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The Beauty Gypsy is back… and she has some steamy secrets up her sleeve. Come over and listen!

I still haven’t understood what’s it about a calendar change that brings about this inevitable audit-taking of our lives. Want to get healthier? You can just as easily start doing that from July 26th, rather than January 1st. Want to switch careers? Why not the middle of April (speaking randomly). Want to detox your social list? What’s wrong with (again randomly!) February to put it in action? What is it about January 1st that we seem to count our hopes and blessings and achievements and failures from this one day out of 365? But despite all my wonderings, the bottom-line remains that we do this. I do it. Every single year.

So, in that spirit, let me announce the new Beauty Gypsy. Worry not… not everything has changed. Like all of us, she’s just older by a year and is taking all the lessons learnt through 2013 to be prettier, shinier, more relevant and a tad bit more investigative (will come to that in a bit!).

To begin: as many of you have noticed, The Beauty Gypsy has a brand new look courtesy two utterly fabulous ladies: Brooke Hagel, who has distilled the very essence of this crazy, quirky, lover-of-everything-offbeat gypsy in a fabulous illustration that you see in the header; and April Durham, the madly chic graphic designer who has put together this fresh new layout and deserves all the credit for re-designing and re-coding this blog for the second time now! Huge, huge, huge thank you Brooke and April… you are simply the best!

the-beauty-gypsyLet’s talk about being a “gypsy”

And while we are talking about people and inspirations, a lot of people ask me why I chose to be a “gypsy”. Why not a Beauty Maverick? Or a Beauty Consultant? There is a reason for this choice… very many reasons, actually.

I am a beauty-aholic (or beauty-ista?), obsessed with everything skincare, haircare, perfume, makeup and spa. But even though I can (and do!) spend hours wandering aisles lined with the Clarins’ and La Mer’s of our world, it’s the off-the-beaten-path, inspired by indigenous treatments and beauty recipes that really captivate my heart. And brains. Because being indigenous or based on ancient traditions does not mean these beauty recipes are frivolous. Neither are they the stuff of magic. Most come with solid scientific backing… you just need to dig deep.

And that’s what I do: wander from place to place (I am on a rustic beach near Phuket, Thailand, as I write this), digging deep into local beauty traditions and piecing together half forgotten memories of secret recipes that have made women of the world gorgeous from times immemorial. From Yakumo in Japan to Siena in Italy, I am on the road at least 10 months a year. A traveler at heart, for me the journey is often more important than the destination, the secret lives of a city’s locals more interesting than the knowledge of guidebooks.

And that’s what the gypsies do, right? Going from place to place, translating and adapting myriad cultures and mixing them with each other. In my mind, they are like very beautiful, very colourful butterflies that flit from one source to another, cross-pollinating and becoming a repository of traditional knowledge. Plus, they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, believing in both indulgence and fun – two principles that I love to the core. After all, what’s life without a bit of enjoyment and aimless wandering through a journey of self discoveries?

Gypsy Girl with a Tambourine by Alois Hans Schram

Gypsy Girl with a Tambourine by Alois Hans Schram

I don’t walk this road alone. Call it genetic memory, if you will. After all, DNA research has firmly established that gypsies originally came from Northern India (like me!), travelling to Europe via Egypt and Bulgaria. They were goddess-worshippers, praying at the altar of Kali, the ferocious mother goddess of Hinduism; their language (Romany) is based on Sanskrit.

Today, a slew of myths and superstitions have led to wide scale persecution. But the gypsies have also made fabulous contributions. From violins in Hungary to flamenco dances in Spain, they have added laughter and music to our worlds. They have inspired the works of so many writers, including Shakespeare, whose Cleopatra and the dark lady are said to be modelled on a gypsy – fiery, intense and unfaithful.

