Small entrepreneurs in the city are promoting the use of handmade, natural personal care products. Lakshmi Krupa meets some of them

Sani neeradu (bathe in cool water) from Avvaiyar’s Aathichoodi is often misinterpreted as ‘have an oil bath on Saturdays’. This misinterpretation is also the most enduring memory, for many of us, of our childhood. A gentle massage with generous quantities of nalennai or gingelly oil, followed by a hot bath with shikakai powder for the hair and besan powder for the face… Over the years, however, we have reassigned the ‘traditional’ with the ‘tedious’ tag and opted out of the oil-massage-bath routine, for chemical-laden, high-on-foam products. There’s also a misconceived notion that these chemicals produce ‘better results’ and are far superior to those obtained from traditional wisdom. There are a few in the city, however, who swear by traditional methods.

Preethi Sukumaran, CEO of Krya, which sells natural home-cleaning products, says, “I see two very important reasons to re-embrace traditional beauty and personal care practices: human health and environmental cost. Let’s look at a single ingredient such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) or the closely related Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) that finds its way into any foaming product (face wash, shampoo, toothpaste, etc). SLS and SLES are cheap surfactants that are used to produce foam and have been linked to several health issues from eye and skin toxicity to endocrine disruption and are also suspect carcinogens.” The number of chemicals used in different products one is in contact with, most of it untested and potentially unsafe, is only increasing by the day. “From an environmental standpoint, the packaging is not designed to be planet friendly; the residue after these chemicals are used passes downstream to marine animals where it bioaccumulates, poisoning the whole food chain,” adds Preethi, who is working on her own collection of personal and skin care products.

Whether you look at natural packaged products or dry ingredients there is a lot available in the market. “We have individual ingredients as well as mixed ones,” says K. Badrinath, of Dabba Chetty Kadai, Mylapore. “Besides coconut oil, we have a ‘multi herbal oil’. Apart from these, we have shikakai powder, payatha maavu (green gram flour), vendhayam (fenugreek) powder, and kadalai maavu (Bengal gram powder). You can even use semparuthi (hibiscus) powder as a conditioner. It has a foaming quality too,” he adds. If you are looking to make the switch to a better lifestyle, soapberry and soapnut are your two new friends.

“Soapberry and shikakai clean hair without stripping away oil. In fact, the traditional Indian practice of oiling your hair and then washing it ensures your hair is never stripped of its protective oil layer,” says Preethi.

Gayatri Ganesh of L’Elaan is another entrepreneur in the city who believes in the power of handmade, natural products. She creates a range of soaps and creams using ingredients she sources. “One of the products I make at home is a scented bath powder ground on a traditional ammi, using neem leaves, flowers and dried herbs. It has natural exfoliating properties and all the ingredients are grown on my farm,” says Gayatri. She even uses flowers such as nagalinga poo (cannonball flower), all available locally, to create her products.

Roma Hira, General Manager of the Auroville-based Maroma, says, “Long before the advent of chemical and synthetic ingredients for body care products, our ancestors relied on simple, homemade products, straight out of the kitchen — ingredients that gave the same results, but in a natural way. Over the years, at Maroma, our R & D team headed by our CEO Laura Reddy, has been concentrating on eliminating synthetics wherever possible from our formulations. We also go back to our roots and blend ancient Indian knowledge of herbal extracts with modern technologies. Our Sama Indian herbals line is a result of this effort.” Roma explains that the ingredients, chosen for their time-honoured and proven efficacy, work within and outside. “The range includes three variants of soaps, shampoos, etc., each of which corresponds to the Ayurvedic categorisation of vata, pitta and kapha doshas.”

If it seems too sudden to switch from your current products to traditional ones, introduce a ‘natural weekend’ to your routine. “Using natural ingredients takes no extra time, just a change in effort, and using them on weekends can really drive home the point. Try products made with ingredients found in your kitchen with recipes formulated by your mother or grandmother ,” signs off Preethi.