Shining hair and sparkling eyes: Indian women are associated with beauty traits beloved worldwide and the Ayurvedic beauty formulations and rituals are a time-tested and totally natural solution.
Beautification became and is a daily ritual, Dinacharya – for cleansing, healing skin problems, covering up imperfections and oral hygiene.
There is a traditional ritual for every stage and age of life which has become a family tradition, passed down from generation to generation.
As a child I was influenced by stories my mother told me of her grandmother and mother instructing the kitchen to brew specific oils for hair and body, herbal applications and brews for congested chests, pastes for pimples and lotions to keep the skin soft and subtle.
As babies we received a massage using the cream of milk and or ghee as it is believed to soften the skin, strengthen the muscles and help build strong bones. A weekly head massage with herbal oils encouraged healthy long shiny hair andhelped to prevent dandruff and dryness.
As a teenager I was encouraged to use turmeric for pimples.
Mothers receive regular massage pre and post pregnancy using specific herbs that alleviate back pain, prevent stretch marks and cleanse. In fact, Abhyanga (self massage) should be a daily part of everyone’s daily routine. It helps to stimulate circulation, ease muscular aches and pains, soften the skin, maintain good bone strength, reduce skin problems and prevent many common skin ailments. There are specific herbal oils for the type of body and skin condition an individual has.
Every bride goes through a purification process (commonly known as detox) before her wedding day. This comprises a herbal body mask of finely ground herbal powders of neem, sandalwood, turmeric and rose made into paste with yoghurt. This leaves the skin feeling soft, smooth and flawless. The bride’s hands and feet are adorned with intricate henna patterns which tell a tale of the bride going to her groom. There is folklore that is attached to the significance of the depth of colour, so the hands and feet are warmed over a charcoal grill as it is said the warmth makes the colour deeper.
Superfluous hair was considered to be a stigma and a large number of depilatory agents have been used for centuries. Special ingredients were used for hair washes. Many herbal formulations have been successfully used for hair growth, prevention of falling hair and premature graying. Hair dyes, fragrant hair rinses and fumigants were also in use. Fragrant bath powders and body deodorants also find frequent mention. Oral hygiene in the form of care of teeth, mouth deodorants and colouring of lips were daily chores to be religiously pursued. It appears that the whole range of modern cosmetic usage was conceived by the ancient Indians and was practiced with the help of natural herbs still used today. Arguably time tested over 5000 years.
As soap can be drying, traditionally specific combinations of herbal powders were used on the body and face which helped to deep cleanse, exfoliate and keep the skin in good condition. These powders were rinsed away with water, just as with soap, but did not have the same drying affect.
Exercise is another important part of the daily routine, and it was recommended that one does at least 5 salutes to the sun on waking and a brisk walk after meals was encouraged to help digest food quickly.
Diet is a vital aspect of self care. It is not uncommon to hear seasonally – one eat this or that because it is cooling or heating and, there are foods to avoid during menstruation as heating foods can imbalance the flow.