How To Make Your Own Sindoor (kumkum, vermillion)

Now that I’m a married lady, I’ve been putting sindoor in the part of my hair.

Why? Mostly because it is tradition. Where in the west there is just the wedding ring to tell you someone is married, in Hinduism there are a number of elements and different ones or combinations used in different regions and communities: toe rings, a particular bangle, the mangalasutra necklace, nose ring, red bindi, and sindoor in the part of the hair. (For men there is not so much. Hey, this is an ancient tradition carried on from a time when women were property. They needed to show that they belonged to someone while men did not!) They say wearing sindoor is a way to honor your husband and to wish for his long life.

I love that bright red color!

But it turns out that commercial sindoor contains toxic ingredients like mercury and lead! I definitely don’t want to be putting that on my skin every day. (Some sites will tell you that mercury is a good thing, but it can lead to neurological damage, genetic disorders, and hair loss). If you live in India, you now have access to brands that are trying to be safer and more natural, such as Shahnaz Husain Shabride Herbal Sindoor. But I can’t find a way to get it in the U.S. [UPDATE: A reader on my Facebook page kindly sent me a link to a site that does appear to ship to America!]

“Fatal if consumed” Not what you want your kumkum to say!

So instead, I found instructions to make my own.

UPDATE: I have found that while I can get a red powder from these instructions, if it dries for too long it turns back to orange. This will only work if you’re making very small batches and using it quickly. I also tried another recipe a friend suggested of grinding beet root into powder. I dehydrated beets and ground them in a coffee grinder, but the resulting powder was purple and not red. She has suggested adding red sandalwood powder to the beet mixture. I may just go to buying pre-made beet root powder. Other suggestions have been powdered non-toxic paint and red lip pencil.

UPDATE 2: Lately I’m using a red lip pencil for sindoor and bindi. Still using homemade kumkum for ritual purposes.

What You’ll Need

  • Tumeric
  • Calcium Hydroxide (which is mineral lime). You can get it at Ace Hardware called Pickling Lime
  • Water

After a few days, I noticed that it started to get more rust colored and a little orange and then more and more and more orange. In future I think I will make the little balls and then break one open at a time as needed or just make a much smaller amount each time!


I like how subtly this can be done. It is not as glaringly obvious as wearing a bindi. You can put just a little so only people really looking for it notice (or you can put a lot and fill in your part for an inch or more).


Here is a video of the whole process…

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About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Kitty Davenport

    Have you thought of trying dried beet juice? I think I will give that a try this week and let you know how it worked out. :)

    • Ambaa

      I haven’t tried that. Definitely do let me know how it goes!

      • Kitty Davenport

        It was a tad more purple than the store bought, so I mixed in a teaspoon of red sandalwood powder and it looks and smells really nice. My only concern is it stains the skin a bit. Beet juice. It stains.:)

        • Ambaa

          That could be a benefit. You don’t have to reapply every day! lol.

          So you took beets and juiced them yourself then added sandalwood powder? I may try it. Mine is leaning towards orange and I love the bright red of kumkum.

  • Vidyasankar Sundaresan

    Actually, Hindu men announce our marital status with a second set of threads! At least those of us who do wear it :)

    • Ambaa

      Really?! Oh, that’s good to know! Thanks for the info :D

  • John Nikson

    There is another fascinating link between India, Egypt, China and the Ancient Americans. It is Kum Kum or vermilion powder.
    Archeologists are currently puzzled because nearly every ancient tomb they uncover has Kum Kum powder drenched all over the interiors of these sites. Whether its in China, Peru, Mexico or Egypt the use of vermilion/Kum Kum is used.

  • Ambaa

    That is so cool! How very creative.

    Oooo, kohl eyeliner. That’s a great idea!

    • Andrea

      Be VERY careful with that as the traditional way it is made is a lead based compound.

      The Sephora kohl eyeliner is fantastic and works well on the waterline.

  • happygoth

    So here’s the cool thing about turmeric (and the reason it becomes red when you mix it with pickling lime and wet it): it’s a litmus chemical. That is, it’s different colors in the presence of acids and bases. So when dry and by itself, in the naturally acidic environment that’s the air, it’s bright yellow. Pickling lime is basic, and when turmeric is mixed with a base it turns deep red. It’s so cool. If you take a cloth and you dye it with turmeric, you can get the same effect by dipping it in a little diluted ammonia. You can then either turn it back to yellow by dipping it in vinegar, or let it air dry, and watch it turn yellow over the course of several days. Hooray, science!

    • happygoth

      That is, if you seal the little balls (or powder) away from the air, it should stay red a lot longer. I hope that helps!

  • gabrielle

    ok my sindoor turns yellow when dry do i need to wait to use it until it is dryer

    • Ambaa

      I’m having the same issue. For me it stays red for a little while, but a day or two later it’s orange or yellow. I’ve been making smaller batches and also wearing it orange, but I think I need a different solution.

      I may have to take down these instructions and redo the whole post.

      I’m going to try beet powder next because one of my friends did that and she said it worked well.

      • gabrielle

        i was thinking vermilion paint and flower the non toxic type of say water color or some other i my self have been trying to fine any there way as well.have to agree not easy to find

  • Andrea

    You know what I’m doing these days? Red lip stain in pencil form. Seriously. Since it’s used as a lip cosmetic it should be safe to ingest and it goes on in a second. I have been looking at the ones found in the co-op and whole foods vs. drugstore but haven’t found one I liked yet. Tried some at Aveda and couldn’t find the right color red. Currently using All Glossed Up by Hard Candy but planning to switch it when I find something I like better.

    • Ambaa

      I will have to try that. I did the beets thing yesterday and I got purple powder :(

  • Sangeetha R

    Hi Amba, there is a very practical reason for married women wearing Sindoor that has nothing to do with women being property of men. It helps to avoid the embarassment of someone proposing to an already married woman! Since men has the onus of courting, and marriage alliances are usually initiated from groom’s side, it is easier for everyone if unmarried women can be identified easily!

    • Ambaa

      That is a very good point!

    • Andrea

      Of course, this really only works in a context where everyone knows what sindoor means… wedding rings often serve the same purpose in Western culture.

      And both men and women wear them… there are no comparable signs of marriage for men to sindoor/bindi/toe rings/bangles. An extra thread, for Brahmins? But who is seeing that thread, really…? And believe me, women (and their families) are looking for a groom just as much as men (and their families) are looking for brides :)

  • Sandy Vizag

    Liked ur post.
    But wud like to say that all those are weared by women not just to show that they are married now.

    Rings of toes are for umbilical cord. Becoz a complete family should have children.
    There is a science behind everything that was told.

    Earlier people never questioned elders, they strictly followed everything without asking any question. And they lived happily and health.
    Every family had minimum 5 children.
    People used to walk and live healthy even till 80 years of age .

    When people started learning science, they started questioning everything and followed those which have proofs.
    But what we dont know, is Vedas are Highly advanced that Current science cannot understand it.

    And there are few things which vedas dint tell but some people for their fake fame building. have created some superstitious. I know its tough now, to segregate things

    • Ambaa

      To me I feel like science and Hinduism go together really well. Unlike many other faiths, I have found that Hinduism supports finding reality and asking questions until you really understand.

      I don’t do blind obedience anymore. But I can ask why and seek to understand without being less of a Hindu.

  • Sandy Vizag

    have u read about ramana maharshi?

    • Ambaa

      Not as much as I should! It’s on my list of things to read about!

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