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     Volume 7 Issue 16 | April 18, 2008 |

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Going Green at the Cosmetic Counter

S. Parveen Huq

As I walked around the cosmetic counters at Changi Airport I couldn't help but notice almost every cosmetic product was boasting some close alignment to herbal ingredients. Every product regardless of price or brand had herbal ingredients in the form of essential oils, kernels, seeds, skin, pulp or all of the above. I smiled to myself, how the world has changed.

The stories behind the evolution of these extremely expensive “miracle” products are simple. Some speak of rare sea kelp that grows three months a year, others talk about ingredients found in Japanese saké making and more speak simply of ancient traditions in exotic countries that have kept women youthful and radiant. I am no stranger to these ideas. We have all heard of the beauty regimes in ancient Egypt practiced by Nefertiti and Cleopatra and of the ladies in the Mughal Empire. But you don't need to be royalty to create your own beauty regimes. For generations the women in our family have made their own hair oil from pure coconut oil crushed from the local ghani, blended with amla, methi and shikaki. The oil would be bright orange from the infusion of the herbs and it would soothe our scalp and condition our hair. My mother a regular user of this oil passed away at the ripe old age of seventy. Till her last day she had waist length thick hair and only a handful of grays. Good genes some said. I knew otherwise. Back in my childhood, we rubbed our bodies with olive oil, applied sandal wood paste to our faces to get rid of marks and put neem leaves in our bath water. But do these actually work or are these old wives tales? I can only say, look around. I see, body butters made from olive oil, facial creams that have sandalwood, soaps that have neem extract and deep conditioners that have coconut oil. Even the biggest names in cosmetics seem to think these ingredients work, why else would herbal and organic ingredients be on every single label?

How amusing that we have come almost a full circle. I say almost, because we are not there just yet. We still believe in the synthetic materials that are sold to us claiming added herbal ingredients, yet we are not ready to take the plunge into complete herbal cosmetics. Why is that?

Certainly, part of it is our faith that the biggest names in cosmetics know what they are doing and the chemicals in their products are not harmful. Certainly I agree that these products are probably tested and these companies maintain all the internationally approved standards, but not causing harm is a far cry from helping and healing. Our faith is so strong that we still are more inclined to purchase face creams with aloe vera, instead of purchasing the real thing; we buy deep conditioners with coconut oil when we can use the actual ingredient so abundantly available in our country; we use face washes packed with orange extract when we can actually buy the whole orange. Part of our problem is also inertia; it is easier to dip into creams, lotions, shampoos and conditioners than make them on our own. So we make these purchases because it is convenient. Finally it is fear, fear that pure herbal products may cause irreparable damage to our skin and hair or we shall break out into hives.

So where do we go? What do we do? The answer is simple, like everything we purchase herbal products must also be purchased from a reputed company. There are some simple formulas, fresh herbal products will have a very short shelf life, and these are mostly used in Spas and available at other natural cosmetic stores. These are to be used immediately or within a day for best results. Dry and oil based herbal products will last longer but must be prepared in a sterilized environment. It is best to purchase this from a reputed manufacturer to avoid adulteration. Herbal products that include perfumes, colouring, preservatives and emollients are more synthetic in nature and will always be far inferior to pure herbal cosmetics, so we must read the labels carefully.

So the next time you finish eating the orange, try rubbing the peel on your body, or when a banana gets mushy don't throw it out, put it in your hair. Think of all the natural goodness in each fruit, vegetable and spice. Try it out, if it is good enough to eat, it should be good enough to put on your body.

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