Is Earthwise Beauty the Right Fit for You? April 06 2017
Green beauty has expanded so much in the last few years that today there is a huge range of companies and brands to choose from. We have tiny companies, perhaps operating Etsy shops; small to medium companies operating like small businesses (that is us); and large corporations that create cleaner product lines to satisfy the customers who read labels and avoid certain ingredients, whether because they are considered unsafe or unnatural, or because they cause them allergic reactions.
One problem we are running into is that the term "green beauty" is loose and broad. Different product lines can be in different places when it comes to the natural ingredients they use (whether, say, they are organic or wildcrafted versus "natural" but conventionally grown; whether they are labelled by law as natural cosmetic ingredients but are fully lab-made nature-identical, or nature-close ingredients such as different vitamins and preservatives).
I could write a book on this topic alone.
But since you would have to wait for several years for the book, let's cut to the chase and rather than give you an overview of all the ingredient options in the market, I will focus on the way we approach ingredient sourcing and the process of developing and making our products.
Everybody will tell you they seek out the "highest quality" ingredients, but what does it mean? For us, we never just order ingredients from an unfamiliar online herb, soap-supply, or cosmetic-supply store. Many new, small, often one-person companies start this way in their full innocence (I admit I started this way 13 years ago). A beginner does not realize how much adulteration can happen to an essential oil or carrier oil, or how much proper handing, inventory management, and storage conditions can vary on the supplier end (we know whether ours use refrigerators or cold rooms, how often they get a new batch, how much they order at once, whether they know the best seasons for sourcing, and whether—horror!—they use a microwave). Good suppliers will happily brag to you about the amazing care that they provide for the precious ingredients and will want you to adopt their techniques to take good care of the "babies" you buy from them.
A beginner does not realize that some suppliers do not have a system for monitoring inventory freshness—we have even come across suppliers that do not take care to inspect each new batch of oil that arrives from their regular source. This means the oils could be old or, not uncommonly, rancid. A beginner will not know the full range of geraniums or lavenders available, which countries produce the nicest ones, and in which seasons, and what solvents are acceptable to produce absolutes that are safe to use topically (absolute extraction is an art that requires particular, extensive expertise, and sourcing absolutes requires knowledge about the processes and solvents available).
Someone just starting out cannot visually tell the difference between dried chamomile flowers that are fresh and were picked at the correct stage and those that were not, and might even end up with a pound of crushed herbal dust (albeit certified organic) from a few seasons prior, not whole intact flowers. A person with little experience may not even know what some plant oils should look and smell like, and how to check whether their sample is fresh, unrefined, unbleached, and unadulterated.
We are obsessing about every step of ingredient sourcing because in the world of long-distance ordering of exotic oils, where we are not usually able to visit the suppliers in person, a very thorough evaluation is a must.
All our suppliers make a legally binding promise that they do not test on animals or commission animal testing. We interview suppliers to get an idea about their procurement and storage practices; how nice, knowledgeable, and honest they are as people; and how they organize their work environment so we can get an idea of how the employees are treated. Then we ask them detailed questions about the unrefined and fresh status of the ingredients and evaluate their samples. We need to know the countries of origin and processing and the year of harvest.
We focus our product formulas on botanical ingredients sourced in this way, particularly herbs, essential oils and absolutes, resins, hydrosols, and carrier oils and butters. Also, as much as possible, we responsibly harvest wild locally growing herbs; we make our own flower and gem essences, tinctures, and infused oils; and we work with local organic gardeners to grow flowers and herbs for us as well.
In addition, we use a small handful of ingredients for the cosmetic formulator that we cannot replace with straight botanicals or extractions we could make fresh ourselves, such as preservatives and emulsifiers. When selecting these additions, we try hard to select the safest, most well-tested, ideally ECOCERT or "approved for use in organic formulations" options.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes such products suddenly become blacklisted because in our country, cosmetic ingredients are sold without prior vetting by any government body, and often it is only with time that research studies find a particular chemical hazardous; at other times, let's be aware, it is a competitor that is the source of such blacklisting. A competitor may even go as far as commissioning studies to prove its point, all in an effort to replace a commonplace ingredient, even an herb, with their own alternative. When such a blacklisting happens, we do what is necessary and work on replacing the offending ingredient with a safer one.
It may seem a little intense, but we laboriously transfer most ingredients upon arrival to give them light-proof, natural storage vessels. We use Kraft paper bags for herbs and glass containers for oils, butters, and powders. Our ingredients are labeled with the dates of arrival, so we always know their freshness level. Many of them are stored in our refrigerators for maximum shelf life. Our flower and gem essences are stored in a quiet, dark cabinet surrounded by clear quartz pieces. Oil infusions of herbs and herbal tinctures are also stored in a dark cabinet or refrigerated.
What I have learned over the years is that our ingredients, which are often rare or very expensive, get the proper care and respect if we hire employees with values and a world view similar to ours. We have found that employees with backgrounds in herbalism, naturopathy, holistic nutrition, homeopathy, gardening, mindfulness, flower essence healing, and gem healing love to take care of the ingredients, products, and your orders with the utmost care and respect.
