Sometimes, simply showering ourselves with love is one of the most deeply healing gifts we can offer. Renowned for its practical elegance in balancing the body, mind, and spirit, Ayurveda often emphasizes healing from the inside out, but the Ayurvedic tradition is also rich with beauty rituals and other self-nurturing practices that focus more on the exterior of the body. Here, we offer you some of Ayurveda’s broad collection of indulgent and nourishing self-care practices in the interest of promoting health and beauty from the outside in.
We hope to inspire you with a number of therapies that foster radiant skin, healthy hair, rejuvenated tissues, and graceful aging. What’s more, we think you’ll love pampering yourself in this way. Not only will you be meaningfully tending to your physical body, but the benefits of doing so will undoubtedly reach well beyond the surface. This is where do-it-yourself-day-spa indulgence meets the depth and beauty of the Ayurvedic wellness tradition. Enjoy!
Expanding Your Self-Care Routine
As you may well know, Ayurveda is big on routine. A daily routine is seen as a way to consistently promote optimal health with supportive lifestyle choices. For many of us, personal hygiene, beauty rituals, and other types of self-care are already habitually built into the day. Whether it’s brushing the teeth, combing the hair, washing the face, applying or removing make-up, bathing, moisturizing, exercising, or even sitting for a few minutes of meditation, most of us have at least one—and often several—self-care routines already.
This resource is meant to expand your bag of tricks. It is full of ideas, but it is not meant to be overwhelming. Remember, this is a choose-your-own adventure; focus your attention wherever you like. Come back later and expand your routine (if you want to) or not; it’s entirely up to you. The point is to deepen into the field of self-love and self-nurturance in a way that is meaningful for you. Most of these practices can either become a regular part of your routine or they can be enjoyed intermittently, as you feel inspired.
Whole Body Treatments
When you’re in the mood for a full-body experience of some sort, give yourself full permission to indulge. The following practices are fantastic for the skin but have a wide-range of deeper benefits as well.
Ayurvedic Self-Massage With Oil (Abhyanga)
The ancient practice of self-massage with oil is a staple of the Ayurvedic lifestyle, and it makes for luxuriously soft, elastic, and hydrated skin. In fact, according to Ayurveda, oil is the primary remedy for excess dryness; so if you have never indulged in a full-bodied oil massage, prepare to be wonderstruck. This treatment will leave your skin feeling silky smooth, deeply loved, and powerfully revitalized, and the benefits reach well beneath the surface of the skin. Self-massage with oil supports the pathways of detoxification to help keep the skin healthy and clear. It also promotes inner radiance by calming the nervous system, lubricating and rejuvenating the deeper tissues of the body, and encouraging healthy circulation. Then there’s this: sneha, the Sanskrit word for oil, also means “love.” There’s no question that anointing the body with oil is a profound act of loving self-care that benefits both the physical body and the more subtle realms of consciousness. It can even help to buffer the nervous system against stress. Ayurvedic self-massage can be practiced either occasionally or daily, so embrace a frequency that works for you and your schedule.
In the morning, before a shower or bath, massage about ¼–½ cup warm organic oil into the skin. For further instructions on this rejuvenating technique, and for support choosing the best oil for your constitution and current state of balance, please see our resource on Ayurvedic Self-Massage.
Massaging the body with soft powders (like chickpea or rice flour), stimulates movement of the lymph, encourages circulation, bolsters the health of the skin, and lends strength and tone to the tissues of the body. It can also serve as a fantastic exfoliant and, if you’ve just done an oil massage, helps to remove excess oil from the skin as well. For some, a dry powder massage can even replace the use of soap. As invigorating and beneficial as this practice is, it is not recommended for those over sixty-five years of age, for anyone who is especially depleted or debilitated, or who is struggling with acute anxiety. These are vata times of life, and a dry powder massage is inherently rough and dry, which can further aggravate elevated vata.
