Tuingam Louzhi recalls watching her grandmother pound perilla seeds on a block of wood mortar till it turned into paste. Out of that paste, her grandmother would squeeze out a few drops of oil, which she would then apply on Louzhi’s dry skin. Known for its antioxidant and anti-allergic properties, this oil would help paper over the cracks that would appear on her face during the cold and dry winters in Ukhrul, Manipur.
(Image above of Tuingam Louzhi with her skincare product Perilla Seeds Face Oil)
“Usually, our family would pound perilla seeds into paste, which we would then eat with our meals. During winters, however, my grandmother would put these seeds on a wooden mortar, crush them, make a paste and roll that into a ball in our palm. She would take the oil extracted from this ball and apply it on our cracked cheeks during the winter. Winters in Ukhrul are very cold and we would often end up with pinkish-red cracked cheeks because of the dry climate,” says Louzhi, in a conversation with The Better India.
Fast forward two decades. She is using the same edible seeds for her face oil, made and processed naturally under her brand Secrets Cosmetics, launched in 2019 and based out of Ukhrul, Manipur. Her products are cold pressed, i.e, processed or extracted without involving high heat levels which can destroy proteins and fats in oils that could be good for your skin.
While many in India may not have heard about the wonders of these edible seeds, germinating from the Perilla frutescen herb, they are a traditional staple (used to make chutneys, snacks and curries) among different tribal communities in parts of Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya. These seeds are known by different names like Bhanjeer or Banjiraa (Uttarakhand), Hanshi (local Tangkhul dialect in Manipur), or Chhawhchhi (Mizoram).
From the Tangkhul Naga community, 24-year-old Louzhi extracts oil from perilla seeds to manufacture packaged skincare products. She launched the Perilla Seeds Face Oil in December 2020, prior to which she developed other skincare and beauty products along the way. She is seeking markets for her face oil and the larger brand beyond the Northeast.
Apply what you can eat
The mission of Secrets Cosmetics is to bring out the best of nature into their products that are not just good for the skin, but for the environment as well.
“All our products are environmentally friendly. Chemicals used in cosmetics today also play a significant role in polluting the environment and harming our skin. We launched the perilla seeds face oil in December 2020 and so far, it’s our best selling product. All the material we need is sourced from farmers in Ukhrul,” she claims.
Louzhi started Secrets Cosmetics in 2019 because of her innate passion to make skincare products even though she had no family background in entrepreneurship.
As a young child, she recalls making homemade face packs from ingredients such as turmeric and aloe vera, sourced from her family kitchen garden. She even worked as a makeup artist for a year in Delhi, which helped her learn about the products she was dealing with, the ingredients/raw materials used to make them, the process of making them and so on. This, in turn, helped her gain perspective of how she can incorporate natural materials instead of harmful chemicals. However, her start in the business world wasn’t particularly promising.
Just before launching Secrets Cosmetics, she did a basic course to understand how to make lipsticks and lip balms. Those were the products she initially sold, competing with a few other beauty labels in the Northeast dedicated to personal grooming. But all the materials had to be sourced from outside Manipur. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, it became hard to procure raw materials. As a result, she had to halt her business for a while.
She spent the time on her hand researching natural ingredients locally available which she could develop into skincare products. Her philosophy in this regard was very simple — ‘Apply what you can eat’. From seasonal fruits to flowers, she began extensively researching the vast amounts of natural produce available near her hometown of Ukhrul.
Today, Secrets Cosmetics has expanded their range of products employing natural ingredients. From hand wash made of orange extracts to bar soaps made of goat milk, lavender, water lily and cucumber, as well as face scrubs featuring Vitamin C and turmeric, Louzhi has gone above and beyond her simple origins. However, standing above everything else is her perilla seed face oil. The making of this face oil was inspired by two elements–old family practices and the fact that perilla seeds are endemic to the region.
She sources her seeds from local farmers. Packaged in small bottles of 20 ml, this is an amber-hued light face oil.
“Farmers in Ukhrul harvest the perilla seeds in October. As a result of the pandemic, their produce has a hard time making it to the consumer market. It was at this time we sought to procure all the seeds from them. In the past year, we have only expanded our network of farmers. Once the seeds come through, we clean up all the impurities, sun-dry them for a week, store them in a tight container and then start the process of extracting the oil. Once the oil is extracted, we process it naturally to ensure the purity of the product is maintained. At the bottom of our 20 ml bottle, the oil is a little opaque, which is alright. After all, oils that are extremely clear and sparkle in the market undergo heavy processing, and this results in losing some of their good-for-your-skin qualities,” she explains.
This 20 ml bottle, which costs Rs 399, can last a month if you use it once in the morning and once at night. In the morning, you can apply two drops of the oil and at night three drops, and it caters to all skin types, claims Louzhi. “If you apply more than these few drops, your skin could get quite oily. These few drops are enough to cover every crevice and wrinkle on your face. However, we usually recommend just the three drops at night,” she adds.
A review done by the Voice of Fashion states, “Citing the benefits of Omega-3 in the perilla seeds that offer antioxidant benefits, Louzhi recommends the product for dry skin and anti-ageing concerns. On testing, the product reveals a nutty fragrance and a dense texture (best tested before using in humid weather and on oily skin types) that leaves the skin moisturised.”
Customers outside Manipur can place orders on the Secrets Cosmetics Instagram page.
Going forward, Louzhi is developing a new haircare product made with black sesame seeds (called Khaching in Tangkhul dialect), which is slated for launch later this month. Besides selling her products, where there is an emphasis on the natural, Louzhi is keen on changing her customer’s approach to beauty and skincare products.
“There is an expectation that if you use a certain product, the effect would be immediate or instant. We’re taking a holistic approach. Consumers need to understand that having good skin isn’t merely a consequence of the products they use, but about their lifestyle choices as well, nutrition intake and whether they’re willing to care for it in the long run. In other words, for good skin, you don’t need to depend on expensive products laden with all sorts of chemicals. You just have to find the right product which is good for you and that having good skin requires work from your end as well,” she notes.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)