Think of ‘wellness’ and your mind probably goes to green smoothies, early morning yoga sessions, and superfood-laden supplements. But what about aromatic skin dressings designed to combat illness, or anti-ageing creams imbued with positive energy?
It might sound offbeat but Ayurvedic skincare – topical treatments based on principles of a 5000-year-old Indian health system – may be about to hit the mainstream. Known as the “sister science” to fellow Indian import yoga, Ayurveda is based on the idea that each person has an ideal mix of energies, which can be balanced through daily rituals of diet, meditation and herbal medicine. In an age where the global wellness wave has tipped $4.2 trillion and ‘self-care’ has entered our everyday vernacular, this ancient philosophy has never felt more relevant.
“We are addressing the current condition of the person, making sure they reach their ideal blueprint of health,” says Farida Irani, founder of skincare line Subtle Energies and a pioneer of Ayurveda Aromatherapy. More than treating skin concerns, “You are creating a day by design and living a life that you would love to live, avoiding the normal coughs and flus and tiredness. In Ayurveda, we believe that skin in the largest organ that eats.”
As well as the usual lotions and facemasks, a Subtle Energies skincare routine might include full-body aromatic dressings and inhalable herbal blends. With its almost spiritual-like sense of ritual, it’s the perfect antidote to a stressed-out, secular world. The sleek minimalist packaging doesn’t hurt either.
While Ayurveda-inspired Aveda may be a household name, niche influencer brands like Subtle Energies and the US-based Uma are giving the trend new currency. A recent market report by TechSki Research predicts the Ayurvedic market will grow at an annual compounded rate of 16% from 2016 to 2021, with skin and hair care a major piece of that pie. Factors driving the trend include increasing urbanisation, improving consumer lifestyles and weariness with conventional cosmetic products.
Even in its native India – where it’s never really gone out of style – Ayurveda is enjoying a resurgence, as disposable incomes and appetites for luxury rise throughout the country. Studies show Indian consumers are more likely to spend big on cosmetics based on Ayurvedic formulations, with the all-natural beauty product market growing 2.5 times faster than other beauty product markets. It’s a trend that’s fuelling the success of Kama Ayurveda and Forest Essentials, luxe skincare lines based on ancient Ayurvedic formulations.
Forest Essentials’ anti-ageing cream, for instance, uses a 17th century recipe that calls for burying dates and lychees under a banyan tree. While the cream is being mixed, affirmations are chanted to imbue the product with positive energy. Then, in a modern twist, it’s packaged into a sumptuous gilded caddy, splashed on the pages of glossy magazines, and stocked in luxury spas throughout the country.
International beauty companies developing Ayurveda-based brands in their home markets are also turning to India as a manufacturing hub. In 2007, global beauty giant Estée Lauder picked up a 20% stake in Forest Essentials. According to industry murmurs, they’ve contracted the brand to manufacture their own line of natural beauty products, too.
One reason for the growing demand is that scientific advancements now back up Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom. Take sandalwood, prized for balancing pitta energy with its cooling, anti-inflammatory and skin healing benefits. Almost two millennia after it was first listed in the Charaka Samhita (a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda) a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology has demonstrated some of sandalwood oil’s potent properties. With a complex mix of over 125 compounds, it has been proven to soothe redness, suppress bacteria, balance skin tone and support healthy cell turnover.
According to study co-author Dr. Corey Levenson, “The clinical trials for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis are very promising, and also create benefits for the cosmetics market – where these same anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-proliferative properties can combat the factors that contribute to skin aging, sensitivity and acne.”
Inspired by Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom, Australian brand Quintis has sponsored an Indian university to pore through Sanskrit texts that date back to 1500 BCE. As more ancient uses are unearthed, clinical trials will follow to prove these time-tested properties.
For now, it doesn’t look like Ayurveda-based skincare is going anywhere. “I see us having a wonderful future in the luxury world,” says Irani. “Now people understand it’s not just working on the physical body, it’s working on the mental, emotional and spiritual, bringing about a wonderful homeostasis. It’s taking us back to who we are.”