A dry powder can be a simple, single-ingredient rub, or you can devise the perfect mixture of different textures and scents for your skin type and personal preference. Consider combining nourishing ingredients (like colloidal oatmeal, rice, and almond flours) with your choice of herbs and powdered flowers. For removing excess oil, you can also add more astringent legume flours or clays. Here are some possible ingredients to play with:
|Nut & Grain Flours||almond, colloidal oatmeal, rice, wheat||barley, millet, rice, wheat||barley, cornmeal, millet, rice|
|Legume Flours||chickpea, mung, urad, brown lentil||chickpea, adzuki, soy, urad||adzuki, chickpea, mung, red lentil|
|Herbal Powders||ashwagandha, bala, bhringaraj, cardamom, ginger, haritaki, licorice, vidari, jasmine, lavender, rose hip||amalaki, bhumyamalaki, bhringaraj, coriander, fennel, hibiscus, manjistha, musta, neem, shatavari, turmeric, rose, lemongrass||bibhitaki, calamus, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, gokshura, punarnava|
Please note that cinnamon and clove have the potential to irritate sensitive skin and should be used in small quantities. Similarly, in excess, manjistha and turmeric can temporarily stain the skin. Include legume flours only if you live in a very humid climate, have excessively oily skin, or will always use your mixture after an oil massage. Otherwise, a combination of nut and grain flours and powdered herbs is generally far more nourishing. If you have a history of nut allergies, it is best to avoid nut flours altogether.
|Recipe: Nourishing Rub|
|Recipe: Rub for Removing Excess Oil|
|Instructions: Applying Your Homemade Dry Powder to the Skin|
|To begin, simply step into the shower and wet the skin with warm water. Then, turn the water off and gently rub a small amount of the dry powder all over your body. When you are finished, rinse with warm water, rubbing the skin to cleanse away the powder.|
A bath relaxes the nervous system, releases tension, and helps to quiet the mind. If you like, you can add ⅓ cup ginger powder and ⅓ cup baking soda, or 1–2 cups Epsom salt to the water for increased relaxation, cleansing, and healing. If your pitta is high, you may want to consider skipping the ginger and baking soda combination (because they will tend to increase internal heat), and you may opt for a shorter bath as well. In general, use hot water for kapha and vata, warm water for pitta.
For a little extra skin care, midway through the bath, massage your skin as vigorously as is comfortable to remove all of the dead skin cells; you may be amazed by what comes off! When you complete the massage, rinse your entire body with warm to cool water. You may apply a light coat of oil to the skin after drying. Plan on having a quiet evening at home or going to bed after this routine; you will be quite calm and relaxed.
A Word About Soap
A lovingly-crafted, natural soap can do wonders for the senses, the mind, and the skin. But Ayurveda recommends that soap be used both sparingly and strategically. By using soap only where you feel you truly need it, you help to preserve the natural cleansing and moisturizing properties of the skin. Even if you have performed a self-massage with oil, warm water will rinse off most of the excess, and your skin will benefit from slowly absorbing what little oil remains. All of that said, we offer a tantalizing array of soaps for different constitutions, tastes, and seasons. They are all made with organic saponified base oils and pure, steam-distilled essential oils that combine beautifully to deliver a rich, aromatic, and moisturizing lather to your skin.
Cedar Eucalyptus Soap combines the earthy and invigorating scents of cedar, eucalyptus, and patchouli for a stimulating and refreshing experience.
Lavender Soap is deeply nourishing, relaxing, and calming. It is made with organic crushed lavender flowers for a delicate texture, and it exudes lavender’s richly soothing aroma.
Neem & Aloe Soap is a soothing, cooling, and clarifying blend of neem leaf, neem oil, aloe vera, and a hint of vetiver.
Loving Up Specific Areas of the Body
It is not uncommon for specific areas of our bodies to crave a little extra attention and care, and you’ll find a number of ideas for pampering them below. Remember, this is not an all or nothing list of suggestions; it is a loving invitation to dabble wherever you wish. Simply scan the headings below, and let your inspiration and delight guide you.
|Beauty Balm: One Balm, Many Uses|
|Beauty Balm is a rich and nutritive mixture of ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, beeswax, and a number of rejuvenative herbs and essential oils. It is deeply moisturizing, firming, and rejuvenating for the skin and offers a diverse array of applications:|
When it comes to physical appearances, our faces are often where we direct the bulk of our own scrutiny and attention. And our faces are usually the first place that others look—to recognize us, if we are familiar, and if not, to get a sense of who we are. In truth, our faces are often deeply entangled with our very sense of identity and can powerfully influence how we feel about ourselves. That fact alone makes them worth caring for—not to preserve some unattainable ideal of youthfulness, but to nurture a loving relationship with this part of ourselves that is so closely linked to self-image.
