In today’s world of ozone holes and 100-SPF sunscreens, it’s easy to think of the sun as a formidable enemy of the skin. Yet the sun is also an important source of nourishment. It's your body’s best natural source of Vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption and healthy bones.
So how do you know how much sun exposure is enough, and how much is too much? As with just about everything in Ayurveda, it all depends on your individual constitution.
"Photosensitivity is not the same for everyone," says an Ayurvedic expert from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians. "It is a fundamental principle of Maharishi Ayurveda that your physical strengths and weaknesses depend on the climate and geographical area you live in, the time of the year, your genetic makeup, and your skin and body type."
Having fair skin or a predominance of Pitta dosha, the principle of heat and metabolism in the body, will make you more sun-sensitive. It’s well known among doctors and researchers that too much sun exposure (and, therefore, ultraviolet radiation) can lead to visible signs of aging on fair-skinned people—from leathery skin and wrinkles to age spots. Therefore, people with fair skin definitely should avoid direct exposure to strong sun, because their skin makes less melanin, the pigment that acts as a barrier to UV rays.
That being said, short periods of exposure to the early-morning sun are soothing and mild on the skin, and allow even very sensitive skin to absorb necessary Vitamin D. Many doctors today recommend 15 minutes of direct exposure to gentle sun on the hands and face to absorb the minimum daily requirement of Vitamin D.
During the summer months, when Pitta dosha is predominant in the environment, just about everyone needs to take extra measures to protect their skin from the sun.
The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians recommends avoiding long exposure to the sun—especially when you are angry, hungry, or emotionally upset, as these factors increase Pitta in the body and make the skin even more sensitive to sun damage. People who naturally have more Pitta in their bodies should always take care to protect themselves from the midday sun.
It’s also important to protect yourself by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, protective clothing (full-sleeved shirts and pants, for example), and sunglasses. And yes, be sure to wear sunscreen—ideally, a natural form, like micronized zinc.
To prevent damage to your skin in summer, it’s helpful to avoid foods that increase Pitta dosha. Try to steer clear of red chili peppers, vinegar, and foods that are sour, salty, and pungent, as they tend to heat the body. Instead, favor foods with sweet, astringent, and bitter tastes, as these have a cooling effect on both mind and body. Think sweet, juicy fruits (pears, watermelon, cantaloupe); cooling veggies (cucumber, zucchini, squash, leafy greens); and naturally sweet foods like rice and dairy.
Cook your food with a skin-protecting spice mixture to stimulate digestion without overheating. Sauté equal parts turmeric, coriander, fennel, and cumin in ghee and add it to your vegetables and grains. Flavoring your dishes with the cooling spices in our Organic Pitta Churna is especially helpful in bringing Pitta Dosha back to balance.
Even in winter, people with photosensitive skin should avoid eating too much ginger, garlic, asafetida (hing), red chilies, or any types of hot peppers, as hot foods can increase sensitivity to the sun.
Amla Berry, available as a supplement and also contained in Amrit, is also an excellent antioxidant and rasayana for the skin. Organic Rose Petal Spread, blended with boiled and cooled milk, is a delicious, cooling beverage.
Stay hydrated! Constipation can cause heat to build up in your body. Drink plenty of pure water and Organic Pitta Tea throughout the day.
When your skin is feeling stressed, watermelon purée makes an excellent, cooling facial mask. Apply it evenly, avoiding the eye area, let sit for 10-15 minutes, and then rinse off with lukewarm water. For extra cooling, soak some cotton pads in Organic Rose Water and place them over your closed eyes while you rest.
You can also give your skin a cooling milk bath. Add a couple of drops of Organic Rose Water to room-temperature organic milk and either rinse your face with it, followed by room-temperature water, or apply generously with cotton pads and rinse off after ten minutes with room-temperature water.
“I'm so thankful for the Cedar Sandalwood Herbal Soap," says Patricia Smith from Texarkana, Arkansas. "My skin is very sensitive, thin, and delicate. I had used another cleansing bar for thirty years, but when they changed the formula I broke out in a rash. I wasted lots of money trying to replace it. I love the Cedar Sandalwood Herbal Soap for my face and shower. My dad and two sons also use it. Please don't change the formula.”
After cleansing, moisturize with our Youthful Skin Cream. This natural, vegan, clean-beauty blend contains ingredients that are renowned in Ayurveda for helping to boost the skin's natural, long-term resistance to sun damage as well as antioxidants to fight free radical damage. This cream is not a sunscreen or sunblock, but it can help keep skin cells healthy and well-nourished.
In summer, you can also massage the skin on your body with our Soothing Herbal Massage Oil, as it has a Pitta-pacifying effect on mind and body.
Ayurveda is a profound science with wisdom spanning so wide that it can be difficult to know exactly where to begin. As an Ayurvedic consultant, Susan Weis-Bohlen helps those who are new to Ayurveda address this exact issue. In Ayurveda Beginners Guide Susan explains of the holistic principles behind Ayurveda, and offers gentle guidance for incorporating its restorative practices in your everyday life.
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