So, you're breaking out. Or getting terrible dark circles. Or suddenly just dull. You can always visit a dermatologist who'll prescribe some cream to (safely) burn off your top layer of skin, but maybe retinoids aren't addressing the real issue. What if, for example, you're riding a wave of acne-causing, circle-enlarging, glow-impairing hormones triggered by some hellacious office deadline? That skin problem's not going away; Retin-A can do a lot of things, but Microsoft Excel ain't one of 'em. Luckily, there's an alternative (medicine)—Ayurveda. If you're not familiar with the ideas behind India's traditional Ayurvedic system, here's a quick definition from practitioner Dr. Pratima Raichur: "Ayurveda," she says, "believes that nothing is independent. Everything you do, eat or expose your body to has an effect." Which means that skincare, diet, meditation, and exercise are all interconnected, and negative feelings have a negative effect on your body. As a result, visiting an Ayurvedic doctor is less a "check-up" and more a "total life makeover." You'll get a personalized health plan with prescriptions for everything from meals to face oil and yoga postures. It's a serious commitment, but Christy Turlington lives by it, so... you know, we're willing to give it a try.
If you decide to see an Ayurvedic doctor, the first thing she'll do is look you over head to toe and examine your nails, tongue, and skin to get a sense of what internal health issues are manifesting on your exterior. Stress, exhaustion, poor diet—they all show up on your face. So an Ayurvedic doctor uses your current physical state to diagnose larger health issues. All sounds pretty sensible and scientific, right? Ayurvedic diagnoses are where things start to require a bit more... credulity.
The three doshas, or manifestations of the elements—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—are key to Ayurvedic treatments. The best way to explain them—"best" meaning "most bizarrely accurate pop culture reference"—is as metaphysical versions of Alvin and the Chipmunks, where Simon is Vata (Air), Alvin is Pitta (Fire), and Theodore is Kapha (Water with Earth). The idea is that each represents a cluster of related physical and personality traits, and that people are healthiest when all three are balanced (perfect, squeaky harmony).
The doctor takes observations from your exam and assigns you a dosha ratio—so you could have a personal dosha that's something like 40% Pitta, 30% Vata, and 30% Kapha—then they use Vedic prescriptions to create a plan for evening-out your proportions. Too much Pitta dosha, for example, is associated with inflammation (ALVIN!!), so if you're 60% Pitta and have red, irritated skin, one of your diet suggestions might be to cut out inflammation-triggering spicy food. If you have too much Vata, you might get warned off caffeine because it's drying your face out, and people who scored high for Kapha could wind up on a vegetarian diet to help with congestion.
If this sounds like a bunch of commonsense recommendations paired with some not-so-empirical ancient Indian philosophy, that's OK. Healthy skepticism is never a bad thing, and deciding to do a complete karmic overhaul based on the results from some 10-question "What's Your Dosha?" quiz is a terrible idea. Which is to say: if you're interested in getting a diagnostic, please see an actual physician who incorporates Ayurvedic tenets into her overall medical practice. That way, you get a licensed professional who's bound by the Hippocratic Oath (!) and can still talk to you about whether your frustration with liquid eyeliner is harming your liver. Best of both worlds.
Photos by Lacey Gattis.