You can’t judge a book by its cover. But according to ayurveda (pronounced AH-yoor-vay-dah) – an ancient form of medicine that comes to us from India – you can judge a person’s health by the condition of their skin. As Christy Turlington – long-time yoga bunny and co-founder of the ayurveda-inspired Sundari range – once explained to me, ‘We recognise that mind and body are intimately connected in terms of health and wellbeing. The skin is a mirror of what’s happening in the body.’ In other words, beauty is not just skin deep.
Agrees Pratima Raichur, a botanist, chemist and natural skin specialist who’s also author of a fabulous, inspirational book – Absolute Beauty: Radiant Skin and Inner Harmony Through the Ancient Secrets of Ayurveda (published by Harper Collins; find it on www.amazon.co.uk) – ‘External beauty without internal health is impossible.’ Raichur believes that the chemical ingredients in most beauty products don’t address what really causes skin problems. ‘They don’t fully nourish or rejuvenate the skin, and they don’t affect your mind,’ she says, explaining that in ayurveda, the aromas of essential oils are used to calm, cool or stimulate you mentally. (And Western medicine is starting to back some of these claims.) Pratima adds that the antibacterial and antifungal qualities of the oils themselves can help heal skin infections like acne.
Ayurveda means ‘knowledge’ (veda) of the ‘totality of life’ (ayur). And Ayurvedic beauty treatments are prescribed depending on your constitution, or dosha. Each dosha is determined by specific physical, emotional, mental and social characteristics as they pertain to the five universal elements – fire, water, earth, air and space. A vata dosha is associated with air and space. The dominant pitta elements are fire and water. Kapha is linked with the earth. To work out which dosha you are, find the group of attributes in the following chart that best describes you. Don’t be alarmed if none seems to fit perfectly; you may have one dominant dosha, or a combination of two. (Occasionally, an individual will have aspects of all three doshas, in which case you may want to experiment with these lifestyle and skincare tips, till you find what works best for you.)
VATA (air and space)
Body: small, light, doesn’t gain weight easily
Hair: dry, frizzy
Skin: dry, rough with small pores
In balance: you tend to be imaginative, flexible, vibrant
Out of balance: you become tired, restless, worried
Lifestyle: avoid an irregular routine (sleeping and eating, in particular) and too much bitter or pungent food. Practice deep, slow breathing to stay calm
Skincare: Use products that contain warm, soothing herbs such as coriander, cumin and sandalwood
Body: large, gains weight easily
Hair: thick, wavy, tends towards oily
Skin: oily, large pores, acne-prone
Hunger: easy to skip meals
In balance: you’re affectionate, compassionate, and emotionally even-keeled
Out of balance: you get lethargic and complacent. Your skin looks dull and oily and you gain weight
Lifestyle: avoid oversleeping, overeating and too much sweet, sour or salty foods
Skincare: warm and stimulate your skin using products with spicy oils and herbs like nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary and lavender
PITTA (fire and water)
Body: medium frame
Hair: fine and straight, usually sandy, red or blonde
Skin: fair, soft, sensitive; tendency to rashes, acne, liver spots, rosacea or pigment disorders; sun-sensitive
Hunger: good, strong digestion; thirsty, likes cold food
Sleep: little but sound
In balance: dynamic and passionate, intelligent, perceptive and highly efficient
Out of balance: you tend to be over-critical of others and you are often too intense and competitive
Lifestyle: drink plenty of water; get your emotional stress under control through plenty of outdoor exercise, yoga and meditation
Skincare: reduce contact with synthetic chemicals and avoid products that are harsh or cause abrasion, and avoid sunbathing and all types of heat treatments
What Ayurvedic beauty experts like Pratima Raichur understand from is that to make more than a superficial improvement in skin, clients may have to change some deeply ingrained habits (think: daily meditation to a 9.30 p.m. bedtime – depending on your dosha). But for those who just want to get a feel for ayurvedic beauty without overhauling their lives, there are some simple steps to inner and outer beauty: eat as many pure, unprocessed foods as possible. Eat on a regular schedule with lunch as the main meal, and always drink plenty of water. (And here, ayurvedic medicine is in perfect harmony with advice from the likes of nutritionist Jane Clarke, who prescribes 2.5 litres a day.)
You might also consider exploring transcendental meditation or yoga. Having opened my own wellbeing centre in Hastings (The Wellington Centre/01424-442520/www.thewellingtoncentre.com) I now have the luxury of doing yoga four times a week, from over 10 classes on offer. And not only have my skin and hair never looked more glow-y and radiant, but I have a far more pragmatic attitude to any problems in life that come up – backing up one of my yoga teachers’ comments that ‘a flexible spine gives a flexible min’; certainly, yoga is my new, best-ever beauty tip.
There are also, of course, ayurvedically-inspired lines available to help capture some of the health and beauty benefits of this eastern philosophy. Personally, I recommend the Pukka Herbs range (which includes herbal remedies as well as massage oils). I particularly like the Relax Oil and the Brahmi Mind Massage Oil. Higher Living also offer organic Ayurveda teas ‘matched’ to your ‘dosha’.
But the easiest ayurvedic beauty tip of all…? Just listen to Pratima Raichur, whose simple prescription is this: ‘early to bed, early to rise.’ It is the best way to be in tune with nature – both Mother nature, and your own nature.
And personally, I couldn’t agree more…