Mirra Q&A: Sunita Passi on Demystifying the Ayurvedic Skincare Routine

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Recently, ashwagandha powder and cold-pressed turmeric have become trendy wellness terms. However, these ingredients have been used in India for thousands of years as a part of the ancient Indian medical system, Ayurveda. But what is Ayurveda? What are the core beliefs? We sat down with Sunta Passi, a natural wellness entrepreneur and qualified Ayurvedic health coach to demystify Ayurveda and Ayurvedic skincare. Sunita founded Tri-Dosha, a UK-based Ayurvedic skincare line, with the goal to bring the ancient Indian system into the modern world.

What inspired you to start Tri-Dosha?

I started my life as an international journalist.  I was constantly traveling - I would spend four to six months in one country and then jump to the next. On paper, my career checked all the right boxes. I went into journalism because I wanted to help humanity, but I realized that my job didn’t have the depth that I was looking for. I started to question my life purpose, and began to feel burnt out from stress.

Around that time, a friend recommend that I try “hot yoga.” But remember, this back in 1999, and using heat wasn’t trendy yet. The yoga teachers were amazing. They were trained in India and ultimately really transform the way I approached my life. I realized that I could work long hours, as long as I took time for myself. It’s about managing your health, and not about letting go of ambition.

I subsequently made a trip back home to India. While in India, I started to delve more deeply into Ayurveda. I had a massive internal shift. Being in India was a spiritual experience, and I wanted to come back to the UK and really share the profound experience that I had felt with more people. That was the impetus behind Tri-Dosha.

What is your Mission at Tridosha?

We aim to take away the mystery out of Ayurveda and make the practice accessible to as many people as possible.

Because I'm a communicator by trade, I understand how to bring the Ayurvedic mission into the mainstream, through our skincare line and other educational efforts.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is a traditional, Indian holistic health system that balances the body, mind and spirit. Aside from the ingredients and recipes, we believe in taking time to slow down and be mindful.

In the west, we easily get caught up with trends. Every January, there's a new diet launched by a self-proclaimed “expert." As a businesswoman, I appreciate the marketing savvy, but at the end of the day, Ayurveda is time-tested. It has been around for over 5,000 years, and is an entire medical system.

Are there any western trends in particular that drive you crazy?

In Ayurveda, we believe that once you understand your body type, you should nourish your body with the foods and ingredients that are right for you specifically. Nutrition is at the core of our belief system. For example, we don't recommend that people consume cold food or water because the body needs things to be slightly warm in order to break it down. So, for example, the raw food diet is the opposite to what we believe is good for body in Ayurveda!

What are the different body types in Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an individualized health system - all treatment and practices are personalized to your body type, or “dosha.” We categorize people into one of three doshas: vata, pitta, or kapha. Sometimes, people are a combination of the three doshas. Every dosha is then formed from two elements: water, fire, earth, air, or ether.

Vatas are a combination of ether and air. When I think of a vata, I think of a cool, crisp autumn day. Vatas tend to run drier, and If vatas get out of balance, they often suffer from anxiety. Vatas are always moving, sort of like autumn leaves in the wind.

Pittas, in contrast, are a combination of fire and water. Pitta literally means “what cooks.” If you think about the role of fire, it transforms ingredients into food. If fire gets out of balance, it can cause devastation. In a pitta, the fire energy is strong. Pittas are more prone to inflammation. In a pitta, you might see redness, eczema or psoriasis. They are also more prone to digestion related issues.

Lastly, Kaphas are a combination of “water” and “earth”. Kapha literally means “what sticks.” We consider kaphas as “heart centered” people. They are going to be your nurses, stay at home moms, the person everyone goes to when they need to talk to someone. If you mix water and earth together you get mud. So if the Kapha energy falls out of balance, they often get “stuck.” They often have combination skin: oily in some areas, and drier in others. They also often have issues losing weight. We encourage kaphas to eat spicier foods, practice body brushing, and other practices that promote circulation and move around that “muddy” feeling.

Tell us about your skincare line.  

Our line of skincare products is a modern take on Ayurveda. We blend together traditional herbs, and work with a perfumer to develop an aroma that’s more pleasing to western taste (versus the often pungent smells you find in India). Our line is the perfect fusion between old world ingredients and modern aroma.

We use Neem, which is an anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal herb. It’s incredibly cleansing for the skin. Neem is like the Indian aloe vera! You can use the bark, the leaf, or the seed oil - we actually use all three forms in our products.

We’re also big fans of fennel, which is great for sensitive skin. It’s a very cooling and calming. We also use ginger because it’s very warming. It’s excellent for tackling dryness, in addition to being both balancing and detoxifying for skin.

What does your skin care routine look like?

My skincare routine is quite simple! In the mornings, I use our Tri-Dosha cleanser which is suitable for all dosha skin types, and wash it off with warm water. My skin is very dry, so I then follow up with the rejuvenating moisturizer (which is generally good for vatas).

I also clean my tongue. That might sound strange, but for me, it’s totally normal! Tongue cleaning is a traditional Ayurvedic practice and is the act of literally scraping your tongue with this metal, half-circle contraption. Tongue cleaning is a cornerstone of my ritual.

I also enjoy oil pulling. Another traditional Ayurvedic practice is to take sesame oil and gurgle/whish it around your mouth. It strengthens and cleans your gums, and is good for your teeth as well. I think of it as a finishing procedure for my teeth.

At night, I have a similar routine. But instead of applying the facial cream, I use our facial oil (Happiness in a Bottle) which, I say, 'feeds your skin'. Traditional Ayurvedic formulas normally contain between 10-12 powerful herbs. Our products are no exception. In Ayurveda, we believe that there are 7 different tissue layers in your skin, and that each layer should be nourished. When I’m feeling dry, I use the oil because it penetrates deeper and is packed with antioxidants.

What do you do to practice self-care?

In india, it’s very normal to practice self-massage, or “abhyanga.” Oil massages are a really great way to clear the body of toxins. There are a various number of oils you can use to massage yourself with depending on your skin type.

We refer to sesame oil as the “king of all oils” in India because it’s used for everything. It’s a regenerative oil, and is packed with antioxidants. It’s also very calming which makes it perfect for vata skin types.

Coconut oil calms inflammation and cools the body down. Coconut oil is perfect for pitta skin types because of its soothing properties.

Kaphas require more energizing ingredients, like almond oil. Almond oil is packed with antioxidants, in addition to being incredibly balancing. It’s also odorless, so it’s a great oil to use as a base to add in a few drops of essential oil.

Mustard oil is also really great because it stimulates the system and releases toxins in the body. It does have a strong aroma though, so you have to be OK with the smell.

Do you have any parting advice?

Take care of your mind.

“So—hum” is a simple mediation that you can practice on your own. It’s pretty straightforward - you concentrate on the word “so,” then on “hum.” The mediation helps to calm down the body and helps you to connect to yourself.