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!

Beauty DIY: The easiest way to fix dry, itchy winter skin

Much as I love winter, it also brings along dry and itchy skin that looks bad and feels awful. Then last winter, I was introduced to this terrifically hydrating body glaze by one of my Polish friends and it has made all the difference! Seriously, my skin has never looked this soft and supple at any point in the year, leave alone winter. And all this sans any greasiness. Tempted to try it out? Here’s what you will need.

beauty winter skinWhat you need

3 cups honey, 6-8 drops rosehip oil, 1 oz grapeseed oil

What to do

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Lightly massage this mixture all over your body and let it remain in the skin for half an hour; then rinse off with plain water.

PS: If your skin is extremely dry, wrap a plastic sheet around your body in a cocoon-like fashion to hold in the moisture when the oils are resting on your skin.

Why it works

Rosehip oil consists of 80% essential fatty acids that are terrific at battling winter’s dryness-inducing elements. It also contains high levels of Vitamin C, making it ideal for healing damaged skin and soothing itchiness.

Just one molecule of grapeseed oil neutralises up to 2,500 skin damaging free radicals, while its potent hydrators make it a superb moisturiser. Added bonus: it will also reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Honey is one of the best skin softeners or humectants (materials that hold moisture) available across the world… Balinese women use sweet honey as a body mask and Polish women apply honey to their faces as an intensive moisturiser.

What’s your secret recipe for keeping skin soft and supple through the winter months?

How to stay warm but look cool: The 11 best beauty cures for your winter blues!

Feeling low? You are not alone. According to research, this is the most depressing time of the year. It’s cold, it’s grey and those holier-than-thou resolutions are laughing in our face. So, we could really use something to beat the blues right now.

Right?

So, come with me and let the smiling begin!

beauty-winter-mood-boostersTry the “happiness molecule”

Euphoryl – a molecule developed by Laboratoires Sérobiologiques – has the beauty world abuzz with its mood boosting promises. It is said to stimulate the production of dopamine and endorphins, which promote happiness, energy and sex appeal. An easy way to get your fix? The Physician’s Formula Happy Booster Blush ($10). Forget the science bit – the pretty pink hearts have us feeling more cheerful already.

Take a decadent dip

Bubble baths will warm you up mentally and physically. Especially when coupled with Champagne and some cozy tunes. No time for the tub? Fill a bowl with warm water and a squirt of bath gel. Soak hands only, palms up, while you feel the stress slipping away from your whole body.

Armed with aromatherapy

One of the best beauty cures for winter blues lies in the world of aromatherapy. Fruity scents – such as lemon and watermelon – are usually associated with the happiest, most carefree times in our lives, like summertime and vacations. Plus, the scent of fruit sends your body a message to release certain chemicals that create a state of blissful relaxation. So, create your own blend of cheery scents with a mix of essential oils or try a pre-blended product: use a citrus body cleanser or face wash like Soap & Glory’s Sugar Crush Sweet Lime Body Wash ($12) or stash a lusciously scented body lotion in your desk drawer.

Slather chocolate all over

The smell of chocolate releases seratonin in the brain, which works as a natural antidepressant. Give yourself an at-home chocolate massage, scrub or shower with these easy recipes or order up a scrumptious off-the-shelf treat. A couple of feel good finds? Hershey’s Cocoa Bath Set ($20) or The Body Shop’s Chocomania Scrub ($14).

winter beauty productsColor therapy

It’s said the right colour can turn a frown upside down so opt for bright hues. Result: an instant jolt of energy. The easiest switch is a red lipstick, whose association with fun and sexy times is full of positive energy.

The taste test

Something as simple as a new lip gloss in a flavour you love can bring out the cheerful! Citrus ones get bonus points for their uplifting aroma.

Show some massage love

A stress-busting massage sends messages to your brain, triggering the release of feel good chemicals that produce a sense of relaxation and well being. And that’s not all: massage also improves blood circulation, steps up lymphatic drainage, relaxes the muscles and boosts the immune system.

