Why you need to practice the ancient self-care practice of abhyanga.
1. Oil Calms the Nervous System
On your skin, there are at least 1000 sensory neurons per every square centimeter. When you massage just your arm with oil, you are calming more than a million sensory neurons. (1) According to Ayurveda, oil calms vata or the nervous system. The skin has more than 20 million sensory neurons exposed to the environment that are aggravated by air, weather, stress, travel, clothes, and more. Applying oil to the skin can calm these neurons significantly. In one study, ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone) – which increases with stress – was decreased by 20% for the group of participants who received massage, and increased by 30% for the group who rested and did not get a massage. (2)
2. Oil Feeds the Bugs
On average, the skin on the human body has over 1 billion skin microbes on every square centimeter, each busy doing their jobs. What they do for a living is just beginning to be understood. Some of the emerging science is suggesting that these beneficial microbes eat fatty acids or oils. In fact, studies show that some microbes on the skin actually feed on the sebum of the skin. (3) The sebum is an oily substance that helps keep the skin from drying out. Dry areas of the skin have been shown to have fewer microbes and tend to be more vulnerable to infection. (6)
Microbes also seem to concentrate in the sebaceous areas of the body, where there is a predominance of oil glands. They seem to hang out in the areas where there is the most food, correlating with the sebaceous or oily areas of the body. (5) Microbes like moist areas as well, for similar reasons.
Microbes seem to love oil so much, studies are showing they are actually eating the oil in the ocean after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. (4) Applying oil to the skin not only feeds the good skin microbes – it offers a host of other mind-boggling benefits.
3. Microbes Boost Skin Immunity
Skin microbes manufacture peptides that boost the skin’s immunity by protecting the skin from undesirable microbes. The skin microbes not only provide an immune response, they also seem to educate the immune system as to how to respond to the invaders. (5)
The skin’s natural fatty/oily sebum is thought to be a natural antibacterial layer (thus helping to keep some of the bad microbes out), and it also secretes fatty acids that help good microbes to colonize and help boost immunity. (6)
4. It Supports the Human-Microbe Symbiotic Relationship
Skin microbes seem to alter the functioning of the body’s immune system, and the microbes on the skin seem to change in accord to the immunological functions of the body. It seems we humans and our skin microbes have co-evolved to support each other by helping to boost each other’s immunity. (6,7)
Skin microbes may inform our skin’s immune system by developing the skin-associated lymphoid tissue (SALT), which is the immune layer beneath the skin that protects us, the host. Researchers believe this process on the skin may act in the same way gut microbes support the development of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), where 80% of the body’s immune system is thought to be. (6)
5. Massaging the Skin Increases Oxytocin
Oxytocin is known as the bonding, loving, giving and caring hormone. The increase of beneficial microbes has been shown to increase oxytocin levels in the body, and increased oxytocin levels may in turn mediate microbe-influenced factors such as our attitudes, social behaviors, and hormone and immune balance, to name a few. (8-10)
In a number of studies, massaging the skin has been shown to increase the production of oxytocin. In a recent study published in Alternative Therapies, 95 subjects had their blood levels evaluated for oxytocin before and after a 15-minute massage. Oxytocin levels increased by 17% for the group that received a massage. The control group who just rested showed a 9% decrease in oxytocin. (11-13)
Natural Skin Care and Abhyanga
The skin, which is the largest organ of the body with a billion microbes per every square centimeter, is turning out to be more important than originally thought. Oiling the skin every day helps keep the skin microbiome healthy, which in turn supports our immunity and the active communication between the skin microbes, the environmental microbes, the gut microbes, and the function of the whole body. Basically, if the skin dries out and the skin microbiome weakens, so does our immunity, longevity and vitality. Protecting the skin in a natural way and avoiding chemicals may turn out to be one of the most important health and longevity factors discovered to date.
How does massage benefit your life?