If you have ever had acne for any extended period of time you know how debilitating it can be. If can suck up your confidence and even make it hard to go out in public. I feel you, it’s awful.
I’ve been teaching yoga for over a decade now, and at the end of all my classes, before covid, I would give each student a head massage and adjustment. It allowed me to get up close and personal to so many peoples skin. Adult acne is real. This isn’t just something teenagers are dealing with. Almost all of my students were struggling with some soft of acne, and no, it’s not all the same thing.
We’re going to look at acne through the lens of Ayurveda. Let me bring you back to the same point I make over and over again. We aren’t living in nature, we are nature. Mother nature is our eco system, and the more we understand how she works, the better we understand our selves. Nature is diverse. We aren’t all oak trees. We are all a combination of the same natural raw materials, the elements. These elements pair up to form the doshas. The doshas are the lens we use to understand our own natural composition and observe is it is in balance, or not.
There’s more than one type of acne, because there’s more than one way that your natural composition can go out of balance. You could experience different types of acne at different times in your life, I know I have. This is why some drug store topical products will work really well for one person, make another person’s problem worse, and another person won’t notice a change at all. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything is a nail. Except of course, they aren’t all nails. Some of them are screws, and hooks, and a hammer won’t always get the job done! Fortunately, Ayurveda has lots of tools.
Each doshic imbalance can create a different type of acne. Each different type of acne will need its own practices and tools to help reestablish balance. To review, the doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha and each one in an unbalanced state can create their own type of acne. Now here’s where it might get a little bit tricky if you haven’t studied this science at all or taken the intro course. I’ll try to simplify as much as I can.
We all have all three doshas. You can be a pitta dominant person and still have a vata acne. Or, you can be a vata dominant person and still have a kapha acne. You personal prakriti, or your born in doshic constitution, it not necessarily connected to your Vikruti, or your current state of imbalance. All of that to say, anyone can have kapha acne, anyone can have pitta acne, anyone can have vata acne.
There are two major ideas to be familiar with before we move forward. First, the three doshas and the elements that compose them. Vata is air and either. Pitta is fire and water. Kapha is earth and water. Next, ama. Ama is any sort of blockage or toxicity that interrupts intelligent flow and recalibration of the body.
Let’s look at vata acne first. Vata is a combination of the elements air and either. This can take two different problematic turns. The first being too much air, space, and either leading to very dry and clogged skin. Think blackheads and dry patches. The second being not enough air and space leading to the overproduction of oil as a means of over compensation. For many people, they will experience both of these extremes every day. THey’ll wake in the morning with dry patchy skin and in the afternoon their face with start to get oily. By bed time they’re going to sleep with oily skin. This is what is often referred to as combination skin, or sensitive skin.
Many people who face this issue pay the most attention to the over production of oil. They put on drying creams and mattifying lotions in an effort to control their oil production. This actually makes the problem worse and the body continues to make too much oil to over compensate for the dry skin that also exists each (usually) morning. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone and it is super frustrating.
This is the type of acne that does really well with oil being applied to the skin. In general a sesame oil is good, but for other people and almond oil will work even better. Anytime we are working with a vata imbalance we want to be very careful not to create more dryness. Lifestyle factors like diet, rest, and movement can have an incredible impact in healing this type of skin imbalance. As an Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist, when working with someone who has vata acne I’d absolutely want to take a deep look into everything they eat and drink every day and pull our anything that’s vata aggravating. We will also take a look into sleep protocol, the intensity of work, and the types of movement the person is participating in.
Good people, if good skin were as simple as buying a drug store cream, we would have all done that. Topical products can be a great help, and even necessary, but they are never going to be enough all on their own. A very tired person who eats nothing but raw foods and ice cold water is probably going to have aggravated skin no mater how fancy a product they bought to put on at night.
Overall, this is the most common type of acne I see. The vata type. And most people are unknowingly buying products that are much more geared towards the other two types of acne. I hope this is somehow encouraging to someone out there who feels like they’ve bought and tried everything. You might have! There’s still hope.
Here are a few quick and easy tips for this vata type of acne. Don’t use soap, it’s too drying and it will increase oil production. Instead, mix chickpea flower and water in the palm of your hand and make a paste. Use this mixture to wash your face at night if it is oily. Afterwards apply a mixture of water and almond or sesame oil. In the morning, if your skin is not oily, simply wash it with water. Less is more!
