Shrankhla Holocek is the founder of Uma. She was raised in India, where her family has farmed and created some of the finest essential oils in the world for centuries. Uma's oils are developed and produced from farm to bottle on her family's estate, drawing on five generations' worth of knowledge of Ayurvedic medicine and its application to beauty treatments.
Ah, essential oils. When put directly on your face, using recipes found in dubious corners of the web, they're not so pretty. (Please don't do that.)
High-quality essential oils, though, when blended in the right formula by an experienced chemist, can be beautifully curative. So we were thrilled to discover Uma, a company that produces all of its essential oil based products from farm to bottle on its centuries-old family farm in India. (Which, by the way, isn’t just any old family farm. It’s one of the most well respected suppliers of essential oils in the world — Tom Ford’s fragrances use them, for instance.)
And the family has been known for centuries for their deep expertise in Ayurvedic medicine and their skill in using essential oils to cure a variety of conditions.
Read on for more of this fascinating story in our interview with Uma’s founder, the lovely and intelligent Shrankhla Holocek.
Ayla: Your family has a long history in Ayurveda. Tell us about it!
SHRANKHLA: It all started about 800 years ago, when my family became the family physicians for the royal family in India due to their deep expertise and reputation in Ayurvedic medicine. As you might know, Ayurveda is an entirely natural system of medicine in that all remedies and beauty elixirs are derived from plants, herbs, flowers, roots and so forth. And royals being – well, royals — were not content with their Ayurvedic extracts being created from ingredients that they didn't really know the source of (funny that this isn't unlike our customers, and we love them for it!).
That led to large grants of land on which my family could farm the roses, vetivers, calamuses and more plants required for the extracts. Like many trades in India, this tradition of farming, along with the land, was passed down from generation to generation within my family. Over the last 100 years or so, we modernized into essential oil production — a natural progression, given that we were already cultivating vast quantities of the plants required for it, and we had the expertise required to oversee the oils' extraction. We're now among the world's most reputable essential oil suppliers, serving the biggest beauty and fragrance houses in the world.
However, my family was always inflexible on one ask: we never gave our formulas to anybody, only the raw materials, no matter how lucrative the proposition. So UMA was my way of bringing those powerful, secret, scientific Ayurvedic formulas from our home in India to the Western world — in a results-driven, education-oriented, and contemporarily sensible way.
Ayla: Where does Ayurveda fit into your production process?
SHRANKHLA: Ayurveda philosophies dictate all the practices within our product lifecycle, from our farming methods to the actual formulas in our products.
According to Ayurveda, a close relationship exists between humans and the universe we exist in, including nature, which has long been revered in Ayurvedic tradition. Pesticides – a relatively recent development – would interfere with the natural balance of a plant’s composition per Ayurveda, and hence we farm organically. We also respect plant seasonality and adhere closely to practices that enrich the earth’s natural fertility – and try to minimize our dependence on artificial irrigation – all in accordance with the belief systems that natural energy thrives when natural functions are least disturbed.
The harvesting and processing of our crops, including timing (e.g., never harvesting before ripeness or in the late evenings), all integrate Ayurvedic wisdom, as do the processing of our raw materials into their ingredients (never overheating substances to try and get higher yields, etc.)
Ayla: And what role do essential oils play in Ayurveda?
SHRANKHLA: Because essential oils are such concentrated extracts of a plant, they allow us to deliver the healing properties of natural remedies in a very high impact way.
Within Ayurveda, ailments are believed to be caused from an imbalance in a dosha (an important distinction from your dosha). Given that all of us have all the three doshas within us, with one dominating, there can be an imbalance in your Kapha even if you are a Pitta constitution. So let's say you're feeling acute anxiety - a symptom of vata imbalance - we must administer remedies that balance vata, irrespective of your personal constitution.
So we would use essential oils of Ayurvedically recommended herbs for this condition (such as chamomile, vetiver and calamus) to bring your body into balance and provide lasting relief. The same science applies to managing sleeplessness or acne!
Ayla: What is an essential oil (vs. other botanical extracts)?
SHRANKHLA: Thought you'd never ask! Essential oils are natural oils that retain the characteristic fragrance and properties (i.e., the very “essence”) of the plants from which they are extracted, typically via steam distillation, solvent extraction, or expression.
