As a queer Pakistani woman living in America, it’s hard to feel fully connected to my culture. I experience it in small ways, like when I wear Desi outfits to weddings or jhumkas in my ears, but I’m also incredibly independent, outspoken about money and financial freedom, and committed to building something for myself—my ancestors would be surprised, but also proud. One of the main ways I’ve connected to my culture is through my grandmother, who embodies unconditional love in the way that she cares for me, often cooking me my favorite Pakistani dishes like kitchari or chapli kebabs. To this day, whenever she says that she loves me, she reminds me to pass on the message to my fiancée too.
As a child, I remember sitting at the foot of her chair as she massaged oil into my hair—an Ayurvedic practice known as hair oiling—to help it grow longer and stronger. Although a part of me knew that the process connected me to my culture, I initially resented it because it made my hair greasy and “othered” me in the predominantly white schools I attended. In my initial pursuit of fitting into Eurocentric beauty standards, my South Asian traditions didn’t seem to have a place.
It was only as an adult that I found a new appreciation for my grandmother’s methods and the cultural ties that came along with them. After experiencing rapid thinning as a result of stress, color damage, and too-tight ponytails, I realized it was time to give my hair some much-needed rehabilitation. I stopped highlighting my strands and started to embrace their natural darkness, and once the old dye grew out, I was left with a strong foundation that I could start tending to with masks. This was around the same time that I started planning my wedding, and found myself with a deep desire to bring South Asian customs back into my life.
Enter: Shaz & Kiks, a line of Ayurvedic hair-care products with an origin story that mimics my own beauty journey. The brand’s co-founders, sisters Shaz Rajashekar Kiku Chauduri, discovered hair oiling through spending summers with their grandmother in the Himalayas. There, she would concoct a homemade hair mask with plants and herbs that were indigenous to the area, tailored to the weather and season, and made with Ayurvedic principles in mind.
These learnings influenced the development of the Shaz & Kiks Scalp and Hair Prewash ($40), which uses traditional hair oiling ingredients but reimagines them in a way that doesn’t leave behind a greasy residue. “Most of the ingredients have roots in Ayurvedic rituals, and we give new life to them in the lab to create the final formula, all without using synthetic dyes or fragrances,” says Chaudhuri. “The scent will take you back to where the ingredients come from.”
Many Ayurvedic hair masks contain ingredients like turmeric oil, neem oil, and amla oil, which are designed to improve blood circulation, balance the scalp’s oil production, and reduce inflammation without stripping the hair or scalp. The Shaz & Kik Scalp and Hair Prewash contains all three, plus kokum butter, which allows strands to better absorb all of those much-needed nutrients.
Just like the hair rituals I used to do with my grandmother, this mask is meant to be applied before showering so that it can absorb into the hair before being washed out. I often put it in my hair during the last meeting of the day or during an at-home workout to allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes. And every time I use it, it feels like I’m bringing an old ritual into my current life. Even if I don’t have time to concoct my own formula, using one from a South Asian business that’s made with ingredients indigenous to South Asia has given me a stronger link to my roots.
In Sanskrit, the word for oil—sneha—roughly translates to “love,” which feels like a nod to the level of care that goes into having a loved one massage oil into your scalp. My grandmother did it for me, and in addition to doing it for myself, I now also do it for my fiancé. It’s a way for me to show my love for her while also ensuring that her hair is healthy and nourished. The ritual helps both of us relax after a long day, and is one small way that I can help her take care of herself.
Reclaiming hair oiling has connected me with my culture more deeply, and in a way that fits into my life today. Plus, my hair is all the better for it.
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