For perfect-skin obsessives of a certain age, the 1997 book “Absolute Beauty: Radiant Skin and Inner Harmony Through the Ancient Secrets of Ayurveda” was required reading.
A primer on the millennia-old system of Indian medicine, written by Ayurvedic doctor and Soho spa owner Pratima Raichur, it helped readers suss out that whole mysterious dosha (bodily energy) thing. Once you’d landed on whether you were more of a vata, pitta or kapha (air, fire or water) you could plan your beauty routine accordingly — and balance your physical, mental and emotional states.
Nudged out of the spotlight by K-beauty, J-beauty and “cleanical” skin care devoid of ingredient baddies like parabens and phthalates, Ayurveda is on the comeback trail. Though it’s largely centered around hair care and classic Indian rituals like scalp oiling for lush locks, Ayurvedic skin care for the face and body is gaining traction, too.
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Why now? Signs point to our love of self-care, which got a kick in the pants during COVID-19. As a means of balancing the body, mind and spirit to promote health, and an emphasis on yoga, a diet and personal care products steeped in plant-based, organic ingredients, Ayurveda ticks a lot of boxes for stressed-out wellness seekers.
“The past two years have taught us a lot about stress, and we now see a very clear connection between inner and outer beauty,” says Michelle Ranavat, a first-generation Indian American and founder of an eponymous Ayurvedic beauty line. “Ayurveda is a very unique discipline that combines both the holistic and science-based approach, which really resonates in this day and age.”
Another Indian American brand founder, Soma Ayurvedic’s Arjun Sampath, believes that “the Whole Foods grocery ecosystem” has helped popularize several of Ayurveda’s core adaptogens, i.e., ashwagandha, moringa and turmeric, in foods and drinks, priming the pump for beauty. “Ayurvedic remedies have already been used by the US consumer, they just didn’t know they were Ayurvedic in origin,” he says.
Vatika Ayurveda Strengthening Hair Mask, $21 at AmazonCourtesy of the brand BhringrajOil, $28 at RthviCourtesy of the brand
According to market research firm Spate, searches for bhringraj, an Ayurvedic herb derived from a type of sunflower renowned for its hair-strengthening properties, are expected to climb by almost 30 percent over the next year. The ingredient plays a starring role in Vatika Ayurveda’s Pitta four-step hair care system, as well as in Rthvi’s Bhringraj Oil.
“Hair oiling has been the most-followed beauty ritual in India by people of all ages, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds for centuries,” says Delhi-born Rthvi founder Meerika Khanna. “Ayurveda views beauty through the lens of wellness and sees our hair as the mirror of our health.”
Conscious Coconut founder Danielle Conte has been partnering with spas to create protocols that weave in Ayurvedic practices centered around coconut oil, viewed in Indian culture as healing. One such treatment is shirodhara, which involves gently massaging the head by dripping a steady stream of oil on the forehead, in alignment with the “third eye” chakra.
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“The process is gentle and its application is mindful,” says Conte. “To finish, the guest’s hair is wrapped in our quick-dry towels, which are made of recycled water bottles.” Of course they are.
As hot as it is, Ayurveda experts don’t see any chance of a ’90s-era flameout this time around. “I’m a firm believer that Ayurveda is not the ‘flavor of the month,’ but rather a mega trend,” says Sampath. “It’s still in its infancy.”