Ayurvedic vs Medical Grade Ingredients

Organic ingredients can provide numerous benefits, but how do Ayurvedic skincare practices hold up against medical-grade formulations?

The Skin Report is a podcast created to educate listeners on methods to improve skin health for people of all ethnicities and ages. In this episode, host Dr. Sethi covers a listener write-in question on Ayurvedic medicine, and how it compares to medical grade skincare products. Ayurveda is a system of medicine that utilizes organic and natural ingredients into health practices. Dr. Sethi provides information about both Ayurvedic and medical grade skincare formulations and practices, and provides her insights on how these methods can be used together in a healthy skincare regime.

As the founder of RenewMD Beauty Medical Spas and a woman of color, Dr. Sethi is dedicated to spreading science-backed skincare information on The Skin Report. Check out this episode to learn more about ayurvedic and medical-grade skincare!

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This transcript was exported on December 1, 2023 -view latest version here.

Skincare can sometimes feel overwhelming. Whether it’s finding the right products, ingredients, or treatments, there’s a lot out there. But not always for people of African Hispanic, middle Eastern and Eastern South Asian descent. That’s why I set out to educate myself and others so that we can all feel beautiful in our skin. Hello and welcome back to The Skin Report. I’m Dr. Simran Sethi, an internal medicine doctor, mom of three and CEO and Founder of RenewMD Medical Spas and Skin by Dr. Sethi.

Today we’ll be discussing the use of Ayurvedic practices versus medical grade skincare. So this isn’t the first time I’ve analyzed medical grade skincare in comparison to organic skincare products. But today I wanted to address a listener’s write-in. As my long-term listeners know, anyone can submit a question for me on the podcast website, theskinreportbydrsethi.com. This particular question is asking for my thoughts on Ayurvedic remedies and how these cultural wellness practices compare to modern medical grade skincare.

For any listeners who don’t know, Ayurvedic is an ancient system of medicine that is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on the balance between our body, mind, and spirit. Ayurvedic medicines are not currently regulated by the FDA and Ayurvedic products are not FDA approved to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any medical conditions. Still, many people choose to use Ayurvedic medicine for its natural healing properties. This is especially common in Indian culture as Ayurveda originated in India and has been practiced since the second century B.C.

As a professional in medicine, I hold many views on the role of Ayurvedic remedies in modern culture. My own skincare line Skin by Dr. Sethi creates remedies for women of color, and in creatin gmy formulations, I’ve become aware of the overlap between Ayurvedic and medical grade treatments in skincare. So in this episode, I wanted to go over some of the most common conversation points surrounding this topic, and discuss how these practices compare and whether Ayurvedic treatments have a place in modern skincare. Stay tuned. While Ayurvedic practices have been passed down through history and tend to follow a more holistic approach, medical grade practices focus primarily on methods that are supported by scientific studies.

Now, safety should be your top priority when following any skincare practice, but sometimes people can make mistakes when trying out new methods. With that said, let’s compare the safety and user-friendliness of each of these practices. Mistakes are human and can be common when embarking on a medical grade skincare journey. Many of these missteps come from improper use of medical skincare practices, either by the user themselves or even a professional. Research published in 2022 on medical error analysis in dermatology, according to the reports of the North Ryan Medical Association from 2004 to 2018 showed that sources of error in dermatology often involved incorrect dosage or device settings, diagnostic errors and deficits in obtaining informed consent.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can minimize the likelihood of experiencing these issues by finding a skincare professional that is licensed in their practice. A trustworthy skin professional should be certified, experienced, and should perform their procedures in a safe, clean, and official location. They should most importantly be able to identify what skincare condition that client has, which means knowing the difference between various causes of acne or the different types of hyperpigmentation disorders, like melasma versus post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Having an understanding of skincare disorders ensures that the professional is not incorrectly treating and potentially worsening the condition. In my career, I’ve seen people with melasma experience terrible flareups because their esthetician or medical provider treated them with a harsh chemical peel, which was actually meant to correct post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Even more commonly, I’ve seen people have worsened acne because their esthetician was using too many occlusive products during their facial without proper exfoliation which just clogs their pores even more. That kind of facial was more appropriate for anti-aging and not for acne clients. It’s important to do your research on any medical professional by making sure that they have treated others with your skin condition and tone, and of course, always follow their suggested at-home care after the treatment.

So we can see that the medical grade skin journey isn’t always a clear cut process, but what about typical missteps people may make when beginning their Ayurvedic skincare journey? Well, Ayurveda is a medical discipline that comes with its own terms, ideologies in practices. For beginners who are unfamiliar with the practices, this can cause confusion and user error. A 2023 article in Vogue, India discussed common mistakes people make with their Ayurveda based skincare and wellness. These mistakes included failing to consider their procti, which is a term for a person’s disposition, nature, body composition.

Another is not being patient with seeing results as holistic health practices can take time to produce effects. Finally, the article cited that people not consulting a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner can also cause missteps along their journeys. User error can be common in both medical grade and Ayurvedic skincare. But another significant concern mentioned within the article was the use of incorrectly labeled Ayurvedic products, or ones containing heavy metals, harsh or synthetic ingredients.

In the US, Ayurvedic medicine falls under the category of dietary supplements rather than pharmaceutical drugs, and therefore these medicines are not obligated to adhere to the safety and efficacy criteria established for conventional medications. This raised the question, is Ayurvedic medicine safe? Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see cases of companies selling products marketed as Ayurvedic that pose serious health risks. Ayurvedic medications have been found to contain contaminants like lead and other heavy metals. For example, in 2022, Health Canada warned that product sold by Kerela Ayurvedic & Natural Herbal Consultation in Toronto may pose serious health risks after receiving report of heavy metal poisoning following use of products obtained from that vendor.

