Sandalwood, turmeric, saffron, coconuts… in India, skincare traditionally comes straight from farms and forests harvested by women to make pastes, powders and oils for everything from shiny hair to glowing skin.
It wasn’t an easy process: Gathering the ingredients, then working over a hot fire or a heavy mortar and pestle to make the concoctions, and finally the mess of strands coated in greasy coconut oil or skin covered in sticky Coated with turmeric paste.
Fast forward to today, where you can’t walk down a beauty aisle without finding at least 20 best-selling products based on this subcontinent’s 5,000-year heritage.
Quite simply: the western world discovered Ayurveda. And both matched.
Today we no longer have to search in the forest; Instead, we can go to the nearest department store or even order online, making Indian beauty more accessible than ever.
And thanks to new extraction and formulation techniques, textures are lighter and less messy. ghee (clarified butter) is pressed into beautiful face balms, while coconut and almond extracts are infused in lightweight oils.
Western science has caught up – and confirms these principles. Turmeric has antioxidant, antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Coconut oil nourishes the hair shaft. And almond oil is also a natural moisturizer.
Today, Indian beauty combines the ancient teachings of Ayurveda with Western scientific research to achieve the best of both worlds.
Despite all the changes, one thing remains constant: trust in natural ingredients. So this is what to look for while immersing yourself (or delving deep) into Indian beauty.
Ayurveda considers ghee (clarified butter) as the perfect skin ointment. And science shows why: Ghee is high in fatty acids, which nourish and hydrate skin, and its antioxidants may also help fight skin damage. It also supports wound healing, improves the appearance of scars and hyperpigmentation.
Just a small amount, whether applied straight from the jar or as part of a moisturizer, is enough to restore softness and suppleness to even the driest complexion.
Many legends surround the beauty benefits of almonds. And they’ve endured because these nuts are a veritable treasure trove of skincare—a fact backed by modern science.
Almonds are exceptionally high in fatty acids, calcium and minerals, making them extremely nutritious. They’re also packed with antioxidants that stop environmental damage and help keep skin healthy. Almond oil and paste care for the skin without leaving a greasy residue.
Original Indian skin care recipes call for the nuts to be soaked overnight and then made into a paste by rubbing against a terracotta pot. A faster fix for the present? Buy a bottle of pure almond oil and use it in place of your regular night cream.
Saffron is the unicorn of the beauty world: Rare, powerful and expensive. What makes this spice so special for skin care? First off, it has two powerful antioxidants: crocin and crocetin. They protect against stress and environmental damage that would otherwise lead to fine lines, wrinkles and a loss of radiance.
The tiny red strands are also packed with minerals, vitamins and have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. When applied topically, saffron not only brightens the skin but also reduces pesky hyperpigmentation.
You can find saffron in many products, from masks to moisturizers. But it’s a case of buyer beware. With international prices for Indian saffron (considered the world’s highest quality) averaging $1,500 per pound, if a moisturizer seems too cheap it can be misleading in its claims.
Here, you might be better served with one of the country’s tried-and-true skincare recipes: Simmer 6 tablespoons of freshly grated coconut with a pinch each of saffron and turmeric powder. You get a nice oil that can be used as a moisturizer. All you need is five to six strands for the smallest can to last.
There’s a reason turmeric has transcended its Indian origins and become a cult ingredient around the world. This yellow colored spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant and detoxifying agent. Result? It keeps skin soft, smooth and radiant; fights acne; and helps fade dark spots.
But many of us shy away from applying turmeric to our skin for fear of appearing figurative The simpsons. And today we don’t have to go that route. Instead, look for turmeric-based moisturizers and masks that contain this powerful spice, without the yellow aftertones.
Coconut oil has been praised – and sparked debate – around the world, with opinions divided about its beauty benefits.
On the one hand, coconut oil is a powerful skin soother due to its high concentration of omega-6 fatty acids. It also contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant; and lauric acid, which is antimicrobial.
This makes coconut oil an excellent skin ointment. It can reduce acne-causing bacteria, keep skin soft and supple, and help retain moisture. Indians have been known to scoop a dab straight from the jar and apply it to the face and limbs.
However, contemporary research also shows that coconut oil is occlusive and comedogenic, meaning it sits on top of the skin to lock in moisture underneath. While this makes it a great balm for drier skin, it’s not what you want if your skin is prone to clogging and blackheads!
Then there’s the hair factor: Coconut oil is a great moisturizer for hair. It helps reduce hair breakage by balancing the scalp and strengthening the hair shaft.
The original Indian way of applying coconut oil, which was to lather generously and leave until the next wash, is no longer practical. Instead, try massaging a few tablespoons of the oil into dry hair, leaving it on overnight, and washing it out the next morning. This way you can reap the benefits without the greasy locks.
Indian sandalwood oil is considered the highest quality oil in the world. It has antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties that can help acne-prone skin. The golden oil also works excellently in lightening scars and hyperpigmentation.
As for premature aging? Sandalwood is an excellent antioxidant that protects against damage at the cellular level. By strengthening the skin’s natural collagen, it also protects against wrinkles, fine lines and sagging.
Finally, this precious oil is a powerful moisturizer that helps keep skin soft, supple, and plump without the oiliness of many other natural moisturizers.
As such, sandalwood oil is used as a base in several moisturizers these days — or you can go the original route and buy a tiny bottle of pure oil to work into your skin.