This post was last updated on March 27, 2023 by Preethi Sukumaran
Is your current skincare routine very complex and complicated? Are you concerned about the possible side effects of using synthetics for your skin? Have you been wondering about how Ayurveda can help you build an effective skin care routine? Read on for more on how you can craft a simple, uncomplicated, yet surprisingly effective ayurvedic skin care routine.
Synthetic skincare products and make-up: safety concerns
Skin care globally and in India is big business. Globally, this busines is projected to touch 200 billion USD by 2026. Of this , Indian skincare is expected to hit nearly 3 billion USD by 2023, fueled by rising disposable income and higher growing awareness and interest in skin care triggered by social media and the rise of influencers.
But is this large growing business necessarily well thought through, carefully regulated and completely safe?
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a non profit advocacy group based in san Francisco and partially funded by the Breast Cancer fund, says that the average American is exposed to 126 different chemicals everyday (coming from skin care, make up, personal care and household care). Many of these chemicals have not been thoroughly tested.
We have written about the potential carcinogenic nature of some common ingredients in skin care and make up before on the Krya blog – specifically 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde. Both are probable human carcinogens and are absorbed and bio accumulate in the body.
The concern lies in the nature of our skin itself. It is by definition a huge organ system, and is an important organ of both excretion and absorption. Environmental working group says that the human skin absorbs nearly 1.8 Kilograms of lipstick over a user’s lifetime – all from the lips! Another study in California found that of the 32 brands of lipstick picked up from the market, 75% contained lead, a neurotoxin! In addition high levels of heavy metals like titanium, manganese, aluminum, cadmium and chromium were found in lipsticks.
How does this play out in India? Delhi based non profit Center for Science and Environment has routinely tested and shared reports on safety of commonly available cosmetics and skin care products in India. Again the results are alarming.
A 2015 study by CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Lab detected the presence of chromium and nickel in several brands of lipsticks tested. It also detected the presence of Mercury in fairness creams. The Mercury in fairness creams was estimated to be upto 71% of the maximum permissible limit of exposure per person per day. Please keep in mind that we could be exposed to Mercury in many other ways every day through food, water, and air – if the exposure from a single product itself comes to 71% it is very likely that our daily exposure could exceed safety limits.
The presence of both chromium and nickel derivatives in lipsticks in India is also of great concern. The Chromium limit found in CSE’s tests varied anywhere from 10% of daily permissible limit to 1550% of daily permissible limit!
Synthetic skincare products and make-up: environmental concerns
We have seen several of the health and safety concerns in synthetic skin care and make up products. But what about the environmental hazards of such products?
Synthetic skin care products pose many troubling questions on their environmental safety and impact. The first is the persistent use of microplastics in the form of “beads” in skin and personal care products. Despite the growing international concern on the effect of microplastic contamination of the ocean, and banning of microbeads in many countries like the US, manufacturers continue to use this in India.
Microbeads are used for 3 reasons: to provide a natural exfoliating effect, to hold certain fragrances or flavors which release on contact with skin or water to provide a more rich experience. And thirdly to reduce costs. Microbeads are most commonly made up of polyethylene. This significantly reduces the cost of the formulation and helps add bulking volume to the product.
A 2017 study that mapped studies done on marine pollution across the world found that the seas near Mumbai, Kerala and Andaman Islands are among the worst polluted in the world. In Mumbai for example, Juhu beach saw the highest quantity of microplastics. In Kerala , microplastics were recovered from all sediment samples in Vembanad Lake. Microplastics were also found in the digestive tract of fishes caught near Alappuzha – with the high intake of sea food in the local population we can expect to see microplastics pass through the food chain and bioaccumulate in human beings as well
Microplastics are just one small component of environmental pollution due to use of synthetic skincare. Additionally, many parts of the skincare we use like the Parabens, Phthalates, and even simple surfactants like SLS and SLeS have alarming and altering effects on marine organisms. This transcends environmental degradation and becomes a severe health hazard.
How the Indian view of healthy beautiful skin varies from other Asian cultures
Is fair, porcelain like skin an Indian thing? It isn’t. But those familiar with a Korean skin care routine or a Japanese skin care routine might be nodding furiously. China, Japan, Korea have many similarities in their view of what is ideal skin. Fairness and smoothness that is “flawless” is a part of the cultural ideal of skin – so in these cultures there is an extremely strong emphasis on fairness, correction of pigmentation / scars and the effort is to reduce any unevenness or blemishes in skin.
This comes from certain long held beliefs that revolve around class, wealth and inherent prejudices / beliefs around this. For more on this, please read our extremely detailed earlier blog post on how fairness is not an Indian ideal as much as it is a Chinese / Japanese or Korean ideal.
