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Beauty Secrets Hidden in Indian Herbs

by Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Garima Sancheti(more info)

listed in skincare, originally published in issue 131 - January 2007

Blooming Sunflower
Blooming Sunflower

India has one of the oldest and richest cultural traditions associated with the use of traditional folk herbs. It brings into practice application of indigenous beliefs, knowledge and skills in favour of human health. Treatment of various ailments via herbs is the oldest form of healthcare known to all cultures throughout the history. Various parts of herbs, like the stems, leaves, roots, flowers and fruits, are used to cure health and skin disorders. In this age of growing medical costs and side-effects, people are turning to herbs, the ‘natural medicines’. Herbs are on menu cards of folk’s conscious of their regular diets. People prefer green herbs, not only because of their low fatty oil content, which is for good health, but also to maintain and restore their vibrant beauty.

Herbs are a real boon for all creatures living on this planet called ‘Earth’. Man has been using herbs for thousands of years, and learnt about their aromatic, therapeutic and savory properties through trial and error. According to the tribes of Patalkot, in Central India, there is no single herb that is useless. This is indeed true; there isn’t any culture on earth that does not include the use of herbs as medicines. Herbs play a major role in beauty aids as well as therapies.

This article looks at the ten most important Indian medicinal plants used in beauty care. Information has not only been gathered from recent literature, or prior art search, but also includes some uncommon herbal practices performed by the tribes of Patalkot.

Castor (Ricinus communis)

Castor is soothing and lubricating to the skin. It acts as a humectant, attracting moisture to the skin.[1] Its application before hair wash is known to condition dry and damaged hair. It improves growth of eyelashes. Castor is used extensively for the preparation of hair conditioner because of its ability to heal dry and damaged brittle hair. Castor oil is frequently used as a solvent for oil-soluble sunscreens. It is effective against abdominal stretch marks (prevention), age spots, sunburn, open sores, pimples, etc.[2] Daily applications of castor oil to warts is said to remove them in a few weeks. A hair wash prepared from castor oil is known to keep hair from falling, and cleansing it of dandruff.[3] It provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection against tans and signs of skin ageing. Hydrogenated castor oil, or its esters, are useful for cleansing and conditioning the skin.[4]

Hemp (Cannabis sativa)

Cannabis sativa (hemp) oil is clinically proven for its anti-inflammatory property. It is beneficial for laser-treated or peeled, stressed, acne-prone, sun-damaged and ageing skin. Hemp seed oil is one of the world’s richest sources of EFAs (Essential Fatty Acid), and other nutrients responsible for strong healthy keratin formation. Hemp seed oil’s high lipid content helps increase elasticity, volume, shine and easy combing. Its fatty acid composition and high performance moisturizing emollients make it an ideal ingredient for both dry hair and scalp conditions. Hemp seed oil’s high level of EFAs makes it an ideal ingredient for skin cleansers. It has a positive effect on dry and rough skin.[5] This oil is especially beneficial for indoor, self-tanning, or after-sun care because of its excellent spreadability and skin moisturizing properties.

Mango (Mangifera indica)

Mango kernel oil consists of triglycerides which give high emolliency to the skin.[6] Mango butter, extracted from the fruit’s kernels, melts readily on contact with the skin and disperses evenly. It may be used for dryness to assist moisturization after exposure to the sun and other harsh elements. The film formed on the skin by butter retains moisture and restores the skins softness and suppleness; therefore, it is used as an ingredient in skin care products, lotions, massage creams and hair and sun care products.[7] Mango butter also reduces degeneration of skin cells and restores elasticity. Semi-liquid mango oil is used in conditioners and shampoos for improved combing and a healthy shine to hair.

