Your skin is a complex organ that changes constantly throughout your life, depending on your age, diet, lifestyle choices, and many other factors. From the perspective of Ayurveda, the skin’s texture and appearance also change as we move through the different phases of life: childhood (Kapha kala), young adulthood (Pitta kala), and middle age and beyond (Vata kala).
With these different transitions in mind, here are some Ayurvedic guidelines for healthy, glowing skin at every decade.
Teens: Eat a healthy, Pitta-pacifying diet + reduce stress
Throughout childhood, most of us enjoy smooth, supple skin—the hallmarks of Kapha “kala,” or time of life (age 0 - about 30). At around age 16, however, we begin to enter Pitta kala, when hormone production stimulates rapid growth, transformation, and sexual maturation, all of which can lead to distressing, Pitta-related skin conditions like eruptions and non-cystic acne.
“A healthy, Pitta-pacifying diet and stress-reduction are key in teens, who are going through so much emotional, mental, and brain development,” says Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., an Ayurvedic expert who specializes in women’s health issues. She also stresses that the harsh chemicals in most drugstore treatments can actually make matters worse.
Teen case studies
She recalls one patient whose entire chest, back, and face were covered in non-cystic acne, despite trying various skin products on the market, and seeing three different dermatologists: “He had a very strong Pitta imbalance, and correcting that with diet and Maharishi Ayurveda herbs specifically chosen for his imbalances resulted in the complete resolution of the acne on his back and chest within two to three months. Most of it has cleared from his face now as well.”
Another teenage patient had acne on her face. A thorough Ayurvedic consultation revealed the culprits: late-night studying and preparing for pre-college tests, along with too many greasy foods, carbs, and sweets, and not enough vegetables. Dr. Lonsdorf prescribed a diet rich in foods with bitter and astringent tastes—such as beans, lentils, dhals, whole grains, and vegetables—which balance Pitta. She also shifted the teen’s bedtime to 10 p.m.
“Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., the body purifies, and the liver and skin, especially, are cleansing themselves. But if someone’s awake and using their energy for studying or some other activity, the purification doesn’t take place. They may also get hungry and eat, which further inhibits the purification cycle.”
To clear the impurities that had built up in the girl’s skin, Dr. Lonsdorf also recommended Ayurvedic herbs, such as Elim-Tox-O and Organic Triphala Rose—which is particularly helpful at aiding in the elimination of toxins and Pitta-related impurities through the colon.
Dr. Lonsdorf uses these formulas regularly to help patients of all ages manage Pitta-related skin problems, non-cystic acne (especially on the lower face and chin), and occasional constipation (as sluggish toxin elimination can promote skin problems that otherwise would not occur).
As a final step, the girl also learned the Transcendental Meditation® technique, which helped her stress levels further. Her skin has cleared dramatically from these changes.
20s & 30s: Support natural detox + wear sunscreen
By the time you’re in your twenties and thirties, Pitta kala is in full gear. This is a time when many people are passionately pursuing their careers and/or early parenthood. For some of us, there can be Pitta-related skin issues, such as redness from time to time, or some skin sensitivity.
“Cooling the liver and supporting natural detoxification is really critical at this age,” says Lonsdorf. “I find Elim-Tox-O to be an amazing aid to skin imbalances of the Pitta nature, which can happen at any time of life if Pitta is disturbed.” Lonsdorf recommends taking two Elim-Tox-O tablets twice a day to combat skin redness, in addition to a strongly Pitta-pacifying diet without any greasy foods or excessive salt or sugar. “It takes a very clean diet, along with stress-reduction and herbal support, in my experience.”
The twenties and thirties are also a good time to start thinking about avoiding sun damage by wearing sunscreen daily, says Lonsdorf.
“Look for a natural form of sunscreen. Micronized zinc is the best and the least toxic; zinc is actually very nourishing to the skin. I’m also a great believer in hats with wide brims, because sunscreen has its limitations and can wear off through the day. For best results, use both.”
Doing a daily abhyanga (warm oil massage) with coconut oil, Soothe Herbal Massage Oil, or Youthful Skin Massage Oils can also help with Pitta-related skin imbalances and deeply nourish the skin, Lonsdorf says.
In some cases, red skin or rashes may be the result of a buildup of anger or suppressed emotions—at any age. Dr. Lonsdorf recommends one tablet of Stress Free Emotions twice a day for milder moods, and two tablets twice a day to quell frequent anger or irritability.
40s & 50s: Hydration and healthy fats
During your 40s and 50s, you’re gradually transitioning from the Pitta phase of life into the Vata phase; and, if you’re a woman, this is where perimenopause and menopause come in.
“This is that time of life where women complain that they can have both wrinkles and acne at the same time and it just isn’t fair!” says Lonsdorf with a smile. To continue to pacify Pitta dosha, she recommends eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of fresh, pure water without chlorine. It’s also an important time to start paying more attention to hydration for Vata dosha.
