Dr Rashmi Damodaran T BAMS
Sathmya health care, Kottakkal, Kerala
The appearance of our skin and hair plays a pivotal role in the way we make ourselves presentable to others. Enhancing your looks can go a long way in creating a positive frame of mind, which in turn empowers you towards positive health. In the current fast-paced era, these two vital parts of our body can get affected adversely by several factors including pollution, inadvertent exposure to sunlight, toxic chemicals as well as psychological factors like emotional stress. All these can lead to problems like premature greying of hair, hair loss, pigmentation issues as well as diseases like dermatitis. This is where our traditional system of healthcare Ayurveda, can aid us in tackling these cosmetic issues both in preventive as well as curative aspects.
What is unique about the ayurvedic approach?
As per Ayurvedic concepts, human physiology is regulated by the three doshas namely Vata, Pitha, and Kapha. Equilibrium of these three is vital for health, whereas abnormal functioning of doshas secondary to dietary, seasonal, or other external factors can lead to disease states. Moreover, Ayurveda has a personalized approach in disease prevention and management, wherein the human body is classified into different Prakriti or body types based on the dosha predominance. Accordingly, the diet, lifestyle, or even medications are to be customized as per the needs of these body types, so that these measures advised for one individual may not be ideal for another.
Ayurvedic concepts on skin
Ayurveda emphasizes health as a balance of physical, mental as well as spiritual wellbeing. Twak or skin plays a vital role in enhancing our physical appearance and being the largest organ in our body, it can be a good indicator of our general health status. The same is said about our hair, which also can reflect the underlying changes in body physiology. As per ayurvedic concepts, the characteristics of skin and hair can vary among different body types as explained below.
Vata type skin – here the skin is generally dry, thin, cool to touch, easily gets dehydrated, and vulnerable to dry, windy weather. Hair also will be scarce and brittle, requiring frequent moisturizing.
Pitha type skin – In this body type, the skin is more pinkish, radiant, warm to touch, has a tendency to develop pigmentation disorders, is photosensitive, and gets easily ulcerated. The hair in such individuals will usually be brownish-yellow and can develop premature greying.
Kapha type skin – Here the skin will be oily, lustrous, and soft to touch. The hair will be abundant, strong, and lustrous and have less tendency for premature greying. Various permutations can also happen between these dosha types such that only an expert Ayurveda physician will be able to identify these in an individual.
Measures for skin and hair care in Ayurveda
Ayurveda advises a three-pronged approach in preserving healthy skin and hair, in the form of diet, lifestyle, and medications. It is to be noted that these measures have seasonal implications as well so that necessary adjustments have to be made according to changing seasons.
As mentioned earlier, there is no “one size fits all” approach in Ayurveda. The diet has to be charted based on factors like one’s body type, the place where you live, and underlying medical conditions if any. In general, one has to eat at the proper timings and only when hungry, chewing the food properly without gulping fast, eat only after the previous meal is digested properly. The diet should contain enough nutrients, so make sure you include plenty of fruits, nuts, green leafy vegetables and drink enough amount of water. Meat and fish when used, have to be prepared without frying in oil, as deep frying can be very bad for your skin on regular use. Also, it is better to avoid excessive and regular use of spicy, oily, fried, fermented items, stale or reheated meals, and junk foods. Ayurvedic herbs such as Sariva, Chandana, Usheera, khadira, etc can be used to prepare drinks for regular consumption as per the advice of an expert. The concept of food incompatibility is also unique to Ayurveda, which advises us to avoid improper mixing of food items like – milk with fruits, meat or fish with milk or curd, honey with ghee in equal quantities, spicy food with ice cream, and so on. These are called “virudha ahara”, which on regular consumption can lead to several disorders including that of skin.
Along with a balanced diet, a healthy lifestyle is also vital to preserving our skin. For this, Ayurveda advises dinacharya (daily regimen) in which measures like abhyanga (oil massage), Vayama (regular exercise), and snana (bath) are elaborated. A self-massage with any of the medicated oils (based on your body type), at least once or twice in a week can do wonders to keep your skin nourished and healthy. Applying medicated oil (as per expert advice) as a thin layer on the scalp, 10 to 20 minutes before morning bath is ideal for promoting healthy hair. While taking bath, use lukewarm water on the body and cold water on the head. Using hot water on the head can cause premature greying of the hair and predispose to eye diseases as well. Those with dry skin should avoid excessive use of soap, whereas the Kapha types can use herbal powders to scrub the skin. Also, make sure not to take a cold shower immediately after exposure to sun or high temperature and vice versa since we have to give enough time for the skin to adapt to the room temperature before bathing. Smoking, alcohol as well as the use of other narcotics can also be detrimental to our health, so better stay away. Apart from these, our mental health is also very important because conditions like anxiety, stress, or depression can take a huge toll on our skin and hair. Adopting measures like yoga and meditation can calm your mind, keep you focused and help relieve the stress of the current fast-paced life.
Medications: Not everyone needs medications for promoting skin health, however, Ayurveda advocates the use of drugs that have blood purifying and rejuvenating (Rasayana) properties for individuals with a tendency for skin ailments. For those who have the habit of using beauty products regularly, switching to natural ones in the form of ayurvedic decoctions, ointments, face packs, depilation creams, and hair oils can be beneficial. Home remedies like red sandalwood powder, turmeric, aloe vera, neem leaves, saffron, ghee, honey, coconut milk, raw milk, rose water, etc when used as per individual needs can help improve the skin health naturally, without causing any adverse effects. Ayurvedic cosmetology is a rapidly evolving branch that offers cost-effective therapeutic options for the care of skin, hair, and nails, which are not only effective but also safe for prolonged usage.
To conclude, adopting a three-pronged strategy of a healthy diet, lifestyle modification and medications can aid us in promoting positive health, especially that of skin and hair. Further, we have to be cautious with regards to self-medication and not fall prey to deceptive advertisements about ayurvedic beauty products, as these can be harmful if used without expert advice.