I wish I could say that I was one of those people with glowing skin all year round, that I wake up luminous and go to bed even more luminous, but it’s just not true. There are rituals and practices that I do daily, weekly, monthly… it is, by now, a habit, because I’ve been doing all of this since I was in my teens thanks to a mum (and grandmum) who impressed upon both my sister and I the importance of doing lots of little things often, and I could not be more grateful for all that handed-down wisdom.
India has an incredible culture of beauty. From elaborate weekly head massages with oil to vigorous head-to-toe sloughing with ayurvedic powders and homemade milk and honey (and everything else) masks, there are few women in this country without at least one beauty ritual in their arsenal that’s been handed down by their mum, nani, or an aunt. Most ayurvedic rituals hinge around purity of the ingredients; if you can’t eat it, it won’t go on your skin. In my home growing up, most of what we ate went on our skin anyway. Drinking milk? Rub a little on your face. Eating banana? Rub a little on your face. Short of fully cooked meals, my mum is huge on the ‘rub it on face and then put it in your mouth’ sequence of eating.
Beauty takes time. There’s no skirting around it. Even if you are just giving your hair a quick pre-shampoo rubdown with oil, you’ve got to leave that stuff in a bit for it to work. Plus shampooing will likely take a little longer as well. Does that meant I don’t bother? Nope, but I do earmark time for it. Still, I get that not everybody has the luxury of setting their own hours at work.
So there’s that, and then there are other bits that I have learned through trial and error. I have skin that’s very sensitive to the sun, and I burn easily (no prizes for guessing how I learned this). I am also lactose and gluten intolerant, and when I’m lax about eating cheese or bread (more often than I’d like), it shows on my face as dehydrated patches and inflamed rosacea. Plus, the rituals I refer to aren’t only the things I put on my face. Rituals surrounding food are part of this skin regime. When I eat shit, I look like shit. When I'm drinking a lot of booze, or ordering takeout a lot, I look super-puffy and a little grey. But if I’m eating well, and drinking lots of water, all of that is gone. The whites of my eyes look clearer and I don’t wake up with pufferfish face. So, diet, obviously, but is that all? Ugh, I wish.
I’ve always had reasonably good skin, but after years of buying incredibly expensive creams and potions in order to have excellent skin I basically ended up right where it started, with my mum telling me that is all about how you live. You cannot remedy a shit lifestyle with great cream, so here’s what works for me.
Food is my main thing, and it is now also how I treat myself. I try and eat a lot of greens, drink a lot of water, and get as many probiotics and fermented goods in my belly as I can. I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink coffee. That helps. I also drink a ton of herbal teas in the winter and I really, really, really enjoy drinking water all year-round. I look my worst when I’ve been drinking a lot of cocktails or going heavy on the tequila and that is all just dehydration. I find it easier to focus on what I can add in, instead of what I need to subtract, because I just don’t do well with rules and diets. If what I’m eating turns into a minefield of rules then, just ugh. Instead I focus on eating the stuff I really enjoy, and these days that is delicious spinach made creamy with coconut milk (honestly it is coconut milk with everything), or any sort of fresh, crunchy produce. I don’t, however, eat healthy all the time. Dairy definitely causes me to break out a little, but sometimes you just have to deal with a spot because the cheese is so good. It’s called balance, or what I call balance anyway.
Cleanse daily (inside and out)
Take your makeup off, every day, no matter how late it is and how wasted you are. Use an ubtan for some gentle daily exfoliation (gentle is key). But also, scrape your tongue after you brush (if you don’t already). Tongue cleaning is the best and if you’re not on this wagon already, you have no idea what you’re missing. Rub oil all over your body and then give yourself a brisk rubdown with a body brush. This sounds labour intensive but I swear it adds exactly three minutes to your shower. Worth mentioning though is that exfoliation is great. The first time you do it you’ll be so dazzled by what you find under all that city mulch and general dermal debris that you will be tempted to keep going, to take off layer after layer of skin to see what additional diamonds you’ll discover underneath. Don’t. You will, and I say this from experience, end up looking like Smeagol. Never a good look, not even on Middle Earth.