The essential oil extraction process is very complex and raw material intensive, which is why they are typically so expensive (it takes about a 1000 rose petals to make one drop of rose oil — so you can imagine the costs of raw materials and labor going into producing even an ounce of this precious oil). There is a strong distinction between essential oils (rose, jasmine, sandalwood) and carrier oils (like jojoba, organ, coconut, olive, which are typically cold pressed), and it’s important for customers to note the great difference in cost so they can make informed decisions about buying products where they get what they’re paying for.
Highly fragrant and very concentrated, essential oils have been used for centuries in natural therapy techniques (such as aromatherapy) for their curative effects. Natural oils contain many powerful organic compounds that are commonplace in traditional medicine. One example is Eugenol – a compound that clove oil is very rich in – which forms the very backbone of the pain management medications commonly used in dentistry. It follows that essential oils, when applied to the skin, deliver similar benefits by naturally working with the body to harmonize its normal functions and neutralize bodily crises, such as anxiety or pain.
Ayla: What makes your essential oils better than others?
SHRANKHLA: I believe what makes ours distinctive is our unparalleled expertise (thanks to generations spent perfecting this craft) and our ability to control 100% percent of the process due to our unique vertical integration from farm to bottle. (We might be one of the only companies in the world that can guarantee that every ingredient in every product was farmed, harvested and formulated by our own team).
All of our plants are grown on a 100-acre family-owned meadow that was chosen for its nutrient-rich soil. A dedicated team of caretakers selects only the finest seeds and then nurse the plants through the growing season.
Shrankhla and her head formulator sample crops to pick the best quality plots
While many crop growers harvest the same plant multiple times to produce as much oil as possible, at Uma we harvest each plant no more than two times before replanting, because we have learned that the first two harvests generate the highest quality essential oils, and that their potency declines after the second harvest. This results in a lower yield, but far superior oils.
The Uma team (which is over 50% female) harvests those plants for extraction
Once the plants move from the meadow to the factory, they are greeted by the team of dedicated and skilled technicians and extractors, who shepherd the plants through the distillation process where they go from raw materials into pure essential oils!
Shrankhla and a lead technician compare the extraction to their technical benchmarks
Ayla: You set yourselves apart by combining excellent raw ingredients with generations of experience in blending them. When presented with an essential oil product that is poorly made, sensitive skins can sometimes experience irritation. How do you ensure that doesn’t happen?
SHRANKHLA: That's a great question, and I think the answer is as much art as it is science. I think the choice of essential oil that goes on the skin is just as important as the quantity and quality of it. Given our deep expertise here, we only pick the oils that traditionally are very well tolerated by the skin. Don't try this at home, but as the company test bunny (a morbid joke, we'd die before we harmed animals — nobody in my entire family has eaten meat, ever!), I try the undiluted versions of our essential oil formulations just to rule out sensitivity. We then go ahead and dilute them to the safe levels for topical application, while maintaining the highest percent of essential oil possible because we believe that's where the true therapeutic value of our oils comes from.
Second, we choose ultra-effective and nourishing carriers - pomegranate oil is so loaded in vitamins a,k,d,e and antioxidants that it may as well be an active. I think it's the nuanced balance of the two that allows us to create highly efficacious products that are also ultra-gentle and safe.
Ayla: How do you suggest comparing a product like the Ultimate Brightening Oil with more traditional approaches to brightening skin (Vitamin C, etc.)? Can it be used in conjunction with other products?
SHRANKHLA: Uma is for everyone - from the organic goddess who wants performance that mirrors the best synthetic cream to chemical-loving beauty who wants to find the best healing solution after a peel. So you can use Uma all on its own (and LOVE the results) or pair it with trusted regimens, whatever they might be. Given the all-organic, purely botanical nature of our oils, they pair well with everything. When pairing, keep in mind the lightest to heaviest rule of skincare: water-based serums (such as Vitamin C serum) should be applied under the oil, and heavier creams or sunscreens over the oil. The wonderful thing is that many of the ingredients boost the performance of other ingredients: research proves that Neroli and Orange oil can improve the body's ability to absorb Vitamin C, and that lavender can help the skin heal and recover much faster (such as after a peel!).
We adore this brand and its beautifully crafted, intelligently formulated products. Shop Uma oils here.