Royal fables: A tryst with Udaipur and its cult skincare recipes

The city: Udaipur, India. The most legendary of towns in Rajasthan, known as the “Venice of the East” due to its stunning lakeside location, rambling old palaces and stunning architecture painted in every shade of white known to mankind.

The quest: Soaking in the ancient beauty of the landscape and going to the very roots of the glorious indigenous beauty recipes that have originated in this land and been adopted by literally every brand, from Aveda to Estee Lauder.

The quandary: A missing camera that’s left sitting on my desk approximately 7,467 miles away. In a land that begs a photo at literally every turn of its winding paths.

The solution: Yes, thankfully there is one. In the form of the ubiquitous smartphone that’s almost surgically attached to my hand 24 x 7. Which is a blessing, it turns out, in more ways than one. Not only do today’s smartphones almost rival DSLRs in their photo quality (the Coolpad Note 5 comes with a 13 MP rear camera) but it’s also small and inconspicuous enough to get into tight spaces to capture a micro-detail, take candid shots without making people feel too self conscious and light enough to take literally everywhere without yoour shoulder falling off. And, of course, then there is the fact that I have yet to meet a camera that lets you take the perfect selfie, complete with a forward facing lens AND night mode to chase away the darkness (hello again, Coolpad Note 5, with your 8 MP front facing camera with flash!).

The result: A wealth of traditional beauty recipes that have made Rajasthani women some of the most revered in the world, along with a treasure trove of photographs that will make for the memories of a lifetime.

Enjoy them both here!

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Playing princess for a night 🙂 #CoolPadNote5

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

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…. but simply can’t compete with the originals painted on the walls of the City Palace #CoolPadNote5

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

Falling in love with the fabrics of the region

Falling in love with the fabrics of the region #CoolPadNote5

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

No wonder they call it the Venice of the East

No wonder they call it the Venice of the East #CoolPadNote5

A room with a view... at the Fatehprakash palace

A room with a view… at the Fatehprakash palace #CoolPadNote5

A peep through the arches

A peep through the arches #CoolPadNote5

Touched by the hand of God

Touched by the hand of God #CoolPadNote5

The beauty lies in the details... often made up of millions of glass mosaics

The beauty lies in the details… often made up of millions of glass mosaics #CoolPadNote5

Kokum comes of age: The perfect-skin secret you’ve never heard of!

Now, this is an Indian ingredient I never imagined seeing on an international platform  – that too, courtesy one of my favourite brands. I just picked up Burt’s Bees Ultra Conditioning Lip Balm With Kokum Butter and it’s anchored around, of all things, kokum butter – a little known fruit that is native to India’s Western Ghats (think Mumbai and the surrounding areas) and is rarely seen beyond this area. And it’s not just Burt’s Bees… a quick search shows this fruit cropping up majorly in skincare products nowadays.

In fact, I had never heard of kokum till it was introduced to me by my grandmom-in-law in Mumbai. Scientifically known as Garcinia Indica, the kokum tree is a tropical that’s pretty low maintenance and needs few – if any – chemical fertilisers or pesticides. It bears dark red fruit, which look a little like small plums. In the kitchen, it is used as a souring agent (like tamarind) and has a sharp, acidic flavor with a fruity aroma.

Kokum fruit

Kokum fruit

And what does kokum have to do with skincare?

But it’s in the realm of skincare that kokum really comes into its own. The seed contains 23-26% oil (extracted as butter), which has made it the traditional moisturiser for the local population since centuries. It also has high levels of Vitamin E, is non-comodegenic (non-pore clogging), reduces degeneration of skin cells and restores elasticity.

And most ideally for a hot land, kokum butter has a relatively high meting point, which means it remains solid at room temperature and does not need refrigeration. This is what makes it perfect for an organic brand like Burt’s Bees, where it allows for the use of less wax and more butters for maximum skin benefits.

Exactly how to DIY your skincare with kokum?

When used in its purest form, kokum butter is held near a flame and the melted oil is applied straight to the skin (it’s especially great for tackling rough patches or cracked heels).

This is how you will see it being used in most traditional homes, where the women swear there’s nothing better to keep skin glowing, hydrated and wrinkle-free than this simple formulation.

Kokum butter is also excellent for healing burns and allergic rashes, since it simultaneously cools the skin while hydrating.

Kokum butter

Kokum butter

Don’t people drink kokum juice as well?

