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Reuters/Jitendra Prakash
Pune to Beverly Hills.
NATURAL BEAUTY

“The elixir of life”: Hollywood has discovered the Indian gooseberry and celebs can’t get enough

The humble Indian gooseberry, or amla, is finding takers among America’s hippest celebrities.

Bottles of supplements and creams made from the antioxidant-rich fruit, known as the “elixir of life,” are being endorsed by stars such as Kim Kardashian West, Britney Spears, and Sofia Vergara. That’s because amla has for long been used in the ancient Indian medicinal system of ayurveda, and Dr Raj Kanodia, a popular plastic surgeon in Hollywood, has been recommending it to clients looking to keep their skin healthy and youthful.

Kanodia, who grew up in the Indian city of Kolkata, has built a career performing cosmetic surgeries over the last three decades. But he’s spent the past few years on what he calls the “next generation of research,” studying the benefits of amla to fight ageing.

In 2012, the doctor launched an amla-based peptide serum that promised a youthful glow, and his range now includes three more products—skin supplements and an amla moisturiser—all priced between $80 and $90 and sold via his website. These products are endorsed by celebrities such as Kardashian West, who has promoted the range on Twitter where she has over 56 million followers.

Dr Kanodia now plans to expand his range to include cleansers, tea, dark chocolate, and even water infused with amla.

Amla for everyone

Amla, the fruit of the Phyllanthus Emblica Linn tree, is found in abundance in the sub-tropical mountainous regions of southeast Asia, which includes India, Thailand, Indonesia, and China.

In India, the tiny fruit is widely consumed in the form of pickles, jams, and powdered concoctions, besides being eaten raw. And large local consumer good firms, such as Patanjali Ayurved, Dabur, and Himalaya, already sell hair oils, powders, and face packs that promise smooth hair and better-looking skin, thanks to the goodness of amla, some priced for as little as Rs41 for 90ml.

Amla is packed with Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. It also boasts of high levels of amino acids and protein and has been used for centuries in ayurveda and unani to cure a range of ailments (pdf). And that’s the golden ticket in a world where consumers are increasingly turning to natural foods and herbal treatments to make their skin glow and their hair shine.

“Consumers hold positive views of natural skincare offerings, a theme further reflected in strong sales of products touting familiar, naturally positioned ingredients directly from this,” Margie Nanninga, beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel, wrote in a 2016 report on skincare in the US.

So for beauty-conscious shoppers in the West, Dr Kanodia’s growing amla range promises exactly what they’re looking for.

Discovering Amla

Dr Kanodia’s tryst with amla began long before he moved to the US and became Hollywood’s go-to surgeon.

Over the phone from his office in Beverly Hills, California, Dr Kanodia recalled how he grew up on a strict diet of chyawanprash, a sweet ayurvedic concoction of honey, ghee, sugar, amla, and various spices. “All of us children in the family were given a spoon each every day,” he told Quartz.

But after studying rhinoplasty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr Kanodia focused on plastic surgery, becoming the popular choice for celebrities who want to deny having had a nose-job, according to Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Over the years, Dr Kanodia has performed over 9,000 rhinoplasty surgeries. His list of clients includes Jennifer Aniston and Cindy Crawford, besides politicians and even royalty from around the world.

His interest in natural ingredients began 25 years ago when he began studying ayurveda. In fact, he even developed a line of ayurvedic skin-care products, which included a papaya enzyme peel and creams made with aloe vera. But in the last six years, it’s amla that has captured his fancy as a way to fight the effects of ageing.

“In ayurveda, they say that amla can heal everything. So I was very curious how come they are talking about it and how you can make your skin and hair beautiful with it,” he explained.

Inspired by the way amla hair oil was used by Indian women, including his own mother, Dr Kanodia began researching ways to create nourishing products that could work in the West. He went on to partner with Nisarga Biotech, a laboratory in Pune, which sources amla from a forest in the region, before shipping it to the US, where it is used to make Dr Kanodia’s skin-care products and supplements.

In the US, these amla-based products are further infused with folic acid, creatine, and sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a commonly used source of Vitamin C, to boost their skin-care properties.

For now, the products are only available on his website and through select boutiques in cities such as London and New York City. But a commercial launch is in the offing over the next year or two, and there are plans to eventually expand the range to markets such as India, Dr Kanodia said. He now wants to step up marketing efforts and is chasing endorsements from top Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to make amla a global trend.

Besides Kardashian West, pop star Britney Spears, and Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara have promoted the product on Instagram. Earlier this year, Dr Kanodia also held an “amla party” in Beverly Hills, which was attended by beauty blogger Huda Katan, as well as Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

Over the next year, Dr Kanodia expects that his “energy with amla will take it to another level.”

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