If the imbalance is deeper there are herbal and diet related cleanses that can gently help restore balance without causing more drying. Some of the more potent options are counter indicated in some individuals, but in general almost everyone can do the hot water routine. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Throughout the day sip hot water, about the temperature of hot tea is ideal. The hot water will encourage your system to continuously work on burning up toxicity in the body and help bring it back towards balance.
Now let’s look more closely at pitta acne. Pitta acne is almost always a combination of two problems, too much pitta, and too much ama. Another way to say that is too much fire or heat in the body, and too much toxicity. This type of acne is inflamed, red, hot, and angry looking.
I recently heard a few medical doctors giving a talk about the connection of this type of acne to overall gut health. When this issue of pitta acne, so think rosacea for example, was left untreated it was correlated to high instances of altimeter disease.
I think this is absolutely fascinating and speaks to the ancient wisdom of this tradition. Western functional medicine is about to go screaming from the roof tops that the health of your skin is directly related to the health of your gut. The health of you gut is directly correlated to disease. Allowing the body to stay in an inflammatory state for long periods of time is at the heart of almost all chronic disease. Your skin is one way the body shows you it is not happy, something is not right, this is not a problem we fix exclusively with the right night cream.
That said, some of us are absolutely genetically more likely to experience this rosacea problem. Happy late Saint Patricks day to my fellow Irish men and women. We have the short straw on this one. Just because it’s more common for this imbalance to occur in very fair skin does not mean it should be ignored or dismissed as normal.
So what can we do about it? For this Pitta type of acne, sometimes applying oil can make it worse. Occasionally, if the problem is just rosacea, there are oils that can be really helpful, buts its a person by person sort of thing. However, with a case that’s more inflamed pimples, sometimes it can get so bad that even just oily hair touching the face can be enough to cause a new problem. This type of acne almost always needs an herbal intervention. Herbs are selected that will help cool down and purify the blood. There are four main herbal formulas for this type of acne, but one persons solution is another persons problem. We’ll need to take a deeper look into an individuals details to determine which herbs will be the most helpful.
Of course, diet is major. We’ll look closely at all the foods and beverages that are being consumed and eliminate inflammatory and ama producing foods and replace them with foods that help create balance. Additionally, this is another place where we can stay away from soap. It’s too aggravating. Stick to chickpea flower and water.
I know this type of acne can be embarrassing, painful, and debilitating. I hope this gives you hope that there are absolutely tools and practices that can help return your skin to a balanced and healthy state.
Now, let’s take a closer look into kapha acne. Kapha acne is almost always accompanied by ama as well. Kapha is earth and water, and too much of it with blockages as well. This will result in deep, often painful, cystic acne. The over production of oil will block a follicle followed by a secondary inflammation at the body tries to burn up the ama that has accumulated beneath the skin. That’s why often this type of acne is felt before it is visible to others.
There is a strong correlation between digestive health and function and this kapha type acne. Often, I’ll stay away from the herbal formulas here because they an cool down digestion too much which will just send more oil to the surface of the skin and cause more problems. Instead, here, we really want to look at diet and digestive strength.
So what can we do to make it better? This is another place where we stay away from adding more oil to the skin. Usually, a combination of a kapha and ama reducing diet paired with a digestive aid can work wonders. Kapha and ama reducing means we will go through everything this person is eating and drinking and take out the things that are too heavy and hard to digest and replace them with foods and beverages that can be more easily digested. A digestive aid can take several forms. It might be a very short term (3 days to 1 week) special diet to help restart and rebuild the digestive fire, or it could be a herbal supplement. For whom and when. We can add to this tool box some Ayurvedic yoga and we’re usually off to a strong start.
Using high quality and clean products on your skin is a wonderful idea. It can be an enjoyable form of self care. The problem comes when we rely of these products to be cures for problems they didn’t create. You are a complete and wondrous being with systems that all work together. We can’t ignore our sleep and hope to have glowing skin. We can’t eat trash and hope to have glowing skin. We can sit behind a desk all day in anguish and expect to have glowing skin. You know this, I’m just reminding you.
If you’re looking for individualized care, help, and attention with acne I can help! Ayurvedic Yoga therapy is a wonderful way to get the one on one attention you need to create a plan to bring your skin back into balance, health, and beauty.
I wish for you all good rest, good food, lot of joy, and glowing, beautiful, healthy skin.
This article is also an Ayurveda Podcast.