians making it in 2500 BC. Soap isn’t the greatest or gentlest product you could use on skin – but it is an efficient cleanser. So it was used when people were direly in need of thorough cleaning.

soap and candle maker in medieval times project gutenbergSoap & candle maker in medieval times - Project Gutenberg

After the world war, the use of old fashioned soap started to go down as synthetic detergents derived from petroleum started taking over in all cleansing products. Synthetic detergent surfactants like SLS and SLES were cheaper than soap, made thicker and denser foam, were much stronger degreasers, and did not react with calcium present in water to form soap scum or “soap rings”.

SLS and SLES started out purely in detergents. As their popularity grew, they appeared in personal care products like shampoos, body washes, face washes, products used on babies and even toothpastes.

It’s safe to say today that if you are using any kind of synthetic foaming product, it almost definitely contains SLS, SLES or some form of sulphate surfactant.

5 reasons why you should ditch SLS / SLES in your personal care product:

  1. Dry skin and hair every time you wash

Dirt on skin and scalp sticks to the natural oil layer secreted by the body. This oil layer, called the sebum, helps naturally moisturize skin and creates a protective barrier keeping it free from harmful micro organisms.

 Xeroderma_knucklesXeroderma – acute dry skin which cracks, scales and itches. Associated with low relative humidity and frequent bathing or hand washing with harsh soaps

SLS and SLES dissolve this sebum layer and strip skin of all its natural oils leaving you with dry skin and hair. “The lathering power of liquid soaps is actually an enemy. It can bubble the oil out of your skin” says Dr. Marianne O’Donoghue, associate professor of dermatology at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology.

  1. Aggressively oily skin and hair sometime after you wash

Skin below 35 years reacts aggressively to this systematic stripping of sebum. With the increased use of Sulphate containing product, you may find your skin and scalp becoming oilier, creating a vicious cycle where you are compelled to wash more frequently.

oily samosa

“My hair would feel like a wrung out oily papad or samosa, a day after washing with a synthetic shampoo” – verbatim quotes from Krya consumers complaining about the after effects of using a synthetic shampoo

This is very common among users of shampoos that contain SLS and SLES. If you find that your hair is getting greasy and oily a day after shampooing, then you need to investigate your shampoo – the excessive harshness of this product usually forces a defensive skin reaction where the scalp starts to aggressively produce sebum to make up for the loss every time you shampoo.

Of course this will only prompt you to use more shampoo to counter this greasy defense – the result damaged and dry hair and scalp.

  1. Aggressive washing can harm your body’s natural micro biome layer

Our skin contains more than 1000 species of micro organisms that live in it. Nearly a trillion bacteria are estimated to be a part of this rich and complex micro biome layer. A study by the National Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland found that there was also a large fungal diversity across the body. The human heel alone, hosts 60 different species of fungi and nearly 40 species just between the toes!

microbiome layer of skin - courtesy nature magazine

The human microbiome – a wonderful, natural shield that envelopes our skin protecting us – source Nature.com

In their natural state, these beneficial bacteria almost act as an invisible shield on our body. They prevent harmful bacteria from colonizing our skin, and even stimulate our immune system’s response in case there is an attack on us. The bacteria present in our sweat, secrete lactic acid that helps keep our pH at a range between 4 – 4.5. This acidic pH of our skin is one of the major ways in which our skin prevents the entry of harmful micro organisms.

Under alkaline conditions, (for example when you use a soap, which is a known alkaline product), the bacteria on our skin are detached and removed easily. Our skin also swells under alkaline conditions, opening up and allowing embedded micro organisms to float and move out of its surface. This also leaves the cell structure open and naked, shorn of its protective micro biome layer.

microbiome injury

 

When the microbiome is destroyed – extent of devastation after a simple bath or hand washing with synthetic soaps

Intensive use of alkaline products, aggressive surfactants (SLS, SLES) or the use of antiseptic liquids and soaps can lead to a higher degree of infectious attacks by gram negative bacteria as your beneficial micro biome layer is ripped apart.

