Radiance: The Key To Beautiful Skin
The essence of beauty in Ayurvedic understanding is embodied in the idea of luster or radiant light. When we say in English, “She was radiant!” we imply a quality coming from deep within that emanates contentment, joy and accomplishment. Cultivating this luminosity, as expressed by the Vedic words tejas, ojas and jyoti, enhances beauty.
Tejas is the primordial elemental fire or light that is the major constituent of agni, the metabolic and digestive fire critical to good health. Without tejas, the bodily fires that create health are not strong, and without these fires, no beauty. Tejas, as light, is also the primordial element associated with vision.
Ojas is the essence of the tissues, the seven dhatus, and is created only when these seven tissues are properly formed. Ojas functions at the threshold between your body’s physiology and its finest expression — consciousness — permitting effortless communication between the body’s metabolism and its underlying intelligence. It radiates like a lamp at the door: those outside see in, those inside see out. Ojas permits total mind-body coordination.
Jyoti is “inner light,” the light value of consciousness that arises when human awareness touches and functions from the level of its most silent state, without noise and stress. Jyoti gives a radiance that evokes the joy of one in possession of knowledge and wisdom. This aspect of beauty is timeless and glows more brightly with age. To enhance beauty, according to Ayurveda, you need to culture tejas, ojas, and jyoti.
To begin rejuvenating your skin, you first need a diagnosis. There are three main skin tendencies: B excessive dryness, a vata imbalance; C inflammation, redness, sensitivity, a pitta imbalance; and D oiliness, a kapha imbalance.
Vata governs movement and means literally “wind.” Vata skin looks as if it were left in the wind: it is dry, rough, flaky, has a tendency towards wrinkling, and will look dull, even when you are young. Vata skin needs to be cared for with attention to creating more lubrication, both inside and without. Avoid dehydration by drinking enough fluids (except coffee and other beverages that have a diuretic effect), and enjoy juicy, sweet fruits or their juices. Avoid excessive washing with strong soaps and other products with fragrances and chemicals. Vata skin requires a heavier moisturizer with more sealing effect. Natural oils that can be used include almond oil, avocado oil, or sesame oil (cold-pressed and without odor, not the dark, strong sesame oil used in oriental cooking).
A nightly face wash with whole milk, or even a little cream, is good for vata skin. Instead of washing the skin with strong soaps, just rinse it or use a mild soap such as clear glycerin soap. Then bathe your face and neck with milk, using a soft natural sponge or cotton balls. Let the milk dry and rinse it off before applying your moisturizer. Milk has natural fats and minerals including magnesium and calcium, but also contains many proteins that have a toning effect and nourish the connective and elastic tissues.
Pitta governs metabolism and the digestive fires. Excessive sharpness of pitta creates inflammation, so pitta skin becomes easily irritated. Pitta skin is by nature fair, warm and soft. It is sensitive to the sun and if exposed will turn ruddy. If you have blonde or reddish hair and lots of freckles or moles, you likely have pitta skin.
Pitta individuals’ tendency to blush easily makes the skin prone to rosacea, especially as they age if they have not practiced good sun avoidance. While vata skin may wrinkle from sun exposure, pitta skin is prone to skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions. On the other hand, pitta skin is a delight to behold because it tends to reflect the tejas quality of light, giving a natural glow. Most significantly, pitta skin is prone to inflammation, and will be prone to acne, rosacea, hives, psoriasis, eczema and pigment disorders such as liver spots, angiomas and small veins on the surface. Sun exposure, and especially tanning booths, need to be avoided meticulously. Foods that exacerbate flushing such as spices, cayenne, vinegar, and alcohol should be reduced. Avoid products that contain chemicals, fragrances and preservatives.
Pitta skin does need as much moisturizing as vata skin, but the product used should be cooling. One good moisturizer is coconut oil, which can be applied in the evening after washing and a milk bath (see above). In the daytime, pitta skin needs sun protection with a PABA-free sunscreen with a high SPF rating more than a moisturizer. People with pitta skin often need to try many brands before finding one that is not irritating. Pitta skin requires turmeric in the diet, and lots of it: the curcuminoids act as natural anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy agents. Add the savory spice to soups, vegetables, rice and lentils.
Kapha is the element of cohesion, and kapha skin tends to be firm and oily. This skin type is thick, soft, lubricated, and cool to the touch. Kapha skin tends to have larger pores, and less of a tendency to wrinkle, thus naturally appearing to age more gracefully. Kapha skin, however, tends to accumulate sebum, our natural oils secreted by sebaceous glands. Sebum turns irritating and toxic as its oils become rancid, oxidized or denatured. This can result in deeper, cystic-type acne with whiteheads and abscesses (as opposed to pitta skin which has more blackheads) as well as unsightly oily skin.
Kapha skin requires more cleansing and exfoliation of the outer layers of cells that hold in the sebum. Soaps are usually well tolerated. People with kapha skin can also do a milk massage as described above, but use low fat or skim milk and never cream. Kapha skin also requires a mask for more intensive exfoliation. Use clay for a base, adding one-half part mung bean flour or chickpea flour and one quarter part sandalwood powder. You can procure these products in Indian groceries. Mix with skim milk and if desired, a little rose water. Massage ever so gently, and leave it on until it dries. Kapha skin will still need a moisturizer. Try three parts of aloe vera gel with one part cold pressed sesame seed oil, or even more aloe vera gel if your skin is very oily. With kapha skin, like with obesity and other kapha imbalances, it is important to follow a diet that avoids excessive fats and starches, advice that is good for the heart and vessels as well.
If beauty is important to you, no matter what your skin type, avoid the influence of oxygen free radicals generated by sunlight, chemicals and other harsh influences. These tiny, short-lived molecules rob our skin’s connective tissue of electrons, essentially denaturing proteins, and making them lose their elasticity. Take plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for their antioxidant content, including all the different colors: reds in berries and red peppers, blues in blueberries and blackberries, yellow peppers, carotenoids as in squashes, yams and carrots, and dark green leafy vegetables. If you need to be inspired to eat your vegetables, remember that this prescription has some solid research behind it. When dermatologists looked at Greek, Australian and Swedish subjects, they noticed that those who ate diets highest in antioxidants had the highest degree of protection from sun damage on the back of the hands (Journal of American College of Nutrition, Feb 2001).
Sometimes your skin may simply need some nourishment. If it is inflamed pitta skin, try a watermelon puree for a rinse. Other options are cucumber puree and rose water. If your skin needs nourishment, in addition to milk, try oatmeal or yogurt mixed with one part water. Honey is astringent, and therefore makes a good facial for oily, kapha skin.
Beauty is accomplished, above all, through staying well-rested. Meditation and yoga as stress management techniques are also important in Vedic medicine. These practices won’t just protect your heart and blood pressure from your busy lifestyle, but should be used by everyone, in addition to and not instead of, a good night’s sleep.
In an Ayurvedic beauty prescription, tejas, ojas and jyoti, the fundamental aspects of beauty, are enlivened on deep as well as on surface values. This deeper beauty is actually healing for those whom you touch. In the Vedic tradition, it is incumbent on everyone to diffuse this beauty into the environment in order to promote harmony and prosperity throughout creation. So, pitch in for world peace by making yourself radiant!
Jay Glaser, MD is a board certified internist in Massachusetts.