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Every winter, we’d line up at the door as our mother spread ghee across our lips before we left for school. It was a ritual she never missed.

We never used store-bought lip balms growing up. Even now, I do the same for my children who, of course, cringe at my “old-fashioned” ways.

Nevertheless, this simple, ancient home remedy has never failed me.

Central to Indian kitchens and culture, ghee is a household staple that’s been used for centuries. It’s a symbol of nourishment, well-being, and auspiciousness — in other words, abundance and prosperity.

No wonder, because ghee offers numerous benefits for the body, both inside and out.

Often called clarified butter, ghee is a golden yellow semi-liquid with a distinct aroma and flavor.

A highly-regarded ingredient in Ayurveda, or Indian traditional medicine, ghee is derived from the Sanskrit word ghṛta.

It’s believed to have originated in India and has been used since antiquity for cooking, rituals, and healing.

Also known as liquid gold in India, ghee was especially useful when hot weather made keeping butter impossible without refrigeration. By separating the milk solids using heat, this clear, fragrant liquid with its characteristic nutty flavor provides the richness of butter, no refrigeration needed.

Traditionally, ghee has been made from cow’s milk and sometimes buffalo milk.

According to Ayurveda, ghee made from cow’s milk is shuddh desi ghee, which translates to “pure indigenous ghee.” It’s traditionally considered to be the purest version.

According to an older 2009 study, cow ghee offers benefits for all the body’s systems. It’s considered amrita, or nectar, in Ayurveda.

“Desi ghee is packed with nutrients that are beneficial for digestive health, and is usually safe for consumption by even those who cannot consume other milk products because of their lactose content,” says Ayush Aggarwal, Ayurvedic expert and founder and director of Rasayanam.in.

While there’s limited research on the benefits of ghee for skin, countless Indian people have sworn by it for centuries.

Similar in consistency to a salve, ghee is often used to:

  • soften and hydrate skin
  • provide a natural glow
  • lighten dark spots
  • repair dry or damaged skin
  • protect from cold, dry, windy weather
  • treat cracked lips
  • reduce dark circles
  • rejuvenate the eyes
  • heal minor wounds

Research from 2019 and 2020 notes that ghee is made up of essential short-chain fatty acids as well as fat-soluble vitamins, including:

Skin health

Ghee is rich in omega fatty acids and antioxidants, and it may help neutralize free radicals and nourish the skin.

It helps in the moisturization of skin and gives it a shiny effect. Ghee helps in transforming dull skin to healthy skin with its nutritional benefits,” says Jatin Gujrati, Ayurvedic expert at Vedix.

“It allows potent ingredients to permeate the skin and facilitates deeper absorption of herbal concentrates,” says Geetika Goyal, physician consultant at Clinic Dermatech.

Skin hydration

Since ghee contains vitamin A and rich fatty acids, it’s a natural moisturizer that helps provide deep, lasting hydration.

Skin brightening and pigmentation

Ghee adds glow and brightens the skin, and may help activate collagen production.

Ghee also has a brightening effect on the skin due to the presence of antioxidants, which may help prevent and reduce damage from oxidative stress.

Skin smoothing

Ghee’s beneficial ingredients can help improve skin elasticity, both by eating it and applying it to the skin.

You “can use ghee by consuming it regularly in diet or by applying externally to the skin,” says Gujrati. “As it penetrates to the tissue level, [it] helps strengthen collagen and maintain elasticity.”

Chapped lips

Ghee moisturizes and hydrates the skin due to the presence of phospholipids. This makes it a great remedy for chapped lips.

Hair and scalp

Ghee is often used for hair health in India. Vitamins A and E may help soften the hair, while antioxidants may help remove toxins that cause heaviness and frizz.

You can reap the benefits of ghee by applying it directly to the skin or by eating it.

As mentioned before, it’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. Both on the skin or in your belly, ghee can help enhance your skin’s overall health.

“Vitamin K ensures the hassle-free production of collagen, a protein that keeps the skin intact by avoiding sagging,” says Shalini Santhankrishnan, nutritionist at Kosmoderma Clinics. “Vitamin A is a natural moisturizer.”

According to Santhankrishnan, including ghee in your nutrition plan quenches thirsty skin from the inside out while boosting immunity.

“Cow ghee is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps facilitate fat loss and develops lean muscles,” she adds.

There are several types of ghee, including:

  • cow
  • sheep
  • goat
  • buffalo
  • vegan ghee

The most widely studied and available ghee is made of cow’s milk, though other types of ghee may have similar benefits.

Try Milkio New Zealand Made Grass Fed Sheep Ghee, Mt. Capra Goat Ghee, or Gold Nugget Yak Ghee.