 

  1. Skin irritation, cankers , and cavities

SLS is a knownskin irritant. Constant exposure to SLS irritates skin. Animal studies indicate that it can irritate eyes as well on contact. It can also aggravate skin problems when skin is already sensitive.

pre molar dental cariesDental caries in the pre molar tooth – SLS is linked to interference with the flouride pathway in teeth

In toothpastes, studies show that the incidence of canker sores increase with the use of SLS based toothpastes. Separate studies also indicate that SLS interferes with the fluoride pathway in teeth, preventing the deposition of fluoride on tooth enamel – fluoride deposition helps keep teeth stronger and cavity free.

  1. Possible carcinogenic activity due to contamination with 1,4 dioxane

SLES is the ethoxylated compound of SLS. During the process of ethoxylation, SLES can get contaminated by 1, 4 dioxane, which then shows up in products that contain SLES, (sometimes upto 279 parts per million). The US National Toxicology programme classifies 1, 4 dioxane as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. It is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a Group 2B carcinogen: possibly carcinogenic to humans as it is a known carcinogen on animals”.

There is no known safe limit for this possible carcinogen. Testing by the FDA has found 1,4 dioxane being present in even children’s shampoos upto 85 ppm – Remember this is an ingredient that should be to be completely absent in any skin or personal care product.

To sum up:

Why SLS - SLES are Nos - blog infographic

 

What are my options? And why shouldn’t I use soap to clean my hair and skin?

A reader may be excused for feeling alarmed now that the foam has been wiped away. We’ve just made SLES and SLS extremely unattractive options to clean with. We’ve also firmly told you to get rid of your bar soap, unless you are super filthy.

What is one supposed to do without soap, you may question, rather indignantly.

Recorded history suggests that the Babylonians were making soap around 2800 BC and the Phoenicians definitely knew about soap making by 600 BC. The first “hard proof” of soap making is in Roman times. The Pompeii ruins have a soap factory complete with finished soap bars.

Despite their knowledge and use of soap, the Romans did NOT use soap to bathe in. They instead used a mixture of olive oil and sand to scrub their body. A scraper called “the strigil” was then used to scrape off this mixture along with any dirt, grease and dead cells from skin. The roman “bath” was the finished off by moisturization using herb infused salves.

Even Galen did not recommend soap for all purpose bathing by everyone – he recommended the judicious use of soap ONLY in certain skin conditions which required the harsh but through cleansing that only soap can give.

 

Our solution: grain, clay and herb based cleansers

If you trace bathing and hygiene across warm and tropical climates, you will find a consistent use of herbs, oils, muds and clays to keep skin clean. In these areas, bathing frequency was higher and skin diseases arose as a result of sweat, and the pervasive nature of insects, and micro organisms which flourished in these warm climates.

Traditional Indian systems document hundreds of herbs that can be used in combination with grains, lentils and clays to make safe, effective skin and hair cleansers.

Here are 5 grains / herbs and clays you should be exploring to substitute SLS / SLES personal care products:

  1. Mung Beans – Traditionally used in skin care India, the Mung bean is an excellent skin cleanser. It exfoliates and gently lifts away dead cells from skin, yet is gentle and safe enough to be used evn on a very small baby, as it is even today in traditional Indian homes.

Wash, sun dry and powder organic whole Mung beans to form the base of your daily skin cleansing product. It can also be used as an excellent hair cleansing base for young children.

  1. Rice Powder – Fabled in traditional Japanese culture for its skin lightening and exfoliation properties, rice powder is another invaluable ingredient in your skin care arsenal.

 Wash, shade dry and powder finely, organic Rice powder. Add this to your face and body cleanser to give your skin an even tone and texture. Limit usage if your skin is extremely dry.

  1. Amla / Indian Gooseberry – Amla also called Embellic myrobylan is one of the 3 great Myrobalans in Ayurveda, Siddha and traditional Tibetan medicine. It is a kayakalpa herb, that rejuvenates, revitalises and regenerates body tissue. It is tridoshic and satisfies all 6 rasas / tastes, according to Ayurveda.

