Each season arrives with its distinct personality. Summer comes with warm and long days, the abundance of fruits and flavours, enthusiasm to go out and be social, and not to mention the sharp and piercing sun rays. Exposing ourselves to the sun can give us a nice tan, but it can also be harmful, especially to the skin. In Ayurveda, the skin is considered the largest organ we have. Its importance can be noticed either by the recommendation of oil application on the body (Abhyanga) as part of the morning routine (Dinacharya) or by other ayurvedic massages and treatments done through the skin.
In summer, the oil and heat in our skin can be increased due to Pitta’s aggravation in our body and minds. This excess of fire in our system, can cause acne, excess sweating, sunburn, rashes or any types of inflammatory skin conditions. Let's look at how we can nourish and protect our skin through the wisdom of Ayurveda to keep a t healthy glowing skin in summer.
Nourish your Skin in both directions
In the Ayurvedic view, the skin has a digestive fire and a digestive system. An example to illustrate this idea would be the capacity of the skin to absorb sunlight and to transform it into Vitamin D. A process of transformation in Ayurvedic Language is called digestion and any digestion requires a digestive fire (Agni), which is provided by the Pitta Dosha. Just as there is Agni in the stomach and intestines to digest food, there is also Agni in our skin to digest the substances that enter the body through this organ. The Pitta present in the skin is called a ‘Sub-Dosha’, and the sub-dosha in this case is called ‘Bhrajaka Pitta’. The skin will digest anything that seeps through it, making it ready for cellular absorption, or, if necessary, for elimination. As a mirror of our physiological functions, the skin can tell a lot of what is going on inside of our bodies. Therefore, in Ayurveda, we nourish our skin in both directions: from the outside and the inside y. Next to oils and creams, we can also nourish our skin through our diet. As oil massages will take care of the skin and support underlying tissues and organs, our food will promote healthy digestion and physiological functions to treat skin problems. For more diet tips read 5 Simple food tips to be a Happy Pitta
Use Natural Organic Substances
Nourishing our skin needs to be done with care. The same care we should take when choosing the products we apply on it. I will never forget one of my Ayurvedic teachers saying: "In different doses and concentration, everything we put on our skin, we should be able to put in our mouth." A statement that sounded like a revolution to my pores.
Ayurveda will always promote our connection with nature and to natural substances as a source to restore balance. Organic substances have a natural affinity with our bodies because they are made of the same five elements as we are. This familiarity will help the body to assimilate them creating balance or bringing it back.
Hydrate your body
During a hot day, the body needs liquid, otherwise, it cannot produce enough sweat to cool us down. This means we need to be and stay hydrated.
- The simplest way to hydrate the body is to drink fresh, still, cool (not cold) water. Ayurveda doesn’t advise cold water or iced drinks at all. They will disturb our Agni (digestive fire), unbalancing our digestive capacity.
- If you prefer warm tea the use of cooling herbs will be a refreshing option. Mint leaves or coriander seeds are some of them.
- Coconut water is another excellent option to hydrate the body, especially if you sweat more easily or after physical activities once it also replaces minerals.
Protect yourself from the sun
Natural is a controversial terminology when it comes to sunscreen. At the market, the classification ‘natural’ in most cases refers to sunscreens that use minerals to block UV rays or sunscreens that don't include oxybenzone, an ingredient that can affect hormones or produce allergies in humans and has been found to cause coral bleaching and coral death. On top of it, skin resistances and exposure to the sun are factors difficult to generalize.
If the natural sunscreens offered in the market are not natural enough for you, I would say at least be always careful with the sun in summer. One of the best protection for the sun is still the shadow. Avoiding exposure of the skin to the sunlight during the hottest period of the day and covering yourself with clothes and a hat while being in the sun, are simple but very effective ways to protect your skin. However, them alone might not be enough. So again, always be careful with the sun, especially in this season.
Take Extra Care after Sunburn
Here are the most common things to do if you have exposed your skin for too long under the sun and instead of having a nice tan what you got was a sunburn:
- A gentle cooling shower followed by drying the skin by tapping the towel instead of rubbing it in the body.
- Aloe vera. You can peel the leaves off the plant, collect the jelly part from inside with a spoon, whisk to get a gel texture and apply on the skin. If you prefer, you can also use natural lotions that contain aloe vera as an ingredient. Aloe Vera soothes and moisturises the sunburned skin.
- Oatmeal baths are excellent for sunburn with itching. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet.
- Sandalwood paste can be applied to the skin to cool down the feeling of heat.
- Cucumbers have natural antioxidant and analgesic properties. Take the skin from the cucumber and mash it in a blender to create a paste. Apply to the affected area. You can also apply it to the face.
- Avoid soap and perfumes.
- Once the initial sunburn has calmed down, coconut oil can be used to moisturise the skin. Never use coconut oil as sunscreen or sun protection.
- Deal with excess sweating
The Ayurvedic way of dealing with any problem is to look at what is causing it, so if you are struggling with your sweat, think of your diet, lifestyle and see if you can make some connections. Processed food, white sugar, red meat, are famous triggers of changes in the sweat’s odour, but cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) that have sulphur, combined with weak digestion might also cause this effect. If you notice your sweat changes after eating those vegetables you don’t need to stop consuming them, instead favour boiling it with a pint of salt and seasoning it with herbs that help digestion, such as fennel seeds. Another well-known trigger of sweat is stress. It can produce a very specific, sometimes strong, kind of odour. Pay attention if you notice a change after a stressful day. Some other suggestions for sweating:
- Make sure you wear light cotton clothes.
- Improve personal hygiene. It’s simple but an important step towards staying fresh and smelling good.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol.
- Bathing with Neem leaves is popular advice for body odour.
- Soak Fenugreek seeds in plain water overnight and consume them the next day first thing in the morning.
- Lavender essential oil diluted in coconut oil can be applied to the armpits as a deodorant. To avoid allergic reactions, make sure the essential oil has no chemicals and is from a good organic brand. On top of it, you can always test a small part of it on your skin before using it for the first time.
Extra summer tip: Insect bites
Insect bites can happen more frequently in summer and for some people, this can be very annoying. A homemade recipe that might help: basil leaves and turmeric. Take a handful of basil leaves, add turmeric to them and apply it to the insect bite. It acts as an antiseptic and prevents it from worsening.
These were just some ideas that can help during summer, but if you want to explore more, an Ayurvedic practitioner/doctor can always help you with a personal and more specific approach.