Herbal Health: A Sunny Disposition

How sunflower oil factors into Ayurveda treatments.

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Characterized by massive beautiful blooms and, in some cases, towering height, sunflowers abound in North America, with numerous native species across the continent. The plant’s seeds, harvested directly from its flower heads, are packed with nutrients like healthy fats, fiber and vitamin E. It’s no surprise, then, that the oil derived from those seeds is a common ingredient in nourishing skincare products; what wellness practitioners will be delighted to know is that it also plays an important role in Ayurveda treatments.

“Oils are important in Ayurvedic medicine, and the translation of oil (in general) in Sanskrit is ‘tremendous love and immense tenderness,’ i.e., love,” says Megan Darwin, clinical Ayurveda specialist at Spa Sophia in Venice, California. “Sunflower oil is a lovely and popular oil used in these therapies.”

Indeed, notes Judith Bourgeois, Ayurveda specialist for skincare brand Shankara, sunflower oil has more to offer than skin nourishment. “Sunflower oil has a neutral quality that makes it pretty much tridoshic, meaning that it can be used by all doshas without causing imbalances,” she explains. “It’s said that sunflowers carry the life-giving energy of the sun, and so the oil has a sattvic quality, supporting life and health.”

Body Benefits

In Ayurveda, sunflower oil has many uses, as the flower’s life-loving properties flow all the way into its oil. “The sunflower is the only flower that moves to face the sun throughout the day,” notes Goldie Bonnell, international training manager for ESPA in the Americas. “Sunflower oil is charming, subtle and smooth.”

Those qualities make it an ideal ingredient for any client, says Darwin: “Sunflower oil is very special because it’s neither heating nor cooling, so it’s a perfect neutral oil for all three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha.”

Explains Bonnell: “It’s light enough for notoriously oily kaphas, cool enough for pitta and, well, oily enough for vata.” She points out that according to Ayurveda, ingesting sunflower seeds also help minimize inflammation, maintain healthier cholesterol levels and boost detox. “Plus, sunflower oil makes an effective shield for the skin. It’s noncomedogenic, an antioxidant and an excellent wound healer, thanks to linoleic acid, which helps maintain the skin barrier,” she says.

It’s especially beneficial for pitta dosha, notes Bourgeois, as it’s soothing enough to help calm sensitive skin. Trudy Collings, cofounder of artisan health and skincare company PAAVANI Ayurveda, agrees. “Sunflower oil is used in Ayurvedic body therapies to hydrate dry skin, soothe inflammation and cool heated emotions such as anger and irritability,” she explains. “Ayurvedically speaking, sunflower oil balances pitta dosha, which is comprised mainly of fire with a little bit of water. People who have a predominant amount of pitta in their constitution may experience hyperacidity and indigestion, and their skin tends to be more sensitive and easily inflamed. Emotionally, pitta-predominant folks can experience anger, irritability and can become overly critical. When working with a client who displays these symptoms, sunflower oil can be combined with other pitta-reducing herbs such as gotu kola, rose and coriander to restore physical and mental balance through Ayurvedic body therapies.”

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