Women entrepreneurs rule the world of natural cosmetics in India and they do it beautifully

Due to growing concerns over ill effects of chemical-laden skin and beauty products, consumers are going natural. And women entrepreneurs, armed with grandma’s secrets and own research, are giving them this choice

Only a woman knows what a woman really wants. A look at the success of women-helmed enterprises in skincare and beauty industry should be proof good enough. The distrust in synthetic cosmetics, thanks to increasing awareness about the side-effects of chemicals that go into making them, has been pushing women to seek natural options for themselves and their families. Enter the new age “cosmetic chemists”. Armed with knowledge either handed down by their mothers and grandmothers or gained through their own research, they are attempting to give consumers the choice of letting their skin breathe easy under natural products and heal itself.

“People now recognise that the skin is our largest organ and what we apply on it is absorbed to a far greater degree than we realise,” says Abida Halstenberg, founder of the UK-based brand Samaya Ayurveda, which makes skin and hair care products and supplements.

Alluding to the damage caused by harsh chemical-based cosmetics, Delhi-based aromatherapist and reflexologist Dr Anaisha Sukh says, “Natural products might take time to show results, but never harm anyone.”

Another patron of the green movement, Astha Katpitia, head of Shankara Naturals, Bengaluru, is critical of the MNC FMCG sector. “Many of us have paid a premium for cosmetics but later realised that they have been laden with chemicals that our body does not need. We promote a product line and skin care regime that acts fast even though all the ingredients used are the purest one can find,” she points out. She feels there is an encouraging trend of natural skincare products in India. “I am sure that with time a much larger consumer base will understand the importance of nurturing one’s skin,” she opines.

It’s natural, not skin-deep

“Natural” products have elements which are free of artificial colours, fragrances, preservatives and other additives, thus drastically reducing the chances of allergic reactions. Organic products go a step further. They come with an assurance that their ingredients have been produced and preserved without the use of artificial pesticides or grown with no genetic engineering or radiation.

On the other hand, ayurvedic products include medicinal herbs and traces of metals like gold, silver, copper, sulphur, mercury, tin, etc. The makers of these products claim that their formulae are based on regulations of the ancient Indian science of medicine, and treat holistically by cleansing, detoxifying and rejuvenating the human body.

London-based Halstenberg swears by ayurvedic treatment. “It balances the opposites,” she says. “For instance, dry, cold and dehydrated Vata body types are naturally drawn to the warm, nourishing and healing qualities of a moisturising rose. Sensitive-skinned fiery Pitta types with high inflammation are attracted to cooling, calming, soothing jasmine and other anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as saffron. Kapha types typically have a slower metabolism and favour more stimulating and invigorating aromas, like sandalwood and vetivert,” she explains. Once you know your dosha, use products that balance your unique constitution and eat accordingly. Avoid foods which favour or pacify it, she explains, elaborating, “Many people have dual doshas and in rare cases they may be tridoshic too.”

On her experience in the skincare industry, she says, “I launched Samaya in August 2016. It has barely been a year and a half, but we have grown steadily with a significant and loyal following. People are realising that modifying lifestyle is the key to achieving greater balance and wellness.” She is a strong proponent of the theory that skincare can be a means to increase one’s wellness, especially “if the ingredients have natural aromas that help you relax”. She adds, “These products include herbs and natural extracts and avoid synthetics completely.”

Sukh, co-founder of Ma Earth Botanicals, and her mother decided to develop skincare products which heal and improve one’s looks. “It is the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers that is helping us now. They managed to keep most illnesses at bay with care regimes straight from their kitchens,” Sukh says. She reiterates that her products are made using the highest quality essential oils, sustainably sourced vegetable oils and unrefined butters that are cold pressed to preserve their natural goodness and healing properties. She specifies that the keywords in their industry are “natural products”, “handmade” and “small batches”.

On the pure path

Having stayed in Shimla for months, Mumbai-based Jessica Jayne had dreamt of giving people the purest forms of products straight from the source. Thus was born the Pahadi Local that sells products sourced from the Himalayas. Explaining how they ensure the source-to-bottle purity, she says, “Our products undergo four purity tests. We never mix anything to the base material but always micro-filter it. It is a physical filtration process where fluid is passed through special pore-sized membrane to separate microorganisms and suspended particles from a processed liquid.

“Many men use my products but they are not keen on giving testimonials as they find it not-so-manly to speak about their beauty regime.”

Another Mumbaikar, Rubeina Karachiwala, who started out as a public relations professional, was so fascinated by the skincare and beauty industry that at 25, she started researching on her own after doing a short course on make-up.

She was curious to know what went into making global beauty products. Struggling with bad skin herself, she wanted safer options to deal with it. Today the young entrepreneur promotes her own natural and organic mineral-based range of make-up under the label Ruby’s Organics. Karachiwala has hired a research and development team to help her out. She proudly says that within 10 months of launch, Vogue adjudged their concealer as one of the best in the Indian market. She feels that a woman is better placed to sell cosmetics even if globally it is the men who head cosmetic companies.

California-based Shrankhla Holecek’s family has been in the business of producing some of the best quality essentials oils for five generations now, catering to global luxury houses. “For Uma Oils, we’ve combined time-tested ayurvedic formulae with innovative extraction techniques to produce remarkably potent, effective and good-for-skin botanical elixirs,” Holecek says. Most of their farms are located in central India, with a few in the north for rose oil.

Their products address a cross-section of concerns, skin types and ethnicities, says the young entrepreneur – she is in mid-thirties. “When formulae have been tested, refined and perfected over 800 years, they usually work!” she grins.

Being an American company, it provides customers in India the option to directly get their shipment from their estate (in India where everything is farmed, distilled and bottled). They do not have a retail outlet here as yet. Holecek is waiting to have the infrastructure in place before she can sell her products directly.

Shonali Bedi from New Delhi began her venture Gulnare – a 100 per cent organic handmade skincare label – in 2016, assisted by her son and daughter. Again, the recipes are inspired by her grandmother’s home solutions. She studied mineral natural make-up and babycare in the UK. Women form 65 per cent of Gulnare’s clientele, but Bedi also has unisex products catering to men. Everything is locally certified organic, procured from Dehradun and Sikkim, she claims.

Radhieka Choudhary and her sisters Jagriti and Dipika keep travelling between Ahmedabad and London for their recent endeavour Skinyoga. “Our mother used to tell us that an Indian woman is the epitome of strength and never gets bogged down by problems. Our products define that spirit,” says Radhieka.

The Skinyoga team comprises 98 per cent women. Together they make products that can literally be eaten out of the bottle as the ingredients are edible and sterilised. Each element is sourced from the places where they grow at their best. The almonds come from West Asia, saffron is from Kashmir, while sandalwood and turmeric are from south India.

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