For years, dermatologists pooh-poohed the idea of vegetable oil on skin, claiming that skin was unable to absorb these oils, and therefore unable to derive any real moisturizing benefits.
In Ayurveda, certain oils have been emphasized for thousands of years as crucial nourishment for the skin—just one of the many Ayurvedic beauty secrets that result in the appearance of a healthy, radiant, and lustrous complexion.
Now, a new understanding of how the skin functions sheds light and credibility on these ancient Ayurvedic techniques. Keep reading to learn three important Ayurvedic beauty secrets now enjoying ample scientific backing.
Most Commercial Moisturizers Fall Short
Most commercial skin moisturizers are primarily water and fillers, with only a small amount of active materials. When the skin is dry and cracked, it will quickly absorb the water, and tissues of the skin will noticeably expand. Like a deflated balloon, fine lines, wrinkles, and dry skin fill with water and, for the moment, the skin looks great.
Shortly thereafter, however, the water evaporates or absorbs into the bloodstream—leaving the skin once again with a dry and aged appearance.
There’s another issue with water as an ingredient in moisturizers: it grows bacteria! Hence, any product that contains water has to have preservatives, the last thing you want to put on your skin. This, unfortunately, applies to the vast majority of skincare products on the market.
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The Antidote to Water-Based Moisturizers
According to Ayurveda, oil is the best choice for supporting healthy, glowing skin. This is hard for many people to believe, because dermatologists have maintained that the phospholipid layer of the skin cannot absorb oil and many people still believe that oil clogs pores.
The phospholipid layer of the skin is the waterproof layer that keeps our skin water-repellent. Our hands, which dry out more quickly, do not produce as much oil as facial skin and have a thinner phospholipid layer: thus, they are not nearly as waterproof as the skin covering the rest of the body.
So why is applying oil to the face and body still considered one of Ayurveda’s most effective beauty secrets?
Interestingly, Ayurvedic application of oil extends far beyond the modern idea of moisturizer. Oil is used to support skin in a totally different way!
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Feed the Bugs that Feed Your Skin
Our skin is the home of millions of beneficial microbes. Remember, the human body is made of trillions of microorganisms. Only 10% of these are human cells; the rest are microbes—mostly good ones!
These microbes thrive on surfaces of skin on the inside and outside of the body. While our outer skin seems to be the skin we concern ourselves with most, there is no doubt that the most important skin lies inside, including, and in particular, the epithelium that lines the digestive tract.
The outer skin produces an oil called sebum. Sebum softens, lubricates, and protects skin. It prevents skin from drying out and aging prematurely. In addition, it feeds beneficial bacteria that live on the surface of the outer skin.1
When good microbes feed on sebum, they produce new immune-boosting fatty acids that create the skin’s protective barrier.1 These fatty acids provide many benefits. They protect skin from exposure to bad bacteria, which is abundant and constant.2-4 They allow mammals in the wild to heal from wounds. They moisturize and nourish skin in a way that water and most moisturizers cannot. Fatty acids is the way we are designed to moisturize ourselves.1-4
Vegetable oils that dermatologists deem too large to penetrate the phospholipid layer are actually not meant to penetrate the skin. As food for good bacteria living on our skin’s surfaces, they are converted into free fatty acids in the same way sebum and natural oils produced by the skin are transformed by microbes.2-4
Ayurvedic Skin Secret #1: Feed beneficial bacteria on your skin by cleansing and/or moisturizing with a gentle plant-based oil or use a moisturizer that is oil-based, such as LifeSpa’s line of organic moisturizers.
Over-Bathing Kills Good Bugs
When bathing and showering with lots of soaps and shampoos, healthy oils and free fatty acids are often washed off, leaving the skin too dry to support protective good bacteria.
Traditionally, light soap is used and plant-based oils such as sesame and coconut are applied to the skin after a shower to nourish and enhance natural populations of good bugs. These good bugs break down plant oils into extremely active free fatty acids that support the skin’s healthy radiance and youthfulness.
Ayurvedic Skin Secret #2: Use a light, natural, low-fragrance soap all over the body several times a week. On other days, use soap only in key places.
Choose soaps and shampoos free of the following chemicals:
- Cocamide DEA (diethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine) and MEA (monoethanolamine)
- Propylene Glycol
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Fluoride
- Benzyl Acetate
- Benzyl Alcohol
- Ethyl Acetate
- Methylene Chloride
Employ Plant-Based Oils as Herbal Carriers
According to Ayurveda, it is traditional to slowly cook specific herbs into plant-based oils to make them even more beneficial. These herbs are infused into the oil, enhancing benefits and lending specific properties to the oil, depending on the herbs used.
At LifeSpa, we use four oils for face and body:
- Tri-Doshic Massage Oil is cooked with herbs believed to support health of all body and skin types. Best used for Ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga), either in or out of the shower. Learn how to perform abhyanga here.
- Lymphatic Massage Oil is cooked with special herbs believed to support lymph circulation. Best used for Ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga) either in or out of the shower.
- Luscious Mango Body Butter is a shea, avocado, and mango butter mix cooked with herbs to promote a glowing and rejuvenated appearance of the skin. May be used for Ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga) in or out of the shower, applied to moist skin all over the body, or, in the case of dry skin, on the face.
- Royal Glow Facial Moisturizer and Fountain of Youth Serum contain active moisturizing herbals suspended in natural squalane, one of the natural moisturizing oils the body produces to maintain healthy skin. Best used on a moist face. Fountain of Youth Serum has a high content of nutrients and is to be used particularly to address the appearance of wrinkles and problem areas of the skin, whereas Royal Glow is intended as an all-over facial moisturizer.
Beauty Secret #3: Rehydrate, clean, and rejuvenate your skin with herbalized oil. Here is a skin-nourishing routine you can try:
- Take a hot shower and apply herbalized oil deeply into skin while shower is running.
- Get into a hot bath, steam, or sauna and sweat for 5-15 minutes. (If none are available, just stay in hot shower a little longer.) This will allow the oil to begin to pull impurities out of deeper layers of the skin.
- Once out of bath, steam, or sauna, vigorously rub off all oil with a dry towel. This is an exfoliating rub that not only removes oil, but also any dried surface layers of the skin. The skin should feel stimulated and appear reddish.
- Go back into the shower, where you apply a very thin coat of herbalized massage oil all over the body while water is running. The amount of oil needed to cover the whole body is minimal.
- Pat dry. No need for moisturizer: you have just detoxified, exfoliated, rehydrated, deeply moisturized, and created the ideal environment for skin microbes to protect and produce your very own moisturizing fatty acids.
Try to do this 2-3x a week for best results.
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Conclusion: Bugs for Healthy Skin
As counterintuitive as it may seem, in order to nourish the radiance and beauty of our skin, we must consider bugs first! We now know that good oils made by the body and natural plant-based oils applied to the skin daily literally feed good bugs, and these bugs change oils into extremely active and beneficial free fatty acids that support the skin’s health and radiance.
What we don’t know yet, and luckily is the topic of ongoing research, is how the skin microbiome supports us in other ways. Feeding good bacteria with fresh herbalized oils, practiced in Ayurveda for thousands of years, may offer more health benefits that are yet unknown.