On a hot summer afternoon, Mitali Mishra (name changed), 45, rushes out of the comfort of her South Delhi home to keep an appointment with her beautician. She has booked the super-luxurious wine facial that promises to take years off her face and give her healthy, toned skin. Mitali has an important dinner in the evening, and the mother-of-two can't wait to dazzle her guests with her new, radiant look.
What's a wine facial, you may ask. Well it's the next big thing in skin care and a supposedly wonder anti-ageing therapy. Red wine is no longer just used to raise a toast to good health, success and long life. Many fashionable women in the country are now using a Merlot to make their skin glow. Gone are the days of home-made beauty treatment recommended by grandmothers, whether it is sandalwood paste or 'multani mitti' (fuller's earth) mixed with rosewater. Even the once-hip chocolate and fresh fruit face treatments are passé. Today, it is turn of the expensive wine facial to enjoy the salon limelight.
This new treatment seems to be catching on with Delhi's upper-crust. Ruchika, who runs a salon in Delhi's Hauz Khas market, introduced wine facials six months ago. She waxes eloquent about the virtues of this "relaxing" facial and claims that feedback from clients has convinced her that this mild therapy is perfect to revitalise facial skin. Talking about the popularity and benefits of this treatment, the beauty expert says, "A wine facial improves blood circulation and reduces wrinkles. The interest in wine facials is growing steadily. Every month, we do at least half-a-dozen wine facials. Although, of course, it is our foreign clients who express the maximum interest in the treatment." But it all comes at a price. Ruchika charges Rs 1,200 (US$1=Rs 44.6) per session.
Elaborating on the wine facial offered at her salon, Ruchika explains, "We are using readymade Ayurvedic cream, made in India with technical collaboration from U.K. For women with dry skin, we use a regular cream and mix it with a few drops of imported red wine for the wine facial."
One of India's most sought after cosmetologists, Shahnaz Husain, CMD, Shahnaz Group of Companies, is also very enthusiastic about wine facials. "Nothing can beat the glow of wine facials. They have a purely herbal base and can cure infections. The result is a clear, unblemished skin with a pink tinge. While massaging, the beauty therapist can mix almond for dry skin and Aloe Vera for oily and acne prone skin. Grape wine is also excellent as it contains polyphenol, an effective anti oxidant."
Wine has long been a part of world history and culture - as a sacred and ceremonial drink, an accompaniment to delectable cuisine or simply a mood lifter. Now it is big in the beauty business as well. A variety of wine-based face products are being promoted as "a must-try for those who want to get back their youthful look". Be it the ultra-luxurious L'Or De Vie Serum from Dior, developed in partnership with Château d'Yquem, or the Grape Beauty Milk from L'Occitane, wine-based products have taken anti-ageing treatment to a whole new level. Besides the products and the traditional reds, indigenous wines made from spices like 'saunf' (fennel seeds), cardamom, 'kesar' (saffron) and fruits like strawberry and orange, are also being sourced by salons to formulate therapies that are promoted as "refreshing".
But is a wine facial suited to all skin types? According to noted Delhi-based cosmetologist and aesthetician, Bharti Taneja, wine is very good for oily and acne-prone skin as it reduces chances of acne formation. "I wouldn't recommend it for dry skin at all. It will only make your skin drier." Elaborating on the benefits of the facial, Taneja says, "The therapeutic quality of wine relaxes the skin muscles. It's very rejuvenating."
A very happy Mitali couldn't agree more, as we caught up with her. "I loved the wine facial. The massage was invigorating and my skin felt more radiant and supple. Besides, I have always liked to move with the times and am always tempted to have a go at the latest in skin care," she elaborates.
Mitali represents an increasing tribe of well-heeled women consumers in India who are making a beeline to salons and shoring up, in the process, the bottom line of the beauty industry. Keeping abreast with their aspirations, and thriving on them, are many players - familiar names and new ones. They offer a range of services and products, including therapies that grandma would have laughed at: fish pedicures, for instance. Shehnaz Hussain has even introduced a Ayurvedic Plant Stem Cells Facial recently. Explains Hussain, "When plant stem cells are introduced into the skin through external cosmetic care, they actually influence the skin at the cellular level and activate the process of repair and replacement of dead and damaged skin cells. They also stimulate the cell regeneration process in the skin, reducing ageing signs."
The action is not just at the high end of the market. Taneja is quick to point out that there are products for every pocket and that any facial can yield good results if done properly. "In my salon, we have tried to reach out to the middle class by offering relaxing facials for as low as Rs 350. Clients can avail of fruit, glow or Aloe Vera facials for anything between Rs 500 to Rs 600. We are also planning to start honey and sugar facials that would help tighten the skin and improve complexion."
What seems to be increasingly catching on is the demand for natural ingredients. Says Santosh Pawar, a beauty expert at a popular salon in the Capital, "Most of our clients opt for herbal or organic facials, free of chemicals. On ordinary days, we do about four facials a day but when the demand peaks during festivals, this number could go up to 40!"
Little wonder then that the beauty industry in India, estimated to be growing at 13 per cent a year, is considered to be "recession-proof". And whether the women hoping for youthful skin through wine facials or whatever, actually achieve their dream or not, the beauty professionals certainly are raising a toast to themselves.
However, there are voices of conscience as well condemning this conspicuous consumption. As Rachna Burman, a senior media industry executive, says, "In a country with such abject poverty, it is criminal to be spending money on wine facials."