February 28, 2014

The Great Soap Debate: How to Restore Our Skin’s Function.

skin water

Learn how to prep and soothe the skin with an age-old Ayurvedic recipe I learned almost 30 years ago in India.

In my last article I reported on the benefits of cleansing your skin using oil rather than soap. To remind you, they are:

  • Moisturization of the deeper layers of the skin, while soaps can dry the skin out.holding oil bottle woman skin
  • Feeding the good microbes on the skin.
  • Creating a saponification or detergent effect on the skin, without destroying the good microbiology of the skin.
  • Bringing to the surface, or pulling, impurities and toxins out of the pores.
  • Supporting a healthy immune response against foreign microbes by supporting the health of the beneficial microbes that produce immune-boosting fatty acids.

But achieving these healing benefits for the tight and tiny pores of the face is uniquely challenging if applied improperly. Folks commonly complain of breaking out, feeling greasy or a lackluster complexion when first using oils on the face.

When I first asked dermatologists about the traditional use of oil on the face, I was told that the vegetable oil molecule is too large to penetrate and moisturize the deep layers of the skin.

However, vegetable oil actually goes about moisturizing the skin in a completely different and more effective way than most moisturizers do. Let me explain.

The Secret Way that Oil Works

  • Feeding friendly microbes: As I discussed in the first part of The Great Soap Debate, beneficial bacteria living on the surface of the skin are fed by the skin’s natural oil—called sebum. High quality vegetable oils will feed these friendly microbes in the same way, and in exchange the bugs will produce immune-boosting fatty acids that protect and clean the skin. The oils feed the healthy microbes on the skin, who manufacture the skin’s own moisturizing factors. (3) So actually, even if the oil does not penetrate deeply enough into the pores to moisturize the skin with the same mechanics as a moisturizer would, it is still moisturizing the skin in this surprising, indirect way!
  • A carrier for skin-supportive herbs: In Ayurveda, oils for the skin are cured and cooked with special herbs that moisturize and soothe the skin. The oil acts as a carrier for the herbs, driving the moisture deeper into the pores.
  • Skin detox: When used on the face, oils can act as natural “pulling” agents, accelerating the detoxification of the skin. (1, 2)
  • Swishing or gargling in the mouth with oil: traditionally called “oil pulling” it has been shown to have a saponification (detergent or cleansing) effect on the oral mucosa, proving that oil combined with water creates bad-bacteria-fighting suds! (8)

Olive oilSqualane – Customized Oil Therapy for the Skin

If that isn’t enough, here’s the real game-changer: even though traditional vegetable oil molecules may be too large to enter the pores and moisturize deeply, there is a natural derivative in vegetable oils that offers superb moisturizing results. It’s called squalane, and it’s a compound that is only found in three places in any significant quantity: shark cartilage, olives, and the skin’s natural sebum. What could be better than to replicate the skin’s natural moisturizers?

*Note: In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk more about squalane, and give you an inside peek into our skin care formulation process.

Before You Moisturize: Prep & Soothe the Skin

Applying herbalized oil to the skin of your face has some yummy benefits, as we have seen. But to ensure a truly healthy appearance of the skin, we must augment oil cleansing with regular, deeper detox and exfoliation of the skin.

There is a kind and gentle way to accomplish this with an age-old Ayurvedic recipe I learned almost 30 years ago in India. Here are the key ingredients to this miraculous skin-detoxing mask, which I recommend enjoying 1-2 times per week:

  • Raw honey can be used as a natural moisturizer to soften and open pores for cleansing. Much like herbalized oils, honey naturally cleanses the skin and feeds the good bugs, while killing the bad bugs that clog honey drippingpores and create blemishes.
  • When the honey is mixed with skin-supportive herbs it acts as a carrier, which delivers them deeper into the pores. Turmeric, triphala, amalaki and neem are the herbs traditionally used. Turmeric is a natural cleanser and toner. Triphala—a formula of three unique fruits—tones, scrubs and exfoliates the skin. Amalaki—otherwise known as Indian Gooseberry—supports healthy complexion, being a potent form of vitamin C. Neem—which is called the “Queen of the Skin”—is known to deliver unmatched support for the health and beauty of the skin.
  • There are two more important ingredients to finish this recipe: chickpea flour and clay. Both pull toxins from the pores that can negatively impact the skin. Chickpea flour exfoliates the surface layers of the skin and acts as a pulling agent, pulling impurities to the surface of the skin and out of the pores. The clay is carried by the raw honey along with the herbs into the pores, where it scrubs and attaches to impurities that may be congesting the skin. Note: the honey counteracts any of the drying properties of the clay.

The blend of all these ingredients helps to restore the appearance of healthy skin while pulling out congestive impurities. For years, I only used this recipe during our Ayurvedic facials. It worked so well that in 1998 we built our entire skin care line around this formula, which remains a staple of my skin care line, in the form of the Blooming Lotus Mud Mask.

Up Next in the third part of this series: When oil is improperly applied to the face, it can cause problems for certain skin types. The goal of Ayurvedic skin care is to restore the skin to its former glory and radiance. Tune in to my next article as I delve further into the Ayurvedic approach to caring for facial skin with special herbalized oils.



1.. Sharma HM, Midich SI, Sands D, Smith DE: Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors through Panchakarma purification procedures. J Res Educ Indian Med, 1993; 12(4); 2-13.

2.  Heron, Fagan. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in its September/October 2002 issue, two

3. The Skin Microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 April;9(4):244-53


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