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Words of beauty from India’s beauty icon Shahnaz Husain...

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Ancient Beauty Secrets That Still Work Today

Author with Bollywood actress Priyanka.

People around the globe spend billions of dollar for countless beautifying products every year. The media is full of commercials and advertisements each day promoting costly beauty products which by-the-way,  contain  parabens, sulphates, dyes, preservatives, fragrances, stabilizers  etc that are  easily absorbed in  the skin pores and  make their way into the bloodstream. These chemical laden ingredients do more harm than good in the long run by creating numerous health complications.

While the packaging of a costly beauty product claims to offer a particular active ingredients like diamond, gold, natural oils, dry fruits etc but in reality, it might only contain a single drop of such and such ingredient.

India is known for its natural beauty secrets that have proved their usefulness over the ages and are still booming. All they do is to give you more than what you want, faster than you would have ever expected with no side effects and no false promises.

Centuries ago, people relied on nature and natural ingredients to beautify themselves. In India, during the ancient times, women used colour to decorate themselves, but such ingredients were also linked to their medicinal usage. For example, henna has its basis in Ayurvedic healing, where henna was applied as a cooling paste, to bring down fevers, or cure heat rashes.  Gradually, it began to be used to colour the hair and paint intricate patterns on the hands and feet, a tradition that exists till today. Henna is so much in use today and has its basis in the ancient dyeing method, when chemical dyes were unknown and apart from imparting colour, henna is also an effective natural hair conditioner. Similarly, ingredients for lip colour were those that cured stomach ailments. The bark of the missee tree yielded a red colour, which was used for the lips, or as rouge on the cheeks.

The Mughal queens were known to use the powder of emerald, turquoise and pearls as make-up for the eyes, the way we use eye-shadow. Of course, such trends do not exist now, but, we still make “kajal” and “surma” the way it was done during the ancient times. In India, “kaajal” and “surma” was used, while the ancient Egyptians, both men and women, had their eyes heavily lined with kohl.

Today, with the “back to nature” trend sweeping the world, we have gone back to the ancient times, when plant extracts were used for skin and hair care. Actually, plant and herbal extracts have shown a lack of harmful after-effects. In fact, many herbs help to soothe the skin and cure skin irritation.  The use of plant ingredients is, therefore, a way of ensuring safety from harmful effects.

Indeed, during ancient times man depended upon nature for all his needs – food, medicines and yes, beauty aids too.  In some civilizations like India, herbal medicines flourished and became a part of our heritage. Systems like Ayurveda are basically founded on the discoveries and the practical usage of the healing and beneficial properties of plant life. Natural substances like metals, minerals, shells, precious and semi precious stones, honey, yogurt and so on are still used in the Ayurvedic healing system.

One of the most popular trees in India is Neem. It has a history which goes back thousands of years.  Over the centuries Neem has been highly valued in India for its healing and purifying properties and it is probably the most widely used among plant products. Like the ancient times, we still use every part of the Neem tree for healing purposes. One of the most common uses of Neem in India is for cleaning and brushing the teeth, for which the tender twigs are used. Ancient Ayurvedic prescriptions record that Neem is ideal for preserving and protecting the teeth and the gums from disease and decay. Pastes, infusions and decoctions are made from the leaves for local applications on the skin and scalp. The oil obtained from the seeds has been applied as a dressing in chronic skin and scalp problems. Today, it is used in several skin and hair products, like hair oils, shampoos, rinses, conditioners, toners, creams and ointments.

Sandalwood is also one of the most popular cosmetic ingredient used in India. It has been mentioned in ancient Indian texts as far back as the 5th century BC. It has powerful germicidal and antiseptic properties. It soothes the skin and heals inflammatory conditions. Sandalwood paste has been used since the ancient times for beauty care and for its fragrance. Today, its oil and extracts are used in many cosmetic preparations.

Exfoliating with pure Sea salt has been used for beautifying centuries ago . It cleans dead skin cells and also treats acne, pimples effectively. Applying Beer on hair and exposing suds-drenched locks in direct sunlight for an hour or two give shinning long lustrous hair and it has been practised by high rich class women centuries ago.

Indeed, the natural beauty aids of the ancient times have been tested by the most exacting test of all……they have been tested by time.

Almond oil is the Ultimate Skin care and Hair care Elixir

Sweet    almonds are widely used in    food ,oil and cosmetics  since ancient times      .  They are rich in proteins, magnesium, fibre, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, potassium, zinc, calcium etc. which   aids weight loss ,improves digestion,  translates  your skin and hairs to   super glowing   which  radiates from within. Almond Oil  which is  widely  used as base  oil by many hair oil manufacturing companies   improve the production of new cells and antibodies which help fight against diseases like diabetes, obesity,   heart disease, high cholesterol etc.

Almond oil is the best massage oil for infants

This nut oil with  slightly nutty pleasant  smell gets fully absorbed in skin  making it suitable for after bath application.   You can mix in a few drops of lavender oil, or any other fragrant essential oil of your choice, to personalize it  based on   the condition of your skin and hair

Almond oil is high in oleic acid , which is beneficial to  heart as it  lowers  LDL cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol) to help decrease your risk for heart disease.

Pure almond oil, or “badaam rogan” has been used in India since the ancient times both for skin and hair care. Almond oil contains linoleic acid, which helps to nourish and moisturise both hair and skin. Almond oil is very nourishing for extremely dry and damaged hair. Hair that has suffered damage due to repeated use of chemical dyes and lotions can be nursed back to health with the use of almond oil. It helps to nourish and strengthen the hair, improving hair texture and adding lustre to the hair. Today, it is a common ingredient in formulations like hair oils, hair conditioners, nourishing creams, under-eye creams, etc.