“Creams begin to be very important,” she says, noting that Youthful Skin Cream supports collagen production (it contains gotu kola, a natural stimulant for collagen). Herbal tablets that contain gotu kola include Stress Free Mind, Youthful Mind, and Bio-Immune, among others.
Ingesting more oils is very important during Vata kala, says Dr. Lonsdorf, who recommends adding an extra two to four tablespoons of organic, cold-pressed virgin olive oil to the food each day. Ghee is another good healthy fat to ingest, if your cholesterol levels are healthy.
A low-fat diet, on the other hand, can dry the body’s tissues out and lead to premature wrinkles.
“The skin gets starved of fat, which is an important supportive and natural filler to keep our skin fuller and nourish it against wrinkling and sagging,” says Dr. Lonsdorf. “Healthy fats help women transition through menopause, because they aid in the production of hormones; our reproductive hormones are based on steroids, which are fat-based.”
From the 40s onward, a daily massage with Youthful Skin Massage Oil helps to deeply moisturize the skin and tissues, while promoting stress-relief. Dr. Lonsdorf also recommends Worry Free tablets for patients struggling with high stress: “It’s very helpful in reducing worry. Research has shown that Worry Free can help normalize excess cortisol, our stress hormone, which is very bad for the skin and causes it to become thin and irritated.”
60s & 70s: Emolliate and eliminate toxins
By the time your 60s and 70s come along, you’re in the full swing of Vata kala, when dry and airy qualities predominate in the physiology.
“This is a time when hormonal deficiencies can really start to crop up in skin, and it becomes more of a challenge to avoid wrinkles and sagging,” says Lonsdorf, adding that reddish skin can also appear at this age, due to unhealthy diet and consumption of “bad fats” (hydrogenated oils and deep-fried foods). This is also where the cumulative effects of sun damage are showing up on the skin, in the form of spots and pigmentation.
“Bliss and good sleep have a lot to do with looking radiant into your 60s and 70s,” says Dr. Lonsdorf. “And again, eating lots of healthy fats will be helpful to hydrate Vata dosha. Going to bed by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. is another great beauty secret.”
She also recommends a daily morning walk which “gives a freshness and fullness to the face that nothing else can.” Additionally, drinking lots of water—particularly warm water—helps eliminate toxins from the body, aids in peristalsis, and helps to counter Vata dosha’s cold, dry influence.
In terms of Ayurvedic supplements, Dr. Lonsdorf recommends Radiant Skin at this age, or Elim-Tox-O for a cooling influence if the patient has a lot of Pitta, or an overheated liver. “Youthful Skin Cream is also fabulous at this age, because it’s a time of so much dryness,” she says.
If you’re not already doing a daily warm oil massage, now’s a good time to start, according to Dr. Lonsdorf. “Olive oil and sesame oil are both antioxidant and antibacterial. Abhyanga is also an amazingly calming treatment for your nerves, which helps with detox and purification as well.”
80s and beyond: Love the skin you’re in—and keep caring for it
If you’re in your 80s, 90s, and beyond, the best advice is simply to love the skin you’re in, and bask in the beauty, experience, and grace you’ve accumulated over the years. It’s also important to keep on eating well and to stay hydrated.
For added nurturing, says Lonsdorf, “Daily oil massage is important, as are good rest and good exercise. Lifelong exercise helps your circulation, which in turn helps your skin as well. Just remember to protect the skin if you’re exercising outdoors.”
As you age, it’s more important than ever to continue consuming healthy fats—not only for the skin, but for the brain as well. Ayurvedic supplements can help, too.
“Gotu kola helps keep your memory, mind, and focus sharp at the same time as it’s supporting the collagen in your skin,” says Lonsdorf, who recommends Stress Free Mind and Youthful Skin Cream, which contain this powerful herb.
Ayurveda for skin: Common issues & what to do about them
Acne is related to imbalances in Kapha and Vata as well as impurities in the blood.
- If the skin is too oily, it aggravates moisture balance (Shleshaka Kapha).
- The pores clog up, which aggravates circulation (Vyana Vata).
- Aggravated circulation dries out the moisture balance.
- The drying effect clogs the pores permanently.
- Impurities accumulate, which pollute the blood and manifest as acne.
In rare cases acne is related to a Pitta imbalance. But it's usually related to Kapha and Vata as described above.
Diet and lifestyle tips
- Avoid touching the acne, which could cause a secondary infection by contact.
- Use cumin, turmeric and ginger in cooking.
- Reduce heavy, very oily and cold foods.
- Favor fresh, light, warm foods.
- Radiant Skin tablets promote pure, healthy blood.
Bags under the eyes
Bags under the eyes suggest a buildup of impurities. The monthly cycle is an opportunity for the body to cleanse and rejuvenate itself. But after age 40, the body's natural ability to detoxify becomes weaker.
Since bags under the eyes are often due to digestive impurities, which are caused by sluggish digestion, the main organ involved is the liver. Maharishi Ayurveda Liver Balance is a unique blend of herbs to help balance the liver and help the assimilation and filtration of impurities that can end up causing under-eye bags.
