Ayurveda is an ancient and traditional medical science that originated during the Vedic civilization of India around 5,000 years ago.
The embryogenesis, anatomy, and physiology, as well as the cause of various skin disorders, are described in Ayurvedic texts with great precision. Ayurveda considers the skin as a mirror of one’s physiology. Hence the skin reflects the inner health or disorder.
Ayurveda classifies skin into seven distinct layers. Specific details are given such as the thickness of each skin layer, its function, and possible vulnerability of diseases at that layer. It is astonishing to know that Ayurveda could describe the anatomical structure of skin thousands of years ago when modern sophisticated instruments and equipment were not available.
Ayurvedic Perspective on Skin
Sushruta Samhita (1000-500 BC): One of the main textbooks of Ayurveda describes the seven layers of the skin as follows:
Avabhasini (reflective layer): Avabhasini in Sanskrit means “reflection.” This is the outermost layer which determines the beauty and complexion of an individuals’ skin. While it does not have its own color, it reflects the aura of the individual.
Lohita (reddish layer): The color of this layer resembles the molten iron and hence the name Lohita, which in Sanskrit means “iron.” This layer indicates quality of the blood (raktadhatu).
Shweta (white layer): Shweta means “white color” in Sanskrit.
Tamra (pigment layer): Taamra is the copper colored layer as the word Taamra in Sanskrit means “copper.”
Vedini (sensory layer): The word Vedini is derived from Vedana which in Sanskrit means “pain” as this level is responsible for the sensation of pain.
Rohini (proliferating layer): The name Rohini has been derived from the word Rohana which in Sanskrit means “proliferation.” This layer is responsible for healing and regeneration. Any imbalance in this layer delays healing.
Mamsadhara (muscle supporting layer): Mamsa in Sanskrit means “muscle” and Dhara means “support.” This layer provides firmness to the skin. The suppleness and youthfulness of skin depend on this layer of the skin.
Based on the thickness of each layer mentioned in Ayurveda, these layers can be correlated with the layers of the skin described in modern medicine. The first four layers resemble the epidermis. As we know in modern science, the thickness of the epidermis is about 0.5 to 1.5 mm and the collective sum of Avabhasini (1/18th of a vrihi: vrihi is a small grain), Lohita (1/16th of vrihi), Shweta (1/12th of vrihi), and Tamra (1/6 of vrihi) is around 0.5 to 1 mm.
The next two layers Vedini (1/5th of vrihi) and Rohini(1 of vrihi) can be correlated to the papillary layer and reticular layer of the dermis respectively. Modern instruments measure the total thickness of the dermis around 2mm, although this can vary based on the anatomical site. The papillary layer is 1/5th of the dermis and 1 vrihi is considered around 2 mm.
Ayurveda states that “Swedovaha strotas” (channels for sweat) are in the skin, similar to Western anatomy. According to Ayurveda, the Bhrajak pitta dosha is responsible for skin color and its seat is the skin. This correlates to the melanocytes (the melanin pigment producing cells that are responsible for skin color) situated in the skin.
In this way, we see lots of similarity in description of the skin in both of the perspectives.
Ayurvedic Perspective on Skin Health
According to Ayurveda, the health of skin relies on the nutrients provided by the Rasadhatu (nutrient fluid, the first of the seven tissues of the body). This nutrient fluid is generated from the diet we eat, mostly influenced on how we digest the food. Therefore, the beauty of the skin depends on our diet as well as the health of our digestive system. Hence what we eat and what we digest determines our skin’s health.
Ayurveda believes that taste is a very important quality of food and it has a direct effect on our body. Ayurveda recognizes 6 tastes of food.[3,4]
Ayurvedic texts indicate the effect of each taste on the skin:
Sweet – Sweet tastes such as sugar, rice, and milk etc. increase the luster of the skin. However, sweet taste in excess can make the skin clog more easily.
Sour – Sour tastes such as sour yogurt, lemons, and fermented foods etc. in excess causes skin eruption such as pimples and rashes.
Salty – When taken in excess, salty tastes such as salt, seaweed, and salted snacks/canned foods, can accelerate swelling, blood stagnation, and formation of ulcers.
Pungent – Pungent tastes such as garlic, mustard, black pepper, and cayenne etc. reduce oiliness of the skin but if consumed in excess can lead to inflammation in the skin.
Bitter – Bitter tastes such as dark leafy greens, turmeric, and fenugreek are the best taste recommended for skin diseases, as it serves to balance the inflammation seen in many skin conditions. In excess, it increases the dryness of the skin.
Astringent – Astringent tastes such as beans, lentils, broccoli, and cranberries etc. if taken in excess can produce tanning over the skin. Foods like lentils, broccoli, and cranberries are rich in carotenoids such as lutein that have been shown to create a tanned appearance to the skin.
For general skin health, Ayurveda recommends ghee, mung beans, fresh leafy vegetables, turmeric, pomegranates, and fenugreek.
Similarly, the unfavorable food items are: sour yogurt, overly sour tasting foods, sesame seeds, jaggery, fermented foods, and meat of an animal belonging to marshy land (pork, beef).
Certain food combinations are strictly not recommended. For example, dairy and fish combinations such as yogurt and fish, cheese and shrimp, or fish with milk/cheese products are not considered healthy. If such foods are consumed for a prolonged period of time, it can create imbalances and skin diseases.
Ayurveda also prescribes many cosmeceuticals for achieving healthy skin. The Ayurvedic literature consists of numerous skincare formulas involving herbs and other natural ingredients. The herbs which enhance the beauty of the skin are described as “Varnya herbs.” In Ayurveda, “Varnya” means that which brings softness and beauty to the skin along with enhancement of complexion and radiance or luminescence. Some examples of Varnya herbs are Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Saffron (Crocus sativus), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Cyprus (Cyperus rotandus), Sandalwood (Santalum album), Amalki (Phyllanthus emblica), Sariva (Hemidesmus indica), and Manjista (Rubia cordifolia). Using these herbs for face or local application can enhance the skin’s complexion.