The warm summer months are coming soon, if not already here. The afternoon heat invites us to remove some clothing and allow our skin access to the healing rays of the sun. Water sports bring us into contact with wind, water and waves. The long days invite us to play in the garden well into the dusk of evening.
Whether through heat, air, or water, these outdoor activities expose our skin to the elements. Outdoor life is surely part of a healthy lifestyle, but the heat can burn the skin, the air can dry it, the water can wither it. Besides applying sunscreen and drinking extra water, we can keep our skin lustrous and healthy through the summer with a few helpful tips.
The skin is actually the largest organ in the body. It is one of the major organs of elimination; along with the bowels, the urinary tract, and the lungs, the skin helps to remove waste products from the body. Our skin also serves as a protective covering for the vital organs, keeping bacteria and parasites from reaching our tender inner layers.
Ayurveda considers both the health our external and internal skin. Did you know that the G-I track (reaching from the mouth to the anus) is actually composed of epithelial cells, same as the skin on the exterior of the body? ‘Tis true! So the Ayurvedic approach to optimal skin health involves methods to support the internal health of the G-I tract, plus regular nourishing and cleansing of the exterior skin.
Nourishing and cleansing . . . these two basic processes are going on each day throughout our life. And both are needed to support the vibrant health of our internal and external skin. The anabolic process builds the tissue of the body; the catabolic processes allow for the breakdown of tissues that no longer serve us. And so we both nourish and cleanse both our inner and outer skin.
We nourish the inner skin with fresh, seasonal, organic food, cooked and eaten with love, in just the right amount and at the right time. The core of Ayurvedic practice involves ensuring a strong agni, the digestive fire that allows for complete digestion, assimilation and elimination of the foods we love. For vata and kapha folks, ginger and black pepper is wonderful promoters of strong agni; pitta people usually have a strong digestive fire and may choose coriander and fennel to keep it balanced.
We cleanse the internal skin with fresh, pure water, occasional fasting, and herbal remedies to ensure full and timely elimination. Triphala is a time-tested remedy for maintaining the health of our inner skin. Triphala is a mixture of three Ayurvedic fruits: amalaki (Indian gooseberry, power-packed with vitamin C), haritaki (a great skin rejuvenator) and bibhitaki (a natural detoxing agent). It can be taken at bedtime to support your regular morning elimination. Or some prefer to allow the triphala powder to sit overnight in a cup of water, and then drink the water in the morning. Whether taken in the evening or the morning, start with one-half teaspoon and increase to one-teaspoon as needed.
We nourish the outer skin with abhyanga (warm oil massage) with oils chosen for our doshic predominance or imbalance. In the morning, before a shower or bath, massage about ¼ cup of oil into the skin. Leave the oil on the skin for 10-15 minutes and then shower. For vata people, sesame oil is preferred. For pitta predominants, coconut or sunflower are cooling choices. And for kapha folks, a lighter oil such as almond is most appropriate.
We cleanse the external skin with daily showers or bath, by exercise that generates sweating, and with saunas and sweat baths to release impurities. And here is a recipe for a skin cleanser that also tonifies at the same time:
• 1 tablespoon chickpea flour (available as besan flour in Indian groceries)
• 1/4 teaspoon triphala powder
Mix into a paste with rose water and apply with circular strokes or a rotating brush as a cleanser-toner. For vata skin types, add 1 tsp of raw honey. For pitta skin types, add 1/4 tsp of dried neem powder. For kapha skin types, add 1 tsp of raw honey with ½ tsp lemon juice. (For more on Ayurvedic skin types, see lifespa.com.) Leave the paste on the skin until dry, and then rinse with warm water.
Hydration is also essential for vibrant healthy skin. The entire body needs more water in summer to counteract the drying effects of the wonderful warm winds. So keep that water bottle handy. And don’t forget aloe vera. Aloe vera juice or gel is a powerful ally for inflamed skin because of its affinity for the digestive tract and the skin. Simply drink 2-4 tablespoons mixed in water or juice, a couple of times a day. A tonic for the inner skin, as it cools and nourishes the intestinal lining, and a soothing balm for the outer skin, as it lubricates and moistens.
And be sure to enjoy every moment in the out-of-doors, walking, hiking, swimming, biking, or simply lounging in the backyard with a good book and a glass of lemonade!
Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.
Image: Sky by Luis Hernandez via flickr creative commons attribution license