“In India, Ayurveda, or ‘the science of life’ encourages us to think about beauty as a holistic concept rather than looking at our body as a series of disconnected causes and effects,” says Michelle Ranavat, founder of Ranavat Botanics. “For example, when we think of acne, Ayurveda takes into consideration diet, stress level, sleep, as well as your skin when considering treatment.” So it’s truly about looking at all the different factors that affect your health. She also notes that Ayurvedic medicine incorporates a ton of native Indian plants—think neem, saffron, moringa, and, duh, turmeric—that are said to have major skin benefits.
That’s why you’ll find these superstar ingredients in their recipes as well as beauty products—because in India, beauty runs more than skin deep.
A 360-degree approach
“In India, it’s all about a 360-degree approach to beauty,” says Rooshy Roy, co-founder of Aavrani, a skin-care brand influenced by Indian beauty. “Like, my mom gets angry if I don’t get eight hours of sleep—because that’s a part of beauty. It’s not just in the way you look, but your mental health, and if you’re tired. It’s always a balance.”
And, as the birthplace of yoga—the ultimate in achieving a mind-body connection—India places a strong significance on tying your looks to how you feel and how you act. One such instance of this? An emphasis on self-care. “A lot of Indian culture is promoting self-care and self-love,” says Nina Davuluri, Aavrani’s co-founder and also the first Miss America of Indian descent. “Mindfulness is a big part of the equation, as well as meditation—it’s a way to promote the holistic approach to beauty that’s about a way of life.”
“We see our skin as a result of what your body is going through and believe in treating the full picture and not the symptoms.” —Michelle Ranavat
Ranavat echoes the sentiment, emphasizing “treating the full picture and not the symptoms.” From an Ayurvedic perspective, those in India sometimes even look at doshas—your unique mix of the elements of air, fire, water, space, and earth—to determine diet and beauty practices. “Ayurveda assumes that different types of people are likely to thrive in different conditions, so knowing your dosha helps you understand yourself better and cater your self-care,” says Ranavat.
On top of that, of course, as longtime practitioners of an anti-inflammatory diet (“Turmeric is used in our cooking almost in every meal and every dish,” says Roy), you can bet that Indian women place an importance on beauty through food, and the other way around—which is why so many of their star skin-care ingredients are also found in their traditional foods. “Most of our beauty ingredients are integrated into our cuisine as well,” says Roy.
Super-nutrition for your skin
In reality, there are thousands of Ayurvedic ingredients that are used in India because the country has such rich biodiversity, according to Ranavat. “Some of my favorites are saffron because of its incredible ability to help slow the signs of aging and to brighten the skin,” she says. “Amla is another great ingredient—it has the vitamin C of 10 oranges in one amla berry. This power-packed superfood helps prevent hair breakage and is the secret to super full hair. And ashwagandha is amazing for skin because it helps fight free radical damage to keep skin firm. It stimulates DHEA, which is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen and stimulates the production of natural skin oils.”
Then there are the all-star multitasking oils. “Indian women use almond oil all of the time for hyperpigmentation, dark circles, and to minimize puffiness naturally,” says Roy. “Coconut oil is everywhere—I know it’s been around for a while but for us, it’s in our hair, in our bodies, it’s in the food. There are coconut trees everywhere. We use it as a hair mask—it’s huge in India.” Besides turmeric, there’s tea tree oil, which Roy says is widely used as an acne-fighting ingredient that calms skin, and neem, another antibacterial and antiviral.
Rose water’s a popular beauty MVP too. “This predated Indian usage—apparently Cleopatra, the original queen, would bathe in rose water,” says Roy. “It’s very hydrating and secures the moisture in the skin—we even drink it.” Talk about beauty from the inside-out.
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