Padma Lakshmi's Holistic Indian Skincare Secrets Are Too Good Not to Share

By the time Padma Lakshmi swings by the Byrdie studio to film a series of videos about her beauty routine (and new MAC makeup collection), I already have a feeling she might have some wise skincare tricks up her sleeve. Despite her demanding career as a model, activist, author, and Top Chef host, the 48-year-old’s complexion is about 4000 times tighter and more luminous than that of anyone I’ve ever met (you know, just to make a rough estimate). After our video shoot, a 30-minute conversation between Lakshmi and me reveals that the quality of her skin, hair, and health overall is no accident. Over the last four decades, the TV personality has become a veritable connoisseur of holistic skincare and wellness remedies, making use of plant-derived and essential oils to treat everything from belly bloat to a depleted mood.

“I love essential oils,” she tells me breathlessly, as if she were talking about a lifelong love. “I use the principles of aromatherapy in my life daily.”

Many of Lakshmi’s favorite holistic recipes and rituals were inspired by growing up with her family in India: “A lot of the traditional Indian rituals around wellness or beauty have to do with herbs, plants, and oils,” she says, recalling memories of her grandmother making her own kajal eyeliner out of plants or burning sembrani root and using the sweet-smelling smoke to dry and perfume locks of Lakshmi’s hair. She remembers traditional brides being rubbed with turmeric paste the night before their wedding so their skin would glow.

During her childhood in India, beauty traditions were built into the very structure of Lakshmi’s family life. “Once a week, we all sat down—my grandmother, my mom, my aunt, me, little babies—and would always have braiding lines. They would go shortest to tallest, and we’d all sit single-file and oil the hair of the person in front of us,” she recollects. “It was always on a weekend, and you’d see all us kids hanging out in our tank tops and underwear.”

Lakshmi and her many cousins all grew up together in a small house with only two bathrooms, so the family’s weekly group beauty sessions were motivated more by expedience than anything. “You got oiled at the same time, bathed at the same time, scrubbed withshika [a nourishing Indian root] at the same time. … It was just easier to hose down all the kids at once,” Laksmi says with a laugh.  “It was a nice way to be introduced to grooming. It’s a nice bonding ritual between women and a way to pass down these traditions while still passing quality time with multiple generations in a family.”

In the years since, Lakshmi has become holistic beauty guru in her own right, learning to craft a variety of custom essential oil blends. It makes sense when you consider her background in food.

“Making a custom blend is like any other kind of recipe,” she says, explaining that, like concocting the perfect sauce or marinade, the key to a great oil blend is, first, to know your ingredients, and second, to achieve the right balance of components. “You don’t want to have too many essential oils in one remedy, because sometimes they contradict each other, or it’s just too much,” she says. “It’s like when you put too many ingredients in one dish, it doesn’t work. Same goes for these topical remedies. You don’t want to mix more than maybe five essential oils in one formula.”

To our good fortune, Lakshmi was more than willing to share a few of her favorite essential-oil blends and other alternative beauty secrets. Read on to find out how to de-bloat, re-hydrate your hair, and elevate your mood in no time, all thanks to the power of a few simple plant-based ingredients.