By: Jahnavi Murali
I walked past aisles replete with products for skin and hair care on my last grocery store run. Each aisle was filled with thousands of different ingredients in formulas that proclaimed glowing skin, blemish-free complexions, and hair smooth as silk would result. More than one woman was poring over different containers, trying to decide which product would work best for them. As I walked right past these aisles in my search for a bit of eyeliner, I thought to myself, “why have I never peeked at the skincare aisle?” The answer, surprisingly, lies in my cultural roots.
Growing up in a South Asian family, some of my earliest memories revolve around my mother taking care of my skin and hair. I’d come back from school, wash my face, and head to the kitchen table. My mom would invariably be mixing ingredients together for a face mask or a blemish cure, using what was in the house. My face would feel cool and smooth after I washed her homemade mask off. Every weekend, she would warm up coconut oil and massage it into my hair. I’d let it soak into my scalp for an hour or so, and then I would wash my hair. The result? Hydrated, healthy, and shiny locks.
Skin care wasn’t just a remedy to be used when something was wrong. Instead, it was a lifestyle. The ingredients my mother used and told me about were common items she had in the kitchen and didn’t take lots of time to put together. She always stressed the importance of taking that time for skin and hair on a consistent basis, whether that was every week or every other day.
One of the key ingredients for skincare is turmeric, an anti-inflammatory that’s used in almost every Indian dish I’ve ever eaten. It evens out skin tones and helps with scarring. One of my favorite wedding rituals is actually before the wedding, when the bride and groom get covered with a turmeric-based paste to help brighten their complexions before the ceremony.
Rose water is something that I originally did not like but have now come to love. It was mainly used as a toner by my mother, but I’ve found it to be quite refreshing for my skin after long hours. Lots of people also say that it softens and brightens up their face, especially when combined with lemon. My grandmother used lemon rinds as an exfoliator and to remove dark spots on her skin.
When I was young, my friends used lots of different products with chemicals they couldn’t pronounce, and they always wondered why I didn’t use any. I got everything I needed for skincare and for my hair from my mother’s kitchen. Since then, the beauty industry has started to get inspired by cultural beauty secrets, with more and more natural brands taking the front seat. They market products as organic, eco-friendly, and natural. Ranavat Botanics and Aavrani are two beauty brands founded on Indian beauty philosophy. Both brands have products that use organic turmeric, jojoba, jasmine, rose water, and a host of other ingredients found both in Indian cooking and Indian beauty rituals. The founders discuss how their cultural upbringings inspired them to create brands with products that reflected those natural roots, because it worked for them.
It’s also worked for me, and it is the reason why I look to my kitchen when trying to figure out how to get rid of that pesky new zit on my forehead 😊. Perhaps natural skincare will inspire you to test out a different product or a DIY mixture at home! Good luck with your skin and haircare journey, and remember, it’s not a product, it’s a lifestyle.
P.S. If you’re wondering where to get started, here’s my recipe for ubtan, one of the masks I use on a weekly basis.
2 tbsp. gram flour (besan)
A pinch of turmeric (haldi)
A pinch of ground sandalwood
2 tbsp. of rose water
2 tbsp. of milk
Directions: Mix all of the above together to create a paste, and then apply as a face mask. Leave on for 20 minutes and wash it off with cold water (no soap).