“Why use nature if you’re not going to use it properly,” says Shirin Van Lare, founder of botanical skincare brand Bourii. Named after a rare and endangered plant species native to her mother’s hometown in Persia (Northern Iran) called Lilium Ledebourii, Bourii riffs off just the last six letters: “It’s a reminder of the vulnerability of nature and how we must be mindful in order to protect it and ourselves,” she tells me over Zoom.
A brand rooted in ancient rituals over 5000 years old, Bourii uses Ayurvedic science – the oldest wellness trend around – to concoct its grounding, multi-purpose oils. Bringing science, philosophy and spirituality together, ‘Ayurveda’ is essentially the ‘science of life’ as its etymological origins can be traced back to the amalgamation of two Sanskrit words – Ayur, meaning ‘life’ and Veda, meaning ‘knowledge/science of’.
So, using only the purest of organic ingredients – sweet orange, jojoba, myrrh, sesame, ylang ylang, patchouli, cedarwood, hemp seed, black cumin seed, etc – Bourii oils are all developed alongside Ayurveda, ethnobotany and aromatherapy field experts and hand-blended in small batches in Van Lare’s London studio. “If the [ingredients are] not pure and not organic, they’re not going to be healing,” the formulator states, adding, “The elements we find in nature are also what we find within, and in order for us to achieve total health, we need to balance those elements within.”
Purposefully designed to target the skincare needs of each dosha – Vata, Pitta and Kapha – each of Bourii’s plant-powered potions call upon the healing power of botanicals to balance vital energy and nourish the senses and skin. The doshas are our unique mind-body-soul blueprints, each being determined by specific physical, emotional, mental and social characteristics as they pertain to the five universal elements – fire, water, earth, air and space. “Vata is ether and air, Pitta is fire and water, and Kapha is water and earth. Your constitution is all three, but you might have one or two doshas that are dominant,” Van Lare explains. What Ayurvedic science does is seek to reduce excess doshas in order to restore balance and equilibrium at “all levels of our being”. Bearing that in mind, Bourii oils work through the olfactory system for maximum impact: “It’s a head to toe, within and without, sort of approach,” she says. “So touch, hair oiling, self massage, the use of aromatherapy, the use of breathwork, etc, to balance the doshas.”
Offering multipurpose oils as opposed to site specific formulas, because of the 360 degree approach taken by Ayurvedic science – “top to bottom, inside out” – Bourii oils can be used concurrently as a cleanser, moisturiser, body oil, hair oil and bath oil. Van Lare explains, “If people are going to spend a reasonable amount of money on a product, I want it to do as much as possible for them.” Plus, with an Earth-first approach to production, all Bourii bottles are both refillable and recyclable, using sustainable ink printing and aluminium caps, in line with its Carbon Offset Verification from Carbon Neutral Britain.
“Bourii wants to create a way of life that is free spirited – immersing yourself in nature and being present, enjoying life, while being rooted in ancestry – to help us find a way to connect to ourselves in this overconsuming, detached world.”
Believe it or not, Bourii operates as a one-woman team. “It’s been all ‘go’ with Bourii, just non-stop because I’m by myself; it’s just me doing it. I’ve become the e-commerce manager, marketer, blender, formulator… the whole lot. It’s just amazing though! I do get to those moments where I need to pause and go ‘ahhhh’, but then I say, ‘Would I want to be doing anything else?’ and the answer is always no. This is my dream,” the founder says.
And no doubt, considering Van Lare’s rather extensive educational background – she originally graduated from an International Marketing and Spanish split degree, before scrapping that for a career in fashion. Setting up a photography company in Athens, Greece, with a good friend, she was constantly stuck in flux between her Greek life, working with architects and interior designers, and London, where she held rather odd jobs like organising BAFTA Awards after parties for E Entertainment. Then the 2008 recession hit Greece and she returned in full force to the British capital, on what was supposed to be a temporary basis.
It wasn’t until her brother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis that Ayurvedics became her saving grace, helping to ease many of his symptoms. “I ended up staying in London and trying to navigate his illness. That’s where I ventured more into Ayurveda,” she recalls. “He used to have – well he still does have – bed rashes or rashes from his wheelchair. The doctor would prescribe cream and it wouldn’t really do much, so we thought we’d try this ayurvedic oil and it worked wonders. It got rid of that darker pigmentation and his skin was really supple. He also had problems with circulation, so we would give him a full body Ayurvedic massage called Abhyanga.”
At the same time suffering from severe anxiety and stuck in a finance job she didn’t love, Van Lare found her face riddled with adult pustular acne. NHS docs and private practitioners alike, prescribed anti-inflammatory medications that did anything but work. It was a frustrating period in her life, topical or internal, all the doctors’ advice did was damage the pigmentation of her skin. So, she abandoned any notion of Western medicine in favour of an Ayurvedic doctor who dug into her diet, work life and leisure life in order to understand the imbalance. Within six months of practising daily rituals, dosing herbs and self-care, the acne had gone and so had another underlying illness. “I’d healed,” she proclaims.
Afterward, Van Lare embarked on a two month expedition around the world. She started at a festival in Vietnam, travelling to Bali and Thailand before landing in a remote area just outside of Bangkok. There, she practised Vipassana, an ancient Indian silent meditation practice that takes place in a remote temple. “It’s no speaking, no eye contact, up at 4:30 meditating, lying on a concrete floor, literally just having a yoga mat, no pillow, nothing. Working meditation was cleaning toilets. I was like why have I done this to myself?” But, after 10 days, her mind had cleared. Her anxieties seeped away like a fjord to the sea. It was only when she had left, that her ‘purpose’ had become clear: she needed to master Ayurveda. “I knew that’s what I had to do. It was so clear for me,” she says.
She then entered into a formal education at Formula Botanica and the Ayurvedic Institute, with Dr. Deepika Rodrigo and Dr. Wathsala Wijesinghe where she mastered the science of Ayurveda and its formulas. Van Lare was already making oils for her immediate family and friends at the time, as well as offering consultations to outpatients, when the idea of pursuing Ayurvedic skincare rituals specifically and professionally crept up. “People talk about rituals, but they never seem to acknowledge where these rituals came from,” she starts. “That made me passionate about speaking up and saying ‘Hey people over here have been doing it for over 5000 years.’”
Learning of bentonite clay hair treatments and scalp massages from her mother, who would continuously talk about “all these little rituals from back home [Persia]” and how she looks after her “long, luscious” locks with clay. “It’s very calming to the nervous system as it stimulates the blood flow to the scalp,” Van Lare says. “To have healthy hair you need a healthy scalp.” So, her next product endeavour will likely be clay masks for the hair and face, blended with Ashwagandha, an ayurvedic herb. She’s also working on a rose oil from Persia, a hydrosol that can be used in moisturising the skin or as a toner, and an overnight oil. “I just want people to understand how they can use the body oils for now, and how beneficial they can be for each and every one of us, and how many ways you can use that. Then I’ll slowly incorporate other things.”
But before she expands her opus, Van Lare wants Bourii customers to spend as much time as possible with the product that best responds to their particular needs – Vatta, Pitta or Kapha. “Even if you don’t have time to put it on your body, you can do Abhyanga – so you can just put it on your pulse points: your wrists, behind your knees, your neck… the warm parts; wherever you feel the pulse, it absorbs more deeply. All you need to do is spend a little bit of time and be present… then pour.”
Photography courtesy of Bourii.