Beauty: Eczema Explained Ayurvedically, by Kristen Ma
Eczema is actually one of the most common skin ailments I deal with, and it is so mistreated. I think this stems from the fact that dermatologically we don’t really know what it is and have come to no real conclusions as to its cause. Usually, a dermatologist will just send you home with a prescription for cortisone – which unfortunately is a steroid that suppresses your immune response and thins your skin over time. It’s also a confusing condition because it is expressed in so many different ways. Some of us are red, some itchy, some flaky, and some of us have water blisters. This is why when we see eczema from an Ayurvedic perspective, it helps us understand and distill this angry skin aggravation. Because, while I have found that eczema is triggered and accentuated by extreme dehydration, what we really need to examine is which dosha (one of three bodily humors that make up our constitution according to Ayurveda) is out of balance.
Vata eczema is an indication that we have an excess of air and wind within our bodies. Like air, our skin becomes dry, flaky and thin (usually shedding). This is brought on by a lack of oil in the skin as well as water in the body. Most of us experience Vata eczema in the heart of winter in which we find it difficult to rehydrate and need much nourishment. This calls for uber replenishment. Our skin needs a lot of comforting with heavy vegetable oils and rich salves. Internally, taking omega fatty acids are needed (flax seed capsules help tremendously) as well as avoiding dry foods like dense meats, breads, crackers and dried fruits. Increasing soups, stews and water-rich veggies will not only help with moisture but also aid constipation which also contributes to Vata eczema.
Pitta eczema is aggravated by the fire dosha. Its temper flares like a flame, prompting redness and a burning sensation. This type of eczema also needs hydration, but not oil. In fact, oil must be strictly avoided. I have broken out with Pitta eczema and applied oils (even anti-inflammatory oil), only to be greeted by pulsating welts the next day. Like when cooking, oil enables the increase of heat – and this inflamed eczema needs calming and cooling. Aloe vera gel, plant milks and chamomile water aid this best. Actually, during my worst outbreak (which started on my forehead and slowly took over my entire face), I began using a light eye cream as my moisturizer. This was ideal because while it had anti-aging properties, it was light in texture, as it was formulated for the delicate eye area. I was so amazed with the soothing results that we actually made it into a face product, which is now called Pure + Simple Skin Softening Moisture Lotion. Note: only avoid oil during the eczema outbreak. If the skin is eczema-free, using jojoba or coconut oil will help prevent the frequency of new breakouts.
Internally, it is important to examine your digestion and acidity. Because Pitta governs our digestive fire, when our digestion is poor and overworked it can express itself as Pitta eczema. Also, avoiding acid-forming foods is very important. Acid is another form of Pitta and those of us who are naturally prone to high Pitta and inflammation are also predisposed to hyperacidity. One of my favorite ways to mitigate this is by taking turmeric capsules. Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. I have prescribed it to those who have Pitta-Kapha eczema by simply telling them to dust turmeric powder right to the area.
Kapha eczema is also known as wet eczema. Kapha, the earth and water element, is the dosha that prompts water-retention, excess oil and lethargy. It is heavy, moist and dense (similar to earth). Kapha eczema usually occurs during the season’s change – especially when we move into a wetter season. This can take the form of shiny, wet appearance water blisters. What really marks a Kapha influence is the presence of itchiness.
Traditional Ayurvedic techniques actually use leeches to suck the heated dampness from the body. Brrr! But if you don’t have leeches lying around the house, I suggest keeping the area disinfected. Natural anti-bacterial ingredients like witch hazel and peppermint waters will soothe and sterilize the area without over-drying. Again, Kapha eczema should avoid oils – but this should only be done when there is an eczema outbreak. When the outbreak calms down, keeping the skin moist will support its barrier function.
Internally, turmeric again is excellent for its anti-bacterial properties. But what is even more important, is to eat a diet which decreases dampness. This is most easily done by following a candida-reducing diet – avoiding sugars, fermented foods, dairy and yeast. Acidophilus capsules also gently help fight bad bacteria in our bodies. But while I am advocating fighting dampness, this does not mean avoiding water and hydration. Dampness refers to turbid water which is full of toxins, while fresh water and hydration will help cleanse our systems as well as on a cellular level.
While it is sometimes difficult to keep your skin resilient during drastic weather, don’t let eczema get you down. When you are more methodical and holistic about your treatment, your skin, body and spirit have no choice but to be in balance.
Kristen Ma is the co-owner of Pure + Simple Inc., a group of Holistic Spas with its own line of Natural Skincare and Mineral Make-up. She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner who has studied in Canada, the United States and India. She is also a Certified Esthetician with eight years of practical experience, having worked in Canada as well as Australia. Most recently, Kristen has authored “Beauty: Pure + Simple” which was published by Mc Arthur and Company. Kristen has written on the subject of Holistic Beauty for Vitality Magazine, Blink and Jasmine. She is also a regular contributor to B Magazine, Tonic and Sweat Equity Magazine.