Uma Founder Shrankhla Holecek on How Ayurveda Applies to Modern Life

The entrepreneur known for her luxurious face oils and body balms shares some of the ways the ancient philosophy can be incorporated into everyday rituals.

Shrankhla Holecek in a white outfit
Courtesy of Uma Oils

When most westerners hear the word Ayurveda, they might associate it only with certain herbs or diets, or with panchakarma, the intense detox program that often takes place during a multi-day retreat. But a lot of us incorporate Ayurvedic principles and practices into our wellness routines without even realizing their connection to the ancient Indian philosophy: yoga, meditation, dry brushing, tongue scraping and oil pulling all originate from Ayurveda.

Shrankhla Holecek, an engineer by training and a former McKinsey consultant, grew up in India, where Ayurvedic principles were such an integral part of her upbringing that she didn’t think much about them. When she was confronted with stress-related health issues in her 20s, she found her way back to the practice and built Uma, an Ayurvedic beauty brand whose skincare products, supplements, natural aromatherapeutic fragrances and beauty tools can be found on Goop, The Detox Market, SSENSE and the like.

While all of Uma’s products smell and feel truly divine—I know at least one person who uses their Pure Calm oil in lieu of perfume—later this fall, the brand will introduce a new line called Pure Love, which incorporates aromatherapeutic ingredients like Sandalwood, Jasmine and Rose to promote confidence, self-love and harmony. Here, Holecek opens up about her journey back to Ayurveda, the simple trick she uses to de-puff a hangover face, and the face tools she keeps by her bed.

Uma is based on Ayurvedic principles, practices and ingredients. Can you tell us about your personal connection with Ayurveda?

Ayurveda has always been a part of my life, it’s inherent in me in an instinctive, generational way. I am definitely more of a right-brained person, so it requires a little bit of a leap of faith, or simply saying that there are things that one may not understand simply by looking at data. As children, my siblings and I could never wash our hair without having oiled it the night before. When we brushed our teeth, we would always scrape our tongues. We did weekly gommages, which were annoying when we wanted to be out playing, but our aunts and mom insisted on it. There were definitely Ayurvedic traditions that just became part of how I thought one lived life and cared for oneself growing up.

What role does it play in your life today?

My more cerebral connection with Ayurveda happened when I truly was challenged in life. When I was a consultant in my 20s, I was working 80-hour weeks, going on lots of flights, dealing with lots of mismanaged anxiety, and I wasn’t able to step back and process it. Without going into the details, I was getting sick. I would fly to a client location and end up in the emergency room. I took the leap of faith back again to dive into things that were in my family, in my blood, in actual Ayurvedic scriptures, that brought me a lot of relief when traditional medication didn't. Which is not to say that I'm not a believer in Western medicine—I think it shines as a complement to it. Like, when you have a blistering headache, take an Advil. But if you get them every day, think about why you're getting them every day. Ayurveda shines when it comes to those chronic ailments that Western medicine does not have answers for.

How does that philosophy get translated into skincare?

The Western concept of treating skin as an individual thing that lives on its own and doesn't reflect what's going on with the whole of you, is completely flawed. Ayurveda understands that skin is deeply integrated with mental well being and physical well being. Often, you have skincare companies, and you have supplement companies, and never the twain shall meet. Ayurveda does not take that perspective. Like, our brightening line is very much about skincare, but it has aromatics that force you to develop a little bit of a ritual around it. It's not something you slap on and run out the door, it is something that you want to massage in, that you want to inhale. It has aromatherapeutic and wellness properties that force you to care for your mental well being. Skincare, it should be pleasurable, it should be ritualistic, it should be good, fresh ingredients, it should foster a long-term approach to self-care. It should not supplant being shitty, for lack of a better word, to your physical and mental body.

What are some of the other ways that any person can incorporate Ayurveda into their everyday lives? How does this ancient philosophy and practice apply to our modern way of living?

