Unravelling a story of transition – from a sheltered life to my name becoming an international brand, Shahnaz Husain rose to fame formulating customised beauty care, with a personalised style, based on individual needs and problems. Husain’s adoption of the concept of ‘herbal care and cure’ resonates with the larger Indian populace, making her a household name, withstanding the changes of the modern skincare industry. Excerpts of the interview are as follows –
Q: Hello Shahnaz ji. Tell us about you, your story, and how you established your brand name?
SH: My story is one of a lone woman in a fiercely competitive arena. I was married at 15 and became a mother at 16, yet, I braved all the odds and made my dreams come true. I was interested in beauty and in making others beautiful. I trained at leading beauty training institutes of the West. While training in London, I learned about damage caused by chemical treatments and it changed the course of my life and career. I wanted to find a safe alternative and knew that I must have my own enterprise in order to translate my ideas into reality.
So, I opened my first herbal salon in the verandah of my own home after borrowing Rs. 35,000 from my father. I started making my own formulations, using plant products and natural ingredients. I made the products at night, filled them in jars, wrote labels by hand and stuck them on the jars. I adopted the concept of “herbal care and cure.” It was a totally unique, path-breaking concept. Today, the formulations have become internationally renowned in Ayurvedic beauty care. Today, we are also known for our therapeutic products and treatments for problems like acne, hyper-pigmentation, scars, premature ageing, dandruff, hair damage, and hair loss. I have taken the Ayurvedic beauty movement worldwide through my franchise system is one of unprecedented success, much more than I ever dreamed.
Q: What are your thoughts on the growing demand for natural and organic beauty products?
SH: For the last five decades, my efforts have been focussed on the benefits of organic substances and the harm caused by chemical ingredients. We have formulated skin and hair care products containing herbal and plant ingredients, essential oils and natural substances. They are not only safe and without risks, but have powerful healing properties and beauty benefits. With the “back to nature” and the “total well-being” trends influencing the beauty world over the past few decades, organic products have become the popular choice.
Formulations made with organic plant products are purer, free from chemicals and richer in nutrients, because they are richer in vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and enzymes. Organic products also have specific curative and beneficial properties that actually enhance the beauty of the skin and hair. They help improve the normal functions of the skin and scalp, including that of cell renewal. Thus, they have the power to revitalise and rejuvenate.
An important advantage is the element of safety. Synthetic preparations and chemical ingredients, on the other hand, can cause allergic and irritative reactions. They can also cause a build-up of toxins in the system, over a period of time. The human body responds extremely well to organic substances, while it has in-built resistance to synthetic ones. We use organic ingredients in our formulations, like herb, flower and fruit extracts, essential oils, minerals, gems and other natural substances that are eco-friendly and biodegradable. We choose the ingredients according to the Ayurvedic system and according to the herbs and their healing properties.
Q: Can you tell us of a beauty routine that you believe is beneficial for overall health?
SH: If you wish to acquire, maintain and preserve beauty, you have to take some common factors into consideration. These are physical fitness, nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress control and regular external care. Consistency is the keyword. Yes, you do not have to be born beautiful. You can acquire it, because beauty is the outcome of good internal health and regular external care. Internal health and external beauty are closely related. For flawless skin and shiny hair, good health must be on top of the list.
The food we eat affects the skin, hair, eyes, teeth and nails. Some form of daily exercise is necessary for fitness and good posture. Exercise, together with a balanced diet, can work wonders. Not only does it build up stamina and strength, but improves blood circulation to the skin and scalp. Adequate sleep is also essential to beauty. Sleep is a way of restoring energy to the body and is nature’s best cure. It is a beauty treatment in itself.
Along with internal health, it is necessary to give your skin and hair external care by selecting products which are suited to your individual skin and hair type. In fact, regular care has assumed more importance today, due to increased exposure to pollutants. The right kind of daily care reflects on the skin and hair over a period of time. It also helps to delay the signs of aging. A positive mental attitude is also important, because the mind and body are closely related. Indeed, the finest foundation for beauty consists of these common factors, which we often overlook.
Q: With changing times, how do you think the need for a skincare routine has increased?