Now, I do want to mention that I’m not aware of any regulatory organizations that test and certify Ayurvedic medicines and products. In fact, I just came across a disturbing article in The Economist that talked about the use of lead and mercury in turmeric manufacturing plants in India, which produces the majority of turmeric in the world to make the turmeric look a brighter yellow. There was so much lead and mercury in the turmeric that factory workers have died of metal poisoning. Unfortunately, spices like turmeric are a popular skincare ingredient, and we do not always have transparency on farming and packaging practices for these spices.

The sustainability and ethical sourcing of ingredients is another significant consideration regarding Ayurvedic medicine. As Ayurvedic ingredients are often organic and can become endangered if they’re over sourced, many have faced challenges in finding ethical and sustainable Ayurvedic products. Fortunately, there are methods and initiatives to promote sustainability. The IUCN Red List of threatened species is an information source on the global extinction risk status of plant, fungus and animal species. This resource can be used to identify ingredients that are at high risk of global extinction to ensure their conservation, and is used by many businesses and organizations to inform conservation action and policy.

Furthermore, natural ingredients in Ayurvedic product formulations can be ethically sourced from locally grown plants and herbs native to India. Sourcing ingredients from traditional farmlands is an approach known as green chemistry and is commonly practiced by the Ayurvedic skincare industry. Today, many people support the use of Ayurvedic medicine as a complimentary or alternative medicine. Ayurveda was one of the fastest growing, complimentary and alternative medicine therapies in Europe in 2016. This use of Ayurveda as a complimentary medicine has been further recognized since. Last year, the World Health Organization and the Government of India signed an agreement to establish the World Health Organization Global Center for Traditional Medicine to harness the potential of traditional medicines through modern science and technology. Recently, the World Health Organization convened its first summit dedicated to traditional medicine in August of 2023. Complimentary and alternative medicines are medical practices that are not part of a country’s conventional medicine, and thereby are not fully integrated into our official healthcare system.

With the concerns I’ve previously mentioned surrounding Ayurveda, you may be wondering why the practice is still so common. While this holistic skin tear approach can be effective. There are Ayurvedic remedies, ingredients, and practices that have a profound impact on skin health, with science that supports their efficacy. Ayurvedic herbs and formulations have shown significant benefits for various skin conditions as validated by scientific research. For example, research published in the National Library of Medicine in 2011, showed that Ayurvedic medicine formulations commonly contained anti-inflammatory elements that were even effective in the treatment of various chronic diseases. By inhibiting inflammatory pathways, theseAyurvedic components could provide a holistic and affordable alternative to today’s pharmaceutical therapies.

In the case of skin health, Ayurvedic ingredients that are anti-inflammatory such as Divya kayakalp vati may be beneficial for the treatment of acne. The ingredient Divya Kantilep is also documented as being helpful for treating acne as well as wrinkles on the face. I personally have met patients who have tried natural Ayurvedic remedies and not seen results, but again, remember, the people who filter into my office are doing so because they need additional help. There might be a much larger group of people who are getting results and therefore don’t need to come into a doctor’s office.

On the podcast, I often discuss how medicines, supplements and diets can affect your skin’s condition. Of course, the Ayurvedic skincare market includes many oral ingested functional products or nutri cosmetics that promise cosmetic results. These ingestibles often contain natural ingredients to promote skin health. According to research on Ayurvedic concepts and product trends, anti-aging properties are common in Ayurveda, and many cosmetic companies have used Ayurvedic knowledge for developing skincare cosmeceuticals.

In my personal and professional experience, I think that using Ayurvedic ingredients can be beneficial, but the delivery of these ingredients into the dermis of the skin should be an equally important consideration. I will definitely caution you against using oils with ingredients or applying these ingredients with a mixture of water and milk onto the skin, because in many cases, this delivery of skincare can clog pores or even damage the skin barrier. Instead, Ayurvedic ingredients that have been formulated to cross the skin barrier and enter the dermis are more effective and safer.

Now, let’s tackle the ultimate questions that people have regarding these two disciplines, which is, is it possible for them to work in synergy together and how should Ayurvedic medicine continue to exist alongside modern medical grade skincare advancements? From my research, I believe that Ayurvedic medicine does have a place in modern skincare as a complimentary medicine, but with a couple of caveats. First, people should consider the safety behind these practices from a scientific standpoint. While some practices can be beneficial, you should always do research into the efficacy of how they work to avoid outdated or unsafe methods.

Next, Ayurvedic medicine can be helpful, but should not replace medical grade treatment especially in the case of serious conditions. If you’re experiencing skin concerns that cause severe pain or irritation, you should always seek out assistance from a licensed professional who can help you form a signed back treatment plan to address your condition. Medical grade does not always mean aggressive, and it is not uncommon for me to put my patients on a skin fast, for a few weeks where I have to stop aggressive products that are breaking their skin barrier by completely depleting their lipids, but then,gradually start adding back skincare actives while protecting their skin barrier.

So to answer the question, all in all, I believe that the combination of Ayurvedic practices and modern technology are a much more effective and safe solution than relying purely on ancient practices. I hope you all have enjoyed this episode. Until next time, love your skin, love yourself, and celebrate your beauty. If you’d like to learn more about science-backed skincare or medical aesthetic treatments, please subscribe to and turn on notifications for The Skin Report, so you always know when a new episode is up. We have a newsletter that you can sign up for on skinbydrsethi.com so that you can stay up to date on all our latest products and more. Additionally, if you have a skincare question or want to make an episode topic recommendation, please message me at theskinreportbydrsethi.com, which is linked in my show notes, and I’ll be sure to answer your question in an episode soon.

Transcript by Rev.com