A small amount of cleaned, washed, cored, sun dried and finely pounded Amla powder is a fantastic adition to skin and hair care products. It helps keep the pH of the product in the acidic range, and is a strongly cleansing and toxin removing ingredient.

  1. Cyperus rotundus / Nutgrass / Mustha – Nutgrass also called Nagarmotha or Mustha in Sanskrit and Cyperus rotundus in Latin, is a gorgeous underground tuber that is used in Ayurveda and Siddha for various ailments. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with a nut, and is a starchy underground tuber that has been eaten by many ancient civilisations. Cyperus rotundus is native to Africa, Southern & Central Europe and Southern Asia.

Its pharmacological properties include anti inflammatory action, anti pyretic and analgesic action. Nutgrass is one of nature’s deodorizers – which makes it a great addition in a body wash product.

 Look for forest collected (and not cultivated or sprayed) nutrgass. Scrub the tubers thoroughly to remove traces of clay, sun dry and powder finely. Add this to your bodywashes for a refreshing , naturally de-odourizing product.

  1. Fuller’s Earth / Multani Mitti – Clays (of different kinds) have been used across various cultures to cleanse and care for skin and hair. Depending on their origin, different clays are good for different kinds of skin. The international skin care world has already gone gaga over Rhassoul clay and French green clay. In India, we have the sandal coloured, fine multani mitti available.

Multani mitti is an oil adsorbing clay and works very well on oily skin and greasy scalps. It is a very gently cleansing alternative to foam based surfactants and can be used effectively in both skin and hair care products.

 When used on hair, ensure it is used on oiled, or already greasy hair. Do not let it settle on scalp as it becomes harder to wahs off hair as it dries. Look for unadulterated, Multani mitti – buying clay blocks and powdering them yourself help check any contamination or adulteration.

 natural herb magic

 

9 Krya alternatives to SLS / SLES :

1. SLS + SLES + Paraben + Synthetic free face washes – Try our grain, lentil and herb blended face washes with aromatic herbs like liquorice and peppermint. Tested and researched for over a year, our face washes work gently to cleanse facial skin without stripping it of moisture. Explore more here, there, and there. Also, here’s one for Men (yes, you do deserve to look after your skin).

krya face wash classic

2. SLS + SLES + Paraben +Synthetic free body wash – The all new deodorizing Krya bodywash uses herbs like Lemongrass, and Palmarosa to give you delicately scented and smooth skin – no SLS/SLES, no sebum stripping

krya bodywash classic

 

Explore more here.

3. SLS + SLES + Paraben +Synthetic free hair washes – Try our gently foaming, scalp loving range of hair washes. Our shampoo gently lifts dead cells and dirt from scalp and hair without destroying hair’s cell structure or its acid mantle. Leaves hair feeling cleanse, light and alive.

Explore more here and here.

4. SLS+SLES free home cleansers – Try our all natural detergent and dishwash, made from soapberries , and other herbs like lemongrass. We use only organic and forest collected herbs and both our cleansers work great on clothes and dishes, help save water and are gentle on skin.

Explore more here & here:

We are on the warpath against SLS, SLES and all the nasties that go into stuff that we are supposed to use on ourselves. We think we deserve to use better products.

Do you think so to? Do you have a story to share or a comment for us? Write to me : preethi@krya.in

A happy, toxin free, nourished and clean day to you.

 

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Urban Survival 102 – reading cosmetic labels

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

This is the second part of our article on the science of reading product labels, in which we will decode cosmetic product labels. In the earlier part we dived into the different elements that make up a food label in the Indian context. Krya does not make food products. We work only in household and skin care products. However we are also aware that good nutrition and health are fundamental to great skin and hair, which is why the earlier article examined food labels.

 The amazing human skin

The skin is the primary recipient of personal care products and to a lesser extent the scalp and hair. It is also our first line of defense and very integral to good health. Therefore I am constantly appalled by how poorly we treat our skin by applying products on it without due diligence.