This is rich territory, and we won’t digress into the complex realms of identity, psychology, and self-esteem. But consider this: pampering your face in a loving way (rather than from a place of judgment or dissatisfaction) may be a very gentle, practical, and effective means of nurturing and caring for your very sense of Self. Doing so may actually send a resounding message of self-love, self-nurturance, and self-care—both to the subtle realms of consciousness and to the deep tissues of the body.
What follows are a number of ideas for pampering your face. Some are very simple. Others are more involved. Again, choose what, when, and how often these treatments will best serve you. That’s the whole idea; this is applied self-love, and all of it is aimed at supporting the outward expression of your inner radiance.
Beauty Balm. This nourishing blend of nutritive oils, rejuvenative herbs, and soothing essential oils is perfect for moisturizing, firming, and revitalizing the face and neck. Indulge as often as you like: in the morning, after a shower, before bed, even before heading outdoors into the elements. This balm does a wonderful job of both nourishing and protecting your beautiful face.
Brahmi Neem Oil. This blend of oils is deeply rejuvenating, and fosters both clarity and elasticity in the facial skin. In a 2–3 ounce glass bottle, mix equal parts Brahmi Coconut Oil, Brahmi Sesame Oil, and Neem Oil. Using upward circular strokes, simply massage the entire face and neck, avoiding the area around the eyes.
Neem Oil. This oil is very cleansing, cooling, and is deeply pitta-pacifying. It helps to replenish and rejuvenate facial skin while relieving excess heat, countering excessive oiliness, and supporting the skin’s natural immunity against unwanted microbes. Using upward circular strokes, massage Neem Oil into your face and neck, being careful to avoid the area around the eyes.
Ideas For Home Facials
Once a week, consider treating yourself to a home facial. Creating homemade masks is an art, and the possibilities are endless. Use the ideas below as a starting point, but feel free to experiment with other ingredients and recipes as well. As the mask sets, you can take your home spa treatment to the next level by giving yourself a scalp massage with Healthy Hair Oil or Bhringaraj Oil. Wrap your hair in a turban or a scarf that you don’t mind getting oily, let it soak in for 20 minutes or so, and then hop in the shower to rinse off your mask and wash your hair. Relax and enjoy.
Because they have such a powerful drawing effect, natural clays can offer deep cleansing to the delicate tissues of the face. As the clay is naturally drying, we recommend a full facial mask just once a week, but you can treat small trouble spots daily. There are many types of cosmetic clay to choose from. Here is a brief introduction to a few of them:
White Kaolin Clay is a very mild, versatile clay that is valued for its fine, light texture and its natural absorbency.
French Red Clay is red due to the copper oxides in the clay, which make it rich in iron and other minerals. It has a strong drawing effect, which allows it to very effectively pull toxins from the skin. This clay is typically recommended for oilier skin or skin prone to acne.
French Green Clay is also very effective at drawing toxins and excess oils from the skin. Its color stems from the presence of iron oxides and decomposed plant matter, which add to its rich mineral content. French green clay is also very, very fine—making it an excellent choice for drawing oil, dirt, impurities, and bacteria from the skin. It is a spa favorite.
