Whether you live in a place where summer is just beginning or in a location where summer is at an end and you can see the effects on your skin, this blog is for you!
Ayurveda and Sun Damage
While the ancient sages didn't have sunscreen at their disposal or know about UVA and UVB rays, there are passages in the classic texts that describe how to maintain and protect our skin -- our largest organ. With the exception of recommending that we use an umbrella to shield our skin from the sun, the Charaka Samhita does not go into extensive details on how to avoid damage from the elements.
However, in the chapter regarding daily routine (dinacharya), the classic text Ashtanga Hridayam says that people should "avoid the direct breeze, sunlight, dust, snow, and hard breeze." In another chapter regarding seasonal routines (rutucharya), the author Vagbhata states that in the summer "daytime should be spent in forests having tall trees reaching the sky." Clearly, the sages knew how important it was to provide shade and protect our skin from the sun.
In Ayurveda, the year is divided into two solstices and six seasons. In the commentary of the Charaka Samhita, the author explains, "It is not possible to have the knowledge of suitable diet and regimen for different seasons without having the knowledge of seasons themselves."
This text mentions the extra care we need to take during ādāna kāla -- the period of dehydration that occurs in late winter, spring, and summer. While it seems like common sense that the harsh extremes of winter and summer would dry and dehydrate our skin, the commentary also explains that the astringent quality which is prevalent in spring is also drying.
Additionally, our climate plays a huge role on the quality of our skin, regardless of season. I live in the high desert of New Mexico, so I don't know that my skin ever gets a reprieve from the dry, hot, and often windy climate, but thanks to the knowledge of Ayurveda. I know how to balance out these conditions. It might sound like a tall order, but we will see healthier skin if we are mindful of all of the factors that affect our skin: climate, elevation, the seasons, diet, hydration, and our natural skin types, which determine how the elements affect our skin.
Here is a quick review of the skin types as they relate to the doshas.
Dry and rough (including the hair and nails)
Hot, oily, and acne-prone
Smooth and oily
Sensitive and temperamental
Plump and soft
More prone to fine lines and wrinkles
Prone to skin conditions like rosacea and eczema, more sensitive to the sun
The least prone to fine lines and wrinkles, but more prone to cystic acne
Prevention of Sun Damage
The Charaka Samhita goes on to explain that the sun evaporates the moisture of the earth by its rays. This is also true for our skin, so we need to nourish it from both inside and outside. When evaporation, dryness, and dehydration occur, we should avoid salty, sour, pungent, and hot foods that lead to further heat and dryness. We should consume sweet, cool, liquid, and unctuous food and drinks. This explains why we love ice cream, watermelon, and cucumbers more than usual in the summer. (Keep these foods to a minimum if you are also trying to balance Kapha). The text also says to either avoid alcohol or drink in small quantities. And if one chooses to drink, it is recommended to have alcohol alongside plenty of water as it is dehydrating.
Maintaining our skin and our bodies is simplified when using the Ayurvedic principle that like increases like and that opposite or differing qualities bring us back into balance. For example, a person with very oily skin generally needs specific toners and astringents (alcohol-free, of course) rather than creams or products that feel heavy, oily or thick--the qualities of Kapha skin.
Knowing the doshas and qualities in play makes our products perfect to counter the harsh effects of the elements on our varying skin types. If all of this sounds too complicated, we have Ayurvedic experts on staff who love helping our customers with skincare concerns.
With regard to our skin and all of our tissues, the Charaka Samhita commentary also describes that "the objects of the science of medicine are two-fold," meaning both the treatment of disease as well as the maintenance of positive health. In a chapter regarding skin conditions (kushtha in Sanskrit), Charaka adds that Ayurveda is a proactive rather than reactive approach. Maintenance really is the key to longevity and good health, as the translation describes: "The individual who resorts to proper treatment of the disease before it is manifested or in the early stage enjoys happiness for long." This principle is definitely true in the context of our skin; maintaining it is easier than trying to reverse the look of aging and damage from the elements, and we need to be mindful of factors that cause skin damage. With all of that said, it's never too late to take a proactive approach to skin care, even if the signs of aging or skin damage are present. The goal of Ayurveda is not to turn back the hands of time, but to help us maintain health throughout our lives and age gracefully.
On a personal note, I've learned taking a proactive approach to shielding one's skin from the elements is much easier to manage than abusing the skin and seeing the consequences later. When I was a teenager in the late 1980's, everyone had a tan and I was trying to defy my genetics--I'm naturally very fair-skinned. I went out in the sun with tanning oils, really hoping my effort would result in a tan, but it only resulted in sunburns and sometimes blisters. I learned my lesson and accepted my lack of pigment, but that recklessness eventually caught up to me. I first noticed some sun damage and a dark patch on my forehead in my early forties and I just had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead in May of 2022. Everything is fine, and I'm very grateful to have caught it early, but this is a perfect example of a reactive approach rather than a proactive approach. I'm much more vigilant now; after all, this is the only skin I have, so I'm taking care of it with the goal of longevity in mind.
Charaka explains that with all skin conditions, the doshas are vitiated and in turn, they aggravate the skin, blood, muscle tissue, and lymphatic system. While the chapters on kushtha often refer to more serious skin conditions, we can also apply this knowledge to sun damage and the signs of aging. This is why our products contain so many ingredients that pacify the doshas at play when it comes to bringing our skin back into balance with the goal of longevity -- accepting that aging is a process but also wanting to look and feel healthy for as long as possible.
Ayurvedic Remedies to Address Sun Damage
With regard to the sun and the signs of aging, I'm going to briefly describe some of our ingredients that address the look of sun damage and also help to cool and soothe our skin whether we are in a hot season or generally have excess heat in the skin.
Anyone who has had a consultation with me and mentions discoloration knows how excited I am about Manjistha (Rubia cordifolia), which helps even-tone the complexion and reduce the look of dark spots and patches. I had a patch of sun damage that looked like a cluster of freckles on my forehead right below my hairline, and it is barely visible now, thanks to the properties of this plant. Manjistha is such a time-honored herb for varnya (improving the complexion) that it's in nearly twenty of our products!
Turmeric, which is known as an expert detoxifier, improves color tone, complexion, and also soothes irritated patches of skin. It can help reduce the look of hyper-pigmentation, scarring and other skin damage, so it's one of the most popular ingredients in our products as well. Turmeric is so incredible that we've highlighted it in Turmerisa Double Turmeric Facial Essence, which is amazing as a stand-alone product but can also be used to boost the effectiveness of our other products.
Another incredible herb for soothing the skin and improving its appearance is Fragrant Swamp Mallow (Pavonia odorata). We have a product for the body that contains both Manjistha and Fragrant Swamp Mallow, and it's so effective in improving the look of sun-damaged skin.