Last year this time, as the rain was falling softly outside my window, I was seated embalmed in a concoction of clay, manjishtha, aloe and honey. Research for Glow — my debut book — was in full swing, and I was blending, pounding, infusing, eating and applying fruit, vegetables and rare herbs quicker than you can say ‘ayurveda’. This particular concoction was a disaster. Manjishtha is the ultimate Indian beautifier: when consumed, it purifies the blood, and on application, it clears pigmentation. However, in my enthusiasm at finding premium, organic manjshtha, I had mixed a full teaspoon instead of just a pinch (the recommended dosage). Soon, my skin was itchy and so red that it rivalled the colour of the herb’s potent brick-coloured roots.
Atlas of natural beauty
I got the impetus to write Glow when wellness became the new symbol of luxury (think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop). As health became a fad, people were eating and applying only ‘trending’ ingredients. Instead of making a healthy lifestyle more accessible, the movement did the opposite. I, too, am a sucker for fads, but when I shelled out thousands of rupees to procure a medicinal mushroom supplement, I realised my own naïveté. After all, we live in the land of ayurveda.
My column makes no bones about my love for luxurious, high-end cosmetics, but I wanted to give this more natural method a shot. With Glow, I set out to discover what our own history and culture can offer in our search for beauty, both inside and out
When I was researching my book, I rechristened my room Soundarya Mahal because of the various clays, herbs, varieties of honey, aloe plants, herbal sticks and containers I had collected. Walking in, you would get more than a whiff of sandalwood and jatamansi, both herbs precious, rare and endangered. My trials, conducted with the advice of the five-member expert panel on my book, provided interesting discoveries. I found that mixing face masks in a silver bowl yielded the best results; silver is a cooling metal and soaking ingredients like multani mitti, aloe vera, turmeric and honey in it makes them soothe the skin more effectively.
I also learned that it is a good idea to think about the balance in your face mask. Astringency must be tempered with emollients to add moisture back to the skin. I found honey (mixed with a bit of rosewater to loosen it) to be the best base, even while using clay. Not only does it hydrate and calm the skin, it also helps your mask stay damp for longer. I loved the ingredient so much that I even started using raw honey to cleanse my face in the morning — I rub a spoonful all over my face and wash it off once I am done brushing my teeth. It is the ideal remedy for an acne and rosacea-prone complexion, making the face look soothed and hydrated.
Honey is just one of the innumerable gifts from nature. Even with many people drinking aloe vera juice, I prefer it for application. During the research for my book, I decided to stick to only natural formulations. I was in the habit of using potent, dermatologically-tested cosmeceuticals, and my complexion did not take very kindly to being deprived of its usual fix. Aloe vera was a godsend — I applied it as a night cream and it helped heal my face, smoothen the bumps, and moisturise the skin. Did you know it can even be diluted to make an excellent vaginal wash?
Then there is the beautiful Indian rose (rosa centifolia). It is typically mixed into a face mask and used as a toner, but did you know that you can spray good quality rosewater into your eyes? My grandmother — a great beauty in her time — used to say that it makes the eye whites luminous. In addition, it helps refresh the eyes after hours of working on the computer. Ayurveda expert Dr Ipsita Chatterjee suggests mixing a couple of strands of saffron with a bit of rosewater and applying it as a kajal to soothe the eyes and to boost concentration.
After months of research, I find the lifestyle of our ancestors to be the most therapeutic. From the traditionally prepared food they ate to the natural remedies they used, my own grandparents (many of whom lived till their 90s) best exemplify the merits of a natural lifestyle. Case in point: my unusually healthy grandfather, who smokes at least a pack of cigarettes a day.
Glow, ₹299, by Penguin Random House, will hit stands on August 21. This article is not intended as a substitute for consultation with a psychologist, nutritionist or dermatologist.