Consider these skin facts :

  • The skin is the largest organ in the body.
  • The skin renews itself every 28 days ( it is a living growing organ !)
  • The adult human skin can weigh around 3 -4 kg and covers approximately 20 square feet in area.
  • The skin can absorb up to 60% of any product applied on it. (It is not a inert physical barrier like a raincoat)
  • A baby’s skin can be three times thinner than an adult’s skin (& therefore is more vulnerable)

The cosmetic products industry is beset with two main problems today which makes label reading a vital survival skill.

  1. Lenient regulatory standards

A good friend who is the marketing director for a global brand of powder fruit juice concentrate revealed that in India, their formulation contains 96% white sugar, 2.5% preservatives and just 1.5% fruit juice extracts. Even at just 1.5 % levels, they can legally show lush pictures of fruit orchards and claim all the benefits of eating the fresh fruit from the tree. So if you went to the store with just the image carried over from TV advertising and purchased the product without reading the label, you will be sugar high and nutrient low.

8. Oranges_and_orange_juice

What is actually in your “straight from the orchard” orange juice? Mostly sugar?

 2. Creative re-interpretation

Creative re-interpretation is the other side of the same coin that also has lenient regulatory standards. Benefit claims made by brands today are stretched to the point be being farcial or even false. A common example is the use of the word “goodness” in many food and cosmetic products. It is legally possible to add 1% olive oil to 99% liquid paraffin’ to create a massage oil and then claim the benefits of pure olive oil. Here the trick is to use the word “goodness” of olive oil in the claim.

In this backdrop we would like to provide you with 4 filters to scan any cosmetic label to help you make a technical decision, and hopefully a better decision.

The 4 things to think through when reading a cosmetic or household product label

  1. Does it add up to 100 %?

This is the first point to check on a cosmetic label and ask yourself whether it all adds up.

The norm is to provide a full list of ingredients. This is not followed by many products. Then there are cases where complete declaration rule is relaxed, which we will talk about shortly. If the ingredient list says “key ingredients” mentioned with their percentages, you should quickly add the numbers. They will not add up to 100% and often the list of ingredients will account for only 30%-40% leaving you in the dark about the remaining 60% -70%. This is cause for concern.

Example 1: The label of a leading herbal hair wash powder calls itself completely natural and goes on to claim it is a proprietary Siddha formulation. The label declared many wonderful natural ingredients like Soapberry (which we use across our Krya cleaning and hair care formulations), Shikakkai and Amla (which goes into our body wash products). However, the ingredients declared were only key ingredients adding up to just 27% of the product.

6. Acacia concinna

Acacia concinna: a wonderful natural herb used throughout India for hair care. A common ingredient misrepresented in “herbal” products

But what about the remaining 73% of the product,  which is really the major part of what is being applied on your hair. I found the composition of the remaining 73% on the label of the export variant of the same product. The balance 73% contained the following

  • sulphates (a cheap foaming agent)
  • hydroxy propyl tiammonium chloride
  • Hydrated aluminium silicate
  • Preciptated silica
  • Dimethicone
  • Glycerol

None of the above ingredients are good for hair. Let us leave aside the debate of whether they are toxic to hair and environment. At the very least I can aver that the composition of the 73% not declared on the pack is nothing to be proud of and the claim of “herbal hair-wash” is certainly misleading.

  1. Excipients , QS

Many formulations contain active, potent ingredients which need a carrier medium or a buffer or a diluting agent known as excipient, which can safely deliver the active ingredient. These excipients can be natural or synthetic and are usually cost effective, inert, bulking agents. The excipient concept has its origins in medicines. For example bitter medicines for children were given with honey as an excipient to mask the taste. The excipient concept and the format for declaring it has now been borrowed by processed food and cosmetics industries as well.