As these are also colder countries, there is a great deal of emphasis on repeated moisturization. For example the current 10 step Korean skin care routine infuses moisturization throughout the process. Japanese skin care actually introduced the concept of double cleansing to the skin care world. But both of these cultures come from a much cooler and drier climate compared to India.
The diet followed in these countries is also quite different, as are the seasons. Hence completely adopting to these routines in another country like India may not give us the results we seek.
Ayurvedic skin care is far more focused on skin functionality, the healthy support of the body’s microbiome and understanding how the interplay of doshas, ritu (season) and lifestage affect skin.
So for example, the first thing Ayurveda is concerned about in skin health is the health of the srotas / small tubular structures present in the skin. The Acharyas tells us that the surface of the body is covered with thousands of minute Srotas. These allow the body to perform thermoregulation, removal of toxins etc. So the first and primary function of any skin care routine is to take good care of the Srotas.
As the srotas work by expansion and contraction, we are asked to use taila / herbal oil to nourish and moisturize the skin so that it is supple and the srotas are in good working order.
Second, Ayurveda tells us that the skin is made up of 6 layers- what we now refer to as epidermis / dermis etc in western medicine has already been dissected and analyzed thread bare in Ayurveda.Different layers of the skin have a different function to perform. Also, skin disorders manifest in different parts of the Avabhashini or skin. For example vyanga / melasma manifests in Asrukdhara , the layer which carries Rakta, layer 2 of skin. Deep seated skin conditions like atopic dermatitis start at the Shweta layer, which is the 3rd layer of the skin. So when we design an ayurvedic skincare routine, we understand the interplay of doshas occurring on the skin by studying its appearance and the common problems that occur and then suggest herbs, oils and other products to support the skin.
As Ayurveda understands and acknowledges the porous and absorbing nature of skin, there is heavy emphasis on using functional , edible grains, and herbs to thoroughly cleanse and treat skin. While the Microbiome is not specifically mentioned, there is great emphasis in Ayurveda to support the skin’s microbiome colony by using the herbs that discourage the growth of invasive micro organisms.
The mildly acidic nature of human skin is also taken as an important factor. Hence Ksharas / alkaline substances are never used on skin – except when we are trying to cure specific disease conditions. By this measure, all modern soaps which have a kshara / alkaline property would be unsuitable for skin care according to Ayurveda.
Ayurveda acharyas are also extremely specific in their studies. The texts analyze thousands of different ingredients of animal, mineral and plant origin. So every kind of lentil is analyzed threadbare and each one has unique functional properties. Therefore the choice of each ingredient is extremely deliberate and carefully done.
The emphasis is not on trendiness or a catchy ingredient like many modern skin care routines are. Most ayurvedic formulations do not have a single “hero ingredient”. The emphasis is on a harmonious blend of ingredients with different ingredients lending different nutritional benefits to the formula.
The 3 step Ayurvedic skincare routine: Choorna + Taila + Lepa – we like to call it ayurvedic TLC
We saw the concerns with synthetic skin care both from health and environment, and also understood some of the differences between the Ayurvedic approach to skin care and what other cultures follow.
We saw how ayurvedic skincare held certain points as paramount: the purpose of skin care is to first ensure that skin functions normally and healthily. To ensure healthy, well functioning skin, we choose herbs and , ayurvedic tailas (cold pressed oils processed with ayurvedic herbs) Every step of the ayurvedic skincare process aims to understand the skin’s natural prakriti and correct minor imbalances through the daily use of the ayurvedic skin care product.
Step 1 in ayurvedic skincare: Cleansing skin with an Ayurvedic Choornam (mix of herbal powders)
Modern cleansers are either too harsh or too clogging. Modern cleansers are based on a sulphate or a non sulphate based surfactant which works similar to a detergent on skin. This is too drying for most skin types. In the case of surfactants like SLs and SLeS, we have the added concern of the surfactants being difficult to rinse out and also being a protein denaturing compound.
Synthetic cleansers are usually too harsh – they do a very thorough job of stripping sebum and washing away the microbiome colony that forms a loose matric on the skin surface. They also tend to irritate skin, causing minor inflammations, sensitivity etc.
If you choose a cleanser for dry skin, it is often too clogging. Artificial emollients like silicones are used to give the illusion of a softer / creamier cleanser. But these ingredients do not get absorbed by skin. They sit on the surface of skin clogging the Srotas, preventing thermoregulation and attracting dirt and grime.
An ayurvedic cleanser is designed completely differently. We start with the correct base choosing from a wide range of lentils, grains, clays, plant gums and sometimes natural surfactants. The combination of cleansing base depends upon the skin type. In thicker and more oil rich Men’s skin, we might use astringent gums like Babool gum and gentle plant surfactants like the Soapberry to improve the oil balancing and cleansing action .
