Irrespective of friendship, some things men never discuss. ‘How are you?’ is to fill silences; ‘feelings’ are to be shared only in loud nightclubs, seven drinks down. Things like “what brand of underwear…” or “which face cream…” are deal-breakers. Nevertheless, given my social ineptitude, let me pry open this Pandora’s box of men’s skincare products, and share my findings. Listed below are natural products from homegrown brands, all stuff I have been experimenting with on myself for months. Aromas, packaging, price were also considered. Indian brands can either go the autochthonous Ayurveda route, touting all local ingredients or else go very international. I have tried to balance the list with both types here. Finally, a few caveats:

1. Don’t eschew the word ‘chemical’. Everything is made up of atoms and molecules, combined through the laws of chemistry. Basically, everything extracted/ concentrated is chemical, no matter how natural the origin. Nature-substitute is the appropriate term.

2. Aromas are subjective, but generally, things that smell strong and heady at first aren’t always as much fun to use over time. The subtle wins over the super-charged, always.

3. You need to be consistent with a product for a good few months (try six) before any discernible changes can be claimed, so don’t be hasty in your judgement. Finally, here are my picks, somewhat in order of preference:

Man Arden

grooming

This ‘macho’ brand, with its retro-carnival fonts, is styled très international, and plays strong on coffee and its curatives. A solid line-up of products that smell and feel good on the skin. Special mention: ‘I am Romantic’ Shampoo + Body wash, and the Arabica Coffee Body Scrub.

Mantra

The Baidyanath brand goes all contemporary with this range, playing hard on natural and local ingredients, and has a range that is a great blend of the Indian and the international. Special mention: Walnut and Wheat Germ Face Scrub and Nutmeg, Almond and Bamboo Moisturiser.

Hivado

These guys up the ante on male grooming like few out there. Currently a top choice for various reasons — the alum-infused products, restrained aromas, the exquisite and unique aluminium packaging. Very Indian, yet international. I hope they provide refills in the future for these aluminium receptacles because they last, and can be reused or repurposed. They are a bit on the dear side, but are every bit premium, to merit the tag. Special mention: Face Cream, and Body Wash and Cream set.

Arata

grooming

These guys do a solid job at an attractive price, and this valuefor-money furthers their appeal. Clean products. Special Mention: Minty Face Scrub and Body Moisturiser.

Bhu Botanicals 

grooming

Another reliable name marrying slick packaging with sensible pricing, their mildly aromatised products felt fairly premium, and proudly claimed organic certification. The range is fairly extensive, also incorporating under-eye and overnight treatments. Special Mention: Eye Don’t Lie Under Eye Repair roll-on, Skin Brightening Face Cleanser with Sea Buckthorn and Olive Leaf Extract, and Face Cream with Immortelle Oil.

23 Yards

Cricketers are demi-gods here, so when Ravi Shastri launches a range, it gets noticed. These sit a rung below the ones above, in pricing but also in finesse. Good ware nevertheless, but these felt a lot less “natural’ in their aromas and on the skin. Special Mention: Lemon Zest Body Wash and Pre-shave oil.

QRAA

grooming

I still don’t know how to ask for these in a shop without sounding like an injured crow (thank god for online purchase). These were the only ones to list niacinamide (vitamin B3, a highly-regarded skincare ingredient), but the percentage wasn’t mentioned, so I can’t talk about the concentration. Nonetheless, the products smelt and felt good, even if the packaging needs some sprucing up. Special Mention: Haldi-Chandan Face Mask and Face Serum.