Gradma's frugal formulas

The lockdown has urban women trying the greener route for great skin and hair with their paati’s trusted concoctions and practiced wisdom

Published: 01st July 2020 06:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st July 2020 12:54 PM   |  A+A-



Express News Service

CHENNAI: Agathin azhagu mugathil theriyum.’ The ageold Tamil proverb translates to ‘The beauty of your mind reflects on your face’. My grandmother Santha T would reiterate this to anyone who sought skincare tips from her, including me. Someone who is not very fond of modern skincare routines, ammachi was the happiest person when the wellness stores and beauty parlours that I used to frequent shut shop during the lockdown. “Finally! You can’t dodge us now.

You are left with no option but to make the best use of the hand pound shikakai and nalangu maavu powder that your mother and I have been using for several years,” she quipped. This wasn’t the first time she tried to coax me into using homemade products. Every time a conversation on this topic began, she’d get transported to her childhood days when her grandmother was particular about everything being made from scratch at home. Kajal, liquid bindi (saandhu pottu), shampoo, bath it and you will find them being freshly-made in the backyard every month and stored in tin jars.

“We had separate grinding stones for body products and cooking. My two sisters and I would pluck the required flowers, twigs and leaves from the neighbourhood for the preparation based on grandma’s instructions. There was no nail polish but marudhani (mehendi), coconut oil was our hair conditioner, green gram powder and kasturi manjal (turmeric) was our daily bath powder, and shikakai was our shampoo. We used ripe ridge gourd as a body scrub. There was no soap case but only dried coconut shells. The healthy practices during early days influence the condition of your skin in later stages. Greying of hair started very late for me, I’ve never had rashes, pimple or acne and most importantly I’m immune to all sorts of allerg i e s,” reminisced my grandmother.

Grandma knows best
A few days into the lockdown, grandmothers’ closely-guarded skincare recipes that can be quickly whipped up at home started floating about in social media. I was pleasantly surprised to find pictures of a few women flaunting their healthy skin after taking the greener route. One among them was Pranitha Mahesh. The 25-yearold freelance singer used to shuttle between cities regularly for music gigs. Her skin used to be buried under layers of concealer for more than eight hours a day. The past few months has come as a muchneeded pick-me-up for her skin.

“I have sensitive skin. Unfortunately, only a few beauty products are available with organic ingredients while the rest contain harmful chemicals. I developed mild acne because of these products. My nails turned yellowish as I would never give them the breathing space. I had hair fall because of frequent use of straighteners and hair gels. My lips were always chapped because of constant use of lipsticks. I never got the me-time because of my hectic schedule,” says Pranitha, who feels more happy in her skin these days without having to wear make-up. Pranitha used her free time to declutter her dressing table and got rid of the unwanted and expired make - u p products.

“Amma has written down a few natural recipes passed on to her by her mother and mother- in-law. From day one, I started applying a paste of milk cream and turmeric for my dry skin and acne every morning. I washed my hair twice a week after soaking and massaging it with a mixture of coconut oil, castor oil, vitamin E and almond oil. Rice starch works as a great conditioner for my hair. Rice flour works as an excellent skin scrub. I applied kasturi manjal and could feel a drastic reduction in the pace of my facial hair growth. My nails are healthy without nail polish now. Everything is taken care of by ingredients available at home. I’m not sure if I will go back to hoarding make-up like before,” shares Pranitha.

Mindful makeover
For beginners who are contemplating on making a switch, the Internet throws numerous such natural and homemade remedies at you and that can get overwhelming. How does one keep a tab on what’s genuine and what is not? The main point is, what works for one skin type may not work for everyone. Vidya Gogul, who has been practicing sustainable body care for the past eight years, suggests that one needs to keep the mind open to explore options but with caution.

“Be selective. Choose the most easiest method available keeping in mind your allergens. Sometimes you just need to look around your house or garden. You will chance upon many natural substitutes. That’s how I gave up on storebought cosmetics and there’s no looking back. Of course, if you have a medical condition then it would be best to consult a dermatologist,” explains Vidya. From hair oil to face packs, she prepares everything at home with her farm produce. She also has an Instagram page called Karuveppilai Tales where she shares body care tips .