Yoga and meditation are both part of Ayurveda. The concept of long-term emotional detox as well as daily detox is also important: hot water with lemon and a capsule of triphala [a traditional Ayurvedic herbal supplement] in the morning goes a long way. I also love dry brushing and self-massage to break up tension and toxins in the body. Even breathing exercises—there’s so much stuff that doesn’t cost a cent.

What is something that you've learned from working in the skincare industry that most people wouldn't know?

I’ve learned to look past the marketing and focus not only on the ingredients, but the ways they’re harvested and combined within a formula. There are so many factors that influence how your skin will respond and react to a product—make sure you look past the vitamin C sticker and the luxury labeling and dig into how and where something is made. The more transparent a company is, the more informed customers can be about their decisions.

What is a piece of skincare or makeup advice that changed your perspective on beauty?

I suppose it would be that not all advice is good advice—the way that plays out for me is to personalize everything. What works for the goose doesn’t work for the gander, or something like that. What is notoriously under-reported is the effects of acids on brown skins. Acids are really well-suited for skins that repair fast without scarring, but potential damage it can do on dark skin is understudied.

What is the first thing you do in the morning, skincare- and wellness-wise?

I've got this cold water ritual going on. If I have any puffiness—if I had too much alcohol the night before, or if I’ve been on a red eye, or I’ve just eaten very salty food, whatever—I’ll splash my face first with ice cold water, then with warm water, and I’ll alternate between the two a couple of times. This really helps to make your capillaries work extra hard to drain blood and pump blood back in, which brings vitality to the skin. But it also really gets rid of fluid that is just sitting around there. Sometimes I’ll do a honey cleanse, something super simple. And I take care of oral health: tongue scraping is an absolute must, and if I have time I try to oil pull, sometimes I’ll even do it while I shower. The tongue and the mouth are a hotbed of bacteria, and in fact a lot of dermatologists have started talking about the relationship between bad oral hygiene and acne. I don't have time to put on a ton of makeup, so I try to use things that are really concentrated and effective when I do.

When you do put on makeup, what’s your super quick makeup routine?

Concealer, mascara and kohl around my eyes—that’s an Indian thing, I feel like a little kohl just makes me feel presentable. The one I wear a lot is an Indian Ayurvedic brand, it's called Shahnaz Husain. I also like the one from Lancôme, because it stays put in the waterline and it doesn't smudge.

What does your evening routine look like?

I always double cleanse, first with an oil cleanser to get everything off, and then either with our Ultimate Brightening Cleanser, or the Absolute Anti-Aging Cleanser. I typically also shower every night, and will step in with a face mask on sometimes, just for the five minutes I’m in there. Then I’ll tone, and I’ll apply face oil. By my bedside, I have a mason jar full of tools: a gua sha, a copper kansa wand, a jade roller eye thing. While my husband and I are chatting about the day, I'll be doing all these massage things to myself. I find that now it’s almost become a cue to my brain, that it's time to go to sleep.

You mentioned that when you were a kid, you would always oil your hair before washing it. What does your hair care routine look like now?

When I go to the gym or to yoga class and I know I’ll shower after, I will apply oil on my scalp and my roots beforehand. Often when I’m back in India, I’ll make a hair mask out of random ingredients in the fridge—eggs, yogurt, whatever. I’ll put it in my hair, and then shampoo and condition with whatever I have. I like the Rahua line. Right now I’m living in Miami, where the water is notoriously bad, so sometimes I’ll scrub my scalp with half a lime or a lemon, which helps break down mineral buildup and promote cell turnover.

What does your ideal spa day look like?

I think a spa day should be as much about “me time” as it is about the treatments. It gives your body a chance to reset. ​​Anywhere I can get a salt soak, and a hot and cold water soak in between treatments is my holy grail. I’m a huge believer in Himalayan salt and its detoxifying properties, so I love a salt scrub as well.

Who’s your beauty icon?

I’m really drawn to people who have highly simplified beauty rituals, and confidence that exudes from within. Audrey Hepburn never looked like she was always heavily made up or anything, but always looked so incredible. And Mindy Kaling—she has incredible personality, confidence, and humor.

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