Vegan ghee is often made of a blend of oils, including coconut, which is known to have several skin benefits as well.

Try Nutiva Organic Vegan Plant-Based Ghee.

Some types of ghee may also contain a blend of herbs for medicinal effects.

The best way to use ghee is to directly apply it to the skin, then massage in a circular motion.

Here are some more specific ways to use ghee:

  • face mask
  • moisturizer
  • spot treatment
  • salve
  • makeup remover
  • cuticle treatment
  • on dry elbows, knees, and heels
  • for mild irritation
  • for brightening and exfoliation

“Ghee not only acts as a humectant but is a great mask, which is rich in omega-3, vitamin E and other antioxidants” says Richa Badhalia, founder of Faith and Patience cosmetics.

When mixed with honey, ghee helps to lighten spots, giving the skin a natural glow.

Applying ghee on bruises and small abrasions provides relief and heals the skin faster. It’s commonly used in India as a diaper rash cream.

One popular form of ghee in India is shata dhauta ghrita, which literally translates to “100 times washed ghee.” It’s an all-around skin cream that’s made by washing ghee derived from cow’s milk in a copper vessel 100 times.

The end result is a lightweight, fluffy, deeply absorbent cream that helps soothe the skin.

Shata dhauta ghrita is one of the most effective ways to use ghee topically on the skin. It can also be combined with other natural and herbal ingredients.

Try Banyan Botanicals Beauty Balm or Banyan Botanicals Soothing Skin Balm.

When ghee is mixed with ingredients like sugar, lemon juice, turmeric, and baking soda, it helps brighten and exfoliate the skin.

Try Jammi Ayurveda Facial Scrub.

Face mask

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Mix ghee and gram flour along with turmeric.
  2. Apply to a clean, dry face.
  3. Leave on for 20 minutes.
  4. Rinse with lukewarm water.
  5. Pat dry.

Moisturizer

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Melt ghee on very low heat.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Mix in aloe vera gel.
  4. Let cool.
  5. Apply to a clean, dry face.
  6. Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes.
  7. Rinse with lukewarm water.
  8. Pat dry.

Hand cream

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. coconut or almond oil
  • 2 tbsp. ghee

Directions

  1. Mix ghee with coconut oil or almond oil.
  2. Apply on your hands for smooth, supple skin.

Lip balm

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. ghee

Directions

  1. Rub ghee between your fingers to soften.
  2. Directly apply to lips.

You can also leave it on overnight.

Lip scrub

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. ghee
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. honey

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients.
  2. Apply to lips in circular motion.
  3. Rinse or dab with soft cloth.
  4. Apply final layer of ghee to lock in moisture.

Body butter

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients to form a smooth paste.
  2. Apply to skin, hands, knees, and elbows in a circular motion.

Body scrub

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. ghee
  • 1 tbsp. gram flour
  • 2 tbsp. cow’s milk or coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients together.
  2. Scrub skin gently in circular motions.
  3. Rinse with warm water.
  4. Pat dry.

Salve

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. ghee
  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder

Directions

  1. Mix ghee and turmeric.
  2. Apply topically to cuts, scraps, burns, or rashes.
  3. Cover with bandage or gauze.

Be especially careful with clothes and furniture, as turmeric stains!

Hair and scalp mask

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. ghee
  • 2 tbsp. yogurt
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 egg white

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients to make a paste and apply 1 hour before shampooing.
  2. Rinse with lukewarm water.
  3. Let air dry.

If you have a lot of hair, you may want to double the recipe.

How to make ghee

You can make ghee at home by melting butter in a thick-bottomed pan.

  1. Slowly simmer your butter until it melts completely and begins foaming.
  2. Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes. The milk solids will settle to the bottom.
  3. Stir occasionally to prevent any milk solids from burning. The ghee will form a clear golden hued liquid on top.
  4. Let it cool completely before straining with a muslin cloth.
  5. Store in an airtight container.

While ghee is considered an elixir for the skin in India, it may not be ideal in some situations.

Avoid using ghee if you have oily skin or preexisting acne, as it can clog pores. If you have cold-related issues like excess phlegm, avoid eating it. Also avoid consuming frozen ghee.

When used in moderate quantities, ghee is generally considered safe. Just be sure to buy your ghee from a reputable brand or make it at home to ensure it’s free from additives.

Some high quality brands include:

Ghee is often considered a wonder food for skin, hair and general health in India. You can apply it to the lips, elbows, cuticles, and even the hair to reap the benefits.

Make sure to buy ghee from reputable brands without any additives.

Ghee may just be one of the most versatile foods around, especially when it comes to skin health.


Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer from Bangalore. She writes on travel, art, culture, wellness, food, and design. You can read more of her work at Rashmi Notes.