Coconut (Cocos nucifera)

Cocos nucifera (Coconut) oil is used for general moisturizing, and as a fine cleanser for the skin. It also acts as a mild oil suitable for those with inflamed and irritated skin, as well as skin sensitivities. It is a natural emollient, moisturizing, occlusive, and antioxidant. It is good for rejuvenating dry, stressed and ageing skin, as well as delicate skin. Coconut butter extracted from coconut is a good emulsifier for making creams and lotions. It prevents destructive free-radical formation and provides protection against them.[8] It may help to keep the skin from developing liver spots, and other blemishes caused by ageing and over-exposure to sunlight. Coconut oil helps remove the dead cells of the skin, making it smoother. Coconut oil is well-documented as a beneficial ingredient in hair products, such as shampoos, conditioners and hair oil. Application of the oil is known to keep hair healthy and free from dandruff.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

This helps to moisturize, regenerate and condition the skin.[7] Cutaneous application of sunflower oil increases the linoleic acid level of the skin, lowers trans-epidermal water loss, and helps to eliminate scaly lesions common in patients with essential fatty acid deficiency. Sunflower oil can be used as a main oil, or in a blend, for lotions, salt scrubs, bath oils and massage oils. It is good for mature, sensitive, dry or damaged skin. It is used as a soothing emollient in cosmetic industry and contributes moisturizing attributes to creams, lotions and bar soaps. It has soothing properties and is good for all skin types. As the plant is rich in Vitamin E (a well-known antioxidant), it provides protection against harmful effects of the sun. Hair products (shampoos, conditioners, hair mask, etc.) prepared from sunflower oil are known to cleanse, moisturize and keep hair healthy and lustrous.

Shrubby Basil (Ocimum gratissimum)

The essential oil of Shrubby Basil purifies and clarifies oily skin by providing a natural defense against environmental toxins. It has natural moisturizers and balances oil of the skin. It is anti-acne as it removes dirt, bacteria and skin impurities from the pores while maintaining the required moisture balance.[7,9]  It makes the skin porcelain, soft and supple. It is known to cure warts, and reduces the dark spots that occur due to ageing and acne.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

The flavonoids, found in high amounts in Calendula, account for much of its anti-inflammatory activity. The oil is used in soaps and cosmetics.[10-11] It is a good moisturizing agent, especially for dry skin. It is also an exceptionally good skin conditioner, and is well-known for its ability to repair damaged skin. It protects the skin against sun and chemical damage by supporting the skin’s natural defenses against UV-induced collagen breakdown. Acne scars disappear with regular use of Calendula. Studies suggest that topical use of Calendula may benefit the healing of wounds by helping the body regenerate damaged tissues, and by acting as an anti-inflammatory.[12-13]

Aloe (Aloe vera)

Benefits of this plant can be attributed partly to its nutrients, since it contains proteins, carbohydrates (including monosaccharides), vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and folic acid) and minerals. These nutrients, although beneficial individually, may work synergistically to soothe, heal, moisturize and regenerate the skin.[14-15] Aloe gel accelerates the healing of wounds, helps skin burns and moisturizes dry skin.[16] Aloe gel works as a cleanser, and is said to promote cell proliferation.[7] It also helps to remove dead skin cells.  It is recommended for young skin that is prone to acne, as well as oily and mature skin for its stimulation of collagen production. It moisturizes the skin because it has a water holding capacity.[17] It is effective on skin exposed to UV and gamma radiation.

Onion (Allium cepa)

Skin of Allium cepa (onion) has pronounced antioxidant properties. Allium nourishes, heals, renews and softens the skin and aids in tissue rebuilding. It acts as a cleansing agent to remove dirt, dust and makeup from the skin. Allicin (Onion extract) works wonders on scars, calluses, stretchmarks and other skin hardening, and scar tissue. The sulphur compound in allium reduces excessive sebum secretion and cleanse the hair of dandruff. It also aids the formation of scar tissue on wounds, thus speeding up the healing process, and has been used as a cosmetic to remove freckles. Onion juice rubbed into the skin is said to promote hair growth, and works as a remedy for baldness. It is also used in cosmetic for the treatment of freckles.[18,19]

Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

This has multiple benefits in the area of restorative and anti-ageing skin care. Natural antioxidants and essential fatty acids found in this plant help reverse the damaging effects of sun radiation, reduce skin inflammation, promote natural restorative processes, and minimize the long-term effects of sun exposure, like wrinkles, dryness, and dark spots. It is a powerful antioxidant. It protects against premature ageing of the skin and the harmful effects of environmental pollution.[20] It has a therapeutic efficacy on skin discolouration, freckles, prematurely ageing skin, skin sclerosis (hardening), scaling or rough skin, facial acne, recurrent dermatitis and chemically damaged skin.[21] It is highly effective on burns caused by radiation. It is a good free radical scavenger.[22] When taken orally, it works against cancer and radiation injuries.