Absolutely! Kokum juice – made by steeping the fruit in water – is used to relieve gastric problems like acidity, flatulence, constipation and indigestion. It is also helpful in controlling diabetes and is especially popular during summer as it has a cooling effect and shields the body against dehydration and sunstroke

Besides this, kokum also contains rich amounts of anti-oxidants that bind with free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to body cells. It also helps promote cellular repair and regeneration.

One of the easiest ways to enjoy this delectable, multi-benefit-laden fruit is through the appetizing sol kadhi, which is a much-in-demand summer drink as it cools the body internally, thereby reducing sun damage and keeping heat-related problems like acne at bay.

Kokum is easily available in Indian stores across the world – when buying, look for dark, soft, pliable rinds that release their juices easily. Then just dunk in the water and enjoy!

Have you ever tried kokum butter or kokum juice?

Beauty secrets of the ancient geishas (that will totally change your skin!)

Every time I travel to Japan, my skin develops an inferiority complex. I mean, have you ever seen those Japanese women with their smooth, glowing, absolutely flawless skin? There is not a single blemish or an enlarged pore to be seen anywhere. And this time it was even worse, considering that I was in Kanazawa to meet with one of the greatest cultural icons of all times: an honest-to-goodness geisha. One of those magical superwomen who can seduce with a downward glance, fascinate with her silent sensuality and entrance with a flick of the wrist. And then there is that unbelievably smooth, porcelain-like skin, glossy hair and ruby red lips that are unrivalled across the world.

So, this time I decided to tackle the eternal question: what are the secret skincare and haircare recipes that make geishas so beautiful, so ageless and so dazzling? There are really just a few of them and they can be easily incorporated in our daily lives with products right out of the pantry.

geisha-beauty-secrets-1Sea salt

Since Japan sits on the waters, it makes sense that sea salt would be a part of the geisha’s skincare routine. Salt is a wonderful body scrub, while also being terrific for cellulite. However, unlike us mere mortals who mix it with oil, the Japanese geishas prefer whipped cream.

Follow suit by blending 2 tablespoons of sea salt with a little whipped cream to create a body scrub. Massage in circular motions over warm skin, preferably halfway through a shower. Finally, rinse and finish off with body lotion. Massaging with sea salt breaks down fat and makes skin firm and smooth. Easy, ain’t it?

Rice bran

The chemical composition of rice bran is similar to that of human skin. Add to this its potent water retaining and exfoliating abilities and you can see why this husky flour has been a skincare staple of the geisha since 1100 AD. An added bonus: while other scrubs can tear and damage the skin cells, rice bran leaves them rejuvenated, cleansed and healthy.

For the best results, mix 1 tablespoon of rice bran flour with enough milk or yoghurt to form a smooth paste. Apply this to warm, freshly cleansed skin and leave on till dry (approximately 10 minutes). After that, remove the mask using warm water and circular motions of your fingertips. Pat dry and apply your usual skincare.

Rice

The beauty benefits of rice have been treasured for hundreds of years by women not only in Japan but also in Indonesia and other Asian countries. That’s because rice is rich in gamma-oryzanol – a powerful antioxidant that boosts collagen production. The most popular rice mask involves powdering 2 tablespoons of rice in a coffee grinder. Mix this rice flour with 1 tablespoon of whipped cream. Apply this paste to your face and neck; rinse after 20 minutes.

Persimmon

Known as the fruit of the Gods in ancient Greece, persimmon contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, iodine and super-high levels of vitamins. A geisha understands the multifaceted benefits of this fruit and used it in many different ways – from face masks to skin tonics and detox diets.

A favorite recipe: mix 1 tablespoon of mashed persimmon with 1 teaspoon each of honey and egg yolk. Apply to clean skin and leave for 15-20 minutes before washing off with warm water. This face mask will hydrate, nourish and protect against environmental damage.

Geisha beauty secretsGreen tea

Green tea is loaded with polyphenols, which fight free radicals, reduce skin inflammation, provide protection against skin cancer and bust any nasty toxins or bacteria that may be lingering in your pores. Geishas are famous for their elaborate tea ceremonies, often involving green tea, but it is a less widely known fact that they use that very same tea to keep their skin glowing and gorgeous.

