Diwali (Festival of Lights) and Indian Beauty Secrets
Inspired by Diwali or the Hindu Festival of Lights, this week we explored and had a lot of fun trying skin and hair care practices from India. Diwali is the most important holiday in the Hindu calendar. It symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. It is the Hindu New Year and filled with beautiful rituals and traditions. The most important of which is Lakshmi puja. This ritual is performed to invite Goddess Lakshmi into your home so that the New Year is filled with peace and prosperity. One of the simplest rituals one can follow is to light an oil lamp in front of Maa Lakshmi (statue of Lakshmi) with Lakshmi Puja Oil and Lakshmi Grace Wicks to invoke the grace of Maa Lakshmi.
Traditional Lakshmi Puja Oil contains nine pure cold pressed oils and cow's milk, in the same proportions as prescribed in the ancient Vedic texts. The ingredients of the Lakshmi Puja Oil are each believed to hold a specific spiritual significance but, as with many Ayurvedic ingredients, they each also have nutritional, skin, and hair care benefits.
What is Ayurveda and what does it have to do with skin/hair care practices in India?
Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “The Science of Life.” Ayurvedic knowledge originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is often called the “Mother of All Healing.” It is the basis for India’s 5,000 year old holistic health care system. This complex, yet practical system is based on the belief that optimal health is achieved when your mind, body and spirit are aligned with the universe. Ancient Indians believed, that if you couldn’t eat it, it didn’t belong on the skin. Their skin care was edible and derived from the most nutritious herbs and oils around. Thankfully, many of these skincare rituals are still practiced today.
You could spend a lifetime learning and trying to understand ayurvedic concepts. Therefore, we will NOT be covering all you need to know about Ayurveda for healthy natural skin and hair care. Rather we will give you a glimpse into what we have learned and how we plan to incorporate what we have learned into our beauty routines.
Ayurvedic oil has been relied upon for thousands of years as a fundamental part of Ayurveda. Oil is traditionally used in Ayurvedic healing in a variety of ways including raw consumption, cooking, massage, bathing, gargling, basti (colon nourishment) and nasya (nasal passage nourishment).
Two basic categories of Ayurvedic oil are:
Base Oil: Pure, whole, organic oil from a natural source (such as sesame, almond, coconut, or sunflower)
Herbal Oil: A base oil infused with a combination of one or more Ayurvedic herbs—combining the nourishing and soothing qualities of the oil with the healing properties of the herbs.
Our top 5 herbal oils include: Amla oil, Neem oil, Bhringaraj oil, Aswhaganda bala oil, Fenugreek oil and Brahmi coconut oil.
Amla, also known as Indian gooseberry, Malacca tree, or amla from Sanskrit amalaki is a deciduous tree of the family Phyllanthaceae. It has edible fruit, referred to by the same name. Indian gooseberries have been used for centuries in India to treat respiratory diseases, intestinal inflammation, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, skin inflammatory disorders, skin trauma, cancer, and liver diseases. It is also the go-to for Indian women to make their hair healthy, long, free from breakage, and to keep it from going gray. Even Indian men use amla to keep their hair full and thick. You can mix some amla juice with henna and apply it on your hair. This will counteract the drying nature of henna, making your hair look healthy. You can also use it as a hair wash to add extra shine and bounce. Amla juice helps maintain the youthful look of your skin as it contains a lot of antioxidants; particularly vitamin C. Have amla juice with honey (beauty inside out) or apply it as a face pack for an even complexion and blemish-free skin. Amla juice is an excellent cleanser whether ingested or applied topically. Being a mild exfoliant, it helps remove the dead skin cells
Ashwhagandha, also referred to as Withania Somnifera (Latin name), Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry, has a rich history in Ayurveda for its wound healing abilities. Traditionally, fresh leaves were used topically to heal joint pains, skin sores and to reduce swelling. In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is referred to as balya, which means giving strength in conditions like general debility. It is known to improve energy, increase stamina and endurance. Its potent antioxidant properties help protect the skin against free radical damage and slow down the ageing process by firming up your skin for a more youthful look. Ashwagandha stimulates DHEA, which is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen and stimulates the production of natural skin oils. For glowing skin, you can also use Ashwagandha as a toner with dried ginger and lemon. Used in shampoos, Ashwagandha is believed to help improve scalp circulation and strengthen the hair, as well as help get rid of dandruff. It also appears to stimulate production of melanin, the pigment responsible for the color of your hair.