Diet and lifestyle tips:
- Try to avoid stress and get extra rest, especially during menstrual discomfort.
- Drink plenty of warm water. Avoid ice-cold and carbonated drinks.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.
- Add coconuts, raisins, papaya and sweet juicy fruits to your diet.
- Take only a moderate amount of sugar (or use honey).
- Avoid red meat and heavy fried foods.
- Avoid drinking fluids before bed.
- Favor only natural beauty products.
- Do not smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Place a washcloth dipped in warm water over your eyes for five minutes once or twice daily.
- Make sure you are laughing every day — it gives exercise to facial muscles.
- For puffy and swollen eyes, make facial steam or facial wash with warm, salty water.
- For tired eyes, use a silk eye pillow.
- For Pitta-inflamed baggy eyes, soak cotton pads in cold milk with Organic Rose Water and place over closed eyes for five to ten minutes.
Foods to avoid
Avoid frozen, cold, leftover, and greasy foods. Also avoid foods that contain the following ingredients:
- Aspartame (synthetic sweetener and neurotoxin)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Food grown using pesticides
- Genetically modified food
- Sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, chocolate and other foods containing similar concentrated sweeteners
- Refined oils
- Baking powder
- Hard and dry bovine milk cheese
- Junk foods (hamburgers, pizza, hotdogs, nachos, etc.)
- Smoked, grilled barbecued food
Foods to favor
- Unrefined sea salt
- Vegetable juices (juicing)
- Fats (monounsaturated). Use ghee for cooking.
- Turbinado, stevia, maple syrup, raw honey, agave nectar
- Essential fatty acids
- Calcium, iron, minerals
- Trace minerals
- Organic foods
- Flaxseed oil
- Whole grains, nuts and seeds
- Fresh fruits
A condition such as cellulite is more than the simple accumulation of fat.
The ancient Ayurvedic surgeon, Shushruta, identified a heavy, saturated type of fat tissue he called vasa. When this saturated fat interacts with digestive impurities (ama), the result is cellulite.
Cellulite is a localized effect. It's a heavy, sticky substance that sits in the fat cells and is very difficult to eliminate. The longer it sits there, the harder it is to remove.
The key is to break down the link between the vasa fat and the ama impurities. At my clinic in India I developed a special cellulite regimen that includes a steam treatment with the herb gotu kola, massage and an herbal mud pack. Within 21 days patients see results. Now we're doing research on how we can make this program available to you in your own home. In the meantime, the following tips will help.
Diet and lifestyle tips
- Exercise the legs, thighs and any affected areas.
- Give yourself a daily dry Garshana massage on the affected areas. Raw silk gloves for this massage are available.
- Add a little Organic Kapha Tea, Organic Kapha Churna Seasoning, fenugreek, cumin, black pepper and ginger to your diet. These help reduce ama, but don't overdo it. Too many hot spices can aggravate your Pitta.
Dry lips and dry skin are signs of a Vata imbalance. Other symptoms that too much Vata has accumulated could be anxiety, constipation, insomnia, headaches, undue fatigue, intestinal gas, menstrual cramps, lower back pain, or aching joints.
Dry skin is due to a Vata imbalance. It's probably related to the dry climate, heat and wind. It's important to create balance from the inside out.
Diet and lifestyle tips
- Give yourself an oil massage before you jump in the shower. Moisturize Herbal Massage Oil or Soothe Herbal Massage Oil would be good.
- When you're doing the massage, dip your finger tips in the oil. Also use more oil on the soles of your feet and palms of your hands.
- Avoid spicy, dry foods. Favor sweet, light and heavier foods to balance both Vata and Pitta (because of the hot climate).
- Eat lots of sweet, juicy fruits.
- A little ghee in the diet is a must. Use it when cooking. Also cook with coriander, cumin and turmeric.
- Drink lots of room-temperature water.
- Avoid or reduce direct exposure to the sun.
- Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
- Establish a regular daily routine. Go to bed as early as possible.
- Treat your face to one of our herbal moisturizers.
In general, warts can be related to Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Around the nails they are usually associated with Vata.
There are four factors that contribute: lubrication (Shleshaka Kapha), muscle tissue (Mamsa Dhatu), fat tissue (Meda Dhatu) and circulation/skin (Vyana Vata).
When digestive impurities (ama) combine with these four factors, they create a toxic reaction (amavisha) that produces the warts.
Breaking this cycle can be difficult. It begins with an ama-reducing diet: avoid heavy oils; favor light, nutritious foods; and cook with ginger, turmeric, cumin and fennel.
Another approach is to pacify circulation/skin (Vyana Vata) externally. The Moisturizing Herbal Massage Oil will help with this. Besides massaging the whole body before you shower, you can soak the fingertips in the oil.
Remember, as with all things in Ayurveda, a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and plenty of water, rest, exercise, and stress-management will go a long way to keeping you feeling—and looking—your best. Build an all-natural Ayurvedic skincare routine with products for your skin type and age, and you’ll be well on your way to healthy, glowing skin.