As promised, I am back with the next instalment of Asian Beauty Secrets. Before I proceed, let me point out that many Asian beauty practises centre on improving inner health, so as to improve outward appearance; Westerners find this concept perplexing, preferring to treat what they can see. For instance, if a Westerner had a pimple, he or she would raid the bathroom cabinet for benzoyl peroxide to dry out the offending spot.
While Asians do know of and use benzoyl peroxide, our mothers will tell us to drink MORE water and offer up a plethora of herbal tonics and soups by which to cleanse our bodies of accumulated toxins. Many Asian beauticians I’ve asked, attribute the increase in skin ailments among our young to a) poor diet (too much instant noodles, deep fried food etc) b) increased pollution and stress c) a Western diet (containing plenty of red meat and dairy).
Without further ado, let me get on to today’s featured ethnicity:
Now, I may not be an Indian, but I’ve been lucky enough to sample a couple of their beauty treatments. It all started when I was living in Darwin, some 6 years ago. I was riding the bus into town with some of my new Indian friends when one said, “Your daughter’s nose looks like a pig’s.”
This is in reference to how you can see up her nostrils. Most Chinese tend to have noses like this, however, most Indians will NOT dare tell you yours looks like a pig’s; especially if they are new to town and you have taken it upon yourself to show them around. Anyhow, I remained remarkably calm, at what most would take to be an insult.
I said, “That’s just how our noses are. In time, hers might grow longer to be like mine.”
“We have special treatments to beautify our noses,” said the same woman.
“Oh, what are they?”
“We start when they are babies. Using a clean hand, we insert one thumb into the mouth and gently push,” she indicated to the roof of the mouth, “We also pull the nose bridge.”
My father used to do the same for me as a child. He called it plonking. “Come, let’s plonk your nose,” he would say. You can see the results for yourself. Then again, it could be genetics as everyone on my mother’s side has sharp noses.
“To make the eyes bigger, we put Kajul around the rim of the baby’s eyes,” the woman continued.
“Kajul. What’s that?”
“You take a clean stainless steel knife and hold it above a candle. Kajul will appear.”
Ah, the earliest form of eyeliner. But on babies?
“If you apply it to the rim of babies’ eyes, their eyes will become bigger and brighter,” she said.
“Can I do that for Amanda?”
“You can try, but she’s a bit too old already.”
Amanda was then close to two years old. I’ve heard that Indians also trim their babies eyelashes so that they grow back longer and thicker. I can’t vouch for this practise as I’ve never tried it and as an adult into eyelash-growing serums, unlikely to try it.
From young, many also have coconut oil applied to their hair and lashes to promote luxuriant growth. I’ve tried a blend of coconut oil and herbs from my friendly Indian and Sri Lankan grocer in Glen Waverley and perhaps, due to inconsistent usage, did not see any results. To try it, all you need to do is apply the oil before bedtime, then wash it out in the shower the next morning. If you attempt to walk around with it on, you’ll only end up looking like a greasy monkey.
On my last visit to Melbourne, where my brother lives surrounded by Indians, I bought Shikakai powder to invigorate my scalp, so as to have lovely, thick tresses. Shikakai is a natural astringent that clears dirt and dandruff accumulated on the scalp, strengthens hair roots and promotes growth. And at $2.90 a box why wouldn’t you get it?
Again, it’s one of those things you do before hopping into the shower. You mix the powder with water to form a paste and plaster the mixture in your hair. For best results, wait a couple of hours before washing out. Avoid getting any in your eyes and mouth.
If you have greys, you might like to try Henna, a natural dye. This too comes in a box, which you mix into a paste and leave in your hair to do its work.
Over the years, I’ve had a couple of Indian facials and let me tell you, lots of scrubbing usually takes place. If ever they ask you if you want to be fairer, say NO, as the product usually contains bleach, which irritates skin. Masks they like to use includes those made from cucumber, oatmeal and yogurt (for dry skin), turmeric and yoghurt (to brighten skin), fuller’s earth and water (for oily skin), lemon juice and egg whites (to lighten dark marks).
As mentioned in a previous post, Indians also consume Safi to detoxify themselves when plagued with pimples, whilst simultaneously reducing or omitting chilli from their curries.
Of course no sharing of Indian beauty secrets would be complete without a mention of Neem, Indian’s favourite “heal all” plant. Its cosmetic uses range from curing pimples to being an additive in toothpaste. I once bought a bottle to try but it smelled so pungent, I hardly got through more than a quarter before tossing it. In terms of pungency, it’s right up there with New Zealand’s Manuka Oil. Taking a whiff of it, my mother referred to Manuka Oil as “passion killer”, which gives you an idea what Neem smells like.
For more Asian Beauty Secrets, join me in the third instalment of this series as I divulge the beauty practises of Malays, Indonesians and Koreans next.