Varun Sharma has struggled with red, chapped lips since he was a little boy. “I was a young kid having all the Blistex, all the lip balm, and none of them really worked on me,” he says. “And then my mother used to always say, ‘Hey, just put some ghee on your lips.’ And as a kid, that’s kind of gross ’cause we put that in our food every night to eat dinner.” But a few years ago, Sharma’s lips got super inflamed, so he decided to give his mother’s advice a try.
“I went to the kitchen, put my finger in the jar of ghee, and put it right on my lips,” he says. “And instantly, there was such a soothing effect. So I took it upon myself to create a lip balm. It took me over 30 tries to get one that I liked. And at that point, it was still a secret, but when I found a formula that I liked, I told my sister, Arati, my other sister, my girlfriend, and of course my mom. And they all fell in love.”
And so Ghlee, the first beauty brand based on ghee, a clarified butter that originated in ancient India that’s full of healthy fats, was born. The brand is focused on lip care, launching with five lip balms ($12) with South-Asian-influenced flavors like mint and chai, a lip scrub ($15), and a lip mask ($23)—all made with ghee, a form of clarified butter that originated centuries ago in South Asia.
“We are South Asian and our parents have kind of talked to us about Ayurvedic rituals for so many years, but I don’t think Varun and I really embraced it or appreciated it until we started building this product,” says Arati Sharma, co-founder of Ghlee. “Ghee is rich in omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, which make it a really great barrier [to protect skin from the environment]. The other thing is that ghee already has vitamins A, D, E, and K in it, so it leaves your skin nourished and supple.”
Ghlee Lip Mask — $23.00
Ghlee Lip Scrub — $15.00
The formula behind Ghlee starts with a special blend of ghee made by the Sharma sibling’s dad. He’s always made ghee for the family, providing his children with big jars every few weeks. When he found out Varun wanted to put it into skin care, he changed up his formula. “My dad’s actually the one who came up with the system to make it more of this skin-care grade ghee,” says Varun. “He has his whole, elaborate, 10-step filtration process.” Arati adds that “he actually used to build tanks for skin-care manufacturers as a mechanical engineer, so it’s really funny and a full circle moment for sure.”
This new-and-improved ghee is then passed on to their manufacturer. “The first five to 10 labs that I spoke to thought I was crazy for even coming up with this idea,” says Varun. “They’re like, ‘Wait, so you wanna put ghee in skin care? This has never been done.’ And I’m like, ‘I know, that’s the whole point.’ So we finally found one that got my vision, and we’ve been working with them ever since.”
Working with a skin-care formulator allows them to make the products’ shelf stable. In general, clarified butter is already shelf stable—”at home, we just keep ghee out on like a kitchen counter,” says Varun. “This goes back centuries, but the reason why the village people used to make clarified butter is because it prolongs the shelf life immensely.” Ghlee products are shelf-stable for 12 months, which is typical for flavored lip products.
“We have five lip balms that we’re starting with in terms of our on-the-go lip care,” says Arati. “The lip balms are made out of ghee but they are supercharged with like a bunch of different things like mango seed and vitamin E. And our flavors are very South Asian as well. So we have a mint, rose, chai, mango-papaya, and unscented original.”
Chai is Varun’s baby. “On the market, there’s a lot of fragrance oils that are almost like a chai latte from Starbucks, so that kind of almost manufactured, chemically scent,” he says. “And I was really against using that. So I took it upon myself to make a blend of essential oils from things that are found commonly in chai. So there’s clove bud oil in it, there is cinnamon, there’s ginger, and they all come together so when you open it is literally like a cup of hot chai. That’s the one I’m most excited about for our customers to try.”
The lip scrub is made with brown sugar and ghee, and the lip mask is made with ghee, squalane, and kahai oil. While anyone could technically make their own ghee skin-care products at home, Ghlee removes the hassle.
“I’ve definitely gone down the DIY path and like tried ghee in my hair, like all the South Asian influencers,” says Arati. “But having something that’s a little bit more modernized in a tube and then the lip mask and scrub in a jar—that’s a big game-changer for me. We have seen all these brands, especially in the wellness community, leverage a lot of South Asian practices and Ayurveda. And so we were like, ‘Hey, if someone’s gonna bring ghee to market first in skin care, we think it should be us.'”
What it’s like using Ghlee
I’ve been using the Ghlee lip balm every day since I received it about a month ago. It glides onto my lips like butter (shocker!!!!!) and leaves them feeling so soft. I do have a bit of hyperpigmentation on my lips in areas where I’ve pulled off dead skin a bit too aggressively and I am noticing the slightest bit of lightening happening to those scars. Aside from being nutrient-rich, ghee also helps to even out hyperpigmentation, though Arati is clear that that’s not why she and Varun wanted to use ghee in their skin-care brand. “In the South Asian community, there’s so much talk about hyperpigmentation and removing it—but we love our skin and love our dark lips,” she says.
Each of the scents smells exactly how they’re supposed to—and the chai is a clear standout. It smells so lovely, rich, and spicy that whenever it’s on I find myself sitting with my lips pursed up to my nose, just taking in the scent.
The lip scrub is everything you want from a scrub—the brown sugar stays put in the ghee, allowing you to spread the crystals around with ease without them crumbling off your lips. I gently rub it on my lips with my fingers for a few seconds before washing it off with warm water. Once I’m done, my lips feel soft, moisturized, and invigorated instead of dry or irritated. After I scru,b I’ll slather on the mask, which ohmygawd feels so amazing. It’s unreal how buttery and smooth it feels while still being pretty weightless, not heavy or sticky—I can tell its there, but it feels like my lips are actually absorbing the goodness rather than the ingredients just sitting on top. This is not lip service.
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