In the days before I had children of my own, I lived still in a world that had so lost touch with natural ingredients and forces, that most cooking processes required a mediating technology. Aside from stoves and refrigerators, think: yogurt makers. Think: dehydrators. Other processes had just been industrialized and lost to daily cookery regimes so much so that butter became the mistake that happened when cream was overwhipped. Sour cream was a product name, not what happened to fresh cow cream set out overnight for natural bacteria to work. Putting a tray of tomatoes on the dashboard of your car to “sun dry” was, in some sort of wacky reverse logic, what we’d call today a “food hack.”
There was also compartmentalization. Food was food and medicine was medicine, and the two areas only lightly met when the hospital served you clear soup after you’d had a baby. Medicines in place of massages, midwives in place of mothers, nobody came by with mysterious laddus to help enhance your nursing milk supply. Health and beauty products were just that–a market need to be satisfied, routes to indulgence rather than a way of living with and caring for your flesh and your skin.
In those days, my mother-in-law used to send me jars of this fragrant, wonderful face powder scrub–which I loved partly for what it was, and partly for its origins shrouded in traditional grandmotherly mystique. (That was an indulgence, yes).
Then we moved to a place with wet markets and a more reverential, productive relationship with the sun. A good dimension of local cookery, preservation, and pickle-making starts on open terraces where ingredients can be spread to dry, or absorb drying heat, even in the most humid climes.
A hot place, which drove me to wash my face several times in a day. Also a place where evidence of our over-reliance on plastics and the consequent environmental degradation is laid out for all to witness — at each street corner, in each open drain (our French colonial heritage), and along each roadside.
So, for a more loving relationship with the sun, with my skin, with the ingredients growing all around me, each with a thousand wondrous healing properties–and to escape the mediations and machinations of companies who mine our knowledge of the natural world and return it to us in proprietary plastic packages of “health and beauty” products–I needed this face scrub all over again. Or, I should say, I was ready now to make it on my own. Pun intended.
Here’s how I went about it, so you can follow along if you wish. If you don’t wish–but want the powder nonetheless–write me. I’ll find a way to get you some.
Step 1: Gather your ingredients, know their value
- 1 part tulasi leaves–holy basil–Ocimum tenuiflorum: anti-bacterial, cleansing; fragrant
- 1 part “paneer” rose petals–பன்னீர் ரோஜா–Damask rose–Rosa Damascena: anti-inflammatory, mildly astringent (good for oily skin); fragrant, rejuvenating
- 1 part dried organic orange peels: anti-bacterial, lightens blemishes, skin brightening, ex-foliating, improves skin tone (good for dry skin!); fragrant
- 1 part marikozhundhu–மரிக்கொழுந்து–Dhavanam (Sans.)–Artemisia pallens: protects skin from acne, boils; effective in treating small skin abrasions
- 1 part marjoram–Maruvu மருவு Origanum majorana: antioxidant, aids minor wound healing; said to keep skin smooth and delay wrinkling onset; fragrant
- 1 part neem–veppa ilai–வேம்பு இலை–Azadirachta indica: anti-fungal, anti-bacterial
- 1 handful (about 100 grams) dried wild turmeric root–kasturi manjal–கஸ்தூரி மஞ்சள்–Curcuma aromatica: anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral used in the treatment of eczema, acne, insect bites and other minor skin ailments; said to improve complexion (!) and deter facial hair growth; non-staining (unlike cooking turmeric) and fragrant
- 50 grams edible camphor–pacchai karpooram–பச்சை கற்பூரம்–Cinnamomum camphora: anti-fungal, soothing, relieves skin irritations; fragrant and very cooling; also acts as a natural preservative to keep the mix from spoilage or attracting bugs over a long period of time.
- 4-5 parts gram flour–kadalai mau–கடலை மாவு–cleansing, removes excess oils and prevents the formation of pimples and blackheads, keeps skin supple and glowing; helps keep all the above ingredients together and create a smooth, applicable paste
I started with orange peels, since they take longest to accumulate and dry. For any orange we ate, we saved the peels which I then tore into bits, and set on a drying tray beside a sunny window.
Next, I collected all the ingredients that needed drying from the garden and from our local market. The leaves needed picking over, to be separated from tougher stems, and a thorough rinse.
Flowers needed to be separated from calyces, and rinsed. I spun these in a salad spinner in batches to remove as much of the rinse water as possible. And then laid them out to dry, too. In Pondicherry’s eternal summer heat, it didn’t take but a day or a bit more (to be safe).
Kasturi manjal or wild turmeric, camphor, and gram flour were the only ingredients bought in a form that was pretty much good to go.
Here are images of pretty much all the ingredients, in both fresh and dried form:
Tulasi from the garden; I used the darker variety or “krishna tulasi” but any will do.
Marjoram and Danavam (no English common name I could find for this one), in fresh and then dried form:
Orange peels alongside:
Then of course the gorgeous, fragrant damask rose:
Which filled my kitchen with a fragrance that lingered for days..
Neem leaves from the tree branches all around us:
Kasturi manjal, or wild turmeric from the vaidyar kadai or traditional medicine shop in town, followed by camphor–I used the edible sort just to be safe:
Step 2: Grinding
The dry wild turmeric and orange peel being tougher, they were each treated separately. I crushed the wild turmeric in a mortar first, and then gave it to the food grinder. The dry petals and leaves were also done separately for the sake of photos, but really those could well be combined.
It was hard not to spend endless periods just admiring the ingredients, in all their forms. This was after the first round of grinding, when the powders were still a little coarse.
Add camphor next, followed by gram flour. The trick to getting a fine powder is to add about a portion of the gram flour to the mix of other ingredients in your processor — and blitz.
Then transfer to a large mixing bowl, and add the remaining gram flour in–up to 4 portions total (with about 1 portion reserved to add during Step 3 below, testing).
You want a fine powder, so make sure your processor can deliver one. Sieve out any other bits remaining, or return to the processor along with some gram flour (which helps in the powdering) for another blitz.
Step 3: Testing
Here’s where a little testing helps: take a spoonful of the powder and try to make it into a paste with the addition of teaspoon-fulls of water. If it applies smoothly on your skin (test on an arm), then you’re good to go. If not — return the mix to the processor to powder further, and/or add a bit more gram flour. Test it again. When you’ve got a spreadable paste, you know your proportions are good.
My powder below was on the coarse side–not good enough for a paste that stays on. It took a couple more grindings.
Step 4: Storage
Store in jars in a cool spot for up to 6 months. Don’t worry, the bugs don’t like camphor, so the scrub keeps very well–though it does lose its fresh and complex fragrance in a few months, so it’s better used earlier rather than later. One method is to store in a large jar with a tight-fitting lid and keep out only what you use in a week–and refill your daily supply as needed.
Step 5: Application
To use, mix a tablespoon of the powder with water enough to make a thick but spreadable paste. Rinse your face, and apply the paste all over, taking care to avoid contact with eyes (though I often wash over eyelids, too).
Sometimes I apply the paste in my hands and then massage my face, rubbing all those wonderful floral ingredients in and allowing them to do their skin-care exfoliating work. Then I apply a thicker paste on my face, and leave it on like a mask for 15 minutes, or until it’s starting to dry.
Go read a book for a bit. It’s you time. The scrub on your face should feel ice-cold and rejuvenating and intriguingly scented.
Time to rinse it off when you feel your skin pulling just slightly. Do this with cool water, rubbing in upward-outward circles to massage your face once again while removing the drying paste.
And that’s it. Towel off, and you’re set. Don’t use soap immediately after.
Do use the powder again soon!