I have done some strange things in the name of skin care. I’ve abandoned all face wash in favor of manuka honey. (It’s sticky, but it works.) I’ve had a really thin layer of skin shaved off with a scalpel. (It’s known as dermaplaning, and I would not do it again.) Most recently, I’ve taken to applying a beauty oil every night—wait for it—inside my belly button.
Well, that last one isn’t as strange as it sounds. In ancient India, for instance, oiling one’s abdomen was a totally normal, not-at-all weird thing to do. “Ayurveda refers to this practice in Bhavaprakasha, a text written in the 15th century, in which a dam of amalaki paste is created around the navel and filled with ginger juice,” says Sahara Rose, author of Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda and host of the Highest Self Podcast. Followers of Ayurveda consider the belly button a mahamani, or “great marma,” or vital energy point—pick your preferred terminology. The point is, it’s a pretty magical spot. Magical enough to maybe even make your skin glow.
To back up a bit: If the word “Ayurveda” sounds familiar, it’s because the Eastern holistic healing system—often referred to as the sister science of yoga—has been working its way west for years. It’s responsible for many of the self-care rituals Stateside wellness devotees hold dear: dry brushing, oil pulling, tongue scraping. Navel oiling, traditionally known as nabhi chikitsa, officially joins the list with the launch of UMA Oils’ Beauty Boosting Navel Therapy Oil, a blend that claims to moisturize lips and skin from the inside out.
UMA Navel Therapy Oils
Before you scoff, there is some science behind the stomach-skin connection (albeit, science shrouded in symbolism). “In Ayurvedic tradition, the navel represents the origin of life, linking mother and child before birth and providing a hub for nutrients to flow between their bodies,” Shrankhla Holecek, an Ayurvedic expert and the founder of UMA Oils, tells BAZAAR.com. “The philosophy of nabhi chikitsa tells us that the body’s center continues to serve as a foundation for balance in adulthood, because of its richness in blood vessels and pathways to the body’s extremities.” The idea is that once inserted into the navel, oil is easily absorbed and effortlessly distributed throughout the body, thanks to through lines formed in its umbilical cord heyday.
This checks out, to an extent. Studies have shown “systemic bioavailability of medications via navel administration,” Nadia Musavvir, ND, notes—in layman’s terms, real results from navel-loaded nutrients. The question is: Can said results really reach your face?
“Theoretically, yes,” Musavvir says. “The effect would be more indirect, and it depends on the oil.” She points to castor oil as a promising option (a star ingredient in UMA’s belly oil). “It provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits when applied topically,” the naturopath says, “all of which, transdermally, could provide the same effects to the skin.” Holecek adds that customers can expect increased moisture, decreased acne, and a strengthened skin barrier too; via mustard oil, neem oil, and tea tree essential oil.
The question then is: Why not apply the oil, you know, to your face?
Therein lies the beauty of a belly button oil. In an era of over-exfoliation and over-the-counter retinol and overflowing shelfies, skin is stressed out. Barriers are broken. Microbiomes are imbalanced. The last thing most skin needs is to be slathered in yet another skin care product.
My own skin is thinned, maybe permanently, from a too-strong, too-long topical steroid prescription. (The condition is called skin atrophy, and, yes, it’s as unappealing as it sounds.) As a result, I can’t so much as look at a bottle of exfoliating acid without breaking out, and my daily routine is simple: I cleanse with the aforementioned manuka honey, pat on a bit of jojoba oil, and that’s basically it. The thought of adding a luxurious, Ayurvedic oil to the mix without adding to my barrier’s burden? It was exciting enough that I bought my belly button a half-ounce, Dhs165 oil of its very own.
The first thing to note about UMA’s Beauty Boosting Oil is that it is tiny. When it arrived, I double-checked to make sure I didn’t accidentally order the sample size. (I didn’t.) A little does go a long way, though. Only one drop is needed per night, every night, which effectively fills my navel cavity to the brim.
Night one, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it—lie down and let it soak in? Rub the oil over my abs? So I consulted UMA’s site for guidance. “Gently massage the skin around the belly button using your finger and thumb, using a gentle pinching motion for about one minute,” it read. “Use a small ball of cotton on the belly button to prevent staining of clothes. Leave on overnight.” I massaged, pinched, and since I’m not precious about my pj’s, skipped the cotton ball and went to bed. (I swear I dreamed about how good this stuff smells. It’s earthy but also citrusy sweet, with just a hint of mustard spice.)
Holecek warned that I probably wouldn’t see results for at least a week, so I spared myself the morning skin inspection. But around day four, I noticed something, uh, unexpected, to say the least. My chronically bloated stomach seemed less bloated, and my bathroom situation was, in a word, better. Musavvir isn’t surprised; she tells me the combination of transdermal castor oil and stomach massage “is thought to strengthen digestion by allowing for better breakdown of food, improved assimilation of nutrients, and more efficient detoxification”—an elegant way of saying “relieves constipation.” (Scientific studies support this too.) A healthy gut is integral to healthy skin, and so I say: Bring on the bathroom breaks.
Visible results were slower. My face looked relatively normal (dry skin, chin dotted with acne) for the first couple weeks. Toward the end of week two, my lips started feeling supersoft—which, as someone who lives in the desert of Southern California, is not something I say lightly or often. “I always struggled with very chapped lips as a child, to the point that they'd bleed from my picking at them,” Holecek shares. She thinks navel oiling helped the situation (she’s been practicing since childhood), and I think she may be right.
The revelation bolstered my faith in belly button oil. From there, small, subtle changes seemed to appear every few days. A dry patch was suddenly smooth, my chin was unusually clear, my cheeks looked … plump? Bouncy even? “Think of your body creating more and better-quality hyaluronic acid, allowing your skin to feel naturally plumped,” the founder explains. “It’s better able to protect itself against damage and bacteria, effectively leading to clearer skin over time.” A month later, I’m a full-on believer in the link between belly buttons and beauty.
The Navel Therapy Oil has since become part of my core skin care collection (pun always intended), and I find I love the nightly tummy rub just as much as the slightly glowier skin. The ritual of it—squeezing the dropper, inhaling the scent, the familiar rub-pinch-rub motion of the massage—keeps me coming back, which could be the key. “Ayurveda is all about finding balance within your body, and finding balance within your body looks different for everyone—but to truly find it, you must be consistent with your practice,” as Rose says.
Alas, dermatologists in the West are (unsurprisingly) not sold on navel oil … but they’re not necessarily opposed to it either. “According to what we know in Western medicine, treatment of the belly button is not directly related to the face,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells me over email. “But if oiling the belly button has been beneficial for you, then I would not discourage the practice.” His skepticism reads through the screen; I can tell he thinks it’s a strange thing to do in the name of skin care. But then again, that is kind of my thing.
All Images: Win-Initiative