Some Important Traditional Practices for Skin Care

•    Topical application of Basil (Ocimum sanctum) extract on the skin helps kill infections. Equal amounts of Basil extract, Lemon (Citrus limon) juice and Onion (Allium cepa) extract help all types of skin diseases. Those suffering from pimples can blend crushed Basil with Mint (Mentha virdis) and Lemon juice, and apply over the affected area;
•    A paste of Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seeds applied over the scalp for an hour helps with dandruff. Application of Fenugreek seed extract improves hair growth and prevents hair from falling;
•    Application of paste made from Fenugreek on the face, overnight, can help prevent pimples, blackheads and wrinkles;
•    A paste of Sandalwood (Santalum album) powder, prepared in rosewater, [obtained from rose petals, (Rosa indica)] keeps a check on skin eruptions, giving a refreshing feel to the skin;
•    Saffron (Crocus sativus) with raw milk is known to improve skin complexion and remove blemishes;
•    Regular bath with Basil and Neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves, boiled in water, keeps skin healthy and glowing. It also prevents skin infections and allergies;
•    Aloe vera is a reputed natural moisturizer. Topical application of Aloe gel on the skin and hair improves their texture;
•    Turmeric (Curcuma longa) along with Sandalwood powder purifies skin and improves the complexion;
•    Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) juice acts as a natural astringent when applied on the skin. It helps close open pores and reduces skin eruptions.

Herbal formulations by tribes of Patalkot in Central India: Author Deepak Acharya has worked extensively among the Gonds and Bharia tribes of Patalkot in Central India. He has documented their indigenous practices and prepared a digital library of the same. Below are a couple of not so common practices for beauty care and a glowing look:

•    Nut Grass (Cyperus rotundus) root (one tbsp), Gulancha (Tinospora cordifolia) stem (two tbsp), Neem (Azadirachta indica) bark (two tbsp), Chebulic Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula) fruits (one tbsp), Turmeric (Curcuma longa) rhizome (one tbsp), Beleric Myrobalan (Terminalia bellirica) fruits (one tbsp), Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) fruits (one tbsp), Indian Pennywort (Centella asiatica) leaves (one tbsp) are mixed together to create a powder. About one tablespoon of powder is then taken with water twice a day, after lunch and dinner. This formulation is useful against various other skin problems as well;
•    Powder of Ginger (Zinziber officinale) rhizome (one tbsp), Indian Ginseng (Withania somnifera) roots (two tbsp), Chebulic Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula) fruits (one tbsp) and Lemon (Citrus limon) peel (one tbsp). This formulation is taken once a day early in the morning. It activates the circulation of blood and tones the body.


Herbs have played an integral part in the development of modern civilization. However, the slow, but certainly effective, herbal action in beauty remedies has suffered badly in preference for fast-acting synthetic cosmetics of the modern world. Fortunately, people are becoming conscious of the long-term side-effects of synthetic products, and herbs are once again staging a dramatic comeback. The success stories on the use of herbs have raised them to the top of the popularity graph. As a result, in the recent years, the cosmetics industry has started focusing on the use of herbs, and is conducting extensive research on plant materials and their combinations in their various products. No doubt, these miracle plants of therapeutic and medicinal value have, once again, won the faith of people round the world. world. It is now time for you to make them a part of your life and enjoy the benefits gifted you by Mother Nature.


