Beauty Secrets From My Indian Mother

For every strange cause-and-effect beauty theory my mother handed down to me, she had some equally effective remedies for hair and skin that come straight from the kitchen.

May 2, 2012 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

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Indian mothers have a way of making you really freaking scared to experiment with any beauty products that don’t qualify as “all-natural.” Take, for instance, the following gems from my own South Asian mother:

-Red lipstick is basically the equivalent to the devil’s play thing. Start wearing it too young, and “your lips will eventually turn black.”

-Using hair dye was strictly prohibited “because your hair will prematurely gray.”

-And forget trying to use any acne products too early because “you’ll ruin your skin and get even more pimples.”

These all seemed plausible enough in my young mind but once my teenage years hit, I, of course, did exactly the opposite. I was 11 when I first snuck in the darkest berry shade of Wet N’ Wild lipstick that I could find in my room.

Behind closed doors, I’d carefully follow my lip line with the lipstick’s soft balmy tip just to admire my puckers in all its burgundy glory for merely moments before scrubbing it all off. I couldn’t leave the room with any trace of my illicit makeup activity.

I went on to even more “scandalizing” products, hiding bottles of color-streaking washable hair sprays in neon pink and yellow the way some kids might hide pot. I found them for $0.50 each when the local K-Mart was going out of business and 13-year-old me couldn’t pass I up.

My mom eventually found them buried under a mountain of clothes in my drawer and freaked. And when signs of my first zit began to sprout, I filled my cart at Wal-Mart with all sorts of Neutrogena and Clearasil cleansers just to go back home and voraciously wash my skin multiple times a day like it was my job.

Oh yeah. And then I grew up and became a beauty writer, experimenting with products day in and day out. Sorry, Mom.

But for every strange cause-and-effect beauty theory my mother handed down to me, she had some equally effective remedies for hair and skin that come straight from the kitchen. And might I biasedly add that whether it’s masala-piked dishes or beauty masks, Indian moms straight up dominate in the kitchen.

These DIY beauty remedies work so well, I still use them over drugstore brands when I feel like I need to “reset.” Plus most of them are not at all difficult to implement in your routine:

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1) Deep condition oil massage

Hot oil scalp massages were practically a three-times-a week ritual in my household: Heat up a few tablespoons of coconut oil in the microwave for a minute (at room temperature, coconut oil is actually solid, so you’d have to melt it before applying), dip your fingers in and massage it on your scalp. Then thinly coat your hair from root to tip. Braid your hair and put a towel on my pillow and shampoo it out the next morning. Your hair will be softer and stronger in weeks. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid which helps prevent hair loss. Even more than coconut oil though, I’d use virgin olive oil.

Interesting fact: My fellow Indian friend’s grandma told her some women used to massage olive oil on their daughters so they’ll get big boobs.

After a few weeks of these oil treatments, my hair would GLEAM. Tip: Don’t OVER-oil your hair since you’ll end up using too much shampoo to wash it out and in turn, will dry it out. Just a thin coat is perfect, and make sure you massage it thoroughly on your scalp!

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2) A Complexion-Clearing Face Mask/Scrub

My mom has been using this mask FOR-EVER. Credit good genes or this mask, but she still doesn’t have a wrinkle on her face. She mixes this concoction herself using ingredients straight from India: Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric, dry coriander, sandalwood powder, Indian gooseberry all in equal parts (so 1 teaspoon each), and add 5 teaspoons of powder of green gram lentil mix with curd and lemon. (Your best bet is to look for them at a South Asian grocery store). If you mix a teaspoon of this with a few drops of water until it turns clumpy, it makes a great scrub. Just rub it against skin and wash off. Or, add even more water until it’s a little more paste-ey and apply to wet skin as a mask.

Wait 10 minutes until it hardens then wash off. It sucks out the impurities. Consider this a power-packed mask: turmeric has amazing antiseptic properties, coriander fights against pimples and blackheads, sandalwood has brightening properties, while the Indian gooseberry tones and firms. On a recent visit back home, my mom sent this back with me in a Ziploc.

3) Dandruff-Fighting Vinegar

In India, my mom said they would mix a cup of vinegar in water, and use it as a "final rinse" for their hair in the shower. The vinegar would neutralize and get rid of the dandruff.  

4) Beautifying Castor Oil 

My mom claims when her grandma died at 75 years old she didn’t have even one white hair. Her secret? Castor oil. My mom said she’d coat her hair with it, and even use it as a moisturizer to prevent wrinkles. TMI: She’d even drink it once a month as a laxative. As it turns out, castor oil is rich in fatty acids and anti-microbal ricinoleic acid.

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5)  Avocado hair mask

My little sister had all these split ends but wanted to grow her hair longer instead of chopping it off. She said this super-hydrating mask helped her parched locks like cray. My mom showed her this recipe and it worked like a charm. Her hair was splendidly soft and shiny afterward.

Scoop out half of a ripe avocado and toss in the blender. Add a teaspoon of olive oil so it blends a little easier into a paste. Massage it from roots to end (it goes on fairly clear). Wash out in the shower.

I guess I really do have to thank my Mom for passing down some pretty amazing beauty knowledge on to me. Except when she never let me shave my legs because she said it would make my hair grow back even thicker and eventually turn me into a hairy beast that no one would want to marry. That was just not cool.