In acne prone skin, we might use a natural clay like Ayurvedic clay. This is astringent, unclogs pores and works on shrinking very wide looking pores by deep cleansing the srotas. Our ayurvedic clay is responsibly sourced from Tamilnadu.
In addition to the base, an ayurvedic facial cleanser will then work on the different problems each prakriti faces. Pitta aggravated skin suffers from sensitivity, redness and blotchiness, imbalanced oil and a tendency towards acne. To treat this, we would use skin soothing herbs like Chamomile, astringent herbs like Dadima to balance oil, and herbs like Daruharidra or Arjuna bark to deep cleanse skin, and reduce the tendency towards Acne.
For dry, vata aggravated skin, an ayurvedic facial cleanser would be formulated with sweet nourishing Vata herbs and plant butters and oils. Herbs like Karanja bark and Karanja Oil , rich in skin emollient and nurturing actives would be used. Sweet, nourishing complexion enhancing herbs like Bala may be used.
To avoid the use of preservatives, phthalates, fragrances etc, Krya makes a wide range of pure ayurvedic facial cleanser Choornams. The Choornams are highly effective, gentle and formulated for different skin issues.
It is also processed to suit facial skin – the product is gentle, non abrasive and non irritating. To use it, you should make a thick, smooth paste with 1 teaspoon of the Choornam with water and gently apply it on the face and neck. Here’s a detailed post on why Ayurvedic facial cleansers are better for you, and a step by step guide on how to use them.
Step 2: ayurvedic skincare – nourish with a Taila (ayurvedic processed oil for facial skin after cleansing skin)
The next step in ayurvedic skincare routine is the use of a nourishing taila to moisturize skin. The taila chosen for facial care must be custom processed to suit facial skin. With the regular use of soaps and other synthetic cleansers and heavy use of make up and cosmetics , facial skin has gotten thinner and much more weathered. Hence the nourishing serum must be processed to be more sookshma, with smaller particles that easily get absorbed by skin without causing heaviness and greasiness.
In the last few years, Kumkumadi tailam, a hoary classical formulation has become extremely popular even among the general audience who do not necessarily subscribe to an ayurvedic skincare routine. This is a wonderful classical formulation , but cannot be used by all skin types. For more on this, please read our detailed blogpost on who can use kumkumadi tailam and how it should be used.
Krya formulates 4 skin serums to suit different skin types. For mixed skin types / combination skin, we suggest a combination of 2 serums to completely address the issues faced by skin.
An ayurvedic facial serum must only be applied on damp skin. The dosage must be controlled to over clogging skin. And it must be patted in – facial skin is delicate and must not be pulled, tugged or over massaged as this leads to early aging.
Step 3: ayurvedic skincare – Using a Face Lepa (ayurvedic face mask) once a week
Ayurvedic Face lepas are an excellent addition to the simple ayurvedic skincare routine. The purpose behind the Lepa is deeper and more targeted dosha balance and skin correction. They are not for relaxation or for moisturization as is commonly believed with synthetic face masks.
An ayurvedic lepa is a powerful mix of deeply functional skin care herbs. The action concentrates on improving Srota health and balancing dosha aggravation in the facial skin. They also work additionally on soothing the eye socket and drawing out excess accumulated heat from the head region. This is why using an ayurvedic facial lepa is so relaxing and adds back so much wellness. Besides skin it also works on improving eye health and well being!
The action of a Lepa is both gentle and deliberate. Excessive pulling / tugging of the skin is discouraged. Hence the Lepa is to be left on only as long as the Mask is moist and wet. As it starts to dry, we must rinse out as otherwise it has a tugging, pulling and drying action on the skin which is not encouraged.
Krya has an excellent range of face Lepas for different skin types. As with serums and Choornams, we often suggest a combination of Face lepas to solve the issues of combination skin. Please explore our Ayurvedic lepas here. Here is a more detailed post on using a face lepas and a simple checklist to use your lepa correctly.
Ayurvedic skincare – a 30 day challenge VLOG
After seeing a lot of information on 10 and 15 step routines and the use of multiple products for skin, most people are taken aback at the simplicity of an ayurvedic skincare routine. Is that all they ask? Will just these 3 steps be enough for our skin?
The young Krya marketing team took this one step further & two of them decided to try a 30 day skincare challenge using Krya’s skincare products, chosen for their unique skin type and concerns.
How did this go? Did they like the routine? Did they see any results at all? You can see the results here in this fun vlog on the Krya YT channel.
Would you like to try an ayurvedic skincare routine for yourself?
For a customized skin care routine, write to us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or send us a DM on Whatsapp (07550089090). Our Customer service team will understand your skin type and concerns and help you choose the right products for your ayurvedic skincare routine.