|Recipe: Clay Mask|
|Mix your choice of clay with pinches of dried herbs like turmeric, brahmi, and neem (optional). Store the dry mixture in a small glass container. When you are ready to apply a mask, begin by cleansing the face. Then take about 1 tablespoon of the dry clay mixture and add 1–2 tablespoons liquid to make a paste. You can use water, floral water, milk, or yogurt, depending on your preference. You can also add a little honey for increased moisture or a little lemon juice to help clear away dead skin cells. Avoiding the eyes and lips, apply the mask to the face, gently massaging it into the skin for 1–2 minutes. Let the mask set by allowing it to dry for 10–20 minutes. Then rinse with warm water and pat dry.|
Avocado is very rich in vitamins (including the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K) and minerals. Its high fat content allows it to penetrate the many layers of the skin for improved elasticity and natural moisture replacement.
|Recipe: Avocado Mask|
|Mash or puree the avocado and set aside. Dissolve the honey and coconut oil in the water and stir the liquid into the avocado base. Mix well. Cleanse the face, pat dry, and then massage or brush the mask onto your skin—being careful to avoid the eyes and lips. Let the mask dry for 10–15 minutes. Wipe clean with a warm, damp cloth, rinse with warm water, and pat dry.|
Most of us were taught that the skin around our eyes is so delicate that we should use only specially-formulated creams, gels, and moisturizers around the eyes. But ghee is routinely used in Ayurveda to soothe and rejuvenate both the eyes themselves and the tissues that surround them. In a soothing base of ghee, Beauty Balm is an exceptional choice for cooling, nourishing, moisturizing, and revitalizing the delicate tissues around the eye. You can use it as an eye cream, wrinkle cream, or as nourishment for the eyebrows.
Homemade Eye Makeup Remover
Ghee can also serve as an effective, all-natural makeup remover that can double as a rejuvenating eye cream.
|Recipe: Eye Makeup Remover|
|Whip the ghee and vitamin E oil together. Place the mixture in a clean, wide-mouthed glass jar. To remove makeup, apply this mixture to the eyelids and lashes and wipe with cotton to remove.|
The Miracle of Castor Oil
While it may not be the first personal-care product that comes to mind for many of us, Castor Oil has been revered by cultures around the world for thousands of years. It has many beauty applications and is particularly valuable for the eyes. Much like the natural oils of the skin, castor oil is extremely rich in triglycerides, so when it comes to preserving the delicate skin around the eyes, castor oil may just be the all-in-one eye care product you’ve been looking for.
Eye Cream. Castor oil is extremely rich and luxuriously thick. It’s not surprising that this incredibly nutritive oil can be used as a nourishing and clarifying eye cream to maintain the plump suppleness of the skin around the eyes. What’s more, it is deeply soothing to the eyes themselves, so you don’t have to worry about keeping the oil completely out of your eyes.
Nurture Eyelashes and Eyebrows. Thick, nutritious, and deeply moisturizing, castor oil can also be used to encourage the growth of luxurious eyebrows and eyelashes, or as a grooming “gel” for your brows and lashes.
Natural Sheen. Castor oil is thick and sticky, so it tends to stay put. Just a tad applied under the eyes or to the eyelids adds a natural sheen that is lovely either on its own or as a complement to your eye makeup (not to mention the deeply rejuvenative properties of the oil itself on your skin).
The Lips and Oral Hygiene
Want a simple, nourishing lip balm that’s smooth, glossy, and hydrating? Beauty Balm is perfect for your lips, too. Try keeping some in a small cosmetic jar to take with you on the go.
Using a Tongue Cleaner to scrape the tongue each morning removes bacteria and toxins that have accumulated on the tongue overnight. This simple hygiene practice therefore fosters fresh breath and helps to protect the teeth. But scraping the tongue also stimulates the vital organs of the body and awakens the digestive tract—supporting the health of the system at large and supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways. When you are finished, rinse with clean water and spit. For more detailed instructions, please see our resource on using a tongue cleaner.
It is said that swishing and gargling with warm, untoasted sesame oil clears plaque, lends strength to the teeth, quiets tooth sensitivity, promotes gum health, helps to relax the jaw and neck, and improves the quality of the voice—all while enhancing the sense of taste. Begin by sipping a tablespoon or two of Daily Swish Pulling Oil. Swish the oil from side to side, front to back, and through the teeth for up to 20 minutes. Spit out the oil and rinse with warm water. For more detailed instructions, please see our resource on oil pulling. Alternatively, you can use your clean index finger to gently massage a bit of Daily Swish Pulling Oil into your gums and teeth. This practice nourishes the teeth and gums while increasing circulation throughout these tissues.
