BY SANA DHANANI
Indian personal care and beauty rituals passed on through generations continue to stay relevant today
India has always been rich in culture, and with access to wellness practices that date back in time and have given rise to some of the most ingenious remedies that are naturally derived, organic, and made of ingredients available in every household.
Traditional beauty practices prevailed within Indian households from urban to rural, within high-income families and low, and among men and women. Generational Indian beauty secrets, whether it was how to de-tan after a trip, get that instant glow, have healthy, luscious locks, or ways to treat skin ailments, were common, using household ingredients that were blended together to create a magic potion that could make everything better.
Indian grandmothers have preserved their beauty secrets and passed their knowledge to their offspring to carry forward. Local ingredients used for these practices can be traced back to the origin of their roots much like the application of apricot oil by the people of Himachal Pradesh, multani mitti from Rajasthan, or coconut milk from Kerala. Beauty rituals continue to be an integral part of our culture and lifestyle.
Take turmeric (haldi), the aromatic spice that has anti-inflammatory properties that double as an anti-oxidant. It is the hero ingredient used in a ritual of its own to mark the auspicious occasion of friends and family coming together to bless a couple. Its multi-faceted qualities help to bring a glow and are effective in getting rid of dead skin. A preparation is typically made of gram flour (besan), sandalwood powder, fresh cream (malai), and a pinch of turmeric powder which is ideal for the night-before function ritual for any bride or groom. In modern times, this mixture is not only used by many at the time of their wedding but is used by all age groups to attain their vibrant finish in time for a special day. Several Indian beauty brands have created products that are formulated to strike a balance between age-old recipes and the longevity of a retail product to extend its lifecycle and shelf life. What’s most beautiful to see is the bride and groom celebrated in the vibrant yellow concoction—a testament to the changing times and acceptance of beauty having no gender.
Oiling the hair and scalp massages (champi) are prevalent in many a household from the birth of a newborn to the more mature generation that still believes this ritual is sacrosanct. While deeply rooted in Ayurveda, this practice is said to have scientific significance that makes it appealing to the new age client. Traditionally, the women would do this for the rest of the household. The kind of fast-paced lifestyles we lead and the amount of hair styling products and heat tools we use on our tresses can severely damage the hair. Simple things like pulling and tugging the hair in a ponytail can also lead to stress on the root and the scalp and can eventually result in breakage and hair fall. A good head massage can stimulate the scalp, boost blood circulation, and relieve stress and tension. The weekly hair oiling helps keep dryness and hair fall at bay while boosting the hair’s quality and health. It promotes fuller, healthier and more voluminous hair that looks and feels softer and is more manageable. There is a wide variety of oils available, each with unique properties to provide a solution for different hair issues. The thick, deeply nourishing coconut oil is packed with fatty acids, vitamins, and UV filters which act to repair and breathe back life into damaged, dry and dehydrated hair. This does have an oily look and feel and would need to be washed off. Almond oil is another great option for individuals who struggle with irritated scalp issues or dandruff. Packed with Vitamin E, it has a natural SPF of 5, is rich in antioxidants, fights against free radicals, and has anti-fungal properties.
Grandmas have always loved their petroleum jelly, you’d see them carry it along wherever they went and apply it generously to dry and irritated skin. Applied to cracked feet, damaged nail beds, chapped lips, dry skin, and on the face, you’d always find jars of petroleum jelly lying around the house to come to the rescue of any skin stressor. This simple beauty hack has resurfaced and been popularised by Gen Z in a beauty technique they call ‘slugging’ which is an overnight beauty hack to help seal in hydration and create a protective barrier to allow your products to work better on your skin. While TikTok might have brought back this trend in the 2020s, grandmas did it first.
You would probably remember your grandmother pulling out an umbrella to shield her skin and hair from the sun on her way to the market; you probably chuckled as she did so, but that was to protect the skin. However, the aftercare was never an afterthought, a gram flour paste was applied to the skin to remove dead skin cells and gently exfoliate, revealing visibly brighter-looking skin. More knowledge on the importance of sun protection and the adverse effects of exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun crept in when leading FMCG brands spread awareness about sun damage and UV protection in the country to make beauty more accessible to the masses. Today, the modern-day consumer invests in a good skincare regimen comprising of a moisturiser, toner, and sunscreen but the good old gram flour fix is always accessible when their skin needs a quick pick-me-up. With versions that feature yogurt or honey on the basis of their skin type, this kitchen ingredient does wonders to revive tired-looking skin.
With the increasing emphasis on reading labels behind skincare products to decode the ingredients used and their quantities, we have become ingredient-first consumers. While natural ingredients have been used for centuries, they can sometimes be harsh, irritate the skin, or strip the skin barrier due to being chemically imbalanced in nature. Though the ingredient that has been a constant for centuries to calm, soothe, moisturise and hydrate the skin is aloe vera. Rich in Vitamins A, C, D, and E, it is packed with zinc, potassium, and magnesium. Used today in a variety of topical medications, face and eye masks, moisturisers, and hair products, the ingredient in its purest form is just as effective. Its use passed down for generations, this unique ingredient is safe for almost all skin types. This house plant is plucked, peeled, and used directly on the skin, making it accessible, inexpensive, and extremely effective for even sensitive skin types. The aloe gel can be refrigerated and used later as well. What makes it unique is how easy it is to store away and use on a daily basis. Grandmothers have always maintained that skincare doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective; sometimes, when all else fails, simple home remedies are the best for any skin concern.
Historically, we have always taken the best from our ancestors and tweaked them along the way to develop more relevant, safe-to-use products that can be used on our skin. It’s wondrous how these beauty rituals have survived the test of time and still retain their significance. While there is so much variety in terms of brands and product types for every skin concern, there is truly something about Indian skincare that is so basic that you can’t resist going back to it.
The writer is the founder of The White Door India.
@pravasindians @thewhitedoorindia @sana.dhanani