Embrocation creams

Sometimes, there is nothing more depressing as having to pile on layers and layers of heavy woollens to keep the cold at bay. Imagine how much time would be saved if we could skip the whole put-on-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat and then take-off-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat and then put-on-thermal-and-pullover-and-tights-and-coat-all-over-again four times a day? And what when that cute cocktail dress really, REALLY demands bare legs? When it’s freezing outside?

Then you turn to embrocation creams – the stuff those cute spandex-shorts-clad cyclists use to trick their legs into thinking its 30 degrees warmer outside. Embrocation creams call upon blends of circulation-boosting ingredients like clove, capsica, peppermint and menthol to create a long lasting sensation of warmth that means bare legs can take the streets even in the dead of winter. Added bonus: the shea butter base hydrates winter-worn skin and gives it a super-sexy gleam. Happiness much? Look for DZnuts In-Heat Embrocation ($19.10) or Chamois Butt’r Hot Embrocation ($16.80).

Happy hair

Your hair products go a long way in deciding how you are feeling. That’s because skin absorbs upto 60% of what we put on it, and the scalp has some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body. So, choose your ingredients carefully and sail through the day cocooned in bliss. Mint and menthol-spiked hair products offer the perfect wakeup call, and will leave you refreshed. Seeking comfort? Lemongrass and tea tree oil create a slightly warming sensation, which combines with their aromatherapy qualities to relax the scalp muscles and make you feel calmer.

Love winter? Loathe winter? How do YOU cope with winter?

Why you should NEVER put pure lemon juice on your face. NEVER.

The internet is chock-a-block with beauty writers advising you to put lemon juice on your face. Why? The fruit’s high levels of vitamin C, citric acids and antioxidants are perfect for busting dead skin cells, lightening age spots, getting rid of unwanted freckles and clearing up a tan, among other things.

The evidence? Most beauty mavens will ask you to observe how a dash of lemon juice on apple slices prevent them from turning brown. The brown colour in cut apples is from oxidation (much like skin that’s exposed to atmospheric pollutants) and the vitamin C in lemon juice is what halts the process. Similarly, it seems, pure lemon juice on skin should slow down premature ageing and help stimulate collagen and elastin production, thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles and reversing sun damage.

And because vitamin C is extremely unstable – easily broken down by exposure to air and sunlight – what better way than to have it than squeezed fresh?

There’s only one problem: We are humans and not fruit. Our skin is much more fragile and doesn’t react in exactly the same way to lemon juice as apple slices. So, while I am usually first in line to advocate the use of natural ingredients and DIY skincare recipes (heck, I almost wrote a whole blog post on how to use lemons for your skin myself, before studying the adverse reactions), this is one case where the cons clearly outweigh the pros.

How, you ask?

lemons-skincare-posterLemons are highly acidic

Human skin comes with an inbuilt protective acid mantle that maintains a pH of 4 to 5, which makes it inhospitable to unwanted bacteria while maintaining the good flora, thereby helping ward off acne and infections. Lemon juice, on the other hand, has a pH of 2, which makes it extremely acidic. Putting pure lemon juice on skin will disrupt the latter’s acid balance, destroying its immunity to environmental toxins and causing a significant amount of irritation on the cellular level.

Lemons can cause blistering burns

God save you if your idea of DIY skincare is to put on lemon juice and then step into even partial sunlight. Lemons contain fluranocourmarins and psoralens that react with sunlight to cause phytophotodermatitis (PPD). This photo-toxic reaction leads to nasty blisters and rashes, which can appropriate the level of a chemical burn.

So, if you are still tempted to put pure lemon juice on your skin, stay away from sunlight for at least a good 8-10 hours after you’ve washed it off!

To be yet safer, combine lemons with other ingredients, like olive oil or honey, to cut down on their acidity and restrict the amount of harmful chemicals your skin is receiving.

BOTTOMLINE: Never, ever apply pure lemon juice straight on your skin.

NEVER.