How? Boil, strain and cool 1 cup of green tea. To this, add 1/2 cup ground oats, 1 tablespoon avocado oil or mashed avocado and 10 drops lemon juice. Mix the ingredients into a paste that you apply on clean face. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then remove with washcloth and lukewarm water. Do this twice a week for skin that absolutely radiates its flawless perfection.

Apple cider vinegar

The enzyme-rich apple cider vinegar literally melts away dead skin cells. Which is why geishas add it to their shampoo to prevent dandruff and stimulate hair growth. They also add it to the bath to keep their skin young and healthy. Follow in their footsteps by mixing organic apple cider vinegar in the ratio of 1:1, soaking a cotton pad in the mixture and patting it onto your skin. Leave on skin for 5-7 minutes, then wash off with plain water. The result? Clean and fresh new skin.

Camellia oil

Japanese women have known for centuries about the wonderful haircare benefits of camellia oil. It is exceptionally high in oleic acids, proteins and glycerides that are perfect for maintaining hair health, as well as adding volume and gloss. And using it is super-simple: lightly heat 1 teaspoon of camellia oil and rub it along the length and tips of wet hair. Then cover your strands with a towel for 20 minutes. Finally, shampoo your hair and rinse well; condition as usual.

Will you be trying any of these secret beauty recipes of the geishas? Tell me in the comments section below!

10 sneaky ways to drink more water (it’s the cheapest, quickest way to look AND feel great!)

I did a post on acne (What is your acne telling you?) and the role that various bits and bobs of our bodies play in its horrid takeover of our faces. Amongst the 24,36,987 visitors who stopped by this post in a week, over 40% wrote in to say that they have pinpointed much of their spottiness to a lack of adequate water.

Which makes sense. Water is not called the ‘source of life’ for nothing… it is crucial for every body function, right from metabolising fat and regulating temperature to facilitating important bio-chemical reactions, lubricating the joints and limbs, aiding digestion, hydrating the skin and helping the body flush out waste and toxins. So, it stands to reason that without regular top-ups, our skin (actually our whole body) will go into crisis mode. The simplest solution? DRINK MORE WATER!

Yet, 99% of us don’t heed this advice. H2O is bland, it’s boring, it’s always “just there”… maybe if water becomes more expensive, we will start paying more attention! But till then, I would be the first to admit that sometimes drinking the requisite “8 glasses” (find out exactly how much water you need HERE) can be a real challenge! So, after much interviewing, thinking, researching and experimenting, here are 10 tips to help you accomplish that feat (and I have personally tested every one of them – they work stupendously!). Click through, then tell us the sneaky ways you trick yourself into drinking more water in the comments. We could all use the help!

Drink your water! Stay well hydrated! Stay healthy! Stay pretty!

drink-waterIn case you can’t see the image above, here are the tips in text form

1. Add two glasses of drinking water to your daily skincare regimen: Drink, cleanse, moisturise, then drink again.

2. Don’t purchase any other drinks: let’s face it, if you have your favourite soda chilling in the fridge, are you honestly going to opt for water?

3. Drink at least one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you down. (It’s also a great way to prevent a hangover!)

4. Set an alarm to beep every hour – this is your reminder to down a glass of water. If you drink only small (6 ounce or 180 ml) cup per hour, you will consume 48 ounces (1.4 liters) in an 8-hour workday.

5. Eat water-rich foods, such as watermelons, which are 92% water. A tomato is 95% water, while an egg is 74% water.

6. Add ice or freeze water in a sports bottle before taking it with you. Tt will eventually melt and stay cold, thereby creating a pleasant frisson on a hot day.

7. Purchase a water bottle that holds the amount of water you need to drink each day, or use a combination of 1-liter and half-liter bottles. This will allow you to see exactly how much water you are consuming on a regular basis.

8. Fill a glass jar with water, pop in some fruit-infused tea bags in a glass jar and place it in the sun for naturally brewed tea that has an intense flavour. Drink it chilled for loads of flavour and antioxidant protection.

9. Prefer a sweet sip to plain ol’ water? Fill 1/4 of your glass with 100 percent fruit juice and top off with water or seltzer.

10. Bring a touch of the exotic: Add mint leaves, slices of apples, strawberries, lemons or limes to a pitcher of water; serve chilled. Keep a jug in the fridge so you always have great-tasting and great-looking H2O available. For an even greater kick, drink it out of champagne flutes!

How much water do you manage to drink on a daily basis?