So, to me, “gypsy” connotes fantasy, soul-wrenching violin music, brightly colored dresses, flowing hair, dark eyes, tempestuous dancing, ancient knowledge and freedom. Lots of freedom. Maybe it’s my destiny to be a gypsy. Maybe I was one in my past birth. Maybe I am one in this birth itself. And maybe the word “gypsy” is a racial slur – but if it is one, isn’t it better to obliterate its negative associations and restore its beauty, rather than try and erase the word itself from our language? It’s not words that are good are bad. Often, neither are the people to whom they are directed. To me, the people who load them with negativity are the ones we should worry about. I, for one, would rather be a free spirited, rootless gypsy than an imprisoned-in-conventions blowhard. What about you?

Some big changes to the blog

Ok, here’s backing away from the rant and back on to the blog itself. As I said, you will be seeing many changes out here in the coming months. One of the big ones: I have stopped accepting any products, spa treatments or anything else for review. Everything that appears in these pages will have been bought and tested on my own dime. Because that’s the only way to remain unbiased. To me, that’s the core function of a blog – to give absolutely honest and unbiased information. Otherwise what makes us different from a traditional magazine, which glorifies its “supporters”, shying away from any critique in the fear of losing out on advertising dollars (speaking from personal experience of more than a decade spent working with leading glossies).

And that brings me to another major addition: a column on beauty products and treatments that you shouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Surprisingly, given all the zillions of products that launch every month, not one of them seems to be ineffectual or a waste of money, if the media is to believed. They all work brilliantly, fullfill every promise made by the brand and are must, must, must, must-have if you want even a decent shot at glowing skin, shiny hair or a happy life. Sounds too far fetched? I think so too. And this is my way of sorting the truth from the superficialities.

But I can’t do any of this without you. We have come this far together and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making The Beauty Gypsy – an ambitious little blog that was born on a frustrated night in my bedroom – reach the top echelons (600,000+ visitors in 2014!) sans having to go the corporate way or accepting outside funding. I have had two offers this past year by big media names who want to buy out or invest in this blog. But there’s nothing like a free meal and all such offers come with some very tangled strings attached. I would rather remain independent and able to speak my mind, even if it means living on toast and butter. And every time you send me a message, post a comment or share my post, it makes the toast seem so much sweeter – far more than a dish of caviar ever could.

So, now you need to help me more. Tell me what you want this blog to be about. Send me questions on your beauty dilemmas. Let me know which products you want reviewed. Shout out about what you don’t want to see here. It all helps. It really, really helps.

Of new year resolutions

Till then, what are you New Year resolutions? Mine are pretty precise.

1. Last month brought the revelation that I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Yay for that because it explains my sudden weight gain, acne, mood swings and general feeling of lacklustre-ness. Yikes for the fact that PCOS creates insulin resistance, which gives you diabetes. Resolution: cut out any extra sugars to help the treatment along and get back to the gym.

2. Have a social life. Because dashing like a runaway train through the continents is not really feasible for maintaining relationships. And I am learning that a friendless life is a lonely life. Travel can’t fill all the voids.

3. Sleeping more. I know that everyone who’s reading this is going to be laughing their guts out at the thought of me actually going to bed before 3 am but…. . Suffice to say, it will happen.

Over to you now!

The Beauty Gypsy is back!

And we are finally back up and running – bigger and better and faster, as promised! I still have to go through the painful process of manually re-inserting a zillion photos that have gone to blog heaven but still, will take my blessings as they are. So, thank you everyone for all the love and support… pls drop by and tell me if you notice any bugs!!!!

I can’t end this post without a big shoutout to, the Michigan-based web maintenance geniuses who sorted out my crisis across a couple of continents, with immense patience and in record time. And not only did they solve the problems but also came up with solutions to issues that I did not even know existed – thereby preventing mucho grief in the future! Thank you guys, this blog stands tall because of you…!

The Beauty Gypsy is back!

