Maybe she's made it at home

There’s a growing community of people who believe in making their own beauty products with traditional and found recipes instead of buying them at stores. Gargi Ranade spoke to a few practitioners to learn more.

The cosmetics market in India is growing at a rate that is faster than the US or Europe. Interestingly, in the last decade, a small percentage of people seem to be gradually giving up fast moving consumer goods and switching to organic, chemical-free, and cruelty-free products. Environmentally aware, and popular, luxe brands like Kama Ayurveda and Forest Essentials have taken this opportunity to enter the mainstream and win over those who can afford these products. But chances are you’ve come across, or personally know, someone on your social media who makes handmade soaps that look like big bars of candy. I know I do, and more than just one. Why have people started making their own cosmetics at home? We spoke to them to find out.

T. Lalita

23, Consultant at Stree Mukti Sanghatana

What made you start making your own products?

Five months ago, I started working at an organisation called Stree Mukti Sanghatana. The program I am part of focuses on the welfare of waste picker women in particular and solid waste management in general. Having met these women who are historically marginalised as they are Dalit and having seen the pathetic conditions they work in at the dumping ground, localities etc., I realised that changes in our lifestyle have to be made. As our markets are flooded with plastic, it is difficult to reduce our consumption. So, I decided to start making lifestyle choices and switch to handmade, sustainable and organic products.

That's how my zero waste journey began and I started composting the wet waste at home. Until then I saw homemade products as a very Pinterest concept. After reading up more on zero waste lifestyles and looking at videos on YouTube I decided to make a permanent switch to eco-friendly chemical and plastic free products which could be composted in the basket kept in my balcony.

Where/how did you learn to make them? Did anyone in your family have traditional recipes for some of these products?

As a society, we are less reliant on plastic anyway as we have traditionally relied on homemade remedies for healthcare, skin care and other such cosmetic products. Most of my zero waste products are all made of ingredients sourced at home or easily available in the local market. My mother would wash my hair with reetha (soapnut) and scrub my body with moong dal flour. I switched back to these two products and gave up soap and shampoo. Reetha leftovers can be composted easily and gram flour is available as well. I sometimes add turmeric to the gram flour and crushed hibiscus leaves which acts as a natural conditioner. All these are recipes that my mother and generations before her have relied on.

I also make hair masks which are Brahmi based, methi/fenugreek seeds based and I occasionally treat my hair with egg whites as well. All these are extremely pocket friendly methods which save trips to the parlour as well. I simply compost the waste generated and store it for the future.

Most of these products have worked because my mother kept guiding me throughout and shared her knowledge with me. But often such recipes work only with some trial and error.

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What changes have you noticed since you started using self made products?

My expenditure overall has reduced since I don't buy these products. I go to the salon to get my hair cut and my face also breaks out far lesser than when it used to. I'm able to focus more of my attention to my diet, which I would also like to make changes to by eliminating unhealthy foods and eating at home to reduce plastic consumption by eating out.

Alisha Pathak

27, Independent researcher

What made you start making your own products?

My mother has made kohl for as long as I can remember, using camphor, almonds and ghee for better eyesight. I found the whole process of using your finger to apply kohl very romantic, and maybe it was that image that drew me to making the kohl.

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What do you takeaway from the process of making your own as opposed to buying cosmetics?

Memories. I know it has no chemicals.

This would sound silly, but I had found this small metal box in which I store the kohl, I find the act of opening the box and applying kohl with the pinkie finger very romantic. It’s a little game.

Is there more you’d like to do?

I would like to learn how to make skin tints and  perfumes. I make my own scrubs with coffee grounds (dry skin) and gram flour (oily skin).

Divya Prabhakar

24, software engineer at Accenture

What made you start making your own products?

Using natural cosmetics allows you to live a simpler and more minimal lifestyle. When I was young, I had problematic skin which made me visit the dermatologist quite often. But one day, my mother decided to use nalangu maavu (ubtan) and we were amazed to the results.

Where/how did you learn to make them?

I make my own nalangu maavu (body wash) and Shikakai  (shampoo). I learnt to make them from my mother. When my mother was young, my Aachi made sure her children used only home-made products. My mother is nearly 50 and you should see her skin and hair. One would not notice much wrinkles and spots in her face. I always used to admire her beautiful skin and curly hair. That is also the other reason why I got hooked to the natural home-made products.

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What were the problems you faced? Did you try a bunch of processes before settling for the best one?

The only problem I faced was the time it takes to use them. It was effortless when I first started. After I landed to a corporate job, it got very difficult. It was very time consuming and got arduous to use it on busy mornings as it needs a good scrubbing and massaging routine. Natural loofahs came to the rescue and it saved my time. It is tough to maintain a natural skin care routine but yes, it gives good results in long run.

What’s the biggest advantage of doing this over the products available in the market?

There are lot of advantages in making your own home-made products. Soaps and shampoos are full of chemicals are harmful to our skin, hair and even the soil. Once the water gets flushed out, it directly goes to the soil where the chemicals present in the products can be harmful and affect the texture of the soil. Also did you know, store-bought scrubs that we use to exfoliate have micro-beads which are very harmful.

Sandhya Soman

60, Homemaker

What made you start making your own products?

Nothing in particular, we always made these things traditionally, from my grandparents' time, and my mother passed it on to me. She would make shikakai, for example, for a bunch of families along with ours because it wouldn't be possible for everyone to do it always. I started making utna (ubtan) after marriage, and have been making whenever possible for about four decades now. I started taking it more seriously when I heard of big companies using steroids in their products, that was a red flag for me.

Were you sceptical about it before you started doing it?

