One of the main reasons for Ayurvedic skin care products and protocols taking the spa and beauty worlds by storm is the availability of numerous potent skin rasayanas in the Ayurvedic herbal treasury. Skin rasayanas (rasa - essence, ayana - enter) are so called because of their ability to deliver penetrating holistic benefits to the skin without side effects or the damage caused by a fragmented approach to skin health. Whatever your skin type or needs for balance, there are Ayurvedic skin rasayanas that can help. Further, when used in combination, as is the Ayurvedic tradition, you derive the added benefit of synergy, with the combined formulation being exponentially more beneficial than any single herb in the formulation. These rasayanas can be used either as nutritional supplements, to provide support to the skin from within, or in topical formulations for the skin where they deliver their benefits trans-dermally.
The therapeutic value of the rasayanas is maximized when they are used in natural topical formulations in combination with emollients such as milk, cream, yogurt or honey, exfoliating substances such as natural clay, salts, grain or lentil flours, vegetable base oils, and floral waters or pure essential oils to act as the yogavahi - the carrier of the healing values of the herbs to the cells and tissues. Both the herbs themselves, as well as the other ingredients in the formulations, can be chosen specifically for a skin type, or balanced to suit all skin types. Formulations that are tridoshic - suitable for all skin types - generally have many more herbs and ingredients to avoid aggravating an individual dosha. The herbs should not be exposed to high temperatures, and should be of high quality and not old. Formulations that add herbs to chemical bases or that contain artificial preservatives or fragrances are not as useful in maintaining skin health and appearance because the herbs in such formulations are "dead."
Vata skin, space or air predominant, is delicate and tends to be naturally dry. Skin rasayanas that benefit Vata skin are mainly nourishing, with subsidiary properties such as enhancing natural glow or purifying the skin. Such herbs also balance Vata dosha in the physiology, calming and settling the mind and supporting stress management and mind/body coordination so that the ravages of worry and excessive mental pressure do not show up on the skin as fine lines, sagging and bags under the eyes. Nourishment and deep, ongoing rehydration are essential if Vata skin is to look healthy, plump and youthful.
Brahmi (Bacopa), Shatavari (Indian Asparagus), Amla (Indian Gooseberry), Gotu kola (Indian Pennywort) and Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry) are potent Vata-pacifying skin rasayanas that help support skin elasticity, moisture balance, texture and radiance. They are ultra-nourishing, helping to regenerate skin cells and keep skin looking youthful. Triphala, made from equal parts of Indian Gooseberry, Beleric Myrobalan and Chebulic Myrobalan, is also excellent for Vata skin because it combines nourishment with a gentle detoxifying effect that enhances skin clarity. Topical formulations for Vata skin combine these herbs with nourishing oils and Vata-balancing aromas.
Pitta skin, fire predominant, is sensitive and is generally neither dry nor oily. Skin rasayanas that support the health of Pitta skin are mainly cooling and soothing, with some element of nourishing and purifying as well. These rasayanas also balance Pitta in the physiology, balancing the emotions and strengthening the heart/mind coordination so that the inner serenity and emotional balance are reflected on the skin as a healthy glow and brightness, and angry eruptions, redness are avoided. Pitta skin also requires protection, because it tends to be more photosensitive than other types of skin.
Amla, Bhringaraj (Eclipta alba), Kumari (aloe vera), White Sandalwood, Red Sandalwood and Lajawanti (Mimosa) are considered the pre-eminent Pitta-pacifying skin rasayanas. They draw out excess heat, support the skin's natural ability to withstand the ravages of the environment, and keep skin clear and healthy. They nourish sensitive skin tissue without irritating it. Triphala, Manjistha (Indian Madder) and Neem are also helpful for Pitta skin because they purify and clarify the skin without depleting it of moisture or youthfulness. Topical formulations for Pitta skin combine these herbs with soothing oils and Pitta-balancing aromas.
Kapha skin, water or earth predominant, is oily, and tends to be congested and susceptible to attracting dust and grime. Skin rasayanas for Kapha skin are therefore first purifiers that detoxify and clarify, with subsidiary properties of being nourishing and rejuvenating. These herbs also balance Kapha dosha in the physiology, invigorating the mind and body so that the skin appears alive and vital, and retarding the lethargy that dulls Kapha skin.
Neem, Manjistha (Indian Madder), Triphala, Tulsi (Holy Basil) and Turmeric are potent Kapha-balancing skin rasayanas. They help detoxify the skin while nourishing it at the same time. They balance oil content in the skin and enhance clarity and brightness. Because of their effective detoxification properties, these rasayanas keep Kapha skin squeaky clean, so that it stays healthy and naturally radiant. Topical formulations for Kapha skin combine these herbs with light oils and Kapha-balancing aromas.
Tridoshic formulations that are formulated for all skin types draw on skin rasayanas from each group to offer the combined benefits of nourishment, detoxification, protection and balanced temperature.
Shreelata Suresh is a yoga instructor from the Bay Area, and she writes on yoga and Ayurveda for different publications. To subscribe to free newsletters on Ayurveda, or for more information, please visit http://www.ayurbalance.com.
Information provided in this article is for the sole purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult your physician.