Homemade Tooth Powder
Ayurveda recommends cleansing the teeth with substances that are both bitter and astringent, as these tastes are naturally cleansing and antimicrobial. Tooth powders have long been used in India and are easy to make at home.
|Recipe: Natural Tooth Powder*|
|Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until the mixture becomes a fine, light powder. Store in an airtight container. To use, add ¼ teaspoon to your wet toothbrush and brush thoroughly for 2–3 minutes.
*This recipe was reprinted with permission from Claire Ragozzino. Learn more about Claire at vidyacleanse.com.
We all have different needs when it comes to hair care. Whether you’re looking for thicker, more abundant hair growth, increased volume, better conditioning and moisture, or simply want to tame your mane, Ayurveda likely has something of value to offer you.
Oiling the Hair and Scalp
Therapeutic oiling of the scalp and head has long been used in Ayurveda to encourage hair growth and to prevent greying. Gently massaging the head stimulates the hair follicles and allows the deeply nourishing herbs and oils to penetrate the scalp, strengthening and thickening the hair at its roots. But as many of us are well aware, the head is also an important access point for a number of subtle energy channels that travel throughout the body. As a result, massaging the scalp and head can also help to relieve tension, soothe the nervous system, awaken the sense organs, and encourage sound sleep. What’s more, oiling the hair is a very natural way to nourish, moisturize, and strengthen the hair without having to worry about mysterious product ingredients. Different oils offer different benefits:
Healthy Hair Oil. In a moisturizing and nourishing base of sesame and coconut oils, Healthy Hair Oil delivers the powerful effects of Ayurveda’s top three hair enhancing herbs—bhringaraj, amalaki, and brahmi/gotu kola—directly to the roots of your hair. This powerful herbal oil cools, cleanses, and rejuvenates in order to nourish, strengthen, and protect all hair types, supporting your hair’s natural thickness, color, and shine.
Bhringaraj Oil. In a richly nourishing base of sesame oil, Bhringaraj Oil harnesses the natural affinity that bhringaraj has for the hair and scalp. Bhringaraj is known as the “ruler of the hair” and has long been used to foster healthy hair, cool-headedness, and a tranquil mind. Not only does this oil discourage hair loss and premature graying, it supports healthy hair growth, strengthens the hair, calms the mind, and supports sound sleep.
To remove the oil, try applying shampoo directly to the oiled hair before you wet it; then rinse. If you are not opposed to having traces of oil in your hair, this initial shampooing will be sufficient. To remove all of the oil, it may be necessary to shampoo a second time, as you would normally.
Herbal Support for the Hair
Healthy Hair tablets. Excess pitta is often involved in premature graying and balding. Healthy Hair tablets deliver a powerful combination of pitta-pacifying herbs that serve to rejuvenate the scalp and hair and support robust hair growth, while cleansing the liver, detoxifying the system overall, and removing excess pitta from the body.
Daily breast massage can be incredibly supportive of overall breast health. It encourages circulation, stimulates the lymphatic system, opens the natural detoxification pathways in the body, and can help to prevent stagnation in the breast tissue. It also establishes a baseline of familiarity with your breast tissue, making it far easier to recognize sudden changes. If you are already doing a self-massage with oil, take some time to give your breasts a little extra attention. Or, use one of our balms before or during your shower to ensure that your breasts receive a daily dose of loving self-care. For more information on caring for your breasts, please see our Guide to Breast Health.
Breast Care Balm. Breast Care Balm was specifically formulated for breast-massage and is well suited for all women. For women who may be experiencing fibrocystic changes in the breasts, or any pain or tenderness associated with mild stagnation in the breast tissue, this balm is more appropriate for use on the breasts than Beauty Balm.
Beauty Balm. As we have seen, Beauty Balm is a powerfully nourishing formulation that firms and rejuvenates the tissues and supports gentle detoxification, all while moisturizing and softening the skin. Use Beauty Balm if your breasts crave moisture, nourishment, and rejuvenation, and you do not tend to have excess kapha, or stagnation in your breast tissue.
