Born in Mumbai and raised in Brooklyn, Anit Hora left her career and comfortable, settled life to backpack solo through South America where most of her traveler ailments and illnesses were cured by herbal medicine. She returned to the United States and took a deep dive into Ayurveda, herbalism and yoga, and began experimenting with homemade cough syrups and face serums. In 2012, she channeled her wealth of healing wisdom into M.S Skincare (formerly Mullein & Sparrow)—a luxury, plant-based apothecary line that combines the finest Eastern and Western beauty traditions. Anit sources clean ingredients and forges relationships with small farmers who share her vision for a sustainable world. The Tory Burch Foundation fellow bottles her colorful potions in glass and ships them off in cartons made from recycled paper and vegetable ink, biodegradable bubble wrap and recycled tissue paper. And the names of the products—like Mantra, Enlightenment, Aum, Mogul and Dignitary—echo Anit’s mission to turn sustainability, holistic living and female entrepreneurship into a norm, not just an aspiration. —Jane Ratcliffe
Your life has taken you in many directions. How did your journey lead to M.S Skincare?
I had a moment in my late twenties when my life was taking shape in a way that seemed to indicate I was on a good and steady road to settling down. If I continued even on autopilot, that shape would of its own accord become a respectable life. This was a good thing, I knew, but it still gave me pause. Is this it? Has everything been decided? Is this who I’m going to be? I simply wasn’t sure and needed to find out before I became too comfortable to change anything. So I took a sabbatical and went on a solo backpacking trip through South America. During my trip, I would get sick sometimes and depending on where I was, it wasn’t always easy to find access to the over-the-counter drugs I was accustomed to. I was usually offered a local tea or herbal medicine for any number of ailments and I was always pleasantly surprised at how well they worked. It reminded me of the home remedies my Indian parents raised me with, which I had largely dismissed as young people tend to do.
When I returned home to New York from my travels, I immersed myself in studying Ayurveda, herbal medicine and yoga. I needed to learn everything I could about plant medicine and incorporate it into my life in as many ways as possible. I was making homemade cough syrups, face serums and more, and became my own guinea pig. I learned how to formulate by trying and trying again until I got the results I wanted—back then, you couldn’t easily find these types of products on the market. I became a maker because I knew what I wanted in my face oil and hair oil, and it simply wasn’t available.
Why did you decide to change the moniker from Mullein & Sparrow?
This wasn’t an easy decision and truth be told I haven’t completely moved away from Mullein & Sparrow. You’ll still occasionally find it in our newsletters or mentioned on our website and it holds sentimental value for me but at the end of the day, I was really tired of correcting the spelling and pronunciation of Mullein, and then explaining what it was and what it meant. Those who know know, but that seems to be very few people so we shortened it for convenience more than anything. [Mullein is a medicinal plant.]
Your tag line is “Modern Ayurvedic Living.” What’s the modern twist that you bring to this ancient tradition?
I found that Ayurvedic products on the market are always a bit on the nose, if I may say so. There wasn’t any elan. It was always a very crunchy, granola aesthetic and branding that didn’t appeal to me as a modern consumer. I wanted something styled in a way that didn’t make it a niche product inaccessible to those who didn’t know or care what Ayurveda was. I wanted to appeal to someone who was looking for a great, natural face cleanser, who through my product learned what turmeric and neem oil could do for your skin. It may be that I’m not a great marketer, but I have always had an aversion to things being made somewhat dull for the sake of being crystal clear and easily consumable. It bores me. I prefer nuance, personality and to make something my own.
What are some of the basic principles of Ayurvedic medicine? How do those translate into skincare?
Ayurvedic medicine guides us to live as much as possible according to our dosha (there are three named doshas in Ayurveda: Kapha, Pitta and Vata). Doshas are more or less our bodily constitution, tendencies and general makeup. Everyone typically leads with one dosha but is often a mix of the three. In Ayurveda, doshas extend to the season of the year and even the time of the day. You can immerse yourself very deeply in the study of Ayurveda to truly master the science but even if you don’t want to know or understand your dosha, the general idea is to live according to your whole constitution as much as possible. Choose your foods according to what agrees with your body, your energetic tendencies and emotional makeup. Choose your preferred physical activity in the same way and choose your skincare in that way as well. We decide on skincare according to what we experience superficially. For example, if we have dry skin, we look for hydrating products. Ayurveda asks you to try and understand the root of the dryness and to address it at every level. So buy the hydrating products, but also understand the climate you live in, the exercise you participate in, and the food and drinks you consume. At its base, Ayurveda is a holistic system built around the five elements of ether, air, fire, earth and water, and asks you to consider all of your elements.
How is your brand adhering to sustainable practices?
This is something we’ve always considered and continue to try and improve upon as we grow and develop the brand. We have always used glass bottles and jars and minimized the use of plastic. Our cartons are made from recycled paper and vegetable ink, and we only use biodegradable bubble wrap and recycled tissue paper for packing orders. Fortunately, awareness and therefore availability of green options only continues to grow so with every new iteration of our packaging, you will see progress. That’s something we won’t compromise on.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with in skincare and why?
Sandalwood is a standout. It’s long reputed in Ayurveda for enhancing radiance and fading imperfections, and is compatible with all skin types. It’s also one of the few essentials you can apply neat on the skin without a carrier oil. I really love Amla oil too. It has an obscene amount of vitamin C which we know skin loves, but it’s also well known in Ayurveda to use on hair to promote thickness and growth. Both these oils are perfect reminders that nature offers wonderful and powerful solutions.
Which herbs or healing practices do you recommend for an overall feeling of calm and well-being?
I love my tea time. I start the day with a cup of tea and it’s my sacred time not to be diluted by cell phone scrolling or music or anything else. Just a hot cup of tea and silence—not so I can think, but so I can be in a space of contemplation. It sets a calm tone for the day.
What does your daily skincare regimen look like?
These days, my skincare regimen is adapted to the quarantine. It’s minimized in some ways because like everyone else, I’m not wearing much makeup, so I’m taking it easy on some of the more thorough cleansing rituals. Having said that, I see this as a time to do the things I wasn’t finding the time for before, so I’m going slower and being more intentional about my routine, which is something I hadn’t realized I’d kind of stopped doing and missed very much! Everything that’s going on my face these days is going on with deliberate care and attention. On zoom meeting days, I wear makeup and still make sure to double cleanse. It’s actually a very calming ritual and since everything is slower now, all the steps can be meditative. I’m also doing more masks and treatments depending on what my skin needs—clay masks when I need a calming detox and enzymes or glycolic treatments when I need to get rid of dull, dead surface skin. Taking care of my skin right now is helping me stay calm because it’s a nice self-care ritual to give myself some TLC when I’m feeling stressed out.
What do you hope to achieve with M.S Skincare?
Simply and idealistically, that our brand values such as sustainability, Ayurvedic (holistic) living and female entrepreneurship all become the norm instead of aspirational.
Any advice for fellow small business owners during this pandemic?
The true entrepreneurial spirit kicks into gear during a time like this. You might have to look at your business in an entirely different way and pivot accordingly. You might have to change your business model and improvise on where you are allocating your resources to adapt to this new way of living. Most entrepreneurs I know love a good challenge; that’s what having a good entrepreneur brain is all about, so this is the time to tap into that to figure out different ways to survive. This is also the time for community so reaching out to your community is absolutely vital at a time like this.