The process of aging, which is known as “jara” in Ayurveda, is just one of the many inevitable changes we all experience as we grow older. Our skin, being our body's largest organ, shows the greatest sign of aging and is also the fastest organ to age.
Since ancient times, skin care has been one of the most important aspects of self-care. From ancient Egypt to ancient Greece, our ancestors searched for that so-called "fountain of youth" in an effort to reverse the effects of aging on their bodies. Various techniques, practices and concoctions were developed, which founded the science of skin-care that we call today as cosmetology.
The Ayurvedic view of aging is very different. In particular, Ayurveda posits that the approach to skin-care approach must be more holistic. For example, while Ayurveda recognizes that it is important to apply various natural ingredients applied to the skin, a youthful appearance can also be achieved by living a congruous, coordinated and well-balanced lifestyle. Ayurveda offers safe and solutions to anti-aging known as the Rasayana Chikitsa, or rejuvenation therapy, which engages both the mind and body.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at skin aging from an Ayurvedic perspective.
What are the Causes of Skin Aging?
The appearance of our skin as we age is considered as one of the key measurements of one's overall health and well-being. By definition, aging is a biological process and happens as the rate of cell degeneration becomes more dominant than cell regeneration. It is a natural phenomenon and is influenced by both internal and external factors. Every skin cell in our body ages as our years increase. Though we may not be able to stop it from happening, having knowledge about the stages and causes of aging can help us work against its effects.
The skin aging process involves four key phases, namely:
- Decline of skin cell activity due to lower energy levels
- Decline of skin cell renewal
- Loss of skin firmness
- Occurrence of age spots and wrinkles
Internal factors which contribute to skin aging are generally genetic-related factors that are out of our control. These include heredity, hormones (especially for women, the most drastic changes of which take place during menopausal years) and cellular recession (namely when cell turnover and metabolism begins to slow down).
External factors which contribute to skin aging are a different story. Luckily, these factors are not only controllable, but also likely to have the greatest influence on the process of skin aging. In this section, we list the top three culprits of skin aging. These are commonly considered the most significant factors that hinder our efforts to improve our skin appearance and keep it looking youthful for longer.
Specialists say that about 90% of all visible signs of aging are caused by overexposure to the sun. The harmful exposure does not only happen when you have been sunburned; any outdoor activity in the sun, such as gardening, jogging and even driving can contribute to skin aging. While sunscreen can be a helpful way to reduce sun damage, no amount of sunscreen (regardless of its SPF) will fully protect you against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Unreleased stress, tension or strain can also cause a counterproductive effect to our anti-aging efforts. When you are stressed, your body's production of the stress hormone cortisol becomes elevated. Cortisol encourages the skin to produce sebum, which causes acne and oily skin. Further, it also affects our skin's microcirculation and hydration levels, which in the long term may lead to a dull skin appearance. And just like the sun’s UV rays, stress can also cause free radical damage.
Needless to say, our food choices and overall health go hand in hand. While nothing can be that bad when done in moderation, regularly consuming sugary, fatty and salty foods in high amounts can impact skin quality. First, sugary foods can cause insulin levels to rise, which in turn can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation which can manifest in many ways, including skin breakouts and sagging. Secondly, salty foods can cause water retention, which can make our skin look puffy. Lastly, fatty foods can cause skin inflammation, which can manifest in the production of excess oil.
Smoking can also wreak havoc to our skin, as it depletes our skin tissues of much needed oxygen. When this happens, the skin will function improperly and age faster. Smoking also damages the skin capillaries that are responsible for removing harmful free radicals. This is the reason why most smokers suffer from sallow skin and show age lines earlier than they should.
How Does an Imbalance in the Three Doshas Influence Aging?
In a related post, we discussed how the three doshas play a role in our life and health. Doshas are energetic forces present throughout the human body. Each dosha represents two natural elements and its related properties. Vata represents space and air, which are elements that govern movement and communication. Pitta represents fire and water, which are elements that govern digestion and transformation. Lastly, Kapha represents earth and water, both of which are elements of cohesiveness, structure and lubrication.
According to Ayurveda, these doshas have a fundamental influence on our cellular health and the appearance of our skin. Consequently, an imbalance in the doshas can affect skin health and skin aging. However, if you know your dosha, you can take steps to prevent skin problems before they even begin. To give you some insight, Vata imbalance can cause poor circulation of blood and nutrients to the different layers of the skin; Pitta imbalance can affect the metabolic functioning that balances the various chemical and hormonal reactions of the skin; and Kapha imbalance can affect the skin’s moisture balance.
There is a corresponding skincare regimen for each skin type and dosha imbalance. For Vata skin types, it is recommended that the skin is nourished through rehydration in order to avoid signs of premature ageing; applying essential oils and natural moisturizers to the skin is highly advised. For Pitta skin types, applying oils and sunscreens are highly advised and must be done regularly. For Kapha skin types, performing daily gentle cleansing and exfoliation together with an oil massage is highly advised.
