In Refinery29's Talking Shop series, we're chatting with owners of up-and-coming small businesses about their experiences launching, the big challenges and wins they've faced, and of course, their products and services.
When it comes to the world of skin care, products derived from certain cultures seem to have a specific chokehold on beauty enthusiasts. French beauty products come to mind, of course, with the low-fuss routines that perhaps involve micellar water, a concentrated oil, and a hydrating moisturizer. Then there's the more high-maintenance realm of Korean skin care, which normalized the epic, 10-step routine where products like essences, ampoules, and two-step cleansers are suddenly taking up most of your bathroom-shelf real estate. But, what about the skin-care products of other countries? Why don't we ever hear about them?
For Kolkata-born, New York-based Surbhee Grover — founder of the Indian skin care brand Love, Indus — she noticed that certain Indian practices like yoga and meditation and trademark Indian ingredients like turmeric or coconut oil were radically embraced by the Western world for their wellness influences. When it comes to face products, however, Indian skin care is rarely spoken about — even though Grover knew from growing up all over the subcontinent (Kolkata in the east; Ajmer in the west; and Delhi and Mumbai for her college and adult years) that the variety of local ingredients she had encountered have their own set of healing powers when incorporated into a skin-care routine. ("While many might read about India being a diverse country, I lived and breathed that fact growing up," she said of her childhood before she moved to Stateside for a New York University master’s.) After a few stints in the beauty industry — working for India’s largest hair-care brand and at L’Oréal — Grover launched Love, Indus in December 2020 (yes, peak pandemic).
Ahead of this story's publication, I had the distinct pleasure of testing out a few Love, Indus products — and, I must say, my face has been slurping up the Dewdrops serum, which makes my cheeks full and bouncy, and the slightly iridescent Potion Vital cream, which has glow-up powers similar to a subtle highlighter stick but for all over the face. (Our Senior Writer, Karina Hoshikawa, is also a fan of the oil-absorbing Velvet :08 Broadway Bright Detox Mask to keep skin clear and decongested.) Below, we chat with Grover about the hyper-effective but lesser-known ingredients that go into her Indian skin-care brand, the most surprising best-selling products, and why folks with particularly sensitive skin will surely guzzle these silky-smooth formulas.
What led you to launch Love, Indus?
“There was no ‘aha!’ moment that led to the birth of Love, Indus. With my [current] base in New York — a city that heralds many trends — I was able to observe how increasing consumer consciousness led to the now-ubiquitous clean beauty category and how several Indian concepts, such as yoga, or Indian kitchen staples, such as turmeric and coconut oil, started finding their way into the daily life and lattes of Western consumers. It was more a gradual realization that the skin-care and wellness concepts from the Indian subcontinent that had achieved some recognition globally, barely scratched the surface of all the regional riches that I had grown up experiencing.”
What was the response like toward Love, Indus? In terms of the beauty landscape, I feel like Indian-influenced skin care is underrepresented.
"Our consumers have taught us new ways and occasions for using our products. The Amrutini Luminosity Dewdrops, for instance, has been used by professional makeup artists as a primer they swear by. It’s something we had not foreseen when developing the product. And while our Freedom of Expression Line Limiter was [initially] conceived for expression lines like around the lips, our consumers shared how it’s wonderful as a lip mask, sometimes healing brutally cut and chapped lips overnight. So we started sharing these insights with our consumers so they can better understand how versatile and multipurpose the product range is.
"But we knew, even before we launched, that we wanted to build a platform that goes beyond just powerful products. Over the past year, we’ve been able to share rarely known aspects of the Indian subcontinent — its regional art, culture, and practices — to a wider audience. We can also tell inspiring stories about our customers — their struggles, heartbreaks, and resilience — and learn how they ultimately prevailed through our #LoveIndusStrengthStories IG series."
What do you feel sets your brand apart from others?
"Love, Indus was inspired by my personal journey. I grew up in various parts of India and have had intimate, first-hand experiences of the richness of local and regional customs, minerals, and ways of life. What makes us unique is we have taken these incredibly wonderful, sometimes lost or forgotten ingredients from specific regions of the Indian subcontinent that might have been used for millennia but just haven’t made their way outside their regional bastions, and enhanced their efficacy with New Age technologies and combined them with clean, safe lab-designed synthetics. There are only a handful of brands that holistically leverage the customs, techniques, minerals, and botanicals from the Indian subcontinent — and most that do, have primarily relied on the traditional or Ayurveda aspects. Ours is born of the confluence of both worlds to craft potent offerings."
