via Les Nouvelles Esthetiques & Spa by Melanie Sachs and Sudhir M. Shah
The following article is a Q & A interview by Melanie Sachs with Sudhir M. Shah, explaining the benefits of taking the Ayurvedic approach to achieving beautiful skin.
Q: Can you explain the term 'Ayurvedic' from your personal perspective for those not yet familiar with it?
A: Ayurvedic herbal remedies are a part of Ayurveda, the traditional holistic healing system of India. I am Indian myself, and my mother was an Ayurvedic practitioner. She had no formal education in this area, so you could say she practiced folk medicine. But it was nonetheless effective, and most importantly available to all. Her skills were very well respected, and she was able to raise 10 healthy children using virtually no modern medicine.
Q: So you were raised in a household where the use of herbs was the first choice in health care. Did you always share your mother's interest and skills?
A: Honestly, no. I studied modern sciences and came to the United States of America to pursue a graduate degree in molecular biology. I also earned an MBA from Yale University. It wasn't until my own son suffered from eczema very badly that I turned back to my roots. By combining Ayurvedic knowledge with my science and business training, I not only found some wonderful remedies, I have also been able to develop and market products that help others.
Q: That is such an interesting and rare combination of talents. Could you tell us from your perspective what is unique about the way Ayurveda approaches skin care and the use of botanicals?
A: The Ayurvedic approach to skin care is uniquely different, and yet this approach is refreshingly contemporary in its premise and its promise.
• Ayurvedic skin care is pure, natural and chemical free. It teaches that the skin absorbs nutrients that affect the body on a cellular level; therefore, nothing should be applied to the skin if it cannot be eaten without causing a problem.
• Ayurvedic beauty products should contain only full spectrum botanical ingredients. Plants, having evolved over millions of years, have created a natural balance. When we tear apart a naturally occurring compound, we are stripping it of its inherent balance and natural synergy. Isolated, it may give us one desired benefit, but the price is many undesirable side effects, some of which are hidden. In addition, synthetic production alters its bioavailability. Also, truly natural Ayurvedic products are neither bleached nor chemically processed to give them a white or clear appearance.
• Ayurveda treats the cause, and does not just mask the symptoms to give you temporary results.
Bio-active ingredients in Ayurvedic skin care stimulate the skin and body's inherent self healing mechanisms, promoting an internal synergy between various constituents. Ayurveda reminds us that beauty, health and wellness make up the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind and spirit.
Q: Having more understanding of where you are coming from as a formulator, can you tell us more about your top five Ayurvedic herbs for promoting beautiful skin?
A: I'm happy to name them here with their common English name, botanical and then the name I know them by from my mother.
Aloe vera, aloe barbadensis miller, kumari
Q: This is the plant many keep in a pot in the kitchen in case of mild burns. I believe they call it the 'healing cactus' in India.
A: Fifty years of scientific research has confirmed aloe vera's therapeutic benefits for the skin when used both internally and externally. Aloe juice should be used in all skin care products as a base ingredient instead of water – from cleansers and serums to moisturizers and sunscreens. Aloe penetrates tissue. Unlike water, aloe can be deeply absorbed into all the skin's layers. This is due to the presence of lignin, a substance similar to cellulose. This allows aloe to act as an excellent carrier for the other beneficial components of aloe vera, as well as other ingredients that are included in aloe-based skin care products.
It acts as an anesthetic. Aloe has a high magnesium content and contains aspirin-like compounds. This is why aloe is used to ease the pain of burns or inflamed skin.
It also has antimicrobial properties. Rich in saponin and barbaloin, which are both powerful antibacterial compounds that can kill the bacteria that aggravate acne and other inflammatory conditions.
It is an anti-inflammatory. Aloe contains beta hydroxyl acid, known for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Additionally, it contains sterols that inhibit acute inflammation, similar to cortisone but without the side effects. Nearly all skin conditions stem from inflammation, making aloe an ideal remedy.
It is proven to heal wounds. Several components in aloe are responsible for its excellent ability to regenerate cells. These include gibberellin, a growth hormone-like substance that increases protein synthesis, and lectin, a protein that increases collagen activity and improves the collagen matrix. Thus, aloe may be utilized to heal conditions, such as acne or eczema, as well as in anti-aging formulations.
Holy basil, Ocinum sanctum, tulsi
Q: Grown, loved and revered in many an Indian garden, holy basil is a sacred plant used during prayers and meditation. You may have come across it as tea blended with rose petals or ginger, or as an herb to help with clearing the lungs.