Bhringaraj commonly known as false daisy, is a species of plant in the sunflower family. Bhringaraj is supposed to be a magical potion for hair growth and radiant skin. It usually comes in a sesame oil base. Bhringaraj prevents hair fall, baldness and premature greying, strengthens hair roots, conditions them, prevents split ends, and stimulates hair growth. It is like a one-stop solution for all your hair troubles. It is best used as a hot oil treatment but you can also use the powdered form to create a deep conditioning mask. Mix 1 teaspoon each of bhringraj powder, brahmi powder, amla powder, shikakai powder with water to form a paste (you can also use coconut milk or yogurt as the base of the mask). Let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes, then wash as usual. The juice made out of its leaves can be very effective in treating dry cracked skin and minor skin allergies. You can purchase Bhringaraj oil online or make it at home. To make bhringraj oil at home, heat powdered bhringraj leaves with coconut oil and then store. The oil is dark green in color and has a unique, strong aroma.
Brahmi, also known as Bacopa monnieri is a perennial, creeping herb native to the wetlands of southern and Eastern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Brahmi is an excellent hair growth promoter. Its regenerative properties help repair hair follicles as well as strengthen the scalp tissue to encourage healthy hair growth. Brahmi also supports scalp circulation which in turn nourishes hair follicles and reduces hair loss. Another way to use brahmi is as a hair mask. Mix 1 tablespoon each of brahmi powder, amla powder and fenugreek powder with yogurt (or coconut milk) to form a paste. Let them steep for 15 minutes. Then apply to your scalp and hair and help it sit for 10-20 minutes, before washing it out. Lastly, Brahmi is rich in antioxidants that fight free radicals in the epithelium layer of the skin thus improving skin’s complexion and stimulating skin cell regeneration
Fenugreek, is an annual plant in the family Fabaceae commonly referred as ‘Methi’ in Hindi. Traditionally, fenugreek seeds have been used as a condiment to promote better health and as a potent hair potion. But recent research indicates that they have diverse benefits for your skin, hair, and health. Fenugreek seeds have natural proteins, vitamin C, and other nutrients for the nourishment and growth of hair. This herb is also a great alternative to store bought conditioner, thanks to its high mucilage content – which provides slip like conditioner and makes detangling very easy. Regular use of fenugreek in a hair rinse or deep conditioner mask will soften your hair, increase manageability, and restore luster and bounce. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help with dandruff, scalp irritation, eczema and acne. Germinated fenugreek seeds show a significant amount of antioxidant activity and fight the free radicals that accelerate the process of aging. Combine ground fenugreek seeds with yogurt (rich in lactic acid) for a gentle exfoliating mask that will leave your skin smoother and softer. Fenugreek also has a compound named diosgenin that has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that fight against acne.
Neem oil is extracted from the seeds and fruits of the neem tree, a large-sized evergreen tree, which is known in the Indian sub-continent since antiquities. Neem contains more than 35 biologically active ingredients and has many medicinal properties. Neem oil is the most cooling of all Ayurvedic oils and works as a cleanser and detoxifier for your body. It boosts your digestive and immune systems. Neem has extradinarily high levels of antioxidants, even more so than blueberries and spinach. It also has regenerative properties that support healthy cell division and stimulate hair follicle growth and function. Regular application of the neem oil will promote thicker, stronger, and more luxurious hair growth. Neem oil contains several fatty acids – such as linoleic, oleic, stearic acids – that nourish and condition the scalp and hair. It’s moisturizing effects revitalizes and restores dry, under-nourished or rough hair to a smooth, silky texture. Nimbidin, an anti-inflammatory substances in the neem acts similar to non-steroidal drug (phenylbutazone) and helps reduce the redness and irritation. It works wonders at alleviating eczema and moisturizing dry itchy skin.
Other Ayurvedic herbs we love are henna, turmeric, sandalwood, and shikaki. While we have used henna, turmeric, and shikaki in various ways for several years, sandalwood is a new find that we are fully embracing. Check out our “In the Kitchen” post for our Top 5 Sandalwood Masks.
Whew that was a lot of take in! But don’t be overwhelmed because we are here to help you. Some of these herbs we use on an as needed basis, while others are regulars in our beauty routine. For example, we use henna mask when we feel like our hair needs a strong protein treatment. While we keep jars of fenugreek based oil mixtures on standby for daily use. Leave a comment below if you would like to see more blog posts about ayurvedic beauty routines.
Vasudha Narayanan; Deborah Heiligman (2008). Celebrate Diwali. National Geographic Society. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-4263-0291-6., Quote: "All the stories associated with Deepavali, however, speak of the joy connected with the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil".
Tina K Ramnarine (2013). Musical Performance in the Diaspora. Routledge. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-317-96956-3., Quote: "Light, in the form of candles and lamps, is a crucial part of Diwali, representing the triumph of light over darkness, goodness over evil and hope for the future."; Diwali – Celebrating the triumph of goodness Hinduism Today (2012)
Koriem, K. M., (2013), Review on pharmacological and toxicologyical effects of oleum azadirachti oil. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine,3(10), 834–840.
Kumar, S. P., Mishra, D., Ghosh.G., Panda. C. S., (2010) Annals of Biological Research, 1 (3), 24-34.