Let’s get deeper into your lineup. What are some of your most innovative products?
"We aim to fulfill unmet needs, where consumers have few efficacious options. For example, our Velvet :08 Broadway Bright detox mask is an eight-minute polish that leaves your skin smoother and glowing, but it also reduces the regrowth of peach fuzz over time. We crafted this product because we heard time and time again from consumers that there are only a few gentle yet effective options for dealing with this, especially if someone wanted to reduce their frequency of waxing, dermaplaning, or other mechanical treatments. We’re also bringing relevant solutions to market, some which have never before been seen in skin care. For example, ancient skin-restoring ingredients — silk cocoons and copper — have been used for centuries in many ways to renew and heal our skin. But they haven't been used together…until now. We’ve introduced a remarkable new way of exfoliating with our copper-crusted silk cocoons."
In what ways do you think Indian skin care differs from other types of skin-care practices?
"There are a few things that define the subcontinent’s approach to beauty. In general, Indian beauty and wellness practices tend to underscore addressing fundamental causes versus [offering] a rapid resolve. Our primary collection, Amrutini (a portmanteau of "amrut" meaning nectar in Sanskrit and "martini" for New York’s signature cocktail), focuses on building inherent skin strength versus addressing [specific] symptoms like lines and wrinkles (which are the result of skin’s fragility and collagen loss). [Within the subcontinent,] each region also has well-guarded practices, hyper-local customs, and minerals and botanicals true to its soil, diet, and heritage. [These] beauty practices have been adopted across genders [for centuries]. There is evidence of cosmetic applications that date back to 2500 and 1550 BC to the Indus Valley civilization and extensive use of cosmetics by men and women in ancient India."
What kind of skin type or customer do you think would be well-suited for Love, Indus products?
"While our products work for all skin types and are gender-neutral, those who have sensitive or troubled skin tend to be especially delighted [with our] highly effective products — results can be felt and seen quickly, but are gentle on your skin. We hear from so many customers who have temperamental skin who say our products, especially from the Amrutini line, have helped them heal through pregnancy hormonal changes, extreme temperatures, sunburns, or troubled skin.
"We refer to our customer as a ‘Romantic Realist’ — it’s a term I came up with to define consumers who love storytelling but won’t let that distract them into buying products that don’t work. They are adventurous, spirited, and curious — keen to learn about and understand new ideas and concepts that might have originated from faraway places. But our customers are highly educated about skin care and discern what they put on or in their bodies and demand quality and performance."
Tell us more about the brand’s best seller and why you think it’s so beloved.
"Our Amrutini Precious Potion is our number one. I think this is partly to do with the [fact that] everyone needs a good moisturizer, but also because it works incredibly well across skin types and genders. (We even have complaints from wives whose husbands steal their Amrutini Precious Potion!) It’s soft, luscious, and has a melt-into-your skin sort of texture. The ingredients we’ve selected are also rare and precious. For example, we’ve taken golden Muga silk from Assam and liquefied it and incorporated it into this line. We’ve also taken an antioxidant-rich, single-estate tea from Darjeeling (The Silver Tips Imperial tea) and biotransformed it and fused it into the formula. And the light, lingering natural fragrance is comprised of 18 essential oils including tuberose and jasmine. That whiff [will lead] to a different experience for each person. For me, [it] evokes memories of home."
Okay, but which product is your favorite?
"[At the moment, it’s the] Freedom of Expression Line Limiter. The skin around our lips is just as fragile as that under our eyes and yet we have few options for these vertical lip lines aside from injectables. This formula comes with a metal applicator (which smells heavenly, by the way!) and is a wonderful treatment for these lip lines, laugh lines, forehead creases…basically any expression lines that form as we age. This product immediately softens these lines and helps reduce creases over time. It’s an innovative formula so folks might not think of it as something they need (it’s a less intuitive product than a moisturizer), but it’s got a loyal following amongst those who have tried it."
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