Two siblings are going back to their roots by making timeless Indian beauty solutions using herbs and spices for the modern consumer, writes Meera Murugesan
BEHIND an unassuming white door along the bustling stores and cafes at Publika Shopping Gallery, lies a cool, inviting sanctuary, where two modern day “witches” have a range of enchanting concoctions for sale.
Their cauldron and pointy black hats may be nowhere to be seen but the shelves in their little shop are stacked high with eye catching bottles and intriguing jars that promise beauty.
And one can rest assured that sisters, Sharmila Anne Ramani and Sharmini Joy Ramani are not going to cast a spell, except perhaps one that will keep you coming back for more of their interesting concoctions.
When the siblings started their skincare brand, Potions, they sought inspiration from Ayurvedic healing and beautifying traditions as well as a legacy of healing passed down the family.
Both their paternal and maternal grandmothers and also their mum had always been skilled in making skincare using natural ingredients.
“What we consume is generally safe and good to be used on the skin and hair as well,” says Sharmini.
Which explains why many of the ingredients in their products can be commonly found in an Indian kitchen, such as curry leaves, fenugreek, fennel, castor oil, coconut oil, saffron and turmeric.
“Of course, we don’t recommend that you actually eat our products!” interrupts Sharmila with a laugh.
The elder of the two, and a lawyer by profession, she and her sister, who used to work in advertising, gave up their day jobs and took the plunge into building their natural skincare brand three years ago.
Prior to that, they had already been dabbling in the business on a part-time basis, selling their products made from age old family recipes at weekend bazaars. They also made them as gifts for friends and family or as favours for guests to take away at weddings and other social events.
Their parents, both doctors, were not too keen on the idea at first but the sisters have since proven their mettle in their new venture.
“We were both moving up the career ladder but we got tired of the mundaneness and the long hours and at one point, we decided we just wanted something different,” says Sharmini.
The brand prides itself on using fresh, natural ingredients in all its products and the sisters are involved in every aspect of production, from sourcing of raw ingredients, keeping a close eye on the formulation of the products, testing, packaging and even designing the labels.
SPICING THINGS UP
One of their most popular products is a hair oil which has its roots in their father’s side of the family.
The Emerald Elixir Hair & Scalp Nourishing Oil is made with a blend of curry leaves, coconut and castor oil and helps with hair loss and combats frizz to promote softer and shinier hair.
Another much in demand product is a powder cleanser which has its roots in the maternal side of the family.
The Veda Glow Face Cleansing Powder has a blend of nutrient-rich natural ingredients including lentils, fenugreek, neem and aloe vera.
Sharmila, who used to suffer from bad acne after years of using conventional skincare products, turned to the powder cleanser to ease her problem and it helped clear up her skin.
One only has to add water or plain yoghurt to the powder and massage it onto the face before washing off to keep skin clean and healthy.
Their lotion bars are also bestsellers. Looking very much like pretty and dainty handmade soaps, these bars are easy to use and handy for travel. One only has to rub them all over skin to moisturise.
Loaded with nourishing natural ingredients including pure butter, essential oils and herbs, the bars provide good hydration for the skin.
USE IT RIGHT
Sharmila says while more and more people today are looking for natural skincare solutions, customers have to be educated on the finer aspects of going green where beauty is concerned.
One of the challenges is making consumers understand the shorter shelf life of products which don’t come loaded with preservatives and chemicals.
“Sometimes, consumers assume that if a product has a shorter shelf life, it means it’s not effective. They don’t understand that it’s because it doesn’t contain all the preservative which can cause damage to skin and hair in the long run,” she says.
Consumers also have to be taught the proper usage of natural products in order to maintain its shelf life, such as scooping out the formula with a clean, dry spoon and not placing it somewhere where water may get into it.
All the products under Potions come with specific usage, care and storage instructions on the label so consumers can maintain the freshness and shelf life of the products. Ingredients used are meticulously listed as well so consumers understand what they are using on their skin and hair.
Inspiring quotes about life, living, beauty and style by famous personalities are also included on the labels and these add a further element of interest to the products.
Sharmini says when they first started, their customers were mainly young working adults but now, they are getting more consumers from an older age group and also more male customers and mothers making inquiries about products for their children.
Teenagers are also showing interest as they want products which address their skincare concerns.
“We do a lot of research, go through plenty of testing and trial and error before we come up with a product because it must be natural but effective too,” says Sharmini.
Some customers have even asked them to make specific solutions to address their hair and skin needs and the sisters have started doing customised skincare in their store.
They make face and hair masks specifically formulated for a particular individual based on ingredients selected by that consumer from a menu.
“All the ingredients together with the pricing is listed on the menu. We sit and talk to them, narrow down what they want and they finally get something custom-made for their skin and we make it on the spot,” says Sharmini.
Both sisters take particular pride in the fact that Potions is taking them back to their roots and gives them the opportunity to further explore and expand on the Indian art of healing and beauty.
“’It’s about reviving an ancient art and going back to that age old practice of using nature for beauty,” says Sharmila.
Details at www.shop-potions.com
MANY common Indian herbs and spices provide a safe, natural way to achieve clear skin and a healthy scalp.
A very expensive spice, not only does it add a wonderful flavour to festive meals, it also helps nourish skin and gives one a glowing complexion because it can prevent blemishes and acne and reduce pigmentation.
A must-have in every Indian kitchen, turmeric, with its’ antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, helps cleanse skin and aids in wound healing and prevention of acne. It is also applied to prevent or reduce the growth of facial hair.
This simple garden herb which is widely used in Indian cooking, is believed to be able to strengthen the scalp and hair and even darken hair and prevent premature greying.
Not everyone’s favourite but castor oil is said to work wonders on hair and eyelashes when applied regularly. It helps promote hair growth for thicker lashes and strong, shiny hair.
Commonly used in fish curries, this spice is believed to have anti-ageing benefits and also helps prevent hair loss and dandruff when used in hair treatments.
WHAT’S YOUR DOSHA?
IN Ayurveda, your skin type is defined by your dosha and treated accordingly. The doshas include:
Vata: People with thin, dry, fine pored, delicate and wrinkle prone skin.
Pitta: Those with skin that is susceptible to rashes and breakouts.
Kapha: People with oily skin, prone to enlarged pores, blackheads and pimples.
AYURVEDIC BEAUTY TIPS
Rose Water Toner
Use rose water as a toner to refresh, cool and rejuvenate skin. Its fragrance is an added boost for wellbeing.
Turn to sugar for a natural take on exfoliation. Sugar helps with cell turnover and aids skin to retain moisture.
Slather your skin in milk. Take a milk bath or add milk to bathwater. It helps soothe irritated or inflamed skin and has moisturising effects too.
Coconut and Chickpea
Use coconut oil as a moisturiser for skin, hair and the body, especially if you have very dry skin. However, if you have oily skin, opt for a facial mask made of chickpea flour which will effectively absorb oil for fresh, cool skin.
This ancient Ayurvedic practice of swishing oil (usually coconut or sesame oil) inside the mouth, not only promotes good oral health but also flushes toxins and removes impurities which cause acne, rashes or other skin problems.
Yoga and Meditation
Exercise will give you a glow and inner peace promotes calmness and better sleep, which will be reflected in healthy skin. So, get that yoga mat out and find a quiet corner to get started on your health and beauty regime.