When it comes to maintaining healthy nails as well as restoring nails to a healthier condition, the science of Ayurveda will always refer to the gunas (qualities) that are present as well as the gunas that a person needs to introduce to reverse an imbalanced state. We also take the seasons into consideration, as their gunas can alleviate or aggravate certain conditions. For example, a person may notice that their nails and cuticles become dry in fall and early winter, which makes sense when we think about the qualities that are present and what we see in nature. Just as leaves become dry and cold, our bodies are also affected by fall and winter due to rough winds, dryness in the air, and lower temperatures that we counteract by turning on the heat in our homes--introducing more dryness in our bodies.
In Ayurveda, different parts of the body are classified as belonging to dhātus and strotāmsi, or tissue systems and channels. Hair and nails are considered a byproduct of asthi dhātu, which is related to the bones. You'll often notice that the quality of a person's hair and nails mirror each other. Generally speaking, a person with lush and healthy hair also has strong nails and healthy skin around the nailbeds, and a person with dry and brittle hair also has those same qualities in and around their nails.
According to Ayurveda, nutrition in our body starts with rasa, defined as "the pure and minutest essence of well-digested food" according to the sage Sushruta. He explains that "it circulates all over the body and constantly saturates, develops, sustains, and maintains it by functioning with unknown reason; while circulating in the body its movements may be known by inference on the basis of the symptoms of its normalcy or otherwise (deficiency or excess)."
It is described as a watery substance that penetrates all the bodily components and provides vitality, sustenance, and lubrication, among other functions. Rasa is also the building block that nourishes all the other tissues in succession, so if rasa is depleted, it will lead to other imbalances. In the context of this article, it will show up as dullness, dehydration, roughness, and brittleness in our skin, hair, and nails.
The full description of the dhātus'systemic nourishment is as follows:
Rasa provides contentment and saturation and nourishes blood; rakta (blood) generates clarity in complexion, nourishes muscles and sustains life; maṁsa (muscle) strengthens the body and nourishes medas (fat), medas gives rise to unctuous materials, sweat and firmness and nourishes asthi (bones); asthi supports the body and nourishes marrow; majjā (marrow) provides unction, strength, nourishes reproductive fluids and fills up bones; shukra and artava (reproductive fluids and tissues) provide valor, discharge, pleasure, physical strength, exhilaration and reproductive capacity.
Sushruta talks about the state of depletion, kṣayaḥ, as it relates to asthi dhātu and explains that it manifests as a decrease in bone density, pain in the bones, brittle teeth, and nails as well as roughness in these tissues. These are generally the same qualities that aggravate Vata dosha--dry, cold, and rough--so Sushruta also speaks to the fact that the seasons can lead to or further irritate dry hands and nails.
Vata dosha and asthi dhātu are both aggravated during fall and early winter, which is why we crave things like soups, warm drinks, more oils, and lotions, and like to get cozy with blankets, sweaters, gloves, hats, and scarves in order to counteract these qualities and introduce moisture, warmth and smooth qualities. During these seasons, we may also notice more joint pain and stiffness because of the dry, cold, and rough qualities, so if you notice a sudden change in your body as the seasons change, you're not alone.
Because Ayurveda focuses so much on what we ingest and how food affects our bodies, one way to counter dry skin and nails is through our diets. Ghee is highly revered in the classic texts and is a time-honored way to address internal and external dryness. It is described as sweet, soothing, soft, slightly slimy, and unctuous, which are all qualities we need for addressing dry and undernourished nails.
For plant-based readers, olive, avocado, and sesame oil are nice options as well. Coconut oil has a more cooling effect, so that is a better option for someone with high Pitta or for use in warmer months. Ayurveda recommends both internal and external oleation, which means taking oils through our diets as well as using them for topical application. If you've ever tried our Sandalwood Rose Eye Butter, you already know how nourishing ghee is for topical application on the skin, and if not, take a look here: Ajara Sandalwood Rose Eye Butter - Ayurvedic Golden Emollient
For those of you who already use our oils on your faces and bodies, you are already familiar with how warming and soothing sesame oil is for dry skin. Sushruta describes the many benefits of sesame oil and its qualities that affect the skin. It enters into minute channels, which means that it penetrates easily into the skin, is heavy, normalizes skin, promotes softness and musculature, promotes firmness, complexion, strength and it pacifies Vata and Kapha doshas. We at The Ayurveda Experience are constantly thinking of new ways to help our customers by addressing common concerns such as dry, brittle nails, hangnails, and dry skin around the nails. We formulated the first-ever Ayurvedic oil to address all the concerns around the hand, nails and cuticles, which contains nourishing sesame oil as well as 19 other natural ingredients that were specifically selected to help undernourished hands. You can read more about Sabala here - Sabala Nail, Hand, And Cuticle Oil
The Sushruta Samhita also mentions the benefits of castor oil for hydrating the skin; it also enters into minute channels, is wholesome for the skin, is age-sustaining, promotes health and luster and alleviates Vata and Kapha as well. Our Cleanalyn Natural Jelly formulations, Eucalyptus and Tulsi, contain both sesame oil and castor oil for extra hydration on any areas of concern. While Cleanalyn isn't specifically formulated for the hands and nails, it is a wonderful all-purpose solution for aggravated Vata, whether it manifests as dry skin, chapped lips or cracked heels and elbows.
Another natural and simple solution for moisturizing your hands and nails is our Pure, Cold-Pressed Castor Oil. It is not specifically formulated for hands and nails and doesn't contain any Ayurvedic herbs like Sabala does, but it is a perfect one-ingredient addition to any home where people experience dryness. Click here to see the numerous benefits of Castor Oil.
Heather B., Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Yoga Teacher, Licensed Massage Therapist.
Heather is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and plans to become a Doctor of Ayurveda. She's interested in all kinds of therapeutic/healing modalities and is one of The Ayurveda Experience's in-house Ayurvedic Practitioners. She lives in Albuquerque with her two cats and loves to cook!
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