If I find a new recipe then I'm a little sceptical, or rather careful because not all ingredients suit everyone. Trial and error is very time consuming and cumbersome and not always possible. So things that have stood the test of time are best.

Is anything about the process problematic?

Humid climate makes things like shikakai and anything that has wet ingredients susceptible to catching fungus, so I usually make them in small amounts, especially in the monsoon. And it becomes inconvenient during travel, because it is not practical at all when you don't know what conditions you'll be staying and travelling in, so then I end up using regular shampoos and soaps.


What’s the biggest advantage of doing this? Advantage of this over other products?

Has to be knowing what exactly is going on my skin and hair. With traditional recipes I know what's actually beneficial because of how long I've been using it.

What more would you like to do?

Soaps! I have bought the material but haven't tried them yet because I'm still researching. I also want to try lip balms and some creams.

Somshekhar Sharma

22, Freelancer

What made you start making your own products?

Due to the lack of availability in men's skincare options, as I'm allergic to several ingredients that are being put in the products, I didn't want my skincare products to do any damage to my skin.

Where/how did you learn to make them? Did anyone in your family have traditional recipes for some of these products?

I basically experimented from whatever was being used in the family for generations altogether, and whatever recipes I could find online, clubbed together the ingredients on the basis of their function/purpose in a beauty product and went ahead with the trial and error.

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Is it economically viable, cheaper than regular products in the market?

Depends upon the availability of the ingredients, if you count the labour involved since each and everything needs to be done manually. It falls somewhat on the expensive side because there is real effort that's being put there.

Was this a conscious decision towards a sustainable lifestyle, or did you do it to avoid animal cruelty, or for a chemical free routine, or something else?

It started off as rather a personal quest, but then I realised there are several aspects to it. So now I do it for the greater good.


Co-founded by Preethi Sukumaran and Srinivas Krishnaswamy

What made you start making your own products?

I wanted to create completely alternative options for consumers in terms of home cleaning and personal care products, because I found that the existing industry created far too much pollution. We started off with detergents because they’re the most pollution causing industry right now. Now we’re also into skin and hair because we also found that products like hair colour are extremely toxic for the body.

Where/how did you learn to make them? Did anyone in your family have traditional recipes for some of these products?

We have a background in the industry so we know the lay of the land in terms of what products are being made today, and where all the major concerns lie, and there are numerous - the packaging, preservatives, chemicals, and even concepts don’t work. So we go back to traditional Indian principles. These products have only been around for half a decade, but what were Indians doing before that? So we first started applying Indian methods of cleaning and then gradually transitioned to a completely Ayurvedic basis, which is now a crucial part of Krya. Every product we make needs to have a very strong base in a fundamental principle like Ayurveda or the Siddha system.


What were the problems you faced?

Simply that people are so deeply entrenched in a thought process that’s heavily influenced by advertisements. They just don’t believe our detergent is made 100% from something as simple as herbs. And we seem to have forgotten the basics of skin and hair health, so educating people about that is a big problem. I don’t understand how people readily put anything on their skin and hair without knowing where it’s coming from. And of course it is so hard to convince people about environmental issues. There’s a huge gap there, people can literally see the detrimental effects of these products on, say, their drinking water and their surroundings, but they are just not willing to take action about it.

Another problem is that we’re an online company. If you’re in Chandigarh and you need detergent right now or tomorrow, and you’re a loyal customer, our product still can’t reach you in time because we need about 4-5 days. So you will end up buying a regular detergent. We haven’t found a way around it.

What more would you like to do?

We’d like to make so many more products but we’re only restricted by time. Things like talc, deodorant, and other cleaning products. There is also a growing demand that we get into food products.

How do customers tend to react to your products?

We get a lot of people who have gone to extreme measures to get rid of problems like dandruff, and they sort of come to us as the last resort. But when they see how well our products work for them they’re shocked. I think if people see results they keep coming back. If you experience it yourself then you have no reason to stop.

Devina Srivastava

25, studying Masters in Public Administration

What made you start making your own products?

It started with a workshop I attended in November 2017 on sustainable living. We learnt how to make our own scrubs and home care products, apart from reducing zero-waste plastic and eating/sourcing locally. Once I realised how easy it was to make my own products, I knew I had to start.

Where/how did you learn to make them?

I learnt to make the scrub at the workshop. After that, I spent some time understanding what cosmetic or personal care products I used on a frequent basis. I started slow, replacing one item at a time. It started with scrubs (knew how to make them) to toothpaste, lip balms, shampoos, conditioners, masks etc.

While I found some of the recipes online, I did ask my mum/aunts/grandparents on their experiences. A lot of the recipes I found online sometimes referred to products which were difficult to find or expensive. I knew I wanted to make this as cost effective as possible as I wanted this journey to be sustainable and long-lasting versus being a sudden exciting phase – also, the cheaper, the better as someone who works in development and doesn’t earn very much.

This made be rely on the recipes provided by my family members a lot more. Their alternatives (in the cases where the online recipes were tough to gather) were more accessible, local and affordable. I did not want to order an ingredient on Amazon (in their disproportionately sized boxes) to make homemade products – it did not make sense.

How did you feel about the results?

I absolutely love it! It’s very convenient, cheap and feels much nicer to use. Plus, I can make products in required proportions. It’s easy to make a shampoo for humid weather in the summer vs. a different recipe for the dry winter. It also allows me to experiment a lot more and has resulted in me understanding my skin/hair/body much better.


Have you been able to get other people to also start doing this?

Yes. I have been making my own Christmas gift boxes with some of these products for friends/family. Their experiences using these products and realising how simple they are – has led to a lot of them taking the leap and beginning this journey themselves.

Illustrations by Harshita Borah

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