A: It is known as an adaptogen in Ayurveda, which means it is helpful in increasing the body's resistance to a variety of environmental threats or stressors. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as trace minerals. In India, it is widely used in cosmetics, perfumes, shampoos and soaps. For centuries, the anti-microbial properties have been well known. Crushed leaves of holy basil have been used to treat acne and irritated skin. Tulsi contains ursolic acid, which has anti-aging properties and generally improves the skin's health by forming an oil-resistant barrier. It also minimizes the appearance of wrinkles and age spots by restoring the skin's collagen bundle structures and elasticity.
Essential oils such as eugenol, carvacol, linalool, caryophylline, and methyleugenol in holy basil are said to elevate both mood and spirit.
A study from the Pharmaceutical of Biology Journal shows that the holy basil plant has anti-melanoma and radio-protective properties.
Boswellia, Boswellia serrata, Shallaki
Q: It is sometimes known as Indian frankincense. You may have seen it as an ingredient in a joint rub for arthritis or back pain.
A: Boswellia is one of the most effective anti-irritants for skin known to man. It is not an herb exactly, but a resin that oozes from the bark of the boswellia tree. Sometimes we call it 'bark tears.' Boswellia is known to fortify all the systems of the body and rejuvenate the skin. It's action calms, soothes and combats the stresses that cause skin inflammation, such as air pollution, UV irradiation, injuries, cuts and burns.
It reduces fine wrinkles. Since Vedic times, people have used frankincense for moisturizing skin. James A. Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook, lists wrinkle prevention as one of boswellia's traditional uses. Gill Farrer-Halls recommends boswellia to rejuvenate skin and prevent wrinkles in The Aromatherapy Bible. It has the ability to produce more youthful looking skin. In 2010, the researchers at the University of Brescia in Italy found that women who applied Boswellia cream to their faces experienced much suppler, smoother and less oily skin within 30 days.
It fights inflammation. Boswellia extracts have shown strong anti-inflammatory effects in vitro and in clinical trials. Boswellic acids, primary active constituents in boswellia, appear to prevent substances that cause inflammation from forming, according to a monograph published in Alternative Medicine Review. Although isolated boswellic acid is effective against inflammation, there is at least one known side effect: the inhibition of leukotriene biosynthesis—causing increased allergic reaction and histamine production. This is mitigated by lipids and polysaccharides in the whole resin.
It is antiseptic and antibiotic. Boswellia has a long history of use as a wound dressing and antibiotic in the Asia. Anecdotal reports and historical use suggest that boswellia promotes wound healing and may help heal skin ulcers and pimples.
Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, mulethi
Q: We know it as a sticky black candy, but I take it you are talking about the powdered root here.
A: Indeed, licorice root powder is found in numerous traditional formulas, both in Eastern and Western medicine. It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that are used in the successful treatment of eczema and rosacea to soothe and heal the skin. It also contains glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhizic acid, which reduce inflammation and help soothe irritated skin. When licorice extract is added to cosmetic formulas in sufficient quantities, it can control redness, flushing and other types of inflammation.
Glabridin inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that causes pigmentation in response to sun exposure. It can also help diminish the dark pigmentation resulting from scars. It is a wonderful, natural skin lightening alternative to chemical hydroquinone.
Glycyrrhetinic acid, which seems to have mythical powers over a traumatized epidermis. In addition to being credited with anti-inflammatory abilities, it also demonstrates anti-allergic, anti-viral, antibacterial, and hepato-protective benefits. Clinical tests point to this ingredient as an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis because of its ability to reduce redness and irritation.
A Triterpenoid called saponin, which aids in the absorption of nutrients, making it a carrier for nutrients in skin care formulations.
Gotu kola, Centella asiatica, mandukaparni
Q: I know gotu kola as an herb that is said to have the ability to increase intelligence, memory and support of the immune system. It grows like mad in my garden here in central California, and I eat a few leaves each morning. But I did not know that it has also been used crushed to help heal stretch marks and scars.
A: Triterpenoid, saponins, the primary constituents of gotu kola, are mainly believed to be responsible for its therapeutic actions. Apart from healing tissues, the herb is used for the treatment of various skin ailments and more serious conditions such as leprosy, lupus, varicose ulcers, eczema and psoriasis. Look for gotu kola in your anti-aging, stretch mark and scar creams.
The chemical composition (see chart on page 85) of these Ayurvedic herbs is highly complex, containing many nutrients and other bio-active compounds. The nutritional and pharmacological properties of the whole herb in its natural form result from synergistic interactions of many different active phytochemicals. Here is my attempt to list some of the phytochemicals that benefit our skin.