updated 6 Oct 2012, 09:54
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Thu, Apr 05, 2012
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Changing face of Indian beauty
by Sheela Narayanan

It is a story that local beauty expert M.R. Sivarani likes to tell when she talks about her start in the beauty business, a tale of her wedding make-up that looked more at home in a Kabuki theatre.

A couple of decades ago, Indian women were not as conscious about their looks and their grooming, neither were they knowledgeable about make-up or beauty products.

While many of them would use natural products like coconut oil for their hair or rub tumeric onto their faces, make-up and beauty treatments were considered unimportant, said Ms Sivarani.

She added: "Many of them would put on make-up only when they were going for a function, a wedding or a big dinner. They didn't know how to put it on and in those days it was not necessary to learn."

A flip through photographs of yesteryears proves her point: You will most likely see gorgeous Indian women with thick make-up or, as it was mocked, "pancake make-up" that was two shades lighter - the never ending penchant to look fairer - thick kohl-lined eyes and a lipstick shade a tad overdone on pillowy lips.

Over the last 10 years, however, the Indian beauty has changed - at least her concept of beauty has - and emerging from the beneath the pancake make-up is a confident woman who is taking control of her face and body.

In an interview with Indian Express, fashion designer Ritu Kumar said today's women have chosen to be conscious about looking beautiful.

"Thirty years ago, when I used to work in plain khadi kurtas like a barefoot doctor in the villages to revive textiles, looking beautiful all the time was not on the radar. Those who invested too much time or money in beauty were seen as flippant. It is the other way round now," she said.

Local make-up artist Bubbly Jagpal, who runs beauty salon Looks Studio, told tabla! that when she started out in the business, her Indian clients would ask her to make them look fairer, which annoyed her.

Now they want to look like themselves, no matter what hue of chocolate they come in.

She puts it down to Indian women having gained more confidence in the international workforce, especially with more and more of them professionally at the top of their game.

"As Indian women are exposed to more Western ideals of beauty, they are more aware of what beauty is and how they want to look, not only in the work place but in social situations.

And they are a lot more educated about beauty products, trends, styles and using that information to transform themselves," she said.

Model Jamuna Sundaraj, whose face is on this week's Page 1 and whose photograph adorns this page, told tabla! that young women like her are becoming more confident about looking good and search for information on beauty from magazines, websites and even the movies instead of learning it from their mothers and aunts.

"I mostly learnt about make-up and beauty by myself, by reading magazines and experimenting," she said.

Tapping on this hunger for beauty knowledge, UK-based fashion and beauty journalist Anjana Gosai wrote The Ultimate Guide To Beauty in 2008, specifically targeted at young Indian women.

In an interview with UK magazine The Colour Of Health, she said she wrote the book as she knew that Asian women were not catered for by conventional beauty guides:

"In the UK and America, beauty books assume the reader is Caucasian and, therefore, the advice within those pages rarely works for us.

We have very specific needs - our hair is prone to frizz and our skin tone is more likely to suffer from pigmentation problems, for example.

While in South Asia, the books are rooted in very traditional beauty principles. There is plenty on henna and herbal remedies, but they do not give women practical tips on how to choose a foundation to suit their skin tone or how to remove unwanted hair correctly."

Indian and Western beauty companies are taking note of the growing demands of the "brown brigade" around the globe and are beginning to expand their make-up brands to meet these beauty needs.

Ms Shahnaz Husain, considered a pioneer in the Indian herbal beauty care market, told tabla! that product innovation is a feature of today's beauty market to keep up with the demands of the modern Indian woman.

Pointing to the Platinum and Diamond ranges created by her company, using precious metals and gems, which is distributed in Singapore by Millenia Herbs, she added:

"We are now coming up with innovative products like Platinum moisturising spray to hydrate the skin and also set and seal make-up."

Ms Husain also noted that, with the trend to look fit and young, the beauty market has widenened to include older customers:

"More and more older people are going in for beauty care. (As a result), we have introduced many age-control products and treatments."

New York-based Sumi Raghavan has a blog - - dedicated to make-up and beauty products for darker-skinned women.

She told tabla! in an e-mail interview that the Western market has identified South Asians as a good marketing demographic.

"It's a reflection of the changing complexion of Western society in general.

Here in the US, the census bureau has projected that by 2030, there will be more people of colour in the US than Caucasians.

Economic viability of minority groups is also increasing, the workforce is increasingly feminised - the confluence of these trends is bound to hit the beauty industry.

Why not make products for women of colour, they're willing to pay, the demand is high, and the supply is low," she said.

Singapore too is seeing more demand for customised beauty products and Ms Jagpal told tabla! she is planning to launch her own range of make-up to cater for local beauties.

"The make-up, from the foundation to the eye-shadow, will be customised to the client's individual needs," she said.

Beauty consciousness is not just on the face. Besides the paint, the plucking and the piercings, Indian women are buffing up.

Never have they wanted to look so good as they do now. The modern day pressure to look beautiful has resulted in booming beauty industry in India.

The United States Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration claimed the Indian retail beauty and cosmetics market in 2010 was estimated to be worth US$950 million (S$1.12 billion).

The growth of the Indian cosmetics market is estimated at 15 to 20 per cent annually, twice as fast as that of the US and European markets.

In 2010, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery conducted an independent survey in cosmetic surgery trends in 25 countries.

While the US and Brazil were the top markets, the report showed a rise in cosmetic procedures in India and China.

In Singapore, aesthetic doctors like Dr Komathy Rajaratnam founder of The Lifestyle Clinic at Camden Medical Centre, are also seeing more Indian women come to them for fillers, Botox injections, laser treatments to permanently get rid of unwanted hair as well as non-invasive nips and tucks for a trimmer body.

She said: "They are talking more openly about it. Now I see lots of the young ones coming in and they are willing to spend more on their faces. Some of them are a little conservative but even they want to even out their skin tone or get rid of excessive hair."

As the Indian beauty changes and transforms, Ms Raghavan likes to point out that beauty is more than paints, potions and procedures.

"My wish for beauty in general is that we all learn to value ourselves along multiple dimensions... not just the way we look, but also the way we feel, think and act and that we will choose for ourselves what we consider to be 'beautiful'."

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