It is common on labels now for brands to declare their ingredients by weight per 5 gm of the product with the excipient listed at the very end with the suffix “q.s”. Now q.s. from the latin ”quantum satis” is an instruction to add “quantity sufficient “of the excipient to make the formulation. It is also assumed that formulator has an understanding of the safe limits in which the excipient can be used. This is a tricky situation for someone interested in decoding the label. The manufacturer need not disclose what the name of the excipient used neither is there any clear guideline on what chemicals or ingredients that can be called excipients.

Example 2: For example I used an Ayurvedic toothpowder and found it to be rather sweet. The label had listed several herbs well known for oral care which added up to nearly 40% by weight of the product and the balance 60% under excipients. Now I assumed that the excipient would be salt which is rather common. However after tasting the toothpowder and finding it to be really sweet, I discovered that the excipient was mostly sugar, which is not a good idea at all in a toothpowder.

2. toothpaste on brush

Sugar: a common excipient used to make the taste of toothpaste more appealing

Then there are cases where the excipient appears to outright misleading. After our earlier post on sunscreens, a mother messaged us requesting an audit of the Ayurvedic sun screen lotion that she used on her kids. Now the product’s ingredient list read as follows:

  • Key ingredients like aloe , zinc oxide , oil etc at 11%
  • Bees wax at 7.5 %
  • Purified water Q.S.

It appears that water is the excipient forming 91.5% of the lotion. Here is the problem which the lay person would not be aware of.

It is just not possible to form a stable water based lotion with just beeswax as the emulsifier. In the lotion industry a number of other chemicals like cetyl alchohol, stearic acid, polysorbate, carbomer are used as emulsifiers to product a stable lotion in all conditions.

Further with 91.5% water and a long shelf life, some preservatives are required. The industry depends on chemicals like parabens and benzoates for preservative action, which are also not listed in the ingredient list.

This raises many questions: how did this brand of Ayurvedic sun screen lotion achieve a stable product with just beeswax? Is any ingredient deliberately left out to protect the intellectual property? Is it just plain omission?

The only option here is to directly write to your brand and ask them for a complete disclosure of all ingredients including excipients.

  1. Claims & Mis-directions  

Product claims are stretched to the absolute limit today. What started off as creative interpretation of the law can now be stretched to the point where it is no longer true.

Example 3: An example that immediately comes to mind is the line used by an Ayurvedic preparation which claims that their product helps you “stay slim and smart”. I have always wondered about the use of the word “stay” for this therapeutic product. If I am already slim and smart, why do I need this product? The visual communication gives us the impression that it is a problem solver, so if you do not notice the fine print you could easily conclude that this product will “make” you slim and smart. Sadly I know that many consumers have purchased this product in the hope of losing weight. I am not sure whether it worked for them or not.

The other disturbing trend in Indian cosmetic industry is use of the “Ayurvedic” tag to claim the halo of this sacred branch of our tradition. It is possible with some legal jugglery to add a few ingredients that have mention in Ayurvedic texts to an otherwise basic chemical formulation and pronounce the product as “Ayurvedic medicine”. Apart from the obvious benefit of piggy backing on Ayurveda, there are some licensing and tax benefits which motivate brands to borrow the Ayurvedic cloak.

In his book, India Unbound, Gurcharan Das recounts the story of how Vicks Vaporub became “Ayurvedic” when faced with the twin problems of very poor profits and a boycott by the Pharmacies in India. He recounts in the book that in this dire situation someone came up with the idea of re-classifying Vicks as an Ayurvedic formulation. Coincidentally some of the key ingredients are also mentioned in Ayurveda as remedies for common cold and the government approved their reclassification. They then were allowed to distribute the product widely in all stores and not just pharmacies. They also claimed tax benefits allowed to Ayurvedic medicines and scripted a spectacular financial rescue.

Is this really Ayurveda? Is this really presenting a true picture to the consumer who reads the label and trusts that Vicks is a genuine Ayurvedic formulation originally created by a qualified Ayurvedic doctor?

