Does Ayurveda equal Natural?
In its original form, yes, Ayurveda was natural. The Vaidyas of the past used what was available in nature to create remedies for different problems. Herbs were abundant and had high efficacy due to the pristine environs they grew in. Other naturally occurring minerals were also incorporated in the formulations. Most of these formulations were medicinal in nature and their primary objective was to cure.
The preparation of these remedies was also done very differently from the way it is done today. They were diligently prepared by the Vaidya or his assistant in the Vaidyashala itself and in most cases administered on-site. Thus there was no need to package them or to conserve them. Since Ayurveda was medicinal in nature, the remedies did not have a pleasant smell or good taste.
Yes, at that point of time, Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicines were natural.
Over a period of time some herbs became renowned for their benefits to skin & hair, these were then used in beauty applications. Again, they were mostly used in preparations which were made on-site and just before use. These were in the form of lepas, udvartan, etc. These were made from herbs which were freshly ground, perhaps mixed with milk or water and applied. There was enough time at hand, both to prepare and apply them.
Yes, at that point of time, Ayurveda or Ayurvedic cosmetics were natural.
Then some wise people, one renowned lady in particular , decided to sell the benefits of these Ayurvedic herbs to the modern consumer who lived in different places, had little time for the beauty regime and wanted the beauty product to not only do good but also feel good, smell good. And for it to be available when they needed it.
This is when Ayurveda stopped being natural.
What happened was an unholy matrimony of Ayurvedic herbs and the chemical base of conventional cosmetics. To create a cosmetic product you need active ingredients and a base which contains emulsifiers, foaming agents, stabilizers etc. These creators of Ayurvedic cosmetics wisely chose Ayurvedic herbs as actives but they neither had the resources nor the understanding of using a natural base to deliver the benefits of Ayurvedic herbs. Therefore turmeric, sandalwood, tulsi etc. were cavorting with silicones, parabens and artificial fragrances. They were packaged and sold to consumers as Ayurvedic products with only the names of herbs mentioned as ingredients. The gullible consumer gladly consumed them, believing them to be the same product as what their grandmothers or great-grandmothers were painstakingly creating in their time. To give due credit, these creators used Ayurvedic herbs in their natural extract form and in good quantity thereby retaining some dignity for Ayurveda in this alliance.
Then came the evangelists to take Ayurveda to the masses- the big umbrella FMCG brands of Ayurveda. Cheapest raw materials were used, percentage of herbs was drastically reduced, industrially produced extracts were bought off the shelf and strong preservatives were used to give maximum shelf life to meet the needs of the distribution system. Ayurveda was reduced to a side-player, except on the label.
Thanks to them Ayurveda in cosmetics was reduced to a selling gimmick.
Fortunately the tide is starting to reverse. Thanks to the research in the west, there are now enough base materials of natural origin available. High-end Ayurveda brands are now starting to switch to them and hopefully in the future will become completely natural.