Ayurveda: the newest beauty trend that’s more than skin-deep

The quest for natural products is shining a spotlight on Ayurveda, with many young brands offering products that channel this age-old philosophy

Products from Just Herbs. 
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When it comes to the future of beauty, it appears the industry is looking to traditions of the past.

India is the world’s second- largest consumer market today, and this has had a twofold effect on the beauty industry. A plethora of international brands has flooded malls and online stores, making well-known products more accessible, and secondly, a handful of boutique brands have begun offering skincare, haircare and make-up ­products rooted in Ayurvedic principles, within and outside the country.

The origin of Ayurveda

Unlike yoga, saris and other exports from the subcontinent, Ayurveda did not make a real dent in foreign markets despite making it to the West in the 1960s. Now, however, start-ups are exploring the natural ingredients that lie at the core of this alternative-­medicine philosophy. This is not ­altogether surprising, given that the natural and organic personal beauty ­market is expected to grow at a rate of just over 17 per cent year on year from 2017 to 2022, according to the Global Cosmetic Industry magazine.

In turn, well-heeled and well-travelled consumers are more inclined to exploring ­natural remedies with a modern twist. This group includes everyone, from kids as young as 10, who are hitting puberty far earlier; men, who are paying more attention to grooming than ever before; and millennials, who are more image and health-conscious than generation X, thanks to social media.

As product awareness blossoms, Ayurveda, in turn, has progressed to include everything from sage advice and spa treatments to soothing potions and vegan-friendly ingredients. Retailing online and in physical stores, a host of younger brands offering purportedly ancient remedies are making their presence felt within a crowded and ­competitive space.

“A common misperception is that while natural stuff is safe, it is often too mild to work. However, Indians have long used natural materials such as turmeric and chickpea flour for skincare, and perceive them as safer alternatives to chemically laden cosmetics,” says Arush Chopra, chief executive and co-founder of Just Herbs. The brand’s range includes products for the skin, hair and body such as oils, serums, tints, face packs, lotions and body butters. One of its most popular products is a glow-boosting facial oil, Kimsukadi Tail, made from the kinshuk flower. It has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces acne. Just Herbs claims it strictly follows full ingredient disclosure.

Kurkuma, frischer Bio-Kurkuma, Kurkumapulver, Studio. Getty Images
Harness the beautifying powers of turmeric at home. Getty

Going organic

Juicy Chemistry, says its co-founder, Megha Asher, was born out of a disillusionment with the “natural” tag on products that were actually loaded with chemicals. Her search for products that would nourish her hyper-sensitive and ­acne-prone skin also factored in to her business idea. “Talking to friends and family, it became clear that there was either very little awareness about the chemicals present in skincare products and their adverse effects on us, or there was no alternative brand that was truly natural,” she says. “Either way, there was an obvious gap in the market.”

Set up in 2014, Juicy Chemistry stocks only certified organic products. Asher believes the term organic carries huge weight, so Juicy Chemistry rustles up skincare, and bath and body products formulated without water, to be able to keep them preservative-free. Nothing is mass-produced, so these products have short shelf lives, and are kept fresh through what Asher calls the pickle effect. “Anything dipped in oil, like a pickle, will have a naturally prolonged life. Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant and helps to extend shelf life. Salt and sugar are also natural preservatives.”

Greenberry Organics, run by Arjoon Mehra, is also an organic brand, which uses only biodegradable ingredients. Through homemade recipes, which Mehra concocts with his mother, the duo are attempting to broaden the concept of beauty and wellness. “For a long time, consumers have only been served fairness and anti-ageing products,” he says.

Soap bricks from Greenberry Organics 
Soap bricks from Greenberry Organics 

Offering everything from bath oils and face packs to body washes, cosmetics, fragrances and hair products, these niche labels want to affect the way the world takes care of itself, and, of course, grab a piece of the revenue pie.

Rising in popularity

With an unparalleled heritage and incredible natural resources at hand, Ayurveda has space for multiple players, as well as enough options for consumers depending on individual preferences, skin types and budgets. These brands are also providing stiff competition to established companies with favourable pricing, on-point merchandise and easy availability online across the world. Openness to consumer feedback through social media platforms and immediate accessibility also draw customers, who want to be acknowledged.

The quality of ingredients is everything. I believe newer brands must be vigilant ­because quality-compliance laws have become stricter, so it's a little harder to mess around or lie about what's going into a product.

Another contributing factor for this boom is the easy ­availability of natural ingredients, including via import, says beauty blogger Shagun Khanna. “The quality of ingredients is everything. I believe newer brands must be vigilant ­because quality-compliance laws have become stricter, so it’s a little harder to mess around or lie about what’s going into a product.”

Khanna adds that studying ingredients and digging through a country’s limitless repertoire of knowledge is the best way to guarantee success.

Seer Secrets is working hard to do just that. “Your skin eats, literally, when you apply, soak, rinse or do anything to or on it,” says Anoop Nair, business development lead at Seer Secrets. Its products are aimed at addressing issues related to climate, pollution and unhealthy diets, and being less complex and more effective. Natural extracts are obtained through age-old techniques such as maceration, ­fermentation, double boiling and steam distillation.

Herein lies the rub, though, says veteran cosmetologist Dr Dinyar Workingboxwalla. “How do we really know the potency and percentage of the ingredients that go into ‘natural’ products today?” he asks. “Kitchen remedies are slow-acting but safe, and unfortunately everyone wants one-shot fixes today.” Also, not all brands are strictly Ayurvedic, even if they are all-natural; the terms are not quite interchangeable.

Products from Seer Secrets. Courtesy Seer Secrets
Products from Seer Secrets. Courtesy Seer Secrets

It's ­important to understand the difference between overall skin quality upkeep and finding solutions to ­dermatological problems, adds Dr Workingboxwalla, who recently finished his ­second book, Beauty Preserved. For instance, he says, there's no product in the world that's anti-wrinkle. "Don't sell [or buy] hope in a pot," he advises. After all, even an Ayurveda treatment works inside out – diet, as well as meditation and spiritual rejuvenation, go in tandem with skincare lotions and potions.