Anti-Aging Diet from an Ayurvedic Perspective
There is nothing new about the concept that a well-balanced diet can pay dividends when it comes to skin care and anti-aging. But did you know that there are certain foods that contribute to premature ageing? As a rule, intake of the following foods must be lessened or avoided in order to better reduce the signs of ageing: dairy products such as cheese and soymilk, meat products (especially red meat), sugary foods such as pastries and chocolates, foods that are deep-fried in oil such as fries and junk foods, processed foods such as hot dogs and bacon, and beverages such as caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.
There are also certain foods that promote a youthful appearance and should be an integral part of a regular diet. Ayurveda calls this kind of diet the Rasayana diet. This diet consists of foods that help build our vital essence, or “ojas”, and also help balance the Vata dosha, which is the dosha with the greatest influence on our aging process. Ayurveda recommends eating ojas-building foods such as almonds, walnuts and ghee; anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric and sandalwood; lymph, blood and liver cleansers such as leafy greens; and fruits that contain high amounts of cell-renewing antioxidants such as mangoes, figs, watermelon and grapes.
Ayurvedic Skin Therapies to Combat Premature Ageing
Ayurveda also offers exceptional herbal treatments in the form of body wraps that can effectively restore the youthfulness of the skin. Herbs such as turmeric (haridra), drumstick (shigru), neem (nimba), eucalyptus (taila parni) and myrobalan (haritaki) are commonly used. Some of the ayurvedic treatments that use these kinds of herbs are as follows:
Darvi Lepam - this therapeutic body wrap is made of turmeric and other exotic medicinal herbs; it is applied to the skin in the form of a gentle massage, and is the perfect herbal therapy to make the skin look more radiant, smooth and nourished.
Hatitaka Lepam - a combination of freshly ground drumstick leaves and pavitra sukhoshan jal, this aromatic body wrap contains potent antioxidants that can deeply penetrate the skin cells leaving it cleansed, moisturized and nourished.
Kaya Lepam - a special combination of herbal powders, coconut milk, almond milk and rice extract, this unique body wrap aids in removing dead skin cells, improving the skin's texture and eliminating fine lines.
Neem Body Wrap - a combination of pureed neem leaves and eucalyptus oil, this body wrap smoothens the skin and is perfect for relieving pain and damage associated to over-exposure to the sun.
Sandalwood Body Wrap - this body wrap is made up of freshly ground sandalwood paste, which is popular for its antibiotic properties; when gently applied, it can effectively clean the skin and remove small brown spots or freckles.
Other Ayurvedic Therapies
In addition to those described above, there is a very specific Ayurvedic treatment called Panchakarma, which is a holistic treatment that aims to balance all of the doshas in the body through total rejuvenation and waste removal. Panchakarma cleanses the body on a very deep level, and restores physical and mental balance. It is considered one of the most potent homeopathic treatments in Ayurvedic medicine. In fact, many practitioners recommend applying the treatment on a seasonal basis in order to rid the body of the many toxic materials caused by illness, poor diet, stress and environmental factors.
A number of treatments are performed or linked together during the course of a Panchakarma treatment. The following treatments target the skin and are just some of the therapies that may be performed during a Panchakarma treatment:
Abhyanga - this is a massage treatment that uses a special mixture of herbs and oil and is formulated to thoroughly penetrate the skin, remove impurities and restore its arterial and lymphatic circulation. It relaxes the mind and body, and enhances the body's natural ability to help the nutrients reach the starving cells. It also helps remove stagnant waste materials and promotes the internal healing of the body.
Garshana - this is a treatment that uses dry skin brushing, and aims to enhance the body's lymphatic circulation. It cleanses the skin and helps remove stubborn dirt. This treatment is conducted prior to other Panchakarma treatments, so that other oil and herbal treatments will be able to deeply penetrate the skin.
Udvartana - this is a treatment that uses a special paste made of sesame oil infused with exotic herbs, and aims to gently exfoliate the skin to rejuvenate the skin's natural radiance. It is also a lymphatic massage treatment that opens up the pores, eliminates blockages in the blood vessels, and stimulates heat in the tissues and fat metabolism.
The Importance of Dry Brushing
As discussed above, the process of dry brushing is essential to enhancing the body’s lymphatic circulation, cleansing the skin and helping remove stubborn dirt. The health benefits of dry brushing are greatly enhanced through the use of an ionic body brush, which has its origin in ancient Ayurvedic practices. Our ionic body brushes are made with extra-fine ion-charged copper bristles, which naturally create negative ions that protect your body from free radicals and have numerous other health benefits. In addition, the molecular composition of our unique bristles encourages the direct and immediate absorption of negative ions into your skin, which increases the benefits of dry brushing, including the speed of detoxification.
The aging process is a challenging human experience, and the desire to look youthful persists in most of us. Luckily, Ayurveda offers a treasure trove of knowledge in respect of various anti-aging and skin care therapies. By living a healthy and balanced life, we can all successfully reduce the appearance of aging.