India : A culture of beauty

Beauty in India is as multifaceted as the country is diverse - a happy, boisterous co-existence of tradition, spirituality and ancient rituals on one end of the spectrum, glossy Bollywood-inspired aspirations on the other and many fast-evolving variations in-between.

India : A culture of Beauty

Indeed, Indian culture has considered beauty an expression of Godliness, almost something to be revered. Indian Gods and Goddesses, such as Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and Parvathi ( wife of Lord Shiva), are beautiful as they are bountiful.

The need for cosmetics is seen from very ancient days - people were using a variety of cosmetics products both for curative purposes as well as for enhancing beauty. Many Indian women still prefer herbal, natural beauty products and homemade recipes continue to play an important role in grooming routines. Holistic beliefs abound; Ayurveda, or the belief that inner beauty radiates through outer beauty, is one of its basic principles.

While eyeliner, jeweled and dyed bindis, and henna-stained hands and feet have defined beauty for centuries, Bollywood presents another facet of Indian beauty where color, shimmer and gloss are the order of the day. Despite the size of the country and its regional diversity, this Bollywood-reinforced pan-Indian ideal of beauty is based on very specific criteria: fair skin, a silhouette with feminine curves, big expressive eyes, and long, dark, shiny hair. 

These typical beauty codes are transmitted through beauty salons which are social gathering places for both men and women.
Still today, Indian women cultivate and transmit beauty secrets and rituals that date back hundreds of years.

For body care, oils, scrubs and powders are the essentials. Massages are a tradition where men and women coat themselves in essential oils.

Powders made from natural products are also heavily used. Among their many purposes, curcuma powder is used as a scrub, and sandalwood powder for its dermatological and antiperspirant properties.

When it comes to face care, “fairness” creams are essential for having a light complexion, which is the leading beauty criterion in India.

And finally, they use “Kajal” to enhance their eyes, which is a natural balm made from ghee, that is both a cosmetic and an eye-care product that prevents irritations.

Indians use a number of different products for their hair: henna in powder form is used as a dye but sometimes as a shampoo as well since it protects the scalp and gives hair a silky texture. The oils that are often used guarantee shiny, healthy hair.


1/ The Bindi – or kumkum – is the dot that Indians draw between their eyes.
It is a religious symbol but it can also be used as a mere cosmetic ornament. Coming from the Sanskrit word “bindu” which means “a drop”, the bindi represents a person’s mystical third eye and symbolises good luck.
Traditionally applied with red kum-kum powder, today it is sometimes replaced by stickers of different shapes, sizes and colours.

2/ Each beauty attribute has its importance in India but its order of priority is not the same between men and women, although complexion is still key.
For women: 1. a fair complexion, 2. a blemish-free complexion, 3. an attractive figure, 4. beautiful eyes, 5. long silky hair
For men: 1. an athletic build, 2. a fair complexion, 3. a blemish-free complexion, 4. expressive eyes, 5. strong hair

©Elise Hanne