The Real Story Behind The Indian Beauty Remedies You See On Instagram

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As a young, first-generation Indian-American girl, I’ll never forget smelling like coconut oil while my friends had the essence of American Dove soap. I remember getting made fun of for bringing spice-filled rice dishes to school when everyone else was chowing down on PB&Js and Lunchables. But here’s the thing — what I remember the most is not really caring about being different — I’ve always love the dichotomy.
I grew up in Tennessee, but spent many summers in India running around with my cousins in the monsoons, waking up to my grandmother making masala-spiced eggs with fresh, pillowy roti flatbread, and of course, experimenting with slightly off-center Eastern beauty techniques. I also spent time in Nashville, enjoying buttery biscuits, taking trips to Target to rummage through the makeup aisles, and trying out the latest Neutrogena skin care products (shoutout to its Oil-Free Acne Wash for getting me through my teen years).
As an adult I've reverted back to the natural beauty remedies I learned from my time in India — many of which have become commonplace on Instagram and YouTube. The things I won’t take with me? The skin lightening products like Fair & Lovely that my aunt would scrub on me in hopes that I’d look like the ultimate light-skinned Bollywood starlet (Madhuri Dixit or Karisma Kapoor at the time). But alas, those lightening products didn’t work (whew) and I was left admiring the holistic beauty secrets that had been passed down through the generations instead. I’ve come to realize there is a better option than splurging on pricey brands, especially when I can make my own effective, natural products that cost less than $10.
Inspired by holistic ingredients, Indian beauty solutions are where it’s at, but be warned that it's similar to Indian cooking — there’s a historic foundation to the techniques, but there’s always room for interpretation. To help cut through the countless tutorials online, I've rounded up the seven ingredients that are the base of legit Indian beauty secrets — and paired each ingredient with a tutorial that makes it easy. Plus, everything is under $10.
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@Shruti Arjun Anand
Secret Ingredient: Ande (Eggs)
Best For: Softening hair by using as a deep-conditioning mask.

I’ll never forget the first time my cousins put an egg in my hair. I was 11-years-old and I ran around our house in my mom’s hometown of Navsari thinking I’d been pranked. But hey, when I washed it out my hair was softer than it had ever felt before.

The best way to use eggs is to make a mask (normally with yogurt and honey), then just mix it up and apply it to the scalp. Let it sit for as long as you like (30 minutes should do it), then simply wash it out with warm water and shampoo your hair as you normally would. Warning: It does smelly funky, but hey, if Priyanka Chopra swears by it...
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@Shruti Arjun Anand
Secret Ingredient: Henna
Best For: Adding a warm tone to brown hair. (Sorry, it's not great on grays or blonds, as hair could end up quite orange.)

As a child I remember my mom’s friends dying their hair with henna and it looking kind of, well, weird. These women put it directly onto their graying hair, so their roots would turn this interesting orange color. If that’s your jam, then that’s cool, but it tends to look better when used as a toner of sorts on darker hair.

For a more subtle approach, use henna paste on even-toned hair — grown-out or natural highlights are ideal as well because it will give them a pretty, warm tone. Follow the video here or simply let it sit on hair for a few hours. There you have it — you’ve moisturized your hair and dyed it, which is near impossible. Other perks? It costs way less than an expensive salon appointment.
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Secret Ingredient: Dahi (Yogurt)
Best For: Creating a soothing hair or face mask.

You'll find homemade yogurt in most Indian households. Why? Because making yogurt from scratch is so much easier than you’d think — and it’s a lot more cost effective. It hydrates skin, makes hair soft, and even tackles irritations and redness in the skin. Oh, it also has anti-aging properties, so you can pretty much slap it on left and right.

I recommend starting off by making your own yogurt and creating a soothing face and hair mask. Cucumbers on your eyes aren’t required, but highly encouraged.
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Secret Ingredient: Neem
Best For: The oil has many uses (like an invigorating booster for your shampoo) and the leaves are great for creating DIY toner.

Neem oil can be purchased lots of places, including Indian grocery stores, and can be used many ways, which you'll see in the video here. However, my favorite way to harness the power of neem is with the leaf.

This amazing leaf can be used as a toner to help clean your skin and extract impurities, without that weird alcohol feeling you might get from store-bought toners. All you have to do is boil neem leaves until they get soft and the water turns green — then strain it and pour into a clean bottle.
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Secret Ingredient: Naariyal Ka Tel (Coconut Oil)
Best For: As an overnight hair and scalp treatment.

I get it: You’ve already heard everyone talk about coconut oil and the countless ways to use it. The oil had its big moment a few years ago in the United States, and it kind of left me and a lot of Indian people baffled, since we’ve been using it for as long as we could all remember. However, unlike the many uses you'll read about today, it's not used traditionally used on the face during an Indian beauty ritual, instead reserved for the hair. Tip: This Parachute oil is the oil many Indian women grew up using — and it's as amazing as you think!

I have the most beautiful memories of both of my grandmothers sitting me down after dinner, rubbing this hair oil into my scalp, and then braiding my hair and letting it sit overnight. Then, we’d wash it out in the morning and my hair would be a dreamy, softly-coiled bed of curls. Cut to me now as a 30-year-old living in Los Angeles and every time I go home to Nashville, my mom still sits me down and puts it into my hair. Ahhhh, heaven.
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@Arshia Moorjani
Secret Ingredient: Haldi (Turmeric)
Best For: Whipping up a brighting, glow-inducing face mask.

Turmeric?! I know what you’re thinking — it’s best for cooking or those turmeric lattes your co-worker picks up from the overpriced natural foods store on the corner. Well, turmeric is normally introduced to most Indians through traditional dishes and an Indian wedding ceremony called pithi, where turmeric is turned into a paste and family members come put it on the bride’s skin.

The ritual is supposed to bring out a glow in the skin and is also used to get rid of acne and wrinkles, so it’s pretty much a cure-all. But before you DIY a mask of your own it's important to know a few things. Turmeric can stain everything from light nail polish colors to lighter skin, so apply with caution if you want to try this technique at home. As with all DIY face masks, like the one in this video, it's important to do a patch test, so apply to your wrist or arm and wait 24 hours to make sure it's well0-suited for you skin.
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Secret Ingredient: Arandi Ka Tel (Castor Oil)
Best For: Creating a nourishing hair mask.

Remember that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the dad swears by Windex? Castor oil is the Indian equivalent. I grew up with my mom and grandmothers using this for literally everything — it has tons of benefits for your hair, skin, and health. We’re talking everything from anti-aging properties to diminishing stretch marks to hair growth to getting rid of dandruff. Surprise, surprise — that stuff you bought for your eyelashes? Yep, you can start using it just about anywhere.
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