Ayurveda is a very exact and exacting science that has great reverence for the patients well being as well as for the plants, animals and minerals that provide the raw materials to create Ayurvedic medicines. For herb collection Ayurveda specifies place of origin, method of cultivation, time , season of methods of collection and storage.  I very much doubt if Gurcharan Das and the rest of the team at Procter & Gamble regularly invoked the blessings of Lord Dhanvantari at the factory manufacturing Vicks Vaporub as prescribed by Ayurvedic tradition.

This was most likely the first incident in India of a brand exploiting the Ayurvedic classification loop-hole. Since them this is a route abused by so many brands that is has also corrupted many hoary Indian Ayurvedic companies. Many Ayurvedic brands in India have now incorporated “bad habits” from cosmetic companies. For example, I know of an Ayurvedic company that manufactured only tooth powder for over 80 years. The current generations of owners have suddenly started manufacturing a tooth paste with the known cosmetic villains like SLS, sugar, artificial colours and flavors and still continue to call it an “Ayurvedic formulation”.

Charaka, one of the father’s of Ayurveda has said that medicine is that which restores health and brings longevity. He also avers that a pure medicine is one which when eliminating disease should not give rise to even the slightest cause for another disease.

4. Is this product free from known Chemical Villains?

In this blog, we have written several articles putting forth our point of view on several industrial chemicals in cosmetic products that are toxic to some or all humans. These chemicals are skin irritants, endocrine disruptors and even carcinogenic. This is not the place to present a case for or against these chemicals. So we will go straight into our recommendation. Given the bewildering array of what could go wrong with chemicals in cosmetic products it is far easier to look for what is NOT present in a product that read the ingredient list. In our opinion the following claims on a product label should help you make a better choice. So look for

  • Sulphate ( or SLS ) free
  • Paraben free
  • Petrolatum free
  • Fragrance free
  • Aluminum free
  • Lead free
  • Cruelty free
  • Phthalate free
  • DEA / TEA free

We hope that this article and its companion on reading food labels will give you the basic skills to survive shopping in a supermarket aisle filled with thousands of potentially harmful ingredients. Hopefully, you will walk out carrying products that genuinely fulfill the promise they made to you in their communication of being safe and natural for you and your family.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.

 

 

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Try this instead – the new series on toxic free living

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One of my most memorable trips was a visit to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of the  Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Listed as one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, this apothecary & pharmacy was founded in 1221 A.D. by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions for use in the monastery. With a growing reputation that crossed borders, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy finally opened its doors to the general public in 1612, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

When I visited the Pharmacy in 2009, I was in awe of the nearly 400 year old heritage of creating creams, lotions, soaps and scents. This acute sense of history was heightened as we had just visited the church next door where we took in works by Botticelli, Vasari & Brunelleschi among others. The products continued to be plant based, many of their best sellers were recipes crafted hundreds of years ago by the Dominican Friars, and they continued to be made in small batches, by hand using locally available plant based ingredients.

4. SMN apothecary jars

In the medieval time Western homes, beauty and household care products were the realm of the Women of the home. A “still room” was an essential part of a home’s building plans, and it would be carefully constructed in a cold, dry part of the home, often in the basement, to store the medicines, potions, remedies and special food that were concocted in the home.

The cleaning products for the home like the concoction used to clean the silver, the special shaving soap used by the gentlemen of the home, the healing tisanes and teas, and the many many remedies for taking care of both large and small aches, pains and diseases were created in the “Still Room”. The recipes were carefully handed down the generations and were often a closely guarded, secret.

2. Still room at Harewood House

The Indian tradition was somewhat different from the western tradition especially in the plains. Because of the large bounty of plants across seasons with specific properties tailored for the seasons, our basket of remedies was very wide and varied. Given the hot and humid climate in our plains, our method of preparing our remedies and mixtures was also different from the western herbalism – we preferred tinctures or decoctions to tisanes. Apart from standardised products and medicines for hair and skin care and to cure ailments that were used from the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani texts, we also had an Indian system of herbalism that was used for treating small ailments and personal care routines. This system of herbalism differed by geography and depended upon the local flora peculiar to the region.

