I grew up in a Catholic family that went to Mass every Sunday. I stopped going decades ago, but there are things I still do miss. It wasn’t every Sunday that a priest would use incense, but I loved those mornings when the musty scent drifted across the pews. It connected me to something larger I didn’t quite understand.
Burning incense is part of many religions and cultures. In India, incense was originally produced by monks and used for healing, says UMA Oils founder Shrankhla Holecek. It’s one of the many gorgeously scented, Ayurveda-based products UMA makes that you’d want to use even if they weren’t so effective.
You could say Holecek’s company began more than 800 years ago. That’s around the time her ancestors began serving as Ayurvedic physicians for Indian royalty. In the 1800s, after the monarchy crumbled, Holecek’s family used its knowledge and farmland to make pure botanical oils for leading perfume companies.
In 2016, Holecek merged that legacy with the needs of contemporary women to launch UMA Oils. The line quickly won praise from Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Into the Gloss and so on, with Glamour naming its Absolute Anti-Aging Oil as one of the best products of 2017. UMA now has candles and a growing line of face, body and hair oils. She’s now launched a podcast to share her love of Ayurveda with a wider audience.
Holecek, who trained as an engineer, had been working at McKinsey for about five years when she realized that though she loved her job, she wanted to strike out on her own. She’d grown up in India watching her father and grandfather run their family business.
“I felt, almost subconsciously, that there was part of me that expected to create a tangible product and to create jobs,” she says. Her colleagues cautioned her against leaving without a fleshed-out plan or funding, but Holecek felt the time was right.
In Ayurvedic tradition, personalized treatments work to bring an individual’s doshas—energy centers—back into balance. For centuries Holecek’s family had created customized oil blends for people, based on the hundreds of recipes passed down through the generations. Holecek wanted to bring that knowledge to a scalable business.
“I want to bring Ayurveda to people through a product-based approach,”
she says. “It was a category that didn’t exist.”
She worked with her father to tweak her family’s time-tested recipes to develop formulas that would work for the majority of people with specific issues such as fine lines, acne, or insomnia. In keeping with family tradition, only a handful of people know those formulas.
Though her personal experience, and the lessons of her ancestors, assured her the oils were effective, she spent months testing the formulas on hundreds of women. Holecek also cites independent scientific research on many of the ingredients in UMA Oils such as frankincense, rose, and pomegranate. Pomegranate, for example, has been shown to protect against UV damage.
“I can talk all night about science,” she says. “I don’t believe people just have to take a leap of faith. I am still an engineer.”
Using oil in skincare regimens is a fairly new concept in America, where oil-free products have been touted by companies and dermatologists for decades. Their effectiveness, says Holecek, comes in part from the fact that oils are fats, and can more easily penetrate the skin’s outer layers so active ingredients can work effectively. And pure oils don’t need chemical additives to prolong their shelf life that might block absorption or irritate the skin.
“Oils resonate with people looking for something that works, but is also clean and understandable,” she says. “And as more and more consumers want to know what it is the products they are using, whether it is something they eat or drink or something they put on their skin, the interest in oils will keep growing.”
Since its launch with four beauty oils, UMA Oils continues to add products to help our stressed-out bodies and minds. The incense, with chamomile and lavender, can turn any room into a soothing sanctuary. I’m always lighting one of UMA’s candles so my house smells beautiful–and my mood seems instantly better.