It's become almost ho-hum to read a menu that lists precisely where the apples were picked or how the cow was raised. So what's the next wave in sourcing? It's already upon us. People are becoming as picky about what goes on their skin as what goes in their bodies, and they are looking to the woods or the sea for treatment.
As recently as four years ago, the prevailing attitude was that "natural" beauty didn't work, says Romain Gaillard, an owner of the Detox Market, an apothecary shop near the Beverly Center. "Now it's a completely different thing. What had to happen was that the premium market had to turn natural."
That whiff of patchouli that many of us associate with all things natural is gone, and much of today's packaging evokes luxury. The label showing elegant plants and birds on Osmia Organics products, for example, is not, as Gaillard put it, anything like the home-spun packages of potions and bars that once were found "in the back of the health-food store near the potatoes."
But it's the ingredients that are key. M Café, a popular microbiotic dining chain, sells its own brand of hand polish made with ingredients that could show up in our food: salt and oils from safflower, sunflower, vitamin E, grapefruit and geranium.
The vegan, gluten-free soaps from the Chatsworth-based company Saavy could be used as toothpaste — though owners Hugo and Debra Saavedra admit they might not taste terrific. "What you put on your skin, you should be able to eat," Hugo Saavedra said. His company's mango-papaya soap, for example, contains jojoba, almond oils and beet powder.
"People want natural and organic. They feel like if they can eat it, it can be on their skin," said Paula Weiser-Vazquez, owner of Beautyhabit, a high-end apothecary in Westlake Village. "I think this is the new trend. It's not going to be a flash in the pan."
Though some products that are labeled "natural" (a term that in skin care and food products has no regulatory definition) can be found in drugstores or Whole Foods, often they are boutique products, Weiser-Vazquez says, adding that it costs more, for example, to extract the essence of rose petals than to create a rose scent in a lab.
But just as in food, consumers need to be smart. Even the term "organic" (which is regulated) "doesn't tell you that the ingredients have been chosen for the right reason and the best efficacy," says Sarah Villafranco, who spent 10 years as an emergency-room doctor before leaving the profession to launch Osmia Organics in 2012.
Several entrepreneurs give advice that we often hear about food: Beware of a product if the ingredient list includes items you can't pronounce.
Villafranco's website lists ingredients to avoid (and, of course, they're not in her products), including synthetic fragrances, parabens and phthalates because of concerns about potential hormonal or endocrine system side effects, and petroleum-based ingredients because they could block pores and "because decreasing dependence on the petroleum industry would be good for this planet."
Consumers seem motivated by a desire to support a farm-to-face ethos and by the belief that "pure" products are more healthful and less likely to cause problems. Such "natural" products accounted for almost 17% of $3 billion in "prestige" skin care sales from department stores and shops like Sephora this year, said Karen Grant, the global industry analyst for beauty products at the market research firm NPD. That doesn't account for products in boutiques, drugstores and other outlets. Transparency Market Research said the global market for organic personal-care products neared $7 billion in 2011 and is the fastest-growing sector of personal care products.
There's been a "tremendous" interest in herbalism at the Echo Park boutique Otherwild, says owner Rachel Berks.
Indeed, on one recent night, about two dozen people gathered in the store to learn how to make a lip and skin balm and a scrub with ingredients they could have eaten — though no one did. To make the balm, for example, raw, unfiltered beeswax was melted and combined with comfrey and calendula. Each student added scents such as geranium- or sage-infused oils.
For centuries, plants were used for healing, and many people are returning to those ideas, says Sarah Buscho, who with Marina Storm owns the San Francisco skin-care company Earth Tu Face and came to L.A. to teach the class.
"We'd go to friends' houses and there'd be all this organic food, and you go into the bathroom and it's all chemicals," Storm says. The average woman, she adds, uses 12 products a day containing more than 200 chemicals.
But that's changing.
Buscho and Storm grow the herbs and flowers they use, infuse them, and experiment with oils for their skin and face products. Earth Tu Face products contain such ingredients as coconut and sesame oils, honey, comfrey and sea buckthorn.
In Fiore, a San Francisco company, uses certified organic oils and infusions, including cold-pressed grape seed oil that is verified to contain no genetically modified organisms. The products of Fig + Yarrow are made in small batches, by hand, from roots, leaves, flowers, minerals and oils.
Gaillard and his partner, Valérie Grandury, established Odacite, a line of fresh, fragrance-free skin products, in 2009 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now customers often come to their store after finding their skin reacts to conventional products, he said.
"Allergies and chronic problems didn't seem so prevalent," even a few years ago, says Debra Saavedra, whose Saavy products should be in stores early in 2015. "That's why people are coming back to nature and food-grade ingredients."
Hall Newbegin started his company, Juniper Ridge, 15 years ago, hoping to package the smells of the Cascades or the Sierra. "I was just a hiker selling stuff to college kids at the Berkeley farmers market," Newbegin says from Mt. Tamalpais, north of San Francisco, where he was hiking one recent morning.
He still finds the need to explain how his products — based on ingredients found in the wild — differ from traditional perfumes. "What's at the Nordstrom perfume counter, that has nothing to do with what perfume was for 2,000 years, until the 1960s. It was just putting nature in a bottle."
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar breaks down 'natural' ingredients
You can often find "natural" ingredients — things like aloe vera or lavender or cocoa butter — in many conventional skin and hair products.
Rosemary Gladstar, an herbalist and the author of "Herbs for Natural Beauty," describes many ingredients used in "natural" products, which are generally found in natural-foods stores or online. Here's her rundown of some of