Why you should consider giving Ayurvedic make-up a try


Almond oil, fresh rose jam, saffron, nutmeg, cashew nut, pistachios, cardamom and fresh herbs. Nope, these are not the ingredients for a luxuriously loaded Diwali mithai, just the ‘tarpaka’ (or herbs in Ayurveda known to satiate the senses) that make up Forest Essentials’ Gulaab Khaas Kajal. “It’s a painstaking and delicate process, with hundreds of pure cotton wicks being soaked in a paste of tarpaka,” says founder Mira Kulkarni on how it's made. The saturated wicks are placed in earthen lamps or diyas that are filled with pure cow’s ghee. Then, silver plates or thalis are placed above the lamps. “This helps the lamp flame to cover the thali with a deep black, natural soot, overnight. Finally, after 8-10 hours, a thick, rich black residue covers the silver plate. This natural soot is the base of our Ayurvedic kajal,” she adds. Once the soot is collected, a small amount of castor with a few drops of camphor are mixed into it to achieve a paste-like consistency.


Today, Forest Essentials covers Ayurvedic adaptations of the essentials in your make-up kit—tinted lip serums, kajals, cheek tints, brow-and-lash serum and skin tint. It might have taken the cult Ayurvedic brand two decades to foray into make-up, but like a few other homegrown ones, they realised their audience might be ready for a cleaner swap and took up the challenge to facilitate that.

Kavita Khosa, who established skincare and wellness brand Purearth in 2011 launched the Sitara Strobelighter Serum in 2016, a pot of rose gold that soothes the skin while imparting a glow. She also has a lip paint pot in a deep vermillion, full of nourishing butters and oils, while a surma, kohl, bronzer and lip to cheek colours are in the research and development stage.

Just Herbs, a homegrown Ayurvedic brand, follows a unique crowdsourcing model when it comes to product development. They ask their followers what they should launch next and to rate their prototypes, and also name some of their launches after these ‘co-creators’. “Our consumers have loved our skin and hair products over the years and have constantly demanded make-up items with the same ‘clean,’ Ayurvedic and holistic credentials,” says co-founder Arush Chopra. They launched their first crowdsourced make-up product in 2017, a skin tint, followed by everything from a micellar water to kajals with almond oil and vitamin E, eyeshadow sticks with kumkumadi oil, a compact powder made with rice starch and javitri. Their biggest launch was in 2021—16 lipstick shades, each named after the women across India who helped create them, made with ghee and sesame oil.


It is evident that Ayurvedic brands pride in their formulations—they work hard to meet the principles of this age-old science of life. What sets Ayurvedic make-up apart from mainstream make-up is that it doesn’t discriminate between skincare and make-up—both are formulated with the same oils, flowers, roots and herbs.

“Ayurvedic make-up is an extension of skincare to accentuate natural beauty, and so it is usually infused with precious skincare botanicals, fresh juices and extracts of Ayurvedic herbs that is certified organic, making it absolutely safe,” says Dr Taruna Yadav, a senior Ayurvedic doctor at Forest Essentials. Essentially, in Ayurvedic make-up, you won’t find chemicals normally found in cosmetics, such as mineral oil, parabens, SLS and silicone. “A regular lipstick is made by suspending coloured pigments in a base of petroleum-derived emollients such as paraffin oils, waxes along with texturising agents like silicones, and other form-imparting fillers,” explains Chopra. These chemical additives may enhance the sensorial experience and texture of the product, but have zero benefits for the health of your lips. “Our oils are solar infused macerations of wildcraft and ECOCERT-certified organic Ayurvedic herbs like nettle, tulsi, gotu kola, hemp and amalaki, that are proprietary and prepared in-house. We believe in matter energy and vibrations so visitors can often hear the soft sounds of mantras and sacred chants from our lab while preparations are in progress,” adds Khosa. Since the formulations are natural and biodegradable, they aren’t harmful to our ecosystem.

“Ayurveda also lays a strong emphasis on the healing and curative properties of indegenous herbs and plants listed in the traditional Ayurvedic texts,” says Chopra. “So using the Ayurvedic philosophy to create make-up compels you to go above and beyond just omitting potentially harmful ingredients and adding a few natural actives, but also ensuring that what stays in the formula has real nutritive benefits, is locally sourced and complies with exacting Ayurvedic principles.”

Kavita Khosa, who established skincare and wellness brand Purearth in 2011 launched the Sitara Strobelighter Serum in 2016, a pot of rose gold that soothes the skin while imparting a glow.


While it took years for just a few brands to explore the world of make-up under the Ayurvedic lens, it is not without its setbacks. Firstly, there’s the consumer's hesitation: Does it have a shorter shelf-life? How do I determine the safety of my ‘natural’ make-up? And the infamous question: Will it give me allergies? “Preservatives are typically used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms in order to protect both the products and consumers,” says Yadav.

For one, waterless make-up doesn’t require preservatives, and hence you’ll mostly find Ayurvedic products in oil or powder formats. But you cannot expect natural ingredients to last long in their original and safe state without something to preserve them, so brands try to use naturally derived or natural preservatives.

“Vitamin E is a great antioxidant and is used as a natural preservative in certain products,” says Kulkarni. With Ayurvedic or natural make-up, the shelf-life is shorter, so always check the expiry date. “Ayurvedic make-up also tends to melt easily, and goes rancid sooner because of the unrefined, non-deodorised oils and butters it contains,” says Khosa. So it's best to store your tints in a cool, dark place, or, as Khosa advises, refrigerate your balms in the summers. It is also important to do a patch test to ensure you aren’t sensitive to certain essential oils or herbs.


For brands, respecting the integrity of Ayurveda is key, so creating make-up poses many challenges: Sourcing fresh, quality butters, oils and herbs, the shorter shelf-life, that inherent natural smell of Ayurvedic products, and nailing the right texture and formulation. Just Herbs’ bullet lipsticks took over two years to make as using ghee and plant waxes would make the bullet intensely moisturising on the lips but not strong enough to withstand application. “It was extremely frustrating to see it break over and over again until one day we got the ingredient proportions and the break-point right,” says Chopra.

To know whether your choice is safe, look for labels like ‘certified organic’ and claims that show that the ingredients are grown without pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilisers or sulphates. Yadav warns about ingredients like lead (commonly used in lip products), sodium laureth sulphate (found in cream-based cosmetics like foundations and concealers) and petroleum distillates (often used in mascaras but also found in oil refineries).

Accepting that you may not get the same performance as mainstream make-up with an Ayurvedic product is the first step towards making a clean switch. Your lipstick may not be as pigmented or long-lasting but will feel exceptionally comforting and caring. For each of its impediments, the pros seem to defeat the cons. Simply put, Ayurvedic make-up can be good for your skin. Almost so good that you could sleep with it.

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