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Style & Beauty

What Everyone Can Learn From The Indian Beauty Formula

Indian beauty is more about continuous care than a one-and-done solution, says one Indian-American beauty expert.
Coconut oil, neem and turmeric are kitchen staples, but can also be used for beauty and skin care. 
Coconut oil, neem and turmeric are kitchen staples, but can also be used for beauty and skin care. 

In the U.S., makeup and personal care are part of a multi-million dollar industry that’s constantly trying to sell us new, often chemical-filled products that promise to (almost magically) get rid of our skin problems and leave us looking clean and clear and under control.

In recent years, however, we’ve seen a big shift toward organic, eco-friendly products. According to Persistence Market Research, the global natural and organic personal care market is expected to reach a value of almost $22 million by 2024.

Natural and organic skin care has roots in different countries around the world, notably India. For many women in India, skin care is more than just a cream or face wash; it’s a lifestyle.

Below, four women, either from India or of Indian descent, share their time-tested formulas for beauty.

Beauty starts from the inside out.

Michelle Ranavat, founder of Ranavat Botanics, told HuffPost that Indian women pay attention to what they’re putting on their skin as well as what they’re eating. Everything from eating well to sleeping well to keeping stress levels low “play into the broader sense of beauty,” she said.

This full-circle approach has roots in ayurveda, a system of medicine that has been used by people in India for thousands of years. In ayurvedic medicine, the mind and body are strongly connected. Ayurveda puts an emphasis on using positive lifestyle habits and natural remedies to promote good health and prevent and treat illness.

In Indian beauty rituals, natural remedies made of raw, often organic ingredients are quite common, said Nina Davuluri, the first Indian-American woman to be named Miss America and the co-founder of skin care brand Aavrani. She mentioned that growing up, she was first introduced to ingredients like coconut oil, neem and turmeric as kitchen staples, but later learned they could be used for beauty and skin care.

“I grew up with my grandmother putting coconut oil in my hair and my mom making DIY turmeric masks for myself and my sister,” she said.

These sorts of ingredients are known as adaptogens in Western culture, but for Davuluri, “these are just ingredients I grew up with, used in many different ways, and they happen to also help with anxiety and stress, which is really great.”

Use skin care products made with turmeric and rose.

Women during the haldi ceremony, in which people rub turmeric mixtures on the bride and groom to promote bright complexions for their wedding.
Women during the haldi ceremony, in which people rub turmeric mixtures on the bride and groom to promote bright complexions for their wedding.

Different regions in India may have their own unique rituals that use different natural ingredients.

One ingredient that all four women cited as a key part of Indian beauty is turmeric. As Davuluri noted, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that’s said to be beneficial for both the digestive system and skin health. She added that turmeric can help even out skin tones with hyperpigmentation, help with scarring and reduce the look of breakouts.

Turmeric can also help with skin brightness, according to Ranavat, which is one of the reasons it’s used in traditional Indian wedding ceremonies. People will rub a paste made with turmeric and other ingredients onto the bride and groom to brighten their complexions before the wedding day, Ranavat said.

Another popular ingredient used in natural beauty treatments is rose or rose water, which is known to be calming. Namrata Soni, a makeup artist based in Mumbai, said she applies a mixture of rose water and red chandan (sandalwood) powder on her face at least once a week. Shailja Vashisht, the beauty blogger behind A Bride Everyday, said rose water can also be used to make homemade hand creams and for at-home pedicures.

Ranavat, whose family is from Gujarat and Rajasthan, also pointed to saffron, licorice root, fuller’s earth clay, ashwagandha and manjistha as some of the most prevalent ingredients used in natural remedies. The latter, she said, is great for dark circles under the eyes.

“I grew up with my grandmother putting coconut oil in my hair and my mom making DIY turmeric masks for myself and my sister.”

- Nina Davuluri, former Miss America and co-founder of skin care brand Aavrani

Hair oils are a top priority.

Hair is “such a quintessential part of what [Indian women] view beauty as,” Ranavat said. “I think every Indian woman definitely has a hair product or hair oil in their cabinet, maybe more than one.”

Hair care starts at a very young age, she said, adding that young school girls in India have to keep their hair braided and that most of them have oil in it. Hair is “a hundred percent always being conditioned,” she added.

According to Ranavat, amla oil is a popular choice for hair, as is hibiscus. Davuluri, whose family is from the south of India, pointed to coconut oil as a go-to. Oils, Ranavat said, are especially good for protecting hair from the harsh sun and hot, humid climate in India.

When it comes to dyeing the hair, Vashisht said that many Indian women use henna-based mixtures. They make a paste using other ingredients, such as beetroot juice, coffee or tea and apply it to the hair, she said.

“It’s a really lengthy process, [because] they have to keep the henna on their hair for three to four hours, but they prefer that because it’s free from chemicals,” Vashisht said.

Eye makeup is all about kohl liner.

According to Ranavat, women used to make their own kohl at home by dipping a cotton ball in ghee and lighting it to create a flame. The soot is what women used for kohl or kajal eyeliner.
According to Ranavat, women used to make their own kohl at home by dipping a cotton ball in ghee and lighting it to create a flame. The soot is what women used for kohl or kajal eyeliner.

“We have very expressive eyes,” Soni said. “We’re always trying to accentuate them, always trying to making them look bigger than they are.”

The most popular makeup item Indian women turn to for their eyes is kohl or kajal, Soni added. These days, kohl and kajal (also sometimes called surma) are words used interchangeably to describe the eye makeup used by Indian women.

According to Ranavat, women used to make their own kohl at home by dipping a cotton ball in ghee and lighting it to create a flame. Then, you would cover the flame with a metal tin, which causes soot to develop. That soot is what women used for kohl or kajal eyeliner, she said.

“You would wake up in the morning, wash your face, and that would be the first thing you would apply,” Soni said. “That’s what kajal is to Indian woman.”

Even if a woman wasn’t wearing any other makeup, she said, they would use kajal.

At the end of the day, beauty is a lifestyle.

As Davuluri explained, Indian beauty is more about continuous care than a one-and-done solution. Taking care of your body and health, and in turn, your skin, is something that’s integrated into everyday life in culture, she said, adding, “It’s something I think is missing from our fast-paced lives.”

“Self-care is something that should be ongoing, not just one day,” she said.

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