In The Beauty Breakdown ELLE talks to beauty obsessives about their desert-island beauty reccos, the experts on their speed dial, and everything they’ve learnt in their pursuit to achieving happy skin. This edition features Nimrat Kaur, an actor who starred in films like Peddlers, The Lunchbox, Airlift, and most recently the hit TV series Homeland.
ELLE: Tell us about your childhood. What shaped your outlook towards beauty and fitness?
Nimrat Kaur: As an army girl growing up in cantonments, I never spent more than two to three years in one city. I have changed schools and grown up with friends from different cultures, so it has been a very liberal and rich childhood, not contained and limited to one city—they were some of my best years. We lived in remote huge colonial houses far away from the city life I live now. We had endless meadows in our backyard. When I lived in Arunachal Pradesh for three years, I remember just rolling around in the grass. Going to the riverside used to be an evening outing for us.
As a young girl, your idea of beauty and health and fitness will be drawn either from your mother or your father. In terms of fitness, I’ve always looked up to my father. He was a great sportsman, a hockey captain in college who played several sports. Being in the army you have to be physically fit and disciplined and that is like second nature for me, it is programmed in my software.
In terms of beauty, I have always looked up to my mother. Like most mothers from that generation who were not exposed to many cosmetics, my mom always used natural kitchen ingredients like raw egg, basin, haldi, or curd. She followed a simple beauty routine and still managed to have beautiful skin. She has influences my love for natural beauty remedies.
ELLE: How do you stay fit?
NK: I believe that 80% of our fitness is our diet so I like to keep a watch on what I am eating. I don’t deprive myself of things that I really like because our mind feels happy when it receives something it likes. It may not be the best thing for our body, but it’s important for our wellbeing. To stay fit, I do a mix of functional training, yoga and running. I am not fixated on one kind of workout routine, I prefer to adapt to the environment and country I’m in at that time. Depending on the country and its geography I like to blend into the environment and figure out what best I can do with my fitness and well-being.
ELLE: What’s something you wish your teenage self knew about self-care?
NK: I really wish I had done more of sports because I was actually an athlete. I used to be a state-level 100-metre sprinter in school. Then, I developed a heart condition called a rheumatic heart fever that crippled me and required bed rest. It took me a year and a half to recover and I never got back into sports.
ELLE: What’s your take on wellness?
NK: There are two ways to look at wellness: you either keep your body fit and that dictates your mind or you keep your mind healthy and that influences your body. Over the years, the latter has been more promising for me. When you have a good relationship with your emotional and mental self the rest follows.
ELLE: Which practices are integral to your wellness routine?
NK: Yoga tops the chart. It is a beautiful combination of your mind and body. As a fan of yoga, I love meditating, and doing Kriya Yog—a half an hour breathing technique that has really centered me. Kriya Yog has made me aware that the only way to control our mind is by bringing attention to your breath. Your breath is the only action you are involved in involuntarily all your life. In any situation that is adverse, it is your breathing what changes, so if you bring your mind to your breath you are actually just centering your mind. The Breathe app on my Apple Watch is aligned to this philosophy, and I use it once every hour of the day. I also use it during my yoga practice and to track my fitness on the activity app—I make sure I close my rings every day.
ELLE: When did you first start following a beauty routine and wearing make-up?
NK: The first time I remember getting ready was for Teachers’ Day in the 11th grade. I remember getting rid of my moustache, bleaching my face, and putting on a saree and my mom’s lipstick. I had braces back then, but who cares right? After that, I started doing my eyebrows. My friends and I had pencil-thin eyebrows because that was a very fashionable look in the late ’90s. We even followed other horrendous make-up ideas, like wearing a dark maroon lip liner with a lighter red or pink lipstick.
ELLE: On a scale of wash-my-face-with-just-water to beauty junkie, how do you rate yourself?
NK: I’m closest to the squeaky clean face on this spectrum. I am a big fan of keeping my face clean, well hydrated and well moisturised. I wear little make-up with a little blush and mascara.
ELLE: What’s your one beauty fixation?
NK: My skin is quite dry, more like normal to dry. My biggest beauty annoyance is that when I work abroad at high altitude places, where the weather is very crisp and dry, my lips tend to crack a lot and my mouth gets dry. I use a combination of extra virgin cold-pressed coconut oil and pure almond cream on my skin. I also make sure I stay hydrated. When I was Morocco, I was breaking out for some strange reason. A few drops of lemon or tea tree oil really helped.
ELLE: What are the top products in your beauty kit?
NK: I am a big fan of natural lip balm and I keep experimenting with anything that is unscented and has coconut oil or cocoa butter. Papaw is really a good one.
My make-up artist taught me how to use the Kryolan Bruise Palette on my lips and cheeks. I can mix different shades and it really brightens up your face.
I have a simple reddish-pin Dior lipstick that glistens on my lips. I wear a little bit over lip balm if I’m going out for a meeting, and it really brightens up my face.
I cannot live without my Benefit Brow Palette. I groom my own eyebrows, I pluck and cut them. I also use the Benefit eyebrow pencil and sometimes the VOV brow kit.
I also love my Revlon Brow Gel and my Chanel Blush.
ELLE: What’s your most frugal beauty product obsession?
NK: Full-fat raw milk and sometimes coconut water. I dab it directly on my face, and apply it on my eyes with cotton pads. It brightens skin, removes dead cells and is really soothing.
ELLE: We all love a good beauty DIY, what’s your favourite?
NK: For my DIY kit: I slip open a vitamin E capsule and dab it on my face as the last thing I do in the day. It is a little thick and mostly suitable for dry skin, but it is extremely beneficial for keeping skin soft and nourished from the outside.
ELLE: How do you begin your day?
NK: I begin my day with a small gratitude prayer—it’s nice to wake up with words and sounds that make you feel good and positive. I think it is especially important for people like me who stay alone. I make myself a typical masala chai with different ingredients like clove, cinnamon, cardamom, lemongrass, ginger, black pepper and some jaggery, especially to take care of my own immunity and health.
Photographs: Nimrat Kaur