Firming and Toning
As we have seen, self-massage has a wide range of benefits. When it comes to firming, toning, and trimming specific regions of the body, self-massage can be extremely helpful because it supports improved circulation, proper functioning of the lymphatic system, and boosts overall metabolism. If there are specific regions of your body that could use a bit of firming and toning, these therapies may be of benefit:
Trim Balm. Containing a number of invigorating, kapha-reducing herbs that can be delivered directly through the skin, Trim Balm moisturizes, nourishes and tones the tissues, even as it encourages detoxification.
Beauty Balm. As a go-to balm for anything that is dry and needs lifting, Beauty Balm can certainly support localized firming and toning wherever you need it.
Dry Powder Massage. Ayurveda has long used the practice of dry powder massage to firm, tone, and maintain the health of the tissues throughout the body. For more information on this powerful technique, please see the instructions above on Dry Powder Massage.
Oil Massage. If your skin is dry or aging, oil massage offers many of the same benefits as dry powder massage, but also nourishes and hydrates the skin with the nutrient rich, rejuvenating capacity of plain and herbal oils. For more detailed instructions, please see our resource on Ayurvedic Self-Massage.
Approaching Health and Beauty From the Inside Out
While there is clearly a great deal of richness in supporting health and beauty from the surface of the skin inward, we recognize that a holistic wellness tradition always includes strategies to promote optimal health from the inside out as well. As you may be interested in exploring a more holistic approach to health and beauty, below are a number of resources with practical guidance for achieving optimal health—body, mind, and spirit.
Skin Irritations. Our Soothe Your Skin Guide is full of practical solutions for inflamed and irritated skin.
Weight Management. Whether you are looking to gain or lose weight, our weight-management guide, Achieving Your Optimal Weight, can help.
Rejuvenation. For an understanding of how to offer deep nourishment to the tissues throughout the body, please visit our Rejuvenation Department.
Daily Routine. For a more detailed look at the elements of a traditional Ayurvedic Routine, with recommendations for specific constitutions and imbalances, please explore our Daily Routine Department.
Seasonal Support. If aligning your diet, lifestyle, and daily routine practices with the seasons appeals to you, please explore our Seasonal Guides.
Support for Agni. According to Ayurveda, the state of agni (the metabolic fire) is at the root of both health and disease. Our resource on The Importance of Healthy Digestion explains the importance of agni, and introduces a number of practical tips for protecting yours.
Healthy Elimination. We can learn a lot about our overall health from the quality of our elimination. If bowel health interests you, please see our Ayurvedic Guide to Healthy Elimination.
Dietary Cleansing. A cleanse can be a fantastic way to reset the entire system for improved health. If you are curious about the benefits, our Cleansing Department includes a number of different approaches to choose from and generally offers something for everyone.
Heart Health. Ayurveda recognizes the heart as an important physical and energetic crossroad in the body. The heart is intimately connected to our sense of joy and meaning and it may well be where our most authentic inner nature resides. Our health guide, Vibrant Heart, explores a number of different practices for supporting both the physical and energetic heart for improved health and wellness.
Yoga. Is yoga an important part of your life? Would you like it to be? Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences and work beautifully together in support of optimal health and well-being. For more information on how to balance your health with an Ayurvedic approach to yoga, please see our Intro to Dosha-Balancing Yoga.
Beauty Your Way
As with most everything in the Ayurvedic tradition, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to beauty or self-care. Remember that you will be best served by tending to your specific constellation of needs, which are determined by your constitution, your age, your current state of balance, your climate, the season, and the overall context of your life at any given moment. Perhaps the most important takeaway is that honoring your Self, your process, and your timing goes a long way toward supporting optimal health and healing. Whatever self-nurturance practices are right for you, offer them with love—knowing that beauty is truly a reflection of our overall state of being. Delight in the process of caring deeply for yourself; you may be amazed by how your body responds.
Pamper Yourself! Download the recipes in this guide here and try them at home.