An Ayurvedic Perspective on Rosacea
By Monica Yearwood
Rosacea (pronounced “roh-zay-sha”) is a skin disorder that impacts nearly 14 million people in the United States alone. Symptoms range from minor skin irritation such as facial flushing to debilitating deformities that mostly affect the nose and eyes. There is no known cure for rosacea. However, its triggers are widely understood and symptoms are usually managed with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics.
Ayurveda is an ancient medical system from India that is over 5,000 years old. It emphasizes healthy lifestyle practices to fend off disease manifestation such as a proper diet, rest and exercise. It also offers an extensive herbal pharmacology system with specific treatments, such as massage and fasting methods, in instances of imbalance or disease. It sees rosacea as an excess of the fire and water elements, called Pitta Dosha, that can be treated by healing digestion and cooling the body with diet, herbs, and external applications.
Ayurvedic philosophy explains that there are five primary elements in the universe: air, ether, fire, water and earth. These elements come together to form three primary pairs called doshas: vata, pitta, kapha. The doshas are energetic forces that bind the elements together. Vata is the force that binds air and ether; pitta is the force that binds water and fire; kapha is the force that binds earth and water. Each person has all three of the doshas within their constitution. They govern all our physiologic process and profoundly influence our mental tendencies, body shapes and digestive strengths.
The doshas are continuously moving and changing. They exist in a dynamic relationship with nature. We are able to help balance them through our daily routines and lifestyles. When the dosha(s) become in excess because of poor lifestyle, trauma, or chronic stress, imbalance manifests in the physical and mental body.
Rosacea is predominantly a symptom of excess pitta (fire and water) dosha. Pitta is provoked by heating foods: pungent taste, spices, alcohol, stimulants, and meat. It is also driven to excess by heating lifestyle activities: excessive work, competition, and chronic stress. Sun, steam, sauna, and other heat sources are provoking to pitta. Some symptoms of excess pitta include skin inflammation, tendonitis, acne, blood shot eyes, anger, criticism, and loose bowel movements.
Ayurvedic assessment of rosacea begins with determining the digestive tendency of the patient. Ayurveda teaches that nearly all imbalance originally manifests from faulty digestion. Digestion is the epicenter of the immune system, and includes the gastrointestinal tract and several accessory organs specifically the liver. When pitta is in excess, patients often report frequent bowel movements, loose bowel movements, hyper acidic conditions, and acid reflux.
Even if patients report having normal digestion, the health of the skin is an important tool that is used to determine what is happening within the gastrointestinal tract. The skin reveals the health and vitality of the patient. Pitta excess tends to infiltrate the liver and small intestine where it then moves into the blood. The more severe the symptoms are. Excess heat combined with toxins in the blood, eventually manifest skin imbalances such as the overproduction of oil, acne, and rosacea.
Ayurvedic treatment of rosacea begins with cleansing the blood using a category of herbs called alternatives (blood cleansers). Burdock root, dandelion root, mint, fennel, comfrey, chamomile, aloe, and turmeric root are a few of the most easily accessible blood cleansers. They can be made into a general tea or used as an ingredient in savory dishes. To use them at stronger doses required to treat imbalance and disease it is generally recommended to take them in tincture or capsule variations.
Ayurveda recommends an anti-inflammatory diet for rosacea, that includes lots of bitter leafy green vegetables, which are considered cooling. Many spices are pungent and heating in nature and should be avoided. Raw vegetables and fruits tend to be naturally cooling, and most pitta types can digest them easily. Pitta should eat sour taste sparingly. Fermented foods such as yogurt, citrus fruits, wine, and vinegar are generally considered sour, and therefore to heating for excess pitta. Salt is also considered heating, and pitta types are encouraged not to go over 1 tsp, which is the recommended daily allowance by the FDA.
Topically, ayurveda would use a type of ubtan — an herbal paste made from turmeric, sandalwood, and rose mixed in purified water — on the skin several times each week. Essential oils such as geranium, rose, coriander seed, sandalwood, and frankincense in a carrier oil such as pomegranate seed, jojoba and rosehip is best. Aloe vera gel mixed in turmeric powder and applied as a mask can also relieve rosacea symptoms.
Ayurveda teaches that we are powerful creators in the manifestation of our health. We can influence it through our diet and behavior but none is more powerful than the mind. And yet, when we are sick and our physical appearance is threatened, remaining calm can be challenging. Excess pitta that impacts the mind can be seen as a tendency to over work, irritability, fault finding, and short fuse. Stress reactions can increase these negative symptoms and consequently exacerbate rosacea. It is incredibly important for patients with rosacea to develop an inner calm. To help cool the mind, ayurveda suggests regular meditation practices and stress reducing activities like yoga and massage.