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Understanding the Source of Skin Issues
According to Ayurveda, skin blemishes occur when the body uses the skin as an exit ramp to move impurities out of the body. Just beneath the skin, an aspect of the lymphatic system called the skin-associated lymphatic tissue (SALT) is responsible to processing waste through the skin and regulating a healthy immune response. For example, it is the function of the SALT that keeps a mosquito bite from becoming a systemic infection. It is also responsible for detoxification of the skin and a healthy complexion.
When the skin lymph, or SALT, becomes congested, the natural ability for the skin to slough off dead skin cells and process waste slows down. Hair follicles under the skin may become clogged from production of sebum (moisturizing oil) and dead skin cells resulting in blemishes, outbreaks and zits. Normally, the dead cells and sebum rise to the surface of the skin and are naturally sloughed off. When the SALT is congested, the sebum oil and dead cells stick together within the follicle and prevent the dead cells from reaching the surface where they would naturally flake off. The combination of the oil from the sebum and the dead cells is the perfect breeding ground for undesirable microbes, which results in skin issues.
Hormonal Causes of Blemishes
Puberty, stress, and lymphatic congestion can cause the build-up of hormones called androgens. Excess testosterone, which is the most common androgen, can convert into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a powerful sebogenic, meaning it increases the production of sebum in the skin. Excess sebum has in combination with sluggish lymph under the skin creates the perfect environment for the skin to breakout.
The hormone progesterone provides the female body with natural protection against the build-up of sebum and unwanted skin concerns. Progesterone discourages the conversion of testosterone to DHT. This means it can therefore support the return to normal sebum production and, as a result, less skin flare-ups. Under stress, however, progesterone levels are naturally depleted as it is converted into cortisol to help fight stress. Increased stress hormones also boost testosterone levels, which further increases the conversion of testosterone into DHT which converts in too more sebum. This gives us insight into how stress is a major cause of hormonal related skin concerns.
The benefit of using progesterone to combat acne has been studied for many years. In a study back in 1979, progesterone was used topically on 38 female patients with blemishes for 3 months. While the topical progesterone had no effect on males, there was a significant reduction in sebum and blemishes in the female patients.
More recent studies have found that progesterone is carried through the body via the lymphatic vessels. If the body is dealing with lymphatic congestion combined with high stress, progesterone levels may decline. Declined levels of progesterone in the skin allow the accumulation of androgens, DHT, and excess zit-promoting sebum.
Chaste Tree Berry Boosts Progesterone Levels Naturally
An Ayurvedic treatment approach to acne is the use of herbs to help balance hormone levels. Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus) has been used for thousands of years to support and balance female hormones. It is a natural precursor to progesterone and is well studied to boost levels of progesterone naturally and safely as it harmonizes the cascade of female hormones. Studies have also shown it to be an effective agent in general support of hormone related acne. The German Commission has found that chaste tree berry can support healthy function of hair follicles and healthy production of the luteinizing hormone in the pituitary gland. They also saw that the berry can naturally boost progesterone while lowering estrogen to healthy levels. They recommend 40 mg of a liquid extract per day for balancing skin blemishes.
The same dose of 40 mg of chaste tree berry was found in a placebo controlled, double-blind study to be an effective and safe therapy for mild to moderate symptoms of PMS or premenopausal symptoms. In this study 128 women suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) were given 40 mg of chaste tree berry. They took the doses six days before their menstrual period for six cycles. There was a significant difference in PMS symptoms such as headache, irritability, depression, breast fullness, bloating and ringing in the ears within the chaste tree berry group compared to the placebo. This is due in part to the impact it has on supporting healthy progesterone levels.
Dr. John’s Chaste Tree Berry Recommendation
Take 30 drops of LifeSpa’s Chaste Tree Berry mixed in 32 ounces of water for 1 week. If no unwanted sensitivities come up, take 60 drops in 32 ounces of water for the next week. Once again, if no unwanted sensitivities come up, take 90 drops in 32 ounces of water for 2-3 months to reset the body’s progesterone levels.
Causes of Congested Skin Lymph
In Ayurveda, we always try to track and treat the underlying cause of the condition, rather than addressing the symptoms. In the case of lymphatic imbalances, all roads lead to digestion. When poorly digested proteins and fat enter the small intestine, they are up taken into the collecting ducts of the lymphatic vessels that surround the intestinal tract. If digestion does not improve, the undigested fats and proteins, called ama, will slowly congest the lymphatic system—including the lymphatic tissue beneath the surface of the skin.
Troubleshoot Your Digestive Issues with Our Free Guide
Acne Aggravating Foods
While fixing the weak link in the digestive system is the first step to resolving this issue, avoiding certain foods that are known to aggravate skin blemishes is an important piece of the puzzle. In one study over 2000 patients who complained of weight gain and acne were put on a low glycemic or low sugar diet. In addition to weight loss, 87% of them reported less acne and 91% of them reported needing less acne medication. Refined and added sugars in food cause blood sugar spikes, which are linked to inflammation, which causes the body to make more sebum. This chain of events results in lymphatic congestion and acne.
Dairy has also been linked to aggravating acne. In a 2018 meta-analysis, researchers found that whole milk, low fat milk and skim milk consumption were all associated with more acne. Surprisingly, there was no such association with fermented dairy like yogurt and cheese.
Four Ways to Support Lymphatic Circulation and Clear Skin
According to Ayurveda, sipping hot water throughout the day for two weeks is one of the best ways to strengthen digestive function and decongest the lymphatic system. In addition, drinking 6-8 glasses of water is key to flushing the lymphatic system. While the hot water is best done intensively for two weeks, drinking room temperature water is a daily requirement for a healthy lymphatic system.
See also The Science of Sipping Hot Water
Your lymphatic system moves best when you move. Muscular contractions act as pumps for lymphatic circulation; this system moves waste from all parts of the body back to the heart, and then to the liver for detoxification. While any type of exercise will support lymphatic flow, breathing through the nose while exercising will activate the diaphragm, which is the body’s most powerful lymphatic pump.
Not only is the diaphragm the primary pump of the body’s lymphatic system; it may also be the most important muscle for overall health, detoxification and longevity. In a 2022 study with almost 2000 athletes, 91% of them had dysfunctional breathing and diaphragmatic dysfunction—making the need for everyone to strengthen their diaphragm a top priority. The diaphragm pumps lymph out of the abdomen where the lion’s share of the body’s lymph is found, while also dumping three pounds of toxins out of the brain via the glymphatic system. Poor diaphragmatic breathing slows lymphatic detoxification. This can allow toxins to build up in the skin or other tissues of the body, eventually leading into acne.
See also How to Strengthen Your Diaphragm
4. Ayurvedic Herbal Manjistha for PMS
Manjistha (Rubia cordifolia) is a classic herb for supporting lymphatic function. Clinically, manjistha is most effective in supporting the flow of the lymph through the lymphatic vessels via muscular contractions and good hydration. In a study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Holistic Medicine, manjistha was found to be Ayurveda’s most effective herb for healthy skin ( as well as other lymphatic related health concerns like PMS). It was shown to support the body’s natural inflammation response as a natural antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-androgen (hormonal) agent. As an anti-androgenic, manjistha balances sebum production linked to breakouts while also supporting a healthy production of sebum by supporting good lymphatic circulation.
Dr John’s Manjistha Recommendations: Take 2 capsules, twice per day after food for 2-3 months to support healthy skin. For PMS, take 2 capsules twice per day after food (during the second half of your cycle) for 2-3 months.
See also More About Manjistha and PMS