Beauty has been a very important part of the lives of Indian women for centuries now, but beauty in India is changing.
The typical Indian woman believes in the value of DIY beauty remedies based on age-old ayurvedic principles. She is raised on coconut oil in her hair, and favours gram flour, yoghurt and turmeric-based masks and scrubs that promise glowing, de-tanned, “lighter” skin. A significant number of women, particularly in rural India, still use talcum powder on their faces — perceived by some commentators as a possible hangover of the colonial era.
The millennial Indian, however, thinks differently. A fair complexion is most certainly no longer the goal. What matters now is glowing, protected skin. She knows that homemade concoctions are not the answer to every skin concern, and she is willing to invest in new skincare brands that tick the right boxes.
While ayurvedic beauty brands have been local skincare frontrunners for decades, clinical skincare is on the rise. “Post-Covid-19, I’ve seen a significant uptake in skincare consumption,” says Dr. Aneesh Sheth, Pharmacist, CEO and Co-founder of Dr. Sheth’s, a skincare brand that marries traditional skin concoctions with modern, ingredient-focused formulas. “There has been a shift from natural, ayurvedic products to more results-driven, ingredient-focused products.”
Modern millennials want to be informed. They want formulas that are safe and effective and show rapid and visible results. “The percentage of consumers that care about what they put on their face has increased,” says Dr. Sheth. “They want to know about the concentration of the actives, how they’ve been sourced. They want to know about the packaging, how much of it is made from recycled material — consumers are definitely pickier and more aware about what they use.”
Word of mouth and social media influencers play an important role. “Users turn to social media, friends and family to find out what their experience has been before purchasing a product,” says Dr. Sheth. “Social media allows the user multiple data points to suggest if a product is good or not.”
The growing sophistication of the Indian consumer is also noted by Vasudha Rai, Beauty Influencer, Author and former Beauty Director at Harper’s Bazaar India. “The Indian customer is extremely informed and has the money to buy products that are effective. I wasn’t so much in touch with the customer as an editor but as a blogger/ influencer I get so many DMs from informed women who absolutely do not mind paying a hefty duty if it means getting a great product from abroad,” she says. “When I just started writing on beauty, The Body Shop was a rare luxury, but now, even La Mer is becoming commonplace.”
Brands across the spectrum — established and new players are taking the digital route to introduce themselves and build a loyal consumer base. “The rising discovery of new features, along with reviews and a network of influencers, enhances the consumer journey, making new discoveries all the more enjoyable and brands more accessible,” says Vivek Sahni, CEO of Kama Ayurveda, one of India’s most popular ayurvedic beauty brands.
E-commerce players in the Indian market such as Nykaa and Amazon.in sell a mix of local and international brands with a focus on skincare. “The evolution of the Indian customer has led to rapid growth and diversification of the skincare segment over the last few years,” says Anchit Nayar, CEO, retail and CMO of Nykaa, which has an in-house brand, Nykaa Naturals.
Dermatologists are observing shifts in behaviour with their patients as well. “They are all now concerned with preventative care, so vitamin C and sunblock are becoming ubiquitous,” says Delhi-based Dermatologist and Integrative Aesthetics specialist Dr. Kiran Sethi. “They start preventive care for ageing at an earlier stage and nearly everyone is concerned with either pigmentation, acne, marks, or all of it, and want to treat it.”
The pandemic has been a significant contributor to the rise in demand for skincare in India. Consumers want to maintain a routine, practise self-care and also appreciate having more time to experiment with formulas. New Indian brands are launching to capitalise on this.
“In the last couple of months, we’ve been witnessing the emergence of some great homegrown brands that are helping to change the existing market scenario in India,” says Anisha Saraf, Co-founder of Dot & Key, an Indian skincare brand that places emphasis on clinical ingredients and overlooked parts of the skin such as elbows and knees.
“Lockdown has forced consumers to engage in content that is educational and interact with influencers who know more about skincare,” adds Dr. Sheth. Vipul Gupta, Founder of clinical skincare brand Re’equil, agrees, “The pandemic has given ample time to consumers to dedicate to their skincare routines and research solutions that can effectively solve their concerns. Cosmeceutical brands like ours have seen double-digit month-on-month growth in this pandemic.”
Saraf believes that Indian brands have a great opportunity. “Indians are trusting local brands more and more — there is a steady shift from preferring foreign products to appreciating and giving Indian brands a chance.”
DIY, ayurvedic skin care continues to play a significant role in the sector. It is so deeply rooted in the everyday lives of Indian women that it will always have a space, no matter what the next buzziest ingredient promises to do. “The idea of making a face mask at home or doing a beauty ritual is more a cultural practice,” says Dr. Sheth. “Consumers understand that the results from these practices will be incremental and so it becomes more of a social activity.”
Ayurveda-based beauty is hardly a trend in India, but its clean, non-toxic approach is in tune with the times. “In recent years, the beauty industry has seen an increasing number of people switch from chemical-led products to natural ingredients,” says Sahni. “Now with Covid-19, this propensity to use natural products has grown manifold and Ayurveda has become the new talking point because of its historical benefits.”
Indian brands are working hard to understand their customers. “We are constantly listening to our community, understanding what they want and learning about their choices and preferences for ingredients,” says Dr. Sheth.
Saraf adds, “Every comment, every message on our social media — we are always monitoring what our consumers are asking for. We also follow international standards very closely to always be aware of new ingredients and trends emerging in the global space.”
Beauty influencer Rai believes Indian skincare brands can still up their game. “Some of these brands like Dr. Sheth’s and Conscious Chemist have a decent percentage of activities. But others are not effective at all.”
Dr. Sethi acknowledges that Indian brands still have a lot to learn, particularly about clinical skincare formulations. “I think that Indian brands still have a way to go. An idea or a buzzy ingredient gets translated into a product. What about the grade of propylene glycol? Or which solubilizer, preservative or emulsifier is used? So much detail and knowledge go into product formulation. While we have begun, there is still much to be done.”