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Book Review: Beauty: Pure + Simple by Kristen Ma

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Since beginning my studies of holistic skin care and nutrition, much of what I have learned comes from ancient Eastern healing traditions such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. Both practices have been helping people live healthier, more balanced lives while preventing illness for thousands of years. By eating and living healthfully every day, and focusing on being in tune with one’s individual needs, we can use these methods to correct small imbalances before they can become something larger, more serious, and more difficult to treat. This idea not only applies to the internal health of our physical bodies and the health of our emotional and spiritual bodies, but also to the health of our exterior physical body: the skin.

The skin is a window into a person’s overall health. People who nourish themselves with foods rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants; do not suffer from acute or chronic illnesses or conditions, who make healthy lifestyle choices, and who are able to keep their levels of stress in check generally have clear, glowing, youthful skin. Whereas, people who have skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, puffiness, discolorations, or signs of premature aging likely have something going on internally as well. The book Beauty: Pure + Simple, A Holistic Guide to Natural Beauty, by Kristen Ma gives great insight into how to handle these skin conditions, how to care for and improve the appearance of the skin, and how to prevent future skin issues by healing the skin from the inside out, using knowledge from Ayurveda.

About the author:

Kristen Ma is the co-owner of Pure + Simple Inc., a group of holistic spas with its own line of natural skincare and mineral makeup. She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner who has studied in Canada, the United States and India. She is also an experienced Certified Esthetician. In addition to being considered an expert in her field, writing books, and running a successful business, Kristen also writes one of my favorite blogs, Holistic Vanity.

Kristen’s philosophy is to treat people’s skin according to their own individual needs over time, rather than attacking the skin with harsh chemicals, lasers, or other methods of exfoliation/resurfacing. Pure + Simple not only considers the state of the client’s skin, but also his or her lifestyle choices, internal health, and emotional state. This individualistic approach to skin care works with the person’s skin, not against it; and gives long lasting results not only for the skin but also for the person’s overall state of health.

Her book Beauty: Pure + Simple was released in Canada in 2010. Since I love her blog so much and our philosophies are so similar, I had to have a copy of the book. However, the U.S. version was not yet available at the time, so Kristen kindly sent me the Canadian version. Great news though: the U.S. version will be released on October 11, 2011! The title of this version is Beauty Pure and Simple: The Ayurvedic Approach to Beautiful Skin and will be available at booksellers nationwide.

About the book:

In Ayurveda, as with TCM, food is considered to be medicine. However, unlike many popular diets and nutritional theories out there today, Ayurveda is not a “one size fits all” way of eating. According to the book, “each of us is a unique person with unique needs, perspective, personality, rate of digestion, speed of metabolism, and so on. Therefore, it is logical that each of us must customize our treatments, diets, and habits to maintain health, to feel beautiful, and to live with vitality.”

In Ayurveda, similarly to TCM as well, different areas of the face correspond to different organs and systems of the body. Therefore, breakouts, inflammation, hyperpigmentation, etc. in these various areas of the face point to blockages in the corresponding internal organs of the body. If we then work to release those blockages via nutrition and detoxification, the skin problems will resolve as a result.

In Ayurveda, there are three doshas (personalities/constitutions): Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Though each of us possesses all three doshas, one’s (or sometimes two’s) influence is often more dominant than the others, and it is important to be able to recognize this so we can make choices to maintain balance. Like the theories of polarity and yin/yang, when one dosha is too dominant, it needs characteristics of the others to bring it back into balance. Certain foods and activities are better for certain doshas over others, while conversely, if we eat foods or partake in activities that are not good for our particular constitutions they can cause disharmony.

Okay, so we just need to figure out what our dominant dosha is and then just eat foods, use ingredients, engage in activities that are best for that dosha right? The book even includes a questionnaire to help us determine our most dominant dosha. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not so fast. Remember, Ayurveda is not just a quick solution or 101 class — it is a “vast ideology with many factions” that can be studied over a lifetime… and beyond.

Change is good…

No one person is the same, and no one person stays the same over a month, a year, or a lifetime. We change as we respond to the Earth’s seasonal changes, and we change as we respond to hormonal changes that occur as we reach the different “seasons” of our lives. What we eat when we are children will probably not adequately nourish us when we are elderly, just as the skin care products we use in the winter will probably not be appropriate for use in the summer. Each part of the day is attributed to a certain dosha, as is each season of the year, as is each stage of life. We are in a constant state of flux, so to maintain balance we need to learn how to understand how our bodies, emotional states, and nutritional needs change with each change of dosha/season.

Beauty: Pure + Simple goes into detail about these many changes and how we can best adapt to them to maintain our balance.

The importance of natural skincare

While it is imperative that we put clean food and water into our bodies, it is equally necessary to put safe, clean, and natural ingredients on our skin. Certain ingredients contain synthetic chemicals that can cause irritation, and inflammation externally, and toxicity which can lead to disease when the ingredients are absorbed into the body through the skin. The author provides a list of several commonly used commercial and synthetic ingredients to avoid, and gives explanations of why they should be avoided.

Kristen also discusses the importance of proper hydration and stress management, and offers holistic solutions to some of the most common skin ailments. She even talks about natural mineral makeup and how to use it to bring out your own natural beauty.

Canadian edition versus American edition

Even though I have the original Canadian version of the book, I still want to pick up a copy of the American version. When I asked Kristen how the versions differ, she responded that while they are very similar, there are a few differences. First of all, the formatting is different, which provides the U.S. edition with some areas where she was able to elaborate and flesh out her thoughts on certain topics. Additionally, the U.S. edition also includes a food chart, and herb guide that are not in the Canadian version.

I am excited to read the newest edition of this book and also look forward to more published works from Kristen. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in beauty, skin care, Ayurveda, or holistic or preventative health. Be sure to check out her blog, Holistic Vanity and the Pure + Simple website for more information about the spas and natural products.

Source: Ma, Kristen. Beauty: Pure + Simple, A Holistic Guide to Natural Beauty. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2010.

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