The ancient system of holistic healing, practiced in India for centuries, brings health and beauty into balance
If you’ve ever filled out a pre-spa treatment questionnaire that asks you about things like your sleep habits, sensitivity to humidity or whether you prefer salty or sweet snacks, chances are you’ve encountered Ayurveda.
Practiced in India for millennia, this holistic healing system (Sanskrit for “the science of life”) is designed to work on the whole body, inside and out, with visible skin care results—and it has become increasingly popular in spas around the world.
Believed to have been brought to earth by Dhanvantari, the Hindu god of medicine, and first recorded in the sacred Vedic texts some 4,000 years ago, Ayurveda is centered on the ideas that mind and body are one unit and that the ultimate goal is to achieve balance in both.
“Life is a combination of the physical form, mind, breath and consciousness, and they are all connected,” explains Dr. Pratima Raichur, author of Absolute Beauty and founder of New York City’s Pratima Spa and Ayurvedic Clinic, one of the first Ayurvedic day spas in the U.S. ‘’Every thought we have, food we eat, and breath we take affects the body.”
According to Ayurveda, the five fundamental elements of the universe—ether (space), air, fire, water and earth—are also present in human physiology, and it is the imbalance of these that leads to illness and other physical and emotional symptoms, many of which manifest as skin issues and allergies.
In Ayurveda, there are three doshas—or body/energy types—that each correspond to a specific combination of those universal elements: Vata (air and ether); Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water). Before receiving treatments, a client meets with a certified Ayurvedic practitioner (or, if none is present, takes an extensive questionnaire) to determine her dosha; questions might include whether you prefer the heat or cold, if you tend to be focused or restless, and how you react to stress.
Skin-related questions are also a big part of the diagnostic process, as dosha imbalances are often quick to manifest as skin conditions. In fact, an Ayurvedic expert should be able to determine your main dosha based on whether your skin tends toward dry and thin (Vata), sensitive or inflamed / troubled (Pitta), or plump and hydrated but prone to large pores or eruptions (Kapha).
Most people are typically a combination of two doshas (or, in rare cases, all three), with one more dominant. Once the primary dosha is determined, practitioners are able to identify where imbalances lie, which helps them decide what treatments will be most beneficial and what custom-blended oils, herbs and products should be used to restore equilibrium.
The goal of Ayurvedic treatments is to treat not just outward symptoms, but also the underlying causes. “We aim to heal existing problems and prevent future occurrences, because beauty shouldn’t be just about instant gratification, but rather something genuine and lasting,” Dr. Raichur explains. Both internal and skin health is treated with a diagnostic process, detoxification, herbal supplements, and a series of spa services called panchakarma, or “five actions.”
Some of the most popular Ayurvedic skincare-focused treatments include:
Shirodhara A gentle stream of warm herbal oil is steadily poured on the middle of the forehead, helping to dissolve stress, calm the mind, improve focus and unlock the “third eye.” The hour-long therapy is usually coupled with a scalp or body massage.
Abhyanga/Marma Massage Abhyanga increases circulation and stimulates the lymphatic system using brisk, long and rhythmic strokes, while Marma massage balances and unblocks energy by stimulating the 108 marma pressure points that link the body and the mind.
Udvartna Designed to encourage detoxifying and leave skin brighter and healthier, this service starts with a dry brushing exfoliation to help boost circulation and prepare the skin to absorb the products, followed by the application of an herbal paste made with powerful botanicals.
Ayurveda at Home
Enjoy the power of Ayurvedic ingredients at home with these products.
Anjolie Neem Tulsi Body Butter Neem (an antibacterial used to treat eczema, acne, dry skin and dandruff) and tulsi (an anti-inflammatory) make for a nourishing body moisturizer that also helps soothe eczema and skin irritations. $18; anjolienyc.com
Sandalwood Rose Mask Pure distilled rose water extract, organic ghee (clarified butter), turmeric (stimulates circulation) and sandalwood mud gently exfoliate, calm and balance all skin types, leaving pores tight and skin glowing. $40; pratimaskincare.com
Tara Face & Body Mist These refreshing sprays are available for each dosha: Vata to hydrate dry skin and calm the mind; Kapha to invigorate congested skin; and Pitta to soothe irritated skin. Or choose Bindi, designed to nourish all skin types. $18; taraspa.com
Shankara Hair and Scalp Oil With Ayurvedic herbs like gotu kola (promotes cell growth and skin regeneration), amla (high in amino acids and vitamin C) and sandalwood (anti-inflammatory), this oil helps stimulate hair growth, ease scalp conditions and repair damage. $42; shankara.com