In the traditional Indian medicine of Ayurveda, nourishing yourself from the inside (with the right foods) and from the outside (with natural beauty aids) can elicit a true radiance. "Your skin reflects what's going on inside your body—every thought you think, every food you eat. Taking care of your skin means taking care of your entire being," says Pratima Raichur, founding director of Pratima Ayurvedic Skin Care Clinic in Manhattan and the author of Absolute Beauty (HarperCollins, 1999).
To tap into this ancient wisdom, first check out "What's Your Skin Type?" at left and choose the dosha, or overall type, that describes you best. Then use the matching techniques and ingredients. Whether you buy products with the recommended herbs and oils or make your own, use the finest ingredients you can find. "In general, don't apply anything to your skin that you wouldn't eat," Raichur advises. Also, be sure not to apply essential oils directly to the skin. Always dilute them with other oils or base ingredients.
When vata, which represents the air element, is out of balance, it leads to dry skin, an agitated mind, and frazzled nerves.
Cleanse: Creamy cleansers won't remove moisture from already parched skin. If your skin is very dry, Raichur recommends washing your face with organic heavy cream (the kind you put in your coffee). "Look for natural alpha-hydroxy or lactic acids," says Carina Chatlani, president and CEO of Body Bistro and Asana Spa in Beverly Hills, California. "Natural sugars, such as maple syrup, milk, and the extracts of oranges and lemons, are high in these acids."
Moisturize: Vata skin requires a rich, penetrating oil, such as sesame or avocado. Apply it to slightly damp skin to seal in moisture. Raichur recommends essential oils of geranium, sandalwood, or rose.
Problem areas: Key to keeping dry skin moist is staying hydrated. "Drinking water is especially important for vata," Raichur explains. Aim for eight 8-ounce glasses a day of room-temperature or slightly warmer water.
Because of its fiery nature, pitta skin is sensitive and should be treated delicately. Avoid scrubbing too hard and using water that is too hot or cold.
Cleanse: Orange and lemongrass are both soothing for sensitive skin. "They cool and cleanse," says Chatlani. For very sensitive skin, Raichur advises washing your face with organic heavy cream mixed with finely ground almonds. Rinse well with cool water.
Moisturize: Raichur recommends almond, coconut, or olive oils because they are cooling and won't aggravate reddened skin. Essential oils of jasmine, sandalwood, and vetiver soothe skin, and their aromas calm a fiery mind. "Pitta people tend toward anger," Raichur explains. "Taking care of their emotions will also help take care of their skin."
Problem areas: "Neem [oil] is the best solution for taming eczema," Chatlani says. "We also use it to treat blemishes and to even out skin tone."
When earthy kapha is out of balance, the body secretes more toxins through the skin, making skin oily.
Cleanse: A small amount of buttermilk or plain yogurt mixed with a couple drops of lemon juice is gently astringent, absorbing excess oil without stimulating the skin to produce more. Massage the mixture into your face, then rinse with lukewarm water.
Moisturize: Even oily skin needs moisture. Sunflower or safflower oil won't clog pores. And products with essential oils of rosemary, bergamot, or lavender stimulate kapha's sluggish constitution, says Raichur.
Problem areas: Blend 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of white clay with 1 teaspoon water until pasty. Let the concoction settle for two minutes, then apply a small amount to pimples and blackheads and let dry. Rinse with warm water. "Turmeric kills bacteria and reduces inflammation, while the clay absorbs oils and toxins," Chatlani explains.