Scrub your lips
This also sounds like a fiddly step but it just isn’t, and it is amazing how having a non-flaky mouth really just lifts the entire face. Mix a little sugar and honey and just brush across your lips. Voila! Follow with a salve or straight jojoba oil.
Moisturise before bedtime
Does this really need an explanation? I hear a lot of people complaining about how they don’t like feeling sticky all day, so if it’s that big a deal, do it at night instead. You’re asleep. It doesn’t matter. At the moment I’m using a mixture of Dermalogica’s Intensive Moisture Balance with a mini splodge of The Ordinary’s NMF.
Use sunscreen every day
Sorry, non-negotiable. If you moan about moisturizer, you will likely moan about this, but the truth is, you need sunblock. Find one that’s non-sticky so you won’t bitch about it. I like most Korean brands, all readily available on Amazon, and Missha’s All-around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel is genuinely the only un-sticky sunscreen I’ve ever used. It is, however, a chemical block, so if you’d prefer to go with a mineral option, Coola’s face gel is meant to be good, I just haven’t tried it yet.
Yeah, sorry, every day. It doesn’t have to be insane, but do something that makes you move every day. On rest days do a little chill yoga, or just stretch deeply. Working out boosts circulation, glow, and gives you a certain ... radiance that nothing else can. Get massages if you can. That counts toward boosting circulation as well and nothing makes your skin glow top to toe like being given a thorough rubdown for an hour.
Make sure you’re getting as much as you need. If you‘re tired all day, you’re definitely not getting enough, and that means you’re not getting enough time to restore like you should. If you dread the sound of your alarm every morning, go to bed (a little) earlier. Sleep deprivation fucks up your immunity, makes it harder for you to deal with stress, impairs your cognitive function, and causes you to crave carbs and sugar to help you keep going. Not sleeping enough is making you sick, stressed, and tubby.
Make time for a little extra TLC weekly
On a day off, or on one day over the weekend, make time for a little face massage (do it yourself, lazy) and slap on a facemask. You can go the DIY route (honey and yoghurt works well for everybody) or use one that you like (I really like Dermalogica’s Gentle Cream Exfoliant for when my skin’s looking congested). Just do it though. Nobody’s got time for this every day, but just do what you can when you can and you’ll find that you just feel more… sparkly.
Get a professional facial once a month. The DIY massage is great, but an hour of someone else doing all that massage and exfoliation while you lie back and snooze go a long way toward sloughing off any city debris (and in Delhi, there is a lot of debris) and just residual icky bits on your face. Most dermatologists will do laser facials that are unreal and effective, like this one by Isya but admittedly they can also be prohibitive in price. If you’re feeling flush however, go nuts. SkinAlive do one that’s priced at Rs 6,000 for your full face, neck and eye area and it will leave you poorer but prettier. The Hydrafacial is also about that price and good for skin that’s prone to comedones and that visibly and volubly protests at the indignities that living in Delhi throws at it (also Rs 6,000). If you’re less keen on breaking the bank for your face (a very valid choice), just find one that suits your budget.
Something to remember though
All of this assumes that you are fundamentally healthy. If you’re breaking out all the time or have recurrent acne, that is a symptom, and is about more than what’s happening on your skin. Your hormones or your gut microbiome are likely out of whack, so add in fermented foods, of course, but if it’s more than the occasional spot, get some bloodwork, see a doctor or a naturopath, and consider the root cause of what ails you. Often, when things in the gut are amiss you’ll see reactive skin, inflammation, and eczema flare-up’s, while thyroid disorders often cause dryness, hormonal disruption can cause breakouts along your jaw and on your neck and back… your skin can tell you all these things, but if you’re ignoring these signals and trying to treat only the surface manifestation of what’s up, nothing will change.
This feature is for informational purposes only. The Tonic does not provide any medical advice, and readers should consult medical professionals when required.