For dry hair and damaged hair, apply warmed almond oil. Then do the hot towel wrap. Dip a towel in hot water, squeeze out the water and wrap the hot towel around the head, like a turban. Keep it on for 5 minutes. Repeat the hot towel wrap 3 or 4 times. This helps the hair and scalp absorb the oil better. Applying almond oil regularly, not only improves hair texture, but also promotes hair growth. It also softens the hair.

If the hair is looking rough, you can have a quick fix with almond oil to improve the look of the hair. First disentangle the hair with a wide-toothed comb, starting from the ends and going upwards. Take only half-teaspoon almond oil in your palm and rub the palms lightly together, so that the oil is smeared on both palms. Then, starting at the ends, run the fingers through the hair. This is a good way of quickly taming the hair and preventing that “fly-away” look. Avoid applying it near the roots, or the hair will have an oily look.

Applying a little oil on the ends of the hair helps to also repair and prevent split ends. In fact, this can also help frizzy hair. Take 2 drops of almond oil. Put it on your palms and rub the palms lightly together, so that the oil spreads over both palms. Smooth the palms over the hair. Or, take the ends of the hair in your palms and scrunch them. Leave the oil on.

Pure almond oil also contains linoleic acid, which helps to nourish and moisturise the skin. A very dry skin can be massaged daily with pure almond oil for a few minutes and then wiped off with moist cotton wool. Due to its Vitamin E content, it helps to minimize the visible signs of ageing on the skin. It is also ideal for the care of the delicate skin around eyes and a useful home remedy for dark circles under the eyes. It is said to have a mild bleaching effect. Daily apply pure almond oil sparingly (very little quantity) around eyes and massage it lightly on the skin, using only the ring finger, for one minute under each eye. Massage in one direction only. Leave on for 15 minutes and wipe off gently with moist cotton wool. Actually, the area around eyes is vulnerable to the early formation of tiny lines and wrinkles. Daily massage with pure almond oil would help to delay such ageing signs. In fact,  herbal kajal contains almond oil too and benefits the eyelashes.

Pure almond oil can also be applied on the lips daily at night and left on overnight. It not only nourishes the skin and eliminates dryness, but also helps to lighten the colour of the lips.

Flowers are nature’s gift to us!

Flowers are a rare gift to us and provide a unique level of botanical energy. They not only delight the senses with their beautiful colours and fragrances, but actually have powerful properties, which help to bring about the ideal harmony of both body and mind. The aromas of many flowers are known to have a calming effect on the mind and help to induce relaxation. During the ancient times, the fragrances of roses, jasmines, lavender, orange flower, etc., were used to treat psychosomatic problems. Actually, flowers provide an ideal defense against environmental stresses and mental stress. In modern cosmetic care, freedom from stress is one of the prime requisites for beauty. Many beauty problems are triggered off by mental stress, like acne and hair loss. The fragrances of flowers help in such stress-related conditions, due to their calming, relaxing and refreshing effect.

In beauty salon treatment, in cosmetic products, flowers are used in the form of extracts or essential oils. An essential oil is very different from pressed oils, like sesame seed (til), coconut, olive, almond oils. Essential oils are very complex in nature and constitute the volatile and aromatic part of the plant. They are like the life-force of the plant. Apart from their medicinal properties, essential oils have been valued for their fragrances too. The fragrance of rose, sandalwood, jasmine, and lavender and so on is due to their essential oils.

Among the essential oils of the flowers used in beauty, the most common are rose, jasmine, lavender, camomile, marigold, lotus, orange flower (neroli), hibiscus, geranium.

One word of warning - essential oils should never be used by themselves.

They should be diluted in the right proportions with other pressed oils (like almond, sesame seed (til) or olive oils) and lotions like rose water.

Home Care:

Rose water is one of the best known natural skin toner. Chill some rose water in a bowl. Using cotton wool, wipe the skin with it. Then pat the skin briskly. It helps to keep the skin healthy and youthful and is particularly good during the summer and rainy season.

For oily skin, add 2 to 3 drops of lemon juice to one tablespoon rose water. Dip cotton wool in it and use it to wipe the face. It will help to remove the surface film of oil and stale sweat and leave you with a cool and fresh feeling.

For normal to dry skin, add 2 to 3 drops of glycerin to one tablespoon rose water and apply on the face. A few drops of rose water can be added to sandalwood paste and applied on pimples, acne or boils, to soothe and cure. It helps to reduce inflammation.

Rose water can also be added to face packs and scrubs. Almond meal (powdered almond) can be used with a little rose water as a facial scrub. Dip cotton wool pads in rose water and use as eye pads, to remove fatigue and brighten the eyes.  Both hot and cold infusions can be made from hibiscus flowers and leaves, though cold infusions are more common. For hot infusions, the flowers and leaves are added to boiling water and allowed to stand in it for 10 to 12 hours. The infusion is strained and then used as a last rinse after washing the hair. Good for dandruff and related conditions.

For cold infusions, the hibiscus flowers and leaves should be allowed to stand overnight in cold water, in a ratio of one to six.  The flowers should be squeezed and the water strained before use. Such infusions can be used to wash the hair and scalp, or applied on the scalp with cotton wool. Infusions, or the juice of the flowers, can be added to henna and applied on the hair. This can be a total hair-food and conditioning treatment.

For marigold (gainda) or calendula flowers, either fresh or dry flowers can be used. In boiling water, add four tablespoons of the flowers. Do not boil. Allow the flowers to be steeped in the hot water for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain and cool the water and use it to rinse the hair. It should be used as a final rinse. The cooled water can also be used to wash the face. It has a beneficial effect on oily and pimple-prone skin.

The author is Padma Award Winner international fame beauty expert and is known as the ‘Herbal Queen of  India’

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