Developing the Product Formulas
Our development process is slow. We start out with an idea, such as a goal for what the new product should deliver, and then we test a range of ingredients that show promise in this direction (in terms of healing properties, but also scent and texture) one at a time. We often even test a few suppliers for a particular new-to-us ingredient. Then we move on to testing sample formulas in a few ambient temperatures and on a few skin types the product is intended to serve. If it is a product that requires emulsification or preservation, we test a few options for each and then use challenge tests to make sure the formula holds the emulsion and is well preserved yet nonirritant to volunteer testers. Each test formula is recorded carefully and ingredients are measured out or weighed. Weighing carefully is particularly important with the so-called active ingredients and preservatives, as mistakes could render the test run irritating, potentially causing an allergic or burn-like reaction. Measuring out or weighing essential oils and CO2 extracts is also critical to use each in safe amounts: We follow the guidelines of established authorities, namely Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D., and Robert Tisserand.
It may appear simple, but what goes into each formulation is years of studies, hands-on experience, and consulting various reference books and sometimes our teachers and gurus during the process. Experience and knowledge about a wide range of botanicals allows us to select a new set for each new product where the various components will complement one another and enhance one another's contributions in terms of healing properties (one oil may be selected for the betacarotene components, and another one to add emolliency and B vitamins), but also in terms of texture, feel, absorbency, and scent. During such tests, we often have to pause to source a new ingredient that we’ve found is a missing link in a formula.
What Else Differentiates Earthwise Beauty from Other Green Beauty Lines?
Based on sampling what others are doing admirably, I have developed a clearer idea of what we are offering versus other beauty brands. In general, I think that our formulas tend to be richer and earthier than many others. We think that there are enough products out there that serve customers who seek out the lightest feel, many of whom have skin types ranging from acne-prone to oily. This does not mean that we do not have anything to offer to this group (examples here are our bestselling Nap in the Meadow Face Serum, Carrot-a-Day Serums, Ambrosia del Cerrado Liquid Moisturizer and Toner, and Green Leaves & Co. Facial Oil), but the strongest core of our customers are women over 30 or 35, ones with very dehydrated, dry, damaged, mature, or eczema-prone skin. We get phone calls and e-mails from women in their fifties stating that they cannot find anything out there that is rich enough, hydrating enough, healing enough, wrinkle-reducing enough, and they want more in this vein from us. Signs of aging, insufficient firmness, skin dehydration, and wrinkles are my strong focus and interest when developing every formula (one example: even with formulas for acne-prone skin, I will work on including ingredients that repair and add glow and moisture).
What I mean by our products being earthier is that we include some deeply healing ingredients that other lines sometimes stay away from because the scent intensity cannot be extinguished, or because their colors are darker. The earthy ingredients do not work in formulas that are meant to smell very ethereally of neroli or cucumber, and their colors lend rust, warm brown, orange, or olive green hues to the oils and butters (hues whose richness and complexity we adore, and nutrients whose range I could not do without when formulating). While some formulators start out with the goal that the new balm be a clean white or pale pink, I don't impose such tight restrictions on myself because this would greatly limit the number of reparative, antioxidant-rich, superingredients I could add to a formula. Our products tend to be soft brown, orange, golden, honey-hued, or green.
Our scents are often (but not always) deeper than those of our competitors, reminiscent of or including frankincense, copaiba resin, tamanu, vetiver, moist-soil-like bacuri butter, and powdery-dusty-sweet ucuuba butter. Ours are by no means stinky, never old-fashioned, and not even what one might call apothecary-herbal scents. We use exquisite Moroccan and Indian rose absolutes, pink lotus, white lotus, tuberose, mimosa, jasmine, mandarin leaf, pines, cedars, and firs. But in every formula, you will have a tiny bit of the earthy and mossy, that is all.
The scents are in part a matter of personal sensibility on my end, but there are other factors at play as well. I am convinced that the reason why several incredibly effective botanicals are almost never used in green beauty lines is that they have stronger earthy scents. Copaiba balsam, carrot seed oil, and spikenard have intense herbal scents, but they are my top skin-firming ingredients (much more powerful and effective than hibiscus or tomato). Neem is incredible for acne, rosacea, and other infective skin conditions but its scent, again, is harder to work with and impossible to suppress.
What we are also doing, which may be harder to notice if you are experiencing just a sample and not a full jar, is using techniques from the fine natural perfumer's toolbox when composing the scents, so they evaporate more or less quickly by design, depending on the formula, and they have, I hope, a roundness and completeness to them because they are made up of base, middle, and top notes, as well as fixative notes. (Mind you, I have only been practicing this difficult art for about two years, so I have more to learn and more books to read).
And one last point, which I am not sure I should bring up: Many categorize our line as "luxury green beauty," which has come to mean something along the lines of, "carefully designed natural and organic formulas, with attention paid not only to the quality of the ingredients, but also to ensuring that they are utterly luxurious to the senses; often utilizing rare or less-common botanicals." There is also the term "niche green beauty," which I quite like, and which I believe means "small-batch, handcrafted, and unique" among the clean beauty lines. I agree with the above; I think we are all those things. But I have recently been told that we are not "high end" because our bottle and jar appearance is not "high end" (oh well!).
Anxiously looking forward to your comments.
(Note that some of the information above will soon be copied in bits onto our other informational pages, to make sure that readers who venture elsewhere to read about our ingredients, for example, have the specific information they are seeking.)