Ayurveda: Ancient Ideas, Modern Implementations

A lasting legacy of 5,000 years, ayurveda (ayu meaning “life” and veda meaning “knowledge”) can be translated to “knowledge of life” or the “science of longevity.” Based on the idea that disease is due to an imbalance or stress in an individual’s consciousness, ayurveda encourages certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to regain a balance between the body, mind and the environment.

According to ayurvedic medicine, each person has a particular pattern of energy—a unique combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics—that comprises their own constitution. This constitution is determined at conception by a number of factors and remains the same throughout one’s life. Ayurveda identifies three basic types of energy or functional principles that are present in everyone by the original Sanskrit words: vata, pitta and kapha. Balance and health are the natural order; imbalance and disease are disorder. There is a constant interaction between order and disorder within the body, but by understanding the nature and structure of disorder, one can re-establish order and health.

There is an ongoing and global movement of beauty consumers gravitating to products with natural ingredients, but women in India have long been utilizing several potent ayurvedic herbs to beautify themselves—in addition to using them to spice up food and as preventives for ailments and disease. In fact, ayurveda and beauty go hand in hand—it’s “beauty inside out.”

Ayurveda Herbs in Beauty

Before delving into these richly colored, earthy, fragrant herbs and the role they may play in your product line, it is important to understand their benefits. It is usually a synergy of two or more herbs that creates a powerful effect in treating acne, age spots, wrinkles and rosacea.

A few of my favorite herbs that can treat a multitude of skin problems and be readily incorporated in cosmetic products: turmeric (Curcumin longa), neem (Azaradicta indica), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), amla fruit extract (Emblica officinalis) and tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum). Turmeric: A highly regarded spice in India that has been used for more than a century in beauty creams.

The “magic” chemicals in turmeric root are curcumin and tehtrahydrocurcuminoids (THCs). Curcumin, which imparts the yellow color, has been found to have medicinal properties. In ayurveda, it is used both as an antiseptic for wounds, cuts and bruises—as well as an antibacterial. Only recently, science has found that the chemical responsible for the skin-brightening and skin-lightening properties of turmeric is due to THCs. These colorless compounds may have uses in treating skin inflammations, making these compounds useful in skin care.

Neem: One of the hottest and most potent ingredients. The neem tree is called the “miracle tree” due to its many uses. In ayurveda, the leaves are used. Neem twigs have been used in India to clean the teeth and treat gum diseases and cavities for more than 500 years. Neem toothpastes, it should be noted, are available at organic health stores. It is also used to treat eye diseases and intermittent fevers, and the oil has been used to treat skin diseases, ulcers and wounds. The leaves, in general, are used for antiseptic action and as an insect repellent. Terpenoids, diterpenes, azadirechtin, nimbolide, nimbidinic acid, azadirone and nimbin are the primary components of note in neem’s actions.

Ashwagandha: Commonly known as the winter cherry or Indian ginseng. In cosmetics, ashwagandha is used as a tonic and astringent. It is an adaptogen that can be used in antiwrinkle creams for its impact on oxidative stress.

Licorice: The root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a popular, somewhat sweet flavor can be extracted.

Licorice contains glabridin, which works to inhibit the production of melanin. Therefore, it is used for its skin-lightening properties, a very popular attribute for the Asian beauty market. It can also be used to combat unattractive age spots, treat blemishes left in the wake of acne and target discoloration caused by sun damage. According to an article published in Modern Science (June 25, 2009), licorice also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is effective in the treatment of ulcers. For many, it is also a common treatment for sore throats. Amla fruit: Also known as Indian gooseberry.

Amla has one of the purest forms of vitamin C, 20 times higher than orange juice. Amla fruit is said to penetrate the scalp and strengthen the hair at its root. Amla oil is widely used in India for this property, and a regular scalp massage with this oil promotes stronger, healthier new growth.

Tulsi: This has long been one of the most common medicinal herbs in India, though the West is just waking up to its powers, with tulsi tea becoming more common at health food stores.

Cosmetic companies have recognized its bactericidal attributes. Tulsi is used in treating eczema and psoriasis, and is utilized in medicine used for treating leprosy and staph infection. Tulsi contains ursolic acid, a compound that can prevent wrinkle formation and help retain elasticity prevalent in young faces.

Tulsi is quickly becoming a hit with some beauty consumers, and it is a prime ingredient in some herbal cosmetics—including face packs and anti-aging creams.

It should be noted that the drawback in ayurvedic cosmetology is that there is no official certifying body, which contributes to lack of general credibility and consumer confidence, posing a threat to ayurvedic cosmetic products in the market. To help build confidence, if choosing to create products or a brand based on or using ayurvedic herbs, standards in line with ayurveda concepts and historic standards should be maintained. (See The House Rules.)

And the pros of ayurveda are vast due to their benefit to the individual. This being said, it is important to reinforce that proper and accepted standards are adhered to when tapping into this ancient science with so many modern implementations.

Shilpi Jain is a senior R&D scientist at Dallas-based Aloe Vera of America. She holds a master’s degree in organometallic chemistry from the University of Toronto, Canada, and has held several positions in pharmaceutical firms. Raised in eastern Indian culture, she was automatically exposed to ayurvedic herbs. She owned SASA Cosmetics and Consulting and marketed Skinveda, her own ayurvedic skin care line. [email protected]

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