So someone living in the South of India may have made hibiscus flower hair oil to prevent hair fall and other problems. Whereas, someone living in Chattisgarh, might have used the locally available dried Safflower in coconut oil to prevent hair fall and related problems.

As I continue to research India’s intricate connection with plants and nature and how we depended on the banquet offered by nature to clean, care for and maintain our homes and ourselves, I also realise that this connection is now becoming very tenuous.

Surveys done among several tribal groups across India reveal that the younger generation prefer to buy OTC or prescription capsules or pills to treat their ailments. And far from taking the trouble to pick a safflower and boil it in oil, they prefer to resort to an advertised cure for hair fall or a hair treatment product.

The columns in popular magazines and newspapers on beauty reveal our fascination with natural remedies – despite the onslaught of advertising and claims of superiority, we continue to faintly remember our tradition of the power of plants to take care of our hair, skin and bodies. But when it comes to taking care of our homes or treating our ailments, we have nearly forgotten the wealth of plants that we have around us.

As we like to say at Krya, Man (and Woman) has thrived for thousands of years before the arrival synthetic, industrially manufactured products. The chemical consumer product industry is about 150 years old and really started coming into its own during the First World War with shortages in basic commodities forcing inventions.

The first archaeological proof of the existence of soap in the Western world was in ancient Babylon, 4800 years ago. A ancient soap vat was found with inscriptions detailing how animal fat was to be boiled with ash to produce soap. The Ebers Medical Papyrus dated from 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt describes creating soap like material by mixing animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts like, Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of different sodium salts.

Natron was a panacea in Ancient Egypt. It was harvested from dried lake beds, typically in Wadi El Natrun, a valley in the Beheira govern ate in Egypt, and was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt to clean both the home and the body. Blended with oil, it formed an early form of soap which softens water and helps remove oil and grease. Undiluted it helped clean teeth and was made into a simple mouthwash. It was used variously in the home from an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds, to helping preserve and dry fish and meat. Natron was also used in Egyptian mummification procedures to absorb water and ensure dry conditions.

5. Natural natron

Since India was blessed with an abundance of plant life, different parts of India developed combinations of plants, with some minerals and ashes as cosmetic aids and to maintain clean homes.

The Soapberry tree has long been revered in Indian tradition and in Ayurveda as being an excellent cleanser for skin and hair. Sapindus trifoliatus, the south Indian soapberry, which we use extensively in our formulations at Krya, has been noted as a healing cleansing ingredient and has been recommended in Ayurveda to cure specific skin conditions like psoriasis.

Different species of Acacia form the soap pod or the Shikakai bush. It continues to be grown as a hedge plant in remote villages where its extensive set of thorns protects homes from the entry of wild animals like wild pigs. The soap pod is again extensively documented in both Ayurveda and Siddha. With its mild cleansing action and a varied set of saponins, Shikakai is used in hair and skin cleaning formulations, as a wound healer and bactericidal agent in infusions for oral care.

3. Acacia concinna flowers

Our research at Krya aims to create new and interesting formulations to help you care safely and sustainably, have thrown up many more natural soap substitutes. These include different kinds of wild tubers, other fruits, and sometimes even ashes of particular plants that have long been used inventively by the communities that have access to them. And all of these plant soaps are used to variously wash woollens, as a safe shampoo, to clean dishes, and to bathe the delicate skin of babies.

We are facing a crisis of great proportion today. And this crisis has to do with the choices we have made collectively as a race. By voting to put our faith and money behind products that have been manufactured inside a chemical facility without a long-term understanding of their safety, we have given away control of our life, our health and our planet. This lack of control has led to several alarming consequences for us and the planet.

Researchers from the U.S studied a small sample of 6 cleaning products used in a typical home and found that this group emitted 133 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the 6 cleaning products tested emitted between 1 to 8 chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under US Federal Laws.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a common substance found in homes, emitted from synthetics like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners and specialised oven & stainless steel cleaners. These vapours may irritate the skin, throat, eyes, and lungs and can irritate people with asthma.

