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Ready for ‘gotu kola’ face masks?

In her new book 'Glow', beauty writer Vasudha Rai offers a succinct guide to natural ingredients from edible gum to 'katuki'

‘Glow’ is a primer on the beauty benefits of natural ingredients. Photo: iStock
‘Glow’ is a primer on the beauty benefits of natural ingredients. Photo: iStock

The conversation about beauty and wellness, now inseparable bedfellows, has for some time been dominated by the rise of natural, organic ingredients. But even as basic kitchen finds increasingly turn up on beauty shelves, the answers to age-old questions—how do I get better skin, healthier hair and sound sleep—are no clearer. Industry experts routinely reveal new heroes and villains; milk has been vilified, gluten tossed out, and ghee and mineral-rich saffron have inspired vigorous praise from around the globe. Faddish superfoods, kombucha for instance, lost its appeal because of its high sugar content, while the superfood label itself is now deemed unfashionable. Adaptogens, or stress-fighting plants, have taken over, are now packaged as supplements and liquid elixirs, and added to Insta-friendly moon milk (warm milk with added honey and spices).

In Glow, beauty writer Vasudha Rai, who has previously worked as a beauty editor for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar India and Cosmopolitan India, ignores trending buzzwords and attempts to simplify what should ideally be a straightforward return to natural beauty remedies. The book offers a concise summary of effective ingredients that live up to their promise of stress-reducing, gut-cleansing and skin-clearing benefits. Many of the names on the list might appear all too familiar (coconut, mustard oil, bitter apricots) but that’s precisely the point. “We often skip the unglamorous bits for the Instagrammable ones," writes Rai in the introduction to the book.

That’s not to say there are no surprises. Lesser-known names like triphala, katuki and giloi make an appearance, and those who are inspired to try a new herb-infused beverage but are unsure of the deluge of new Ayurvedic sellers and organic labels can pick from Rai’s personal recommendations: Organic India teas and supplements, Narayani Naturals and Devang House for organic products, and skincare brands such as Kama, Forest Essentials and Purearth.

Ahead of the release of her book on 23 August, we asked Rai about the rebranding of beauty as self-care, underrated ingredients, and the best way to start one’s day. Edited excerpts:

You’ve worked as a beauty journalist for over 15 years. What inspired you to take a back-to-basic approach for your debut book?

While I do love luxurious skincare, I believe that beauty begins with what you eat. It sounds obvious but it isn’t really so. Most of the questions I get from women about skin and hair are to do with products or dermatological treatments. When I ask these women about food, sleep and water intake, I always find that they don’t care about what they eat, most of them are just looking for a miracle cream or treatment that zaps away imperfections. I wanted to do away with this “last minute" approach to beauty.

This is also the reason why I divided the book into the four pillars of beauty—vitality, clarity, radiance and peace. I wanted the idea of beauty to change: It must begin with energy and strength with vitalizing foods. After all, how will you take care of yourself if you’re not strong enough? Then I moved on to the physical characteristics of beauty, like clarity and radiance. But for me the most fundamental tenet is peace—we know now that the mind controls the body.

You mention in the book how beauty has evolved from a cosmetics-led indulgence into an act of self-care—we’ve seen this impact the industry with the rise of natural beauty brands. How do you think this shift will further influence the industry and the consumer?

It is heartening to see how the industry is changing for the better. Most of us are now more cognizant of how we are treating ourselves and the environment. But I don’t know how long it will take to make an impact on a government policy level, where indigenous varieties of seeds are encouraged over the GMO (genetically modified organisms) grains we have today. However, I do see the tide changing as more Indians are learning to appreciate home-grown options such as ashwagandha, turmeric, tulsi, amla, etc. Eventually, we need to eat local and seasonal not just for ourselves but for the environment too, and that change will happen very soon.

Are there any ingredients whose beauty benefits you were surprised by while researching this book?

What really surprised me were the basic ingredients. Like radishes and turnips that help detoxify the liver. And then there’s kulfa, called purslane in English, which contains ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) that is a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids. So this is a great source for vegetarian omega-3. Purslane is so good for the skin that renowned German dermatologist Barbara Sturm (who treats models and Hollywood actors) actually uses its extract in her products. Look it up.

Tell us about how you conducted trials for the book.

I already had a lot of experience in all the ingredients suggested in the book. I have grade IV endometriosis, which is an incurable disease. I have been trying to control it since 2006 and in the process have tried and tested every ingredient that showed promise. Still, I had to make sure that everything I suggested really worked. So for many months I used these ingredients to observe the effects they had on my body. Concurrently, I studied many research papers on each of these ingredients. After this I consulted a five-member expert panel that consisted of one sports nutritionist, two Ayurvedic doctors, one herbalist and one naturopathic chef, who helped give me more knowledge and double-check my claims.

The one ingredient I discovered while researching the book was katuki. It’s the best liver cleanser—not only does it help detoxify your liver after an evening of indulgence but also helps treat long-standing conditions. I found out about it at the Organic India farms and Bharat Mitra (founder of Organic India) suggested this herb should be a part of my book.

According to you, what is the most underrated beauty ingredient in our kitchens?

I would say tulsi. It is as good as green tea if not better, however we don’t drink tulsi tea with the same regularity. In fact, it is the most researched herb for its radio-protective properties. Tulsi also helps calm the mind and yet make it alert. I feel that everyone should drink a couple of cups of tulsi tea every day. I see it as a replacement for caffeine.

Is there a quick self-care regimen you can prescribe? For instance, what is the best way to start your morning and end your day?

Start your day with a few glasses of warm water and end it with a cup of tulsi tea. You could also mix a tablespoon each of moringa and wheatgrass powders in a glass of room-temperature water and drink it first thing in the morning. This combination will help alkalize the body and provide a huge burst of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals . At night you can make a cup of triphala tea with half a teaspoon of triphala churna in a cup of hot water. Let the tea steep for 20 minutes and drink before bed. This is the ultimate anti-ageing ingredient packed with vitamin C, iron and other nutrients. Plus, it helps you digest food better and remove pockets of waste stuck in the colon.

Natural-born stars

Lesser-known ingredients that promise big benefits

Tragacanth gum (Gond)

This edible gum, most commonly used as a binding agent for laddoos, contains amino acids that are essential for healthy hair and skin, and functions as a probiotic and detoxifying agent. Rai recommends using it in a sherbet, or as a thickener in soups.

Gotu kola

The green herb is a treasured ingredient in Ayurveda, it boosts collagen and is increasingly used in natural skincare products such as face masks. Rai says the best way to consume this plant is to extract fresh juice from the leaves and drink it on an empty stomach in the morning.


Whenever there’s a skin problem, there is a good chances it is connected to the liver. Katuki is a powerful liver-regenerating herb that can be consumed daily with water or juice.

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