salon secrets

Ayurveda: The Secret Behind Beautiful Indian Hair

September 28th 2015

Indian beauty – the classic image of thick and shiny hair – has always been a point of envy for other nations. Based on traditions that date back thousands of years ago, their recipes for hair treatments with natural ingredients are passed on from one generation to another. Here, we focus on some of their beauty secrets.

Ayurveda, an ancient beauty ritual

Aishwarya Rai, Freida Pinto or Sonam Kapoor… What is the secret that allows these Bollywood queens to maintain the silkiness of their hair? The answer is Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, “Ayurveda” means “the science of life”. According to the principles of Ayurveda, a woman’s inner beauty, the harmony between her soul and her spirit, reveal themselves in her exterior beauty. Natural Ayervedic medicine sees plants as a key factor in terms of health and well-being.

In order to achieve a balance between the living forces of nature, you must use dosha, which is an Ayurvedic profile test. In a similar way to the skin phototype groups – which tell you how sensitive your skin is to the sun’s rays – dosha has established categories, taking into account factors such as the colour and texture of your skin, your hair type and the quality of your fingernails.

Recipes based on natural ingredients

In India, mothers entrust their daughters with their aesthetic and capillary know-how, who in turn will also pass on these Ayurvedic recipes, composed of plants with strong medicinal and beneficial health properties.

Today, many Indian women still favour the use of plant-based beauty products. Simple and effective, these products are prepared from all-natural ingredients: henna; coconut, jasmine and sesame oil; yoghurt and rice powder; flowers; sweet almond and essential oils. Each plant that goes into these Ayurvedic treatments works on a different level, from the surface of the skin down to the most profound depth: the spirit.

Certain plants are even given a sacred status due to their symbolic spiritual value. One of them is the Hibiscus flower, which, when made into a powder, forms the base for a soft and nutritious shampoo, associated with plants like amla – the Indian gooseberry – and bringharâj. The latter also takes an important place in Indian beauty techniques, notably in hair care, as it allows the hair to maintain its natural colour for as long as possible and counters hair loss.

For shiny, revitalised hair

People worldwide envy Indian women’s long, superb, thick hair and its maintenance involves following very precise rituals. As Pascal Tribouillier, who has a great passion for India and its culture, explained to I love beauty: “once a week, Indian woman brush each other’s hair, then massage it with ayurvedic oil (with a sesame, coconut, neem amla and brahmi base) that they apply the whole way down to the bottom of the hair before plaiting it and leaving it to dry. After around three hours, they shampoo – in Sanskrit that means “massage” – with a washing powder. Lastly, they dry their hair using a large sieve-like instrument where rocks of incense are heated.”

Ayurvedic powders are a flagship for the Indian beauty routine. Another component that is widely used among Indian women is henna – by preparing a powder from the bark and leaves of this plant, they have a natural and effective product to wash their hair with. Henna gives volume, a silky texture and protects the scalp. It is also used in hair dyeing.

The use of oils can be described as another Indian secret: sweet almond oil, neem or coconut oil especially. Applied as a mask treatment or added to baths in Ayurvedic tradition (as with pizhichil), these oils release their perfumes and nutrients that promote well-being. This is Indian actress Sonam Kapoor’s description of her 100% Indian beauty ritual: “for hair, my mother and grand-mother used a sweet almond oil and coconut oil. I like to mix the two and add a little Shikakai oil that comes from India. I apply it to the lengths every two weeks as a leave-in treatment. And if you add a mask on top of that, the results are even more extraordinary.”

Indian women adopt a relationship of care and protection with their hair, which they think of as a plant in and of itself. In fact, in the Indian subcontinent, the scalp is considered as an extension of the skin and receives the same attention. The ayurvedic capillary ritual promotes radiance and vitality; and therefore takes an integral part in Indian women’s routines. Cranial massages, though, are definitely not reserved for women only. Hairdressers and masseurs have integrated this massage into the collection of services on offer for their male clientele, and many Indian men are convinced of their positive effects in the prevention of premature greying and baldness.

Ayurveda Doctor Janardhana V Hebbar, who lives in Moodabiri (in the state of Karnataka, in the south-west of the Indian subcontinent) explained in his blog the ability of these oils to protect and enhance the scalp, especially when they are applied in the evening, followed by a hot bath the following morning. He also adds the other beneficial properties of these oils, notably “to facilitate good sleep and to calm the mind and relieve headaches, the effects depend on the time and the manner in which the oils are applied.”

Treatments that are inspiring the professionals

The efficiency of treatments based on Ayurveda no longer need to prove themselves. On the contrary, they are providing inspiration for many professionals who are looking to develop products that are just as beneficial, following the trend of green hairdressing. This is the case for both Pascal Tribouillier and Gil Grillo, whose natural and eco-responsible product Daynà was inspired by observing Indian woman’s hair and haircare techniques. “Out there, 95% of women share the same hair length and texture. But the more I travelled in this country, the further I went from big towns, the more I found that women had sublime hair. Their notion of beauty products is so different from our own, the Ayurvedic herbalist’s store is the centre point of their beauty regime.”

If occidental clients have fallen completely in love with these new hair care techniques, they are not alone. The Indian market is also open to these new developments, as few modern Indian women have the time to continue the routine of their mothers and grandmothers. Is taking inspiration from local traditions whilst bringing technological innovation to new places; the key to a new modernised beauty?

ayurveda haircare
Photo credits ©La Priz Hampi via Flickr CC and ©Dayna