At the Biotique store in Delhi’s crowded Khan Market, marketing executive Neera Sodhi sniffs at jars of lotion with names like Saffron Youth Dew and Red Sandalwood Cream. “I prefer to wear natural products on my skin,” she says. “Most people here do.”
That preference means natural products are big business in India; many leading brands label skin care “herbal” or “ayurvedic.” Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old system of holistic medicine, has potent associations, taken as it is from Hinduism’s Scriptures. Adapting it to skin care means, broadly, using herbs, plants and minerals commonly prescribed by ayurvedic doctors, including neem, a leaf that is described as a toxin flusher, cleanser and blood purifier, and turmeric, said to be an antiseptic and skin softening agent.
Ayurvedic beauty brands are careful to emphasise their spiritual and historical origins. Vinita Jain, founder of Biotique, describes how she learned the practice of ayurveda from the yogis—holy men—who lived on her grandfather’s tea estate. Shahnaz Hussain, founder of the eponymous beauty empire, says India “holds an answer to the synthetic cosmetic ills of the West in the form of ayurvedic medical science.”
Even politicians have dabbled in ayurvedic beauty. In 2005, India’s main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, set up an ayurvedic stall in Delhi selling lotions made from the urine and dung of cows, under the name Goratna or “jewel of the cow.”