The ghee-based lip-care brand Ghlee has found a seamless way to combine modern beauty with an essential ancient ingredient. We spoke with Founder & CEO Varun Sharma about the brand's roots and values.
What is ghee? Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your ghee-based beauty brand?
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that is used in South Asian kitchens around the world. And just like our mom, you’ll hear elders in our community telling us to use ‘ghee on the inside and out.’
In Ayurvedic medicine, ghee is prescribed as a cooling food that lowers the body’s temperature and as a digestive aid. It goes further and designates ghee as a salve to soothe burns and as a moisturizer to heal dry skin and hair. Since ghee is rich in healthy fatty acids like Omega-3, 6, and 9, and Vitamins A, D, E, and K, it’s the perfect super ingredient for dry, chapped, sun-damaged lips. The inspiration behind our brand is our mom, family, and our culture. My motivation in making this product was two-fold, the first being that I have extremely chapped lips, and ghee worked better than anything I had ever tried before (and I’ve tried everything), and the second was that I wanted more South Asian-inspired products and businesses to be built by South Asians. Growing up, I was always that kid that had chapstick on him. Often stealing them from my sisters and trying everything to reduce the redness. My mom would always tell me to use ghee, but the thought of a food product on my lips was not appealing. Now, as an engineer and someone who likes tinkering with products and businesses, I took it upon myself to develop a formula that uses the power of ghee but in a consistency that’s less greasy, without the strong smell, and can last in packaging that I can use on the go. As someone who plays a lot of sports, having the power of ghee easily accessible in a lip balm stick was very important to me. Seeing the rise of coconut oil, olive oil, and shea butter in skincare brands, I thought it was time to use the fat of our culture, ghee, that was already being used in South Asian homes around the world, and bring it to the masses. How do you incorporate playful creativity into your product offerings while staying true to your cultural heritage?
Anyone who’s ever been to an Indian wedding knows playful creativity is just as much a part of South Asian cultural heritage as are the more serious traditional elements like yoga and meditation. In fact, because of the diverse nature of South Asian culture, you’ll find all types of creativity and aesthetic styles associated with South Asia. Western lenses usually portray South Asian wellness practices through a more meditative lens, verses for us and our lived experiences, wellness, Ayurvedic, and even religion are so embedded in our daily lives. We don’t need to compartmentalize different types of creativity. Ghlee brings ancient traditions into the modern world, including pairing it with effective ingredients, practical packaging, and beautiful design. Staying true to our heritage is easy as we’re leveraging South Asian healing practices of using ghee, but when it comes to our brand, we want Ghlee to fit into your lifestyle. And that means we want our products to look good on your shelf or in your bag, no matter what your style. As for our creative branding, we’re ensuring we represent South Asian faces, practices, and our culture to stay true to our culture.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when developing Ghlee?
We went through a very tough R&D process. Integrating ghee into skincare has never been done before, so it took us a long time to find a lab that was right for us to partner with. When we were shopping around for labs and approached them with this idea, they looked at us like we were crazy. We finally found one in Toronto that has done amazing work for us. In the beginning, when I was sourcing ghee for the product, I found that a lot had additives or were really grainy – not a great texture for skincare. My dad has always made ghee from scratch in our house, and he was also an engineer, so he helped to fine-tune the ingredient for Ghlee – he filters it in a 10-step process, so it’s perfect for skin care. Could you explain the multi-level filtration process you developed to reduce the scent and greasiness of ghee in your lip balm formula? Our ghee filtration process includes burning it at a slightly lower temperature right before the ghee gets that nutty flavor. As for the greasiness, we worked with our chemist and tinkered with the right percentages of other ingredients, such as mango seed butter, to get to the right consistency. We also did 100s of user-testing on the texture we hoped to achieve, but it all came down to achieving the longest shelf life possible, which is now 12 months (higher than most of the skincare products you’re probably using in your routine today).
How do you plan to educate consumers about the benefits of ghee as a transformative beauty ingredient, and what strategies are you employing to spread the word?
Ghee is growing in popularity as it’s on grocery store shelves everywhere and found on TikTok for cooking, even seasoning your cast iron, and now with the rise of DIY skincare videos. Our job now is to educate beyond our community on the power of ghee in skincare and then make more products that make using ghee easy and effective. You’ll find us on social media, hosting events, and we’ll be on shelves at your favorite spas in the coming months. In what ways do Ghlee's products contribute to sustainability and ethical practices within the beauty industry?
Our mission is to bring South Asian healing practices to the masses, which means we’re developing brand-new, intentional formulas where ghee is the most effective solution. We aren’t churning out products for the sake of it and are going slowly with our R&D process to give our customers the best product, so you don’t need to continue to add to your skincare regimen. What message or impression would you like customers to take away after using Ghlee lip care products?
We’re a product-first company, which means we care about how well our products work and how our customers are using them. We want customers to feel hydrated and that they are getting their money’s worth, not like they are adding more and more steps to their skincare routine. Our earliest customers and our community have been the first to give us a list of new products they want by openly sharing with us how they’re using our lip care products on their hair, nails, hands, and dry skin. We value our community’s feedback above all. Is there anything else you would like to share?
We launched with our core range of lip care products, and coming soon, we’ll expand Ghlee into other targeted ointment products. Ghee is such a versatile ingredient, and we want to use it to its full potential beyond the lips. We have various ointment-based products with healing properties rolling out over the next year, and we’re so excited to share this with our community.