1.    Upadhyay OP, Kumar Kaushal and Tiwari RK. Ethnobotanical study of skin treatment uses of medicinal plants of Bihar. Pharmaceutical Biology. 36(3): 167-172. 1998.
2.    Miyahara T and Sanabe. Medicinal and Cosmetic Compositions Containing Retinoic Acid Derivatives. Jpn Kokoi Tokkyo Koho. 27: JP2002293746. 2002.
3.    Abdul M, Mir A, Khan M, Ashraf R and Aleem Q. Traditional Use of Herbs, Shrubs and Trees of Shogran Valley, Mansehra, Pakistan. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences. 4(9): 1101-1107. 2001.
4.    Sato N. Topical cleansing cosmetics. Kokoi Tokkyo Koho. 7: JP2002145761. 2002.
5.    Leson GP and Roulac JW.  Hemp Foods and Oil for Health. 62 pp. Hemptech, Sebastopol. California. USA. 1999.
6.    Mohammad A and Syed MN. Taxonomic perspective of plant species yielding vegetable oils used in cosmetics and skin care products. African Journal of Biotechnology. 4(1): 36-44. 2005.
7.    Aburjai T and Natsheh FM. Plants used in cosmetics. Phytother Res. 17: 987-1000. 2003.
8.    Hartman D. Free radical theory of ageing: role of free radicals in the origination and evolution of life, ageing, and disease processes. In: Liss AR. Free Radicals, Ageing and Degenerative Diseases. p. 3-50. 1986.
9.    Fabiola Barbieri, Holetz Greisiele, Lorena Pessini, et al. Screening of Some Plants Used in the Brazilian Folk Medicine for the Treatment of Infectious Diseases. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro. 97(7): 1027-1031. 2002.
10.    Rahman et al. Pak J Sci Industr. Res. 33: 329. 1990.
11.    Loggia et al. Planta Med. 55. (8). 1991.
12.    Klouchek-Popova E et al. Influence of the physiological regeneration and epithelialization using fractions isolated from Calendula officinalis. Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg. 8(4):63-67. 1982.
13.    Della Loggia R et al. The role of triterpenoids in the topical anti-inflammatory activity of Calendula officinalis flowers. Planta Med. 60(6): 516-520. 1994.
14.    Zawahry ME, Hegazy MR and Helal M. Use of Aloe in Treating Leg Ulcers and Dermatoses. Int J Dermatol. 12: 68-73. 1973.
15.    Davis RH, Leitner MG, Russo JM and Byrne, ME. Wound healing: oral and topical activity of Aloe vera. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 79: 559-562. 1989.
16.    West DP and Zhu YF. Evaluation of Aloe vera gel gloves in the treatment of dry skin associated with occupational exposure. Am J Infect Control. 31(8): 516. 2003.
17.    Reynolds T and Dweck AC. Aloe vera leaf gel: a review update. J Ethnopharmacol. 68: 3-37. 1999.
18.    Chiej R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants. MacDonald. ISBN 0-356-10541-5. 1984. 
19.    Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Dorling Kindersley. London. ISBN 9-780751-303148. 1996.
20.    Athar MS and Mahmood N. Taxonomic perspective of plant species yielding vegetable oils used in cosmetics and skin care products. African Journal of Biotechnology. 4(1):36-44, 2005.
21.    Xu Mingyu et al. A Brief Report on an Anti-Bacterial Experiment Using Seabuckthorn Oil. Hippophae. 6(2): 28-29. 1993.
22.    Ju Haisong et al. Scavenging Effects of Total Flavonoids of Hippophae on Active Oxygen Radicals. Proceedings of International Symposium on Seabuckthorn. Xi’an. China. 365-367. 1989.


  1. DINESH KAPUR said..

    i am looking for a encyclopedia on complete herbs and fruits used for medicine in india as i am planting herbs in my farm. if you can help me with the name and the book and where can i get it from .

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About Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Garima Sancheti

Dr Deepak Acharya is a microbiologist turned ethnobotanist. He is the Director of Abhumka Herbal Pvt Ltd ( in Ahmedabad, India. He has been documenting ethnobotanical knowledge of tribals of Central and Western India for past many years. He has written more than 35 research papers in National and International journals of repute. He writes popular articles for web and magazines too. His company validates herbal practices of healers from two remote pockets in India. He has done extensive documentation of Bhumkas of Patalkot valley ( ) and Bhagats of Dang district ( South Gujarat and prepared a digital traditional herbal knowledge library. His book entitled "Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices" is being appreciated all over the world. He has been associated with many Universities and colleges as a Member, Board of Studies. His work and dedication for the tribal welfare has been well appreciated by several print media. He is a Feature Writer/ Member- Editorial Board and Reviewer for many scientific journals and magazines. He can be contacted via email at For more information about him, log on to .

Dr Garima Sancheti
is a PhD in Radiation and Cancer Biology, from University of Rajasthan, Jaipur-India. Her subject of research involves new drug development based on herbal practices of remote tribal healers. She has to her credit more than 15 research papers in National and International journals. She is also working as a science counselor, content writer and freelance writer. She is a contributing author for many online and print magazines. She may be contacted via email at

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