Two lifelong friends start an organic skin and hair care brand following their new outlook in life, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup
WHEN she was little girl, Darshini Shan’s grandmother would rub hair oil all over her crown as part of a traditional Indian hair care treatment. It was meant to get Darshini’s hair to grow black and thick and for her to avoid premature greying later in life. Of course none of this made sense to her at the time.
“When I went out to play, my friends would tease me and call me ‘orang minyak’. But these are the same friends who call me up now asking for our hair oil,” says Darshini, co-founder of skin and hair care brand Lujo Organics.
Lujo’s hair oil is made using her grandmother’s recipe. It contains extra virgin coconut oil, castor oil, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds. The oil has a strong scent from the curry leaves, which is just how Darshini remembers from her childhood. She swears by its effectiveness and points to her own lush locks as proof.
“What I learnt from any application of hair oil is not to leave it overnight,” she says, perhaps noting the discomfort people might have over curry-smelling hair. “So you apply the oil, leave it for one or two hours as you exercise or do something and then wash it off.”
This product comes at a time when wellness trends call for natural, back-to-basics approach in skin and hair care. Related to this are the adoption of traditional eastern remedies by westerners who package the practices to an unfamiliar audience.
At the same time, some sections of society where these practices originate from no longer care about things like coconut hair oil. The familiarity with these applications have mostly disappeared in one or two generations as people become used to modern products.
Over time, traditional remedies have become unfashionable and difficult to find. But as Western wellness proponents endorse — or exploit — these knowledge and back them with both scientific proof and questionable claims, local consumers begin to take notice.
Lujo’s hair oil is a way for Darshini to reclaim her heritage. It wasn’t what she set out to do when she started the company, but she’s now convinced that traditional wellness treatments are worth pursuing, especially when they are seen through a modern perspective.
“It used to be so easy to find castor oil in my grandmother’s day,” says Darshini. “But now it’s almost impossible to buy good quality, pure castor oil in the market. We get ours from a supplier in Australia, where it is certified organic.”
“A lot of things that come from our traditions have gone overseas and are processed in such a way that they have become safer to use,” adds Asha Krishnan, Lujo co-founder on why they chose to go organic.
For the duo, a healthy lifestyle is more than just diet and exercise. It’s also about the products that are applied to the body since certain elements can be absorbed by the skin and eventually get into the bloodstream.
“Whatever is good for us to consume is also good for our natural body system. If you are in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, choosing organic skincare should be a priority,” says Darshini.
“In organic farming standards, what you want is for the produce to be 100 per cent residue-free from pesticides and fertilisers. In skincare, it means using ingredients that are non-hazardous or toxic that don’t disrupt the body’s natural state.”
Asha and Darshini source the ingredients for Lujo in Australia and the United Kingdom, where the majority of their products are manufactured. They would travel to meet with the suppliers face to face, and ensure that the items come with organic certification.
“A lot of people buy things online,” says Asha. “But there’s a very big difference between ordering something from behind a computer and going to the source and handpicking the ingredients. You get very different quality and you also can ask the suppliers a lot more questions.”
“We used to get a big batch of the products from the suppliers and transfer them into smaller containers when we’re back home. But it used to spoil very fast, so we decided to let the suppliers do the packaging to reduce the risk of contamination.”
But not everything is produced overseas. One of Lujo’s best-selling items is the coffee scrub, made from freshly-ground organic coffee, extra virgin coconut oil, natural aloe vera gel, brown sugar and vitamin E, which they mix themselves.
The resulting scrub smells like kerisik (toasted coconut paste) because of the coconut oil. Because there are no additional preservatives in the product, they recommend storing it in the fridge, as a damp bathroom can cause the scrub to go mouldy.
Another top-selling product is the orange peel scrub, which the duo make to order because of its brief shelf life. The scrub is essentially just the dehydrated peel of organic oranges that’s been ground into very fine granules. It is mixed with rose water and used as a face mask.
THE REAL DEAL
Like most people, Asha and Darshini grew up using conventional body and hair care products and used them for years without thinking much about it. But Darshini became concerned about the chemical contents of these products when she had her daughter about five years ago.
She decided to switch to organic food and cut out any products that she believes are harmful to her and her family. It’s a lifestyle change that was started by Darshini’s mother, and they’ve never looked back.
Meanwhile, Asha is a self-confessed beauty junkie. When Darshini began her research into the chemical contents of skin and hair care products, Asha became equally intrigued. She started to look for alternatives but was disappointed at the quality of some of the items in the market.
“I realised I was paying for chemically-infused products instead of the real thing. For example, argan oil that is only 20 per cent pure. So Darshini and I started sourcing these things for our own use. Our friends began asking for them and the venture became Lujo Organics,” says Asha.
Lujo’s argan oil is 100 per cent pure. It comes from Morocco through their supplier in the UK and is certified organic. The rose water, oatmeal body wash and lavender shampoo also come from organic sources.
With prices starting from RM35, the duo stress that Lujo is not a profit-bearing business. Lujo might mean luxury in Spanish, but it’s more of a philosophy and lifestyle rather than a hefty price tag.
Meanwhile, the rose water and argan oil have pretty much taken over from Asha’s previous skincare regimen of creams, serums and toners. “People don’t believe how little products we use,” she says.
She recalls a recent visit to South Korea where she visited many cosmetic shops in hopes of finding natural and organic skincare. But nothing seemed to satisfy her, and she wasn’t impressed with the many products that come in a Korean skincare regimen.
“With the current state of the world and our lifestyle, there’s already a lot of pollution all around us that we can’t control,” says Asha “So the things that I can control and that I willingly put on everyday, I would choose a natural, organic product.”
Darshini adds: “I also think we are on the right track and this practice will surely rub off on the younger generation. I know my daughter is aware of organic and why it’s important. Every little thing that we do makes a difference.”