This post was last updated on August 12, 2021 by Preethi Sukumaran
Our new series on Ayurvedic skin care and how to look after your skin well this winter will run all this month on Krya. We ran a short poll earlier last week asking for suggestions for this week’s series. Unsurprisingly, 2 topics were very popular: winter skin care and suggestions on improving hair length and volume.
25 years ago, many parts of India would have laughed at the very idea of “winter skin care”, especially cites in the deep South like Chennai, which enjoyed warm, sunny weather through the year. But a combination of reasons has made winter come even to Chennai. Global warming, change in rain and seasonal patterns and most importantly, winter like conditions throughout the year, courtesy the freezing temperatures at work.
If you live in a humid 40 degree Celsius climate and go to work in a cold, dry 16 degree office, your body is going to get confused. And when the weather outside changes from 4 degrees to 25 degrees, and your office is still cranking the temperature to 16 degrees, your skin is certainly going to suffer.
It would come as no surprise to any of you, that the Ayurvedic skin care regimen in winter is surprisingly effective. And it involves the regular use of just 2 products: skin oil and a facial cleaner. For those inclined, a facial mask that is applied occasionally (once a week / once a fortnight), can further improve skin quality.
For those of us used to reading about a 7 step or a 11 step skin care routine involving many expensive serums and different kinds of products, hearing about how Ayurveda recommends using just a skin oil and a grain based wash may leave us feeling deflated. However, as we have written about before, the recommendations from Ayurveda come from a well researched, extensively documented, tried and tested 5000 year old system – and most of us who use Ayurvedic products know how effective they are.
We start the Ayurvedic skin care series with today’s post on sweat and sebum: read on to find out just why sweat and sebum are such important health and skin markers and why Ayurveda recommends such a simple skin care regimen.
Ayurveda on skin:
Western science tells us that skin has 3 layers. Acharya Charaka and Sushruta have magnified this further and tell us that skin has 7 layers, as per Ayurveda. The classical texts tell us that just as cream rises to the surface and covers milk when it is being boiled, so also, the 6 layers of “Tvacha” or “Twak” (human skin, rise from the fertilised zygote and form a layer similar to cream, covering the surface of the body.
The skin is our largest excretory and heat exchange organ system (second to the kidneys). Skin also contains a very large number of Srotas (minute openings / pores), through which the body understands external temperature and humidity, and also waste products are passed out.
The skin also plays host to a very large set of micro flora. These organisms act as our first line of defence. When this microflora barrier is strong, the entry of hostile micro organisms is prevented, so we do not fall ill easily, no matter the provocation.
The sweating mechanism of skin and the srotas:
Sweat is a combination of discarded water and salts that arise through the normal excretory functions of the body. Just like the kidneys filter out toxins and waste materials through urine, the skin filters out waste materials and salts from the circulatory and lymph systems and eliminates it through the Srotas (minute openings / pores ) found on the surface of skin.
Sweat is an important mechanism to filter out impurities or unwanted materials from the blood and lymph system. It is also a heat exchange mechanism, and helps cool the body through evaporation.
Fro the sweating mechanism to function properly, the srotas of the skin need to be completely clean, unclogged, at the right pH and with the right level of natural oils to do their job.
The Acharyas describe each Srota as a slim, minute tubular structure with a mouth like opening. If the Srota is not oiled and cleansed properly, the structure loses its elasticity and its ability to draw out impurities from the blood and move it to the surface of the skin.
What impairs sweat production in our skin?
Our actions and our lifestyle choices can hamper the production of sweat. In a normal, healthy human being, sweat production is balanced. However, when your dosha balance is impaired, you are eating food that accumulates ama, or your digestive system is out of balance, the body accumulates a high amount of toxins and the sweating mechanism struggles under the weight of this.
So if you are sweating too much or too little, it is a sign of imbalance. The odour of sweat also gives us a sense of the level of toxins in the body. Excessive body odour usually indicates imbalanced pitta or high levels of Ama (toxins) in the body.
Elasticity of Srotas through oiling
Even if your eating is healthy and your doshas are in a reasonable state of balance, your choice of skin regimen can also affect the health of the srotas. To be able to contract and expand properly in order to push out Ama, Srotas need to be well nourished and retain their elasticity.
If oil application to skin is negligible or non-existent, the srotas struggle to expand and contract properly without losing their structural integrity.
Cleanliness of Srotas
Similarly, if the srotas have an accumulation of dead skin and foreign matter, they are unable to properly expel waste material. This is often the case when Skin is cleansed with a synthetic soap or body wash.
