These products provide an alternative to more mainstream offerings, which over the last half-century have become increasingly laden with synthetics that some would rather avoid. This is no small issue, given the fact that the average person uses about 10 personal-care products daily with about 125 ingredients, according to the Environmental Work Group, a watchdog nonprofit that gathers data on consumer products. (The organization also runs Skin Deep, www.ewg.org/skindeep, a website that showcases data on various cosmetic and personal-care products.)
Forget the often tacky labels and jars and not-so-great recipes of hand-made beauty products in years past. Many of today's pure skin- and hair-care products have sophisticated ingredients, formulations, packaging and marketing. Here are a few of them.
Started by Michael Sedlacek, 32, and friend Liesa Helfen, 31, just 18 months ago, Worker B claims to be a 100% pure organic beeswax skin-care line from Minnesota. The self-proclaimed bee fanatics wanted to help local farmers while also bringing consumers products as direct from the bee as possible.
To this end, the hive enthusiasts source their wax and honey from bees at their Minneapolis-area farm as well as from neighboring organic farmers. Beeswax is an anti-inflammatory and has antiseptic properties. Their products include organic oils, propolis and some essential oils to balance out the elemental formulas.
Sedlacek says Worker B wanted to challenge the traditional corporate beauty concept of promoting multi-ingredient products that address only one issue.
"We wanted to bring to market the best-focused line of bee-ingredient products that had multiple uses and functions," says Sedlacek, who helps sell their eight balms and lotions in 75 stores in 23 states including California. "They're really super potent. So you only need a few products with a few key ingredients, of which you really only need to use a small amount."
Price range: From $4 for a lip balm to $20 for the Lotion Bar.
Tata Harper Skincare
When Colombian-born Tata Harper's stepfather was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, his doctor advised him to stop using personal-care products. This got her thinking about the potential dangers in mainstream offerings and took her on a five-year global quest to bring to market skin-care products "that actually work and won't sacrifice our health," says Harper, an industrial engineer.
Today, Harper, 36, creates much of her all-natural nontoxic line from start to finish on her 1,200-acre farm in Lake Champlain, Vt. She grows about 8% of the certified organic plant and herbal ingredients she uses, including alfalfa, candela, meadowsweet, lavender, chamomile and borage, in greenhouses on her farm, where they're infused and then blended with proprietary formulas.
"I always say if women can find products that beautify and are in fact even more powerful than the synthetic products out there, then why even take the risk?" says Harper, whose eponymous line has about a dozen skin-care items with premium ingredients sourced directly from farms she's visited in Israel, the Czech Republic, Tasmania, the U.K. and New Zealand. "I always tell women, 'Read labels and spread the word. Premium, nontoxic skin care is a reality.'"
Price range: From $45 for the Replenishing Nutrient Complex to $150 for the Rejuvenating Serum.
Arizona floral essence alchemist Katie Hess, 35, saw the changes in mood, health and physical attractiveness that her consultation clients often underwent after using various potions she'd mixed with herbs and flowers from her garden. Many were quite dramatic, and she told herself: "I shouldn't be shy about this. I need to get these to market to help people," she says. Soon after, Lotus Wei (Mandarin for "transformative action") was born.
At first, Hess asked herself what people wanted more of in their lives. Her answer: love, joy, inspiration, energy, inner peace and a quiet mind. She created six potions corresponding to those answers, using mostly local and wild-crafted flowers and herbs in a variety of products: elixirs, mists, serums and perfumes. She even uses gemstone essences — gems soaked in water — distilled into her elixirs.
From her own as well as from various friends' gardens in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Francisco, she infuses passionflower for her Quiet Mind; African daisies for Joy Juice; Hong Kong orchid for Infinite Love; bird of paradise for Inspired Action; hibiscus for Inner Peace; and pomegranate and jade succulent for Pure Energy. She calculates that she uses about 25 organic floral and six gemstone essences in her full line of 24 products, which are sold at spas, apothecaries and naturopath offices worldwide, including the Four Seasons spas in Hong Kong; Mumbai, India; and the Seychelles.
Price range: From $29 for an elixir to $45 for perfume.
Tina Cassaday Hair Shakes
Veteran Beverly Hills hair stylist Tina Cassaday, 55, says she has used fresh fruit in her hair-care products for decades. With the organic fruit and dairy products blended into her signature hair brews, Tina Cassaday Hair Shakes are about as green and clean as hair care gets.
She custom-mixes certified organic banana, cantaloupe, mango, papaya, kiwi, blueberries, floral honey and blackstrap molasses with organic goat yogurt, a proprietary mix of vitamin B, lecithin granules, condensed milk and a quail egg from a local organic farm. She sometimes includes other essential oils and vitamins tailored to a specific need, such as peppermint oil and vitamin D for scalp stimulation.
"I'm fairly sure you could drink these shakes, but nope, they're for your hair," says Cassaday, who numbers Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Jamie Lee Curtis as fans. "People often say I'm fixing their hair one banana at a time."
Cassaday personally blends each batch and packages, boxes and ships the products in ice the same day they're made. She says the shakes remain fresh for about 72 hours.
Price range: From $125 to $150 for an 8-ounce Hair Shake up to $400 to $425 for the 32-ounce size, depending on custom ingredients.
Yael Alkalay is descended from Turkish rabbis and Bulgarian dermatologists on her father's side and South American farmers on her Argentinean mother's side. She remembers her mother making small batches of rose jam and violet syrup from ingredients found in their Massachusetts garden and can still recall the smell and taste of something delightfully fresh and pure.
Alkalay says this was her inspiration for delivering "that real kind of beauty from the garden in a meaningful way." It was while recovering from a sudden stroke in her mid-20s during a skiing trip to France that she first understood that her life mission was to help people learn how to live in the moment of sensory fulfillment.
"All I could think of at the time was how much I loved all the simple sensual pleasures, like eating jam from the garden," says Alkalay. After spending time in Japan working for the makeup giant Shiseido, she launched Red Flower in 1999 at Barneys New York. Her first offering was made up of six candles with garden-fresh flowers plopped on top and three organic teas. Today, there are more than 100 products sourced from countries such as Finland, Japan and Morocco. The rose, jasmine, lavender, blood orange, peony, gardenia and moonflowers that rest on her signature candles are pulled fresh from local Manhattan area organic gardens. She also makes floral skin, hair and body lotions and washes, organic perfume and organic floral teas. Her Red Flower Boutique opened in Manhattan in 2003.
Price range: From $14 for a Little Flower candle to $186 for an organic perfume concentrate.
Brazilian-born Isa Brito, 47, came by her line of garden fresh herbals somewhat by chance. A former photojournalist, she was in her 20s when she began creating simple body and makeup products for her daughter. The products spread to her daughter's school friends and then to their mothers.
She eventually quit her day job and is now an herbalist with a busy consultation practice. She sells her Isa Restoratives products online and at select stores. "I really enjoy helping women to take charge of themselves and their health and lives," Brito says. "This, of course, translates into making them beautiful."
She cultivates many of her ingredients in her own New York garden: chickweed, dandelion, violet, belladonna, mugwort, plantain, lavender, chamomile, yarrow, calendula, St. John's wort, wild lettuce, evening primrose, bergamot, passionflower and rosemary, among others.
Her full line utilizes scores of ingredients that vary with the seasons and includes skin-care products, tinctures and floral essences. She even sells a popular lilac rouge that she first made for her daughter.
Price range: From $10 for her tinctures to $60 for Blue Chamomile face cream.