“I got all these ideas from my grandmother. Bad breath, black heads, yellowing of teeth, skin tan...she had a simple solution for everything. One of my favourites is potato paste. I use it as an afterglow face mask and as a facial bleach agent. No fruit from my kitchen would go waste. I collect all the fruit peels such as orange, lemon, papaya...dry and grind them to make a face powder. Simplest of the lot is granulated sugar and water that can be used as a lip scrub. Something as basic as sandalwood and stone, which was traditionally available in every household, has been forgotten.

That’s the best for your skin especially to reduce heat boils and pimples. Natural skin care doesn’t give you instant relief as it’s a slow process. There’s no harm in trying because they will not affect your skin in any way. This is the best time to experiment options and see what works for you,” says Vidya. In a few households like Usha Mohan’s, the traditional recipes are followed religiously. To date, she sun-dries the necessary ingredients to prepare nalangu maavu and shikakai for her daughters and grandchildren. She prepares them once in three months. “The satisfaction that we get in using our own, hand-ground powder is irreplaceable.

Preparing them at home isn’t an easy process but it works out to be pocket- friendly. Will you not buy the same powders if they were packed in glass bottles with fancy labels or when suggested to you by an Ayurveda doctor? It’s all in the mindset. For anything to work effectively it has to be used moderately. Your previous generation is an example that these remedies actually worked wonders so you can all try them confidently. The earlier your children get habituated the longer they will stick to these practices,” says the homemaker. Even when you did not have access to your favourite charcoal face mask and keratin hair mask in the last few months, the humble green gram powder and turmeric came to your rescue. It’s time to reflect, weigh on the pros and cons, and make a wise, sustainable switch for a beautiful skin.

Hair oil

Regular coconut oil: 50 ml,
Curry leaves: a few sprigs,
Tulasi: a few sprigs, Neem: a
few leaves


  • Heat coconut oil. Add curry leaves, tulasi and neem.
  • Let it heat together for a few minutes. Let it cool.
  • Filter and transfer it to a bottle.
  • Apply it every night before sleep.

—by Vidya Gogul

Nalangu maavu bath powder

Green gram: 50 g,
Besan powder: 50 g,
Kasturi manjal: 50 g


  • Dry the ingredients in the sun for two days. Grind them separately and mix them. Store them in airtight containers
  • Take a spoon of it and mix with water.
  • Apply before bath, leave it for 15 minutes and wash it.
  • This works effectively on everyone — right from kids to elders.
  • It gives instant glow. This is haldi used in marriage functions.

— by Usha Mohan


Barley or rice flour: 50 g, Water


  • Saute either barley or rice in tawa for a few minutes.
  • It will turn black in heat. Let it cool.
  • Mix with water and use it as bindi.

—by Santha T


Shikakai seeds or soap-pod: 100 g,
Fenugreek: 50 g


  • Dry them in the sun for two days and grind them.
  • Apply on hair or skin for 15 minutes and wash it away.


  • A ground mixture of dried mint and rock salt works against bad breath and as a teeth whitener.
  • Grind and store any kind of homemade powder in small batches in air-tight containers or they may attract fungal growth.
  • Lemon juice, honey and sandalwood works as a tan remover.
  • Vitamin E and rose water come handy as a face mist.
  • Curd is a good hair conditioner.

Kajal preparation
Santha T tells us how kajal used to be prepared at her home. “My grandmother extracted the juice of karisalankanni and soaked pieces of white cloth in this juice. This was left to dry under the sun. Later,
the cloth would be made into thin thread for lighting lamps. She’d fill the lamp with castor oil, place the
thread inside and light it. A mud pot would be placed over it. With time, the soot settles inside the pot. After letting it cool, she would apply castor oil or butter to the soot and scrape it to extract the kajal.”

Ingredients & benefits
Neem: anti-bacterial
Turmeric: anti-inflammatory
Besan powder: exfoliating properties
Soap nuts: moisturising properties
Sandalwood: antiseptic
Green gram: nourishing properties

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