A Clean Beauty Company Inspired by the Science of Ayurveda
“It’s important to have authentic voices bringing these products and ingredients forward. Not just for the sake of representation, but for the sake of understanding so that those stories are authentically shared.”
When Lisa Mattam found her nearly three-year-old daughter slathered in face cream, her first reaction was to tell her, “You can’t have that on your skin.” In that moment, Mattam realized: If the product wasn’t safe enough for her daughter to play with, it wasn’t good enough for her own skin, either.
Mattam thought about the products that she did let her daughter play with and realized they were always the ones her parents brought to Canada from Kerala, India, where Mattam’s family is from. “Those were the ingredients and formulas that I trusted,” she recalls.
Kerala is the epicentre of Ayurveda, a natural system of medicine based on the idea that ailments are linked to an internal imbalance caused by stress, the environment and diet. Ayurveda, which means “the science of life” in Sanskrit, uses plant-based remedies, yoga and meditation to restore balance and health, and it has been studied for centuries. “Growing up, oiling my hair or using turmeric on a pimple, that was just how I was raised,” says Mattam. “But I didn’t realize how steeped in science it all was.”
Mattam reached out to two Ayurvedic doctors in Kerala and began to formulate the products she wanted by reverse engineering them. “I would tell [the doctors] what I wanted the product to do, and they would tell [my team and me] what ingredients and proportions we needed,” she explains. “I really wanted to bring [natural beauty products] to people and the way I knew how was to get this old-world science, work with doctors in India, and then prove it with modern science.” In 2015 she launched Sahajan, an Ayurvedic skin and hair care line built on all-natural ingredients that are scientifically proven to work.
One of the line’s star ingredients is turmeric, which “has really risen to popularity in the last couple of years because it’s a known anti-inflammatory,” says Mattam. Sahajan’s turmeric-loaded Brightening Mask is inspired by the haldi ceremony that’s performed in many parts of India before a bride gets married. “The bride is covered with a mix of turmeric and ingredients like rosewater and fruit,” Mattam says. “It’s meant to give you your best glowy skin, and our mask was inspired by that. It’s really an Ayurvedic recipe for hyperpigmentation.”
Image: Courtesy of Sahajan
Sahajan’s Nurture hair oil, another bestselling product, is inspired by the Ayurvedic hair oil treatment, where oil is applied directly to the scalp and hair from root to end, combed through, left for several hours and then washed out with shampoo. The result is shiny, soft, strong locks. “It’s been shown to strengthen the resilience of hair and help with hair loss, shine and lustre,” says Mattam.
Hair oiling treatments are a practice with deep roots in India and other parts of south Asia, and it’s often a family affair. “Most South Asian girls have a memory of—whether it’s their mom or aunt, or in my case, my dad—having this very intimate familial moment,” says Mattam. This intimacy is depicted on-screen in the latest season of Netflix’s hit show Bridgerton, as the Sharma sisters apply hair oil to each other’s locks. “Does [hair oiling] work? Absolutely,” says Mattam. “But there’s also something incredible for familial relationships when someone does that with your hair. There’s nothing like it.”
While popular media like Bridgerton make ancient rituals like hair oiling buzzy, these practices and ingredients have a rich history that isn’t always recognized. “It’s important to have authentic voices bringing these products and ingredients forward,” says Mattam. “Not just for the sake of representation, but for the sake of understanding so that those stories are authentically shared.”
This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history. Read more from this series here:
Get more great stories delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the Best Health Must-Reads newsletter. Subscribe here.