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One of my favorite discoveries of the new year is a luxury Ayurvedic skin care line called Arya Essentials. I first heard about the brand through a friend and was blown away by the quality of the products that founder, Shadoh Punnapuzha, had developed. Like many entrepreneurs, the business was born out of necessity, specifically a negative reaction to the synthetic additives in the skin care products she was using. Having been raised on the healing traditions of Ayurveda, Shadoh began using some of the natural remedies her mother had taught her and was amazed by the results she got. Her homemade potions soon found ardent fans in friends and colleagues and thus, Arya Essentials was born. And the brand’s fan base is quickly growing – the Body Oil was recently named one of the ten best body oils by Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Read on and learn more about the founder, how she carved a niche in the competitive beauty space and why Ayurveda is the soul of the brand.
You were working in corporate finance before you started Arya Essentials. What made you decide to launch your own beauty brand?
Holistic beauty has always been something I’ve been passionate about. I grew up using natural ingredients that were literally sourced from the earth, and my mother had a lot to do with that. She would make these natural beauty remedies she learned from her mother. For instance, she would take pure sandalwood and grind it and mix it with honey and use it as a face mask. Or, she would cleanse her face with a mix of chickpea flour and almonds to exfoliate her skin. And of course she would always slather us in coconut oil from head to toe. As I grew older, I strayed from those regimens and noticed that my skin was reacting negatively to the synthetic products I was using. I also wasn’t getting the results that these products promised. I was breaking out like crazy, the products were drying out my skin, and I even got eczema, which I never had in my life. When I went to the dermatologist, I found out that it was a reaction to the ingredients that were in some of the products I was using. I decided then that I was going to start making my own remedies and once I did, it made all the difference in my skin. I also started making products for my friends and colleagues who loved the results they were getting. That was the moment when I realized I wanted to be able to share this with others and that is how Arya Essentials was born.
What was the opportunity you saw for Arya Essentials?
Ayurveda, which is the foundation of the brand, is something that’s been tried and true with an efficacy that rivals modern medicine. There are very few true Ayurvedic brands out there and I felt it was important to share the wonders of this holistic science. Ayurveda is not just about beauty, it’s about healing yourself from the inside out. It looks at your body as a whole and treats the imbalance by bringing the body back to equilibrium with natural medicine, yoga, and diet to impact the root cause of a symptom or disease. So, what we try to do is address problems at the root and help create products to treat the issues women have today with their skin.
You started the brand with oils. Was there a specific reason for that?
A lot of Ayurveda is based on oils because it is naturally occurring. Another reason is because oils are easily absorbed, which makes it an easy medium to deliver nutrition to the skin. We currently have three oils in our line: the Body Oil, the Face Oil and the Hair Oil. The Body Oil has coconut oil and sesame oil as the main ingredients to nourish the skin. We also included brahmi (aka Gotukala) because it helps fight cellulite while the addition of black pepper aids in stimulating circulation which helps bring life back to the skin. I’ve added Neroli oil to it as well which was inspired by my trip to Morocco where I would whiff this heavenly smelling flower everywhere I went. So I had to include it because it brings a smile to my face whenever I use the oil. It has amazing benefits for your skin and has a very calming aroma. The Face Oil, which is a staple in my skincare, uses key ingredients like amla, brahmi and sandalwood. Amla is a great ingredient because it is high in vitamin C, rich in antioxidants and prevents fine lines and wrinkles. Brahmi helps increase collagen production and reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles while stimulating the skin. Sandalwood helps to minimize the appearance of scars, reduces inflammation and detoxes the skin. The Hair Oil is something I have been using since I was young. Beautiful hair is important to women in India and is a symbol of beauty. If I use the Hair Oil consistently I can see my hair growing quickly, and my hair is shiny, smooth and lustrous. I love having long hair but I also highlight it, use hot tools like a curling iron and a flat iron so it wreaks havoc on my hair, as you can imagine. When I was younger, my mother would force my sister and I to sit down before a shower and massage coconut oil mixed with other herbs into our hair. I hated it back then but I look at pictures from that time and can see how great my hair looked. Our Hair Oil is based on that memory and includes coconut oil which is fantastic for hair. Bhringaraj, which is an herb, aids in preventing hair loss, increases hair growth and just improves the overall health of hair. A lot of women in India use it to prevent premature graying of hair as well. Fenugreek seeds, another key ingredient, are a staple in India and is used in everything – skin, hair, diet you name it. We use it to treat hair because it relieves dandruff, rebuilds hair follicles and strengthens dry and damaged hair.
How long did it take you to go from business idea to actual product?
I was already using versions of the Face Oil and Hair Oil on myself based on traditional formulations I had created. Once I decided that this was a business idea I wanted to pursue, it took about a year and a half to perfect the formulas. In addition to all of the research that took place, I traveled to India to source the best quality ingredients and meet with Ayurvedic doctors to leverage their vast knowledge and make sure that I was delivering excellent and effective products.
It seems like there are so many beauty oils in the market. What differentiates Arya Essentials from other beauty oils?
Ayurveda was the inspiration for a lot of the ingredients used in our beauty oil so the ingredients are very different from what is typically available in the market today. These are ingredients that have been used for centuries for anti-aging, skin healing and maintaining skin’s vitality and glow so the products aren’t something we just made up on our own. Also, the process of making the oils is very labor intensive and we follow the traditional method for preparing the oils. Ayurveda really looks at each ingredient individually based on its characteristic and must be prepared in a specific way to extract the best qualities of those ingredients. Some of the ingredients have to be prepared separately before adding them to the oil. First, they are boiled individually for a few hours and then later heated in the oil for approximately 6-8 hours for the benefits to infuse into the oil. Even the vessels used have to be specific. It often takes an entire day just to get one ingredient. These then need to sit for a week or so before they can be used and mixed in with the other oils. And from there the mixture has to sit for several days so the ingredients can harmonize. It is an extremely time consuming process but it’s worth it for the results you get.
Although the oils are made in India, the business is based in Brooklyn. Why was it important to keep the business local?
I live in Brooklyn so it was very important for me to keep the production in Brooklyn so that I am able to carefully oversee every detail. We are truly committed to delivering products of the highest quality and that applies to every aspect of the business.
How do you see your line expanding in the future?
I foresee adding additional products to the line this year but we want to take our time and not rush it. It takes a lot of research, time and testing to figure out the right combination. There is an art to it. I want to make sure every product reflects my passion for this ancient tradition of holistic medicine.
What advice would you give someone who wants to create their own product or launch their own beauty business?
I would say it is important to be consistent in your efforts no matter how discouraged you feel at times. You will have your good days and bad days but stay true to yourself and don’t give up. Starting a business is not easy so it is important to continually remind yourself of the passion and purpose of why you started your endeavor. I also think it’s important to have a network of other entrepreneurs to talk to even if they are not in the same industry. Hearing their stories and sharing yours really helps keep you motivated and not feel alone in your journey.