Coal tar dyes, are commonly found in almost all cleaning products giving them the bright, shiny, metallic colours that we seem to like. Your bright green dishwash or shampoo derives its colour from petrochemicals which can be contaminated with traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium. There is a concern that these synthetic dyes may be carcinogenic and the heavy metal contamination in them can harm the nervous system. These dyes can be absorbed through your skin or even worse, ingested as residue when your dishes or plates are not rinsed thoroughly. Worse still, from the point of view of the effectiveness, these dyes are completely unnecessary and have no relevance to how well a product cleans.

1. allura red in cosmetics

2-Butoxyethanol (or 2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve)

This is a skin and eye irritant that is associated with blood disorders and has caused reproductive problems in lab animal experiments. This chemical is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection act as it is harmful to human health. The main way it enters our system is by inhaling the air inside our homes (which are contaminated by the use of the products that contain this chemical) and by direct skin contact with the leaning products we use. In Canada, 2-BE concentration is limited to 6%, but certain products like laundry stain digesters and stain removers can carry this chemical upto 22%.

Consumer product industry in India – still poorly regulated

The consumer product Industry in India continues to be under regulated. While the manufacturing of certain household products like detergents are classified by the ministry of Environments and Forests as a polluting industry with the symbol “Red” (highly polluting), there is still a lot of work to be done before we can reach the safety and human health standards set by countries like Canada.

Cleaning and consumer products do not require any ingredient listing. Safety standards have not taken into account the continuing research and environmental implications of using the multitude of chemicals that go into the products we use today. Companies are penalised only when they fail to follow basic hygiene standards, such as a bacterial count that exceeds permissible limits or the presence of a foreign object inside the product to be used.

Environmental activists continue to wage a war to get companies to follow decent standards of formulation that are followed as a matter of course all over the world. For example, phosphates which have been banned in many developed countries as their excessive use in cleaning products leads to water pollution and eutrophication are used in excess in India. Regulations in U.S and Canada limit the use of phosphates in foaming cleaning products like detergents and dishwash products to fewer than 2.5%. In India the phosphate levels in these products routinely exceeds 40% – Phosphate is used as a cheap builder and water softener to productive large amounts of lather in a cleaning product. Of course, as with the example of coal tar dyes, this lather is unnecessary and does not signify better cleaning.

The Krya “Try this instead” series has 3 aims: Information, Hope & Inspiration

1. To inform you about the dicey and nasty chemicals used many of the products that enter our homes today. We believe that this information will empower you to make better choices. So we aim to arm you with information, facts and research to help you navigate your way through the Chemical wasteland of products when you next navigate your supermarket.

2. To give hope (and safe alternatives) – Sometimes when confronted with information like the above, we tend to fall into an abyss of despair. Are we to no more have fun and use shiny fragrant products we ask ourselves? Will I never have a sweet, gel-based toothpaste again? How are we supposed to now clean ourselves and our homes?  This series hopes to give you good workable alternatives: in the form of ingredients, hacks or products that you can use in multiple ways across your home. For example, we use the Krya detergent like a swiss army knife in various combinations to clean our clothes, dishes, floor, bathrooms, hair and teeth by adding simple herbs for each of these functions. We will be writing about simple ideas and recipes such as the above.

3. Most importantly, to inspire you. The true Wealth of India, its plants, herbs and trees, have been variously catalogued by the British in their time and several ethno botanists and anthropologists today as its rich biodiversity of plants and the rich native knowledge of how these herbs can be used to lead a healthy, happy and clean life. In our quest to create Krya and lead a more natural and clean life, we have been amazed and inspired by this true Wealth of India – we celebrate this wealth every day, and hope to inspire you with this series to do the same.

We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this new series as you have with our past writings. Please do write to us and let us know if there are any particular areas you would like us to cover within the scope of the subject and we will be happy to do so. A happy, organic, natural, safe and clean day to you too.

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