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As a herbal cosmetic, henna has a history that dates back thousands of years in India, used by women to color their hands and nails, used by men on their beards and moustaches, used by both men and women to dye and condition their hair.
Sesame oil is also used to make soaps, while the seeds have a sufficient perfume to be used placed between layers of perfumed dried flowers to form fragrant potpourris or to scent cloths.
Sarsaparilla (Anantmul in Hindi) is also used to enrich home shampoos in India’s hotter regions. Most Indian women pride themselves on the length and thickness of their hair and the addition of sarsaparilla is thought to prevent prickly heat by cooling the scalp and lessening the perspiration occasioned by humidity or summer heat.
Indians include hibiscus flower juice in a famous herbal oil and conditioner which is now bottled and sold throughout eastern India under the brand name Japa Kusam. One reason for the widespread popularity of this oil is its effectiveness against dandruff.
Western shampoos leave the hair dry and brittle for weeks, whereas a soap-nut (Ritha) shampoo rinses out the colors while conditioning the hair and the scalp at the same time. Using Ritha as a base, Indian women often concoct their own shampoos, frequently mixing it with a medicinal combination of the three myrobalans or other ingredients such as turmeric or coconut pulp. Many such homegrown but tested recipes are avaialble here.
Instead of using soap, Indians cleanse their faces and bodies of the film of oil with a moist paste made from turmeric and lentil flour. The root of the turmeric plant is known to be antiseptic and aromatic, both attractive qualities in a cleanser, but the paste also succeeds in cleansing and disinfecting the skin without drying out its natural oils. Turmeric tubers are bright yellow inside and when ground into a paste and used as a cleanser the skin takes on a golden glow, while curing skin ulcers at the same time.
The most important cosmetic property possessed by the Lime fruit (Hindu Nimbu), indigenous to India, is the concentration of vitamin C in its juice, a vitamin vital to the maintenance of healthy skin and hair. The lime is a traditional hair conditioner among Indians, especially during the summer when heat and humidity cause the scalp to secrete extra perspiration and oils. Then half a lime is rubbed over the scalp as a disinfectant and an astringent against sebaceous secretions. All through the year lime juice is used to remove excess greases from the hair after is has been massaged with oils, before the hair is washed with Ritha extracts or other herbal preparations.
Its astringent and cooling properties also make lime juice mixed with rose water a popular skin tonic. For people with oil skins this tonic is the safest and best means of removing the greasy buildups which can cause the skin to break out in spots or other blemishes. Lime blossoms and leaves contain a fragrant oil which is used in the making of perfumes and bath oils.
A paste made from saffron on the face and the exposed parts of the body was applied much as foundation makeup is used by women today. Not only did this saffron paste impart a smoothness to a woman’s skin, it also gave the skin a golden tint, which was thought to be so desirable that pregnant women even drank saffron infused in milk in the hopes that their unborn infants would acquire golden complexions.
As a cosmetic, indigo is used to make the hair dye most commonly used by Indians suffering from premature grayness, merging its own colors easily into the black which is the natural hair color or virtually every Indian. Indigo leaf extract is blended into various herbal oils and rubbed into the scalp to prevent hair loss after childbirth or a serious illness, or to inhibit premature balding, as the plant is thought to have properties that strengthen the roots of hair.