Ayurveda was a very early adopter of the mantra that “beauty comes from within.” The 5,000 year-old-science is known for extolling the benefits of balancing the whole body, supporting digestive health, optimizing energy, and treating each individual according to her specific dosha (constitution)—and not just finding the right facial cleanser or aesthetician.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore skin and hair. In fact, Ayurveda’s got more beauty practices than Estee Lauder—and they all do double duty, boosting your overall wellness while they give you a glow.
Some of them might not sound all that intuitive—traditionally there’s a lot more oil used than lotions or creams, and exfoliation is part of the drill for detoxing purposes—so we asked top Ayurvedic practitioners to share some of their favorite holistic beauty tips that you can do easily. Put them in your routine now for that inner-outer beauty balance. —Ann Abel
1. Know your dosha. Your Ayurvedic constitution also points to your skin type, says Lisa Amechazurra, marketing manager for skin-care line VPK at Maharishi Ayurveda. (The VPK line stands for the three doshas: Vata, Pitta, Kapha.) Vata is thin, dry, fine-pored, delicate and wrinkle-prone; Pitta is susceptible to rashes, breakouts, and rosacea if out of balance; and Kapha is thicker and oilier, prone to enlarged pores, blackheads, pimples, and eczema. Her company’s website provides great information about treating each one, as well as other Ayurvedic beauty secrets.
2. Let the seasons dictate your skin care. Siva Mohan, an Ayurvedic doctor at Svastha Health in Long Beach, California, says constitution-based skin care has it’s place, “there are seasonal approaches that are even more important. Even if someone has a Vata constitution, they will have to balance Pitta during the heat of the summer. Our climate is a significant energetic input. All approaches to summer beauty from an Ayurvedic standpoint are about balancing Pitta dosha, or bringing in the opposite qualities of Pitta.”
3. Moisturize your face with coconut oil and whip up facial masks. Dr. Mohan likes coconut oil for daily use because it’s cooling in nature, and not too heavy. Some women swear by ghee (clarified butter), which you could also try. Dr. Mohan says masks are your go-to: dry and irritated skin will bounce back with an organic castor oil mask. And if you suffer from the opposite, you absorb excess oil with chickpea flour. Use it as base for masks to absorb excess oil from the face, chest and back, she says.
4. Exfoliate with sugar instead of salt. Sugar helps boost cell turnover and retains moisture, and it’s considered cooling (not heating), which makes it good for summer. Svastha recommends mixing it with cooling, rejuvenating herbs and botanicals such as rose petals, slippery elm, and bhringraj, for a facial scrub. (She stocks them; your local drugstore probably won’t.)
5. Swab your skin with raw milk—or bathe in it. “Full-fat milk or cream-based masks are wonderful for soothing and cooling irritated or inflamed skin,” says Dr. Mohan. Once a day dip a cotton ball into a small bowl of raw milk and wipe your face thoroughly with it to remove dirt from your pores. Thanks to its fats and lactic acid, “it has tremendous moisturizing, softening properties,” says Ritu Srivastava, spa manager at the Ayurvedic spa, Ananda in the Himalayas in India. Adding milk or cream to your bath will also soothe and nourish your skin. And if you’re vegan, coconut milk has similar properties, says Dr. Mohan
6. Use rosewater as a toner. Dr. Mohan likes rosewater spray because “it smells good and feels great” and can be used several times a day. “Roses are cooling and support soft, supple skin.”
7. Spot-treat with neem oil. Use a cotton swab to apply it directly to pimples or spots of minor inflammation and “let it do its magic overnight,” says Dr. Mohan. “It’s drying and similar to tea tree oil but more cooling and better suited for the summer.”
8. Add aloe vera to your regular regimen. Srivastava says the plant isn’t just for sunburns. It makes the skin smooth, supple and younger looking. Some women apply it topically, like a toner or treatment. Others swear by a daily swig or sipping it in a juice.
9. Practice oil pulling. Swishing sesame or coconut oil instead of Listerine has become a super popular practice of late. And while you’d think its immediate benefits would be related to oral hygiene, the idea is that a healthy mouth boosts your overall wellness (healthy gums are related to healthy heart) and that it aids in all-over detoxification. Here’s how to do it.
10. Use a raw silk gharshana glove or natural bristle dry brush on your body. It’s key to toned and firm skin, great for places that retain fluid, and helps cellulite, says Dr. Pratima Raichur, author of Ayurvedic beauty bible, Absolute Beauty. For Vata and Pitta skin types (dry or sensitive skin), use a raw silk gharshana glove for an effective but less abrasive form of exfoliation. For Kapha skin type (thicker, oily skin), use a natural bristle brush. Starting with your feet, massage in upward, circular motions toward the heart. Then rinse off.
11. Make hair lustrous with coconut oil. In addition to imparting sheen, it provides strengthening nourishment to the hair, says Srivastava. Take your time massaging it in (add essential oils of geranium, lavender, and rosemary, like at the spa, if you can) to improve circulation and slough off dead skin cells, which is said to help hair growth.
12. Slather yourself in oils—and learn the art of self-massage. Jenoa Navarrete, product development manager for VPK, says massage is as important to boosting radiance as it is to helping manage stress. “For example, Abhyanga, an Ayurvedic massage done with warm massage oil, not only deeply moisturizes but afterward, you’ll look and feel more radiant. It offers many health benefits when done regularly, as well.” Can’t slip away to the spa? Use an Ayurvedic oil and work from your face down to the soles of your feet. And good news—even two minutes before bed helps.