SH: Pollutants in the air are making our cities increasingly hostile to our good health and well-being. Chemical pollutants also affect beauty, as the skin and scalp bear the brunt of pollutants, which not only attack the skin surface, but also lead to an accumulation of toxins. Chemical pollutants cause oxidation damage, which leads to the manifestation of premature ageing signs on the skin, like wrinkles, loss of elasticity, dark patches and spots. They also disrupt the normal balances of the skin causing dryness, sensitivity, rashes, acne, allergic reactions and related conditions.
All of us who live and work in urban areas need protective beauty care. Cleansing of the skin assumes more importance in order to get rid of the impurities and pollutants that are deposited on the skin. Look out for products according to skin type and containing ingredients like sandalwood, eucalyptus, mint, neem, tulsi, and aloe vera when you buy cleansers. If the skin is prone to eruptive conditions like acne, pimples, rash, it should be protected with specialised creams containing sandalwood, neem and clove. After cleansing, wipe the skin with chilled rose water, to complete the cleansing process and refresh the skin. Green tea also makes a good skin toner. If there is a rash or eruptions, add a little rose water to sandalwood paste and apply on the face. Wash off with plain water after 15 minutes. Anti-pollution cosmetics help to provide protection and reduce the damage caused by environmental effects. These are basically “cover creams” that form a barrier between the skin and pollutants. We formulated a sandalwood protective cream, for this very purpose, to protect the skin from environmental effects.
Q: Is there any celebrity who has used your products? Are there any success stories you would like to share?
SH: On principle I never divulge the names of my clients. I believe that beauty is a personal matter and it is not ethical to discuss the names of our clients, whether they are celebrities or not. Many celebrities have used our products regularly and still do. The late Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi used my sandalwood protective cream. I have also mentioned that I created Shamoist for her. A few who went on record to mention me, I have spoken of. The most celebrated was Princess Diana, for whom I created a special line. She used our Shaeyes kajal. There was also Dame Barbara Cartland, the famous author. She became a great friend of mine, because we shared our interest in herbs, nature and natural living. She flew down to Paris at my request to launch my Flower Power range at Galeries Lafayette and spoke at the press conference. Goldie Hawn, the famous Hollywood actress, came to India specially, for the Shahnaz experience. She spent an entire day at our salon in Delhi. In India, we have a special line called Shahnaz Star Range for film and television stars and models. It is a specially reinforced line to counteract the demands of heavy make-up and exposure to bright arc lights, the sun and elements.
Q: How important is it for aspiring youngsters to look a certain way, who may be looking for careers in the corporate and non-glamorous professions?
SH: Both men and women know that appearance counts in the workplace. Looking one’s best imparts self-confidence, very necessary in today’s competitive career world. In general, there is the feeling that beauty bias does exist in the career world; that people react more favourably towards a good-looking person; that with good looks, one has more chances of being hired at job interviews! I believe that one of the most important aspects of personal appeal is personal hygiene. You may have attractive features but lack of personal cleanliness can really put people off. As it is a time tested theory, a well groomed person always stands out from the crowd.
Q: What do you think is the future of Ayurveda in the beauty industry?
SH: Ayurveda is both the healing and the beauty systems of the future. The world is looking at Ayurveda with enlightened eyes due to the worldwide interest in holistic healing. Indeed, Ayurveda, our ancient system of herbal healing, is a holistic system and has been flourishing for centuries. Today, modern research has upheld Ayurvedic healing. Ayurveda views good health as total well-being of body, mind and soul. The modern world has woken up to the fact that it needs a holistic system like Ayurveda. In fact, it can be most relevant to our modern lifestyle, in terms of counteracting the degenerative processes, environmental pollution, toxic build up and mental stress. We cannot ignore the fact that the human body responds positively to Ayurvedic remedies, while it has a resistance towards synthetic and chemical ingredients. We also cannot overlook Ayurveda’s long history of safe human usage. Today, we are combining Artificial Intelligence and Ayurveda for customized beauty care. In fact, Ayurveda is not only the beauty system of the future. It is also India’s gift to the world.
—End of Interview—
After completing five decades in the beauty and wellness industry, the Shahnaz Husain Group is the largest organisation of its kind in the world, with franchise ventures worldwide and 380 Ayurvedic formulations for skin, hair and body care. Husain has been recognised and honoured with prestigious international and national awards, including the Padma Shri Award. Based on the notion that beauty is not just about how you look, but also how you feel, Husain elevated the beauty industry many notches higher and gave the average Indian aspiration, dream and belief, by redefining beauty standards.
(Interviewed by Dr. G L Mahajan)