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry for not having updated this blog in a week! A lot of you have been writing to ask if everything was all right – yes, it is and thanks so much for the concern. Blogging can be a lonely profession sometimes and it feels really good to hear from all of you, especially to know that there are people out there who would miss me if I was to suddenly drop off the face of this earth 🙂

Actually, I have been travelling like mad and have just about gotten my head back in order. The suitcases still need to be unpacked but am dying to share all my awesome beauty finds through these journeys with all of you. So, start checking back in a few hours! And keep those mails rolling in 🙂

Beauty recipes from my Indian wedding (that work EVERYWHERE in the world!)

Nine hours. That’s how long it took to apply the mehndi at the Indian part of my wedding, exactly 8 years back. I still remember waking up at 6 in the morning and sitting still for 9 full hours, while 4 women worked simultaneously on my hands and legs (so, that’s 36 woman-hours in total), sketching intricate designs from the tips of my fingers to the shoulders, and from the tips of my toes to the knees – both sides! And then waiting another 4 hours for it to dry, followed by the mandatory lemon-and-sugar rinse and leaving it overnight to assure a rich and dark colour. I think that’s when it finally dawned that I was about to get married – me, the girl who saw India as a cultural fantasy and had openly declared marriage to be the least sane of all institutions know to mankind. Well, love and all that… !!!!

My wedding mehndi

My wedding mehndi

Anyway, coming back to the mehndi (or henna), it’s so crucial to an Indian wedding that the two have become synonymous with one another. Mehndi brings luck to the new couple, while its colour is supposed to indicate the strength of the husband’s love: the deeper the hue, the stronger the love! And, most importantly, the bride is not allowed to work in her husband’s home until her mehndi fades completely (thereby making up for those 9 hours!).

And it’s not just about the mehndi, either. Today, it’s been 8 years since I got married and in true beauty junkie fashion, what I remember most about the wedding are those long, lush and totally indulgent hair and skincare rituals that I got to enjoy as a bride in a culture that elevates its beauty heritage to a ceremonial pedestal. My mother is still convinced that the only reason I traded my raggedy skinnies for a traditional Rajasthani lehenga (that weighed 41 pounds!) was to enjoy all the beauty goodies that hold ritualistic centre stage in an Indian wedding. She may well be right.

Thankfully, though, you don’t need to be a bride to enjoy some of these timeless beauty recipes that make you look good and feel good… the perfect combination, where I am concerned!

Indian beauty recipe #1: Sandalwood & almond face scrub

Rose water is purifying, while almonds and saffron represent fertility. But that’s just the ritualistic part. The reason Indian women have revered this scrub since the times of Ayurveda is because almonds contain essential fatty acids for smooth and super-supple skin. They are also packed with antioxidants, including vitamin E, to neutralise environmental toxins and keep skin healthy.

Rose water and saffron, in the meantime, are packed with skin soothing and complexion perfecting ingredients, like Vitamin C and polyphenols, which can erase fine lines, boost collagen, clear blocked pores, soften the complexion and hydrate cell tissues.

4-5 almonds
3-4 strands of saffron, dissolved in a few drops of warm water
few drops of rose water

1. Rub the almonds on a coarse stone with rose water till you get a paste

2. Mix this paste with the saffron water

3. Apply the mask to your face; let it dry, then rub it off with wet hands. Weeks of accumulated grime and dead skin will come off with the paste

Indian beauty recipe #2: Heal chronic acne

Sandalwood has potent antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties that make it a treat for flawlessly glow-y complexions. It’s also superb at reducing skin scarring of all kinds. Vetiver is antiseptic and very effective in treating chronic acne. Added bonus: this paste smells divine!

1 small bunch vetiver
few drops of vetiver essential oil
2 tsp sandalwood powder

1. Soak the vetiver in a little water overnight

2. Next day, strain the water and mix it with the sandalwood powder

3. Add few drops of vetiver essential oil to the paste

4. Apply this paste on your face, paying special attention to the affected areas; wash it off once dry. Repeat daily till for 2-4 weeks; the left over paste should be kept refrigerated

This day, that year!

This day, that year!