The Ayurvedic texts list out the large and small orifices in the body in great detail and also enumerate the mala (impurities) that accumulate as a part of normal wear and tear from the dhatus in these orifices. Moisture of the tongue, eyes, mouth, excretions of the eyes, ears tongue, teeth, axilla, genitals, pimples, greasiness of facial skin, sweda (sweat) , sebum secretions of kesha (hair) are all mala from the dhatus (tissues).
If this mala is not removed periodically, especially in seasons where the mala can increase, the body loses its health and appearance of well being. It is only by thorough cleaning these minute pores, and removing debris and dead cells that could clog these channels, can the body be truly clean.
The Mala or toxins from many organ systems find their way to our Skin. From the skin, they are released outside through the outpouring of Sweda or sweat. Sweda contains Mala from the body in the form of oil, debris, dead cells, vapour or gases and debris of micro flora or the small organisms that live on us. This is generated everyday as we sleep through the normal process of cell and organ system repair and regeneration.
To cleanse this Mala from the Skin, the Ayurvedic texts recommend using a specific combination of lentils, grains and specific herbs that suit each kind of prakriti. The action of this cleansing product is extremely subtle – unlike a synthetic soap, the Ayurvedic Snana product opens up the pores of the skin, encouraging the removal of Mala through the srotas of the skin. The most minute pores of the skin are gently encouraged to open up and this opening action helps suck out Mala which adheres to the Ayurvedic ubtan as it cleanses the skin. Finally when the skin is rinsed with water, the entire body is left feeling refreshed, lighter, deep cleansed and ready for the new day.
Sebum and its use on skin:
When we were growing up, every anti acne commercial talked about “oil on skin” and how, this was the cause of the large, pus filled pimples we got with distressing regularity. So many of us spent our teenage years over washing and using stronger and stronger surfactants on skin in an attempt to dry out this oil.
However, despite what the commercials tell you, sebum has a very important role to play in skin and body health.
Natural sebum performs 2 functions. Because of its thick and sticky texture, it adheres to dirt, bacteria and their foreign micro organisms and prevents them from invading our internal body. By forming these agglomerations, sebum helps these substances get easily removed from our body.
Sebum also helps maintain the elasticity and pliability of the various layers of skin. It also acts as a bonding layer keeping the layers of skin attached to each other. When it is in the right amount, and is in balance, skin has a smooth, pliant and elastic structure. The skin is also clear and radiant and functions in a healthy and normal manner.
The same sebum is present on our scalp as well. Here it is present in a slightly thicker and more copious amount. Here the sebum helps cool the scalp and also allows the hair to be deep rooted and strong, when present in the correct amount.
What impairs the sebum production in our skin?
Just like we saw with sweat production, the choices we make can impair the production of sebum on our skin and scalp leaving us with either too much or too little sebum for our skin.
When we eat greasy, sweet and clogging food, we encourage both the production of ama and impair the functioning of sebum so too much sebum is produced. This excessive sebum tends to clog the srotas, and can also form pockets of trapped dirt and bacterial organisms on our skin which are called blackheads, whiteheads or acne.
When we eat plenty of drying, crisp food, do not hydrate our bodies adequately and consume foods or drinks that remove biological water from our bodies like tea, coffee and cola, we impact the normal production of sebum. The body is unable to produce the right amount of sebum for our skin’s needs, so we find that our skin is dry in patches, has cracked, has started forming wrinkles and is coarse and dehydrated.
When we frequently wash our skin with the wrong products, we find that our sebum dries out much quicker than our skin can replenish it. This is especially true when we use foaming, surfactant based cleansers on skin. These substances can literally suck our skin dry of sebum and “bubble out oil” from our skin.
When skin is subjected to such an aggressive cleansing routine, it retaliates by hiking up the sebum levels unevenly through the skin. So you will find that the skin is oily and shiny in patches and in these places, you are likely to have breakouts or acne.
Ironically, when skin is cleansed right, with gentle, non-dehydrating substances, the sebum production balances automatically. You do not need to worry about shiny or patchy looking skin, or breakouts.
The Ayurvedic skin care routine: Nourish & cleanse for proper sebum and Sweat production
We are going to, over the course of this month, discuss how you can care for your skin much better using what Ayurveda recommends. We have seen consistently, that when these simple guidelines are adhered to, even the most problematic of skin calms down and looks better. Skin develops good health and its functioning is much improved. The external mechanisms of sweat and sebum work properly. And skin looks naturally radiant and healthy.
So here is a thought we would like to leave you with for today: for your skin to look its best, you must nourish it (with the right skin oil) and cleanse it (with a non foaming, herb and grain based cleanser). This simple routine when followed religiously will help your skin stay in good health.
Krya has a range of skin nourishing facial oils and a wide range of facial and body cleansers that work with skin and not against it.
Explore our skin oils here .
Explore all our facial skin cleansers and masks here .
Explore all our body skin cleansers here .