Indian beauty recipe #3: Stop seeing spots

Masoor dal (whole brown lentils) is superb for lightening acne scars and hyper pigmentation, tightening the pores, nourishing the skin and bringing about a natural glow. Ghee (clarified butter) is an Ayurvedic staple used to deep cleanse and moisturise, while being one of nature’s most potent skin healers. In fact, Ayurveda calls upon ghee for everything from healing burns and tackling bruises or rashes to closing the skin post-surgery.

2 tbsp masoor (whole black lentils)
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)

1. Soak the masoor in filtered water for an hour

2. Throw away the water and grind the lentils and ghee together, till they reach a paste-like consistency

3. Apply this paste on freshly washed face; gently scrub off with wet fingers after half an hour

4. Repeat daily for a week and then once-weekly for best results

Indian beauty recipe #4: Traditional body polish

Used by women all over India, this gently body scrub literally shucks the dead cells and buffs skin to silky smoothness. How? Milk contains hefty amounts of lactic acid to loosen dead cells and grime; chickpea flour sloughs off dead skin; while turmeric is a natural cleanser and disinfectant.

2 tbsp chickpea flour
pinch of turmeric powder
enough milk to make a paste

1. Blend all the ingredients into a thick paste

2. Apply on slightly damp skin, then rub off in gentle, circular motions. Finally rinse skin clean with plain water

Indian beauty recipe #5: Whole body mask

This traditional body mask (called an ubtan) is applied to both bride and groom for seven days before the wedding. It’s messy but superb for making skin smooth, flawless and glow-y. Turmeric cleanses, disinfects and glosses; sandalwood is antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory; gur (jaggery) is packed with glycolic acid for exfoliation and humectants to keep everything moisturised; yogurt’s lactic acid helps slough off dead skin cells; chickpea flour busts grime and toxins; and ghee deep cleanses, moisturise and heals.

2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 tbsp sandalwood powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp gur (sugar cane jaggery)
2 tbsp yogurt
2 tsp ghee (clarified butter)

1. Mix everything together to form a paste

2. Apply the paste to clean skin; wait till it dries (approximately 15 minutes), then rub it away with wet fingers. Finally, rinse clean with lukewarm water

Playing dress up

Playing dress up

Indian beauty recipe #6: Sexy strands

It’s a well accepted fact that there couldn’t be anything better for your strands than coconut oil (read more about the beauty benefits of coconut oil right here). Add in amla (Indian gooseberry), one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C and powerful antioxidants that can penetrate the scalp to strengthen hair follicles right at their roots, and you have a potent potion to stop hair loss and promote the growth of stronger, healthier strands.

1 cup amla juice
1 cup coconut oil

1. Mix the coconut oil and amla juice; pour into a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil

2. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes on a medium flame, till all the water has evaporated and you are left with a light brown paste

3. Take off the heat, cool and strain; store in a glass bottle

4. Massage well into your scalp, leave on for at least half an hour and then wash hair with a mild shampoo

Indian beauty recipe #7: Smooth & glossy hair oil

Every ingredient in this fragrant hair oil is chosen because of its blood-circulation-boosting and hair-root-nourishing properties. Try it once a week and you will see your strands getting thicker, smoother, stronger and way glossier than ever before.

half cup sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
small piece of dry ginger 
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black pepper

1. Coarsely pound the garlic and ginger; you don’t need to crush it too fine, just a couple of whacks is enough to release their oils

2. Heat sesame oil in a small pan; once it’s hot, add the cumin and black pepper

3. Add the crushed garlic and ginger; let everything simmer together for a few seconds (the spices shouldn’t burn)

4. Let the oil cool and store it in a glass bottle

5. When you want to use the oil, warm it up to lukewarm (take care that it’s not hot enough to burn your skin) and massage it in your scalp. Let it soak for at least 15 minutes (an hour is ideal!), then wash it off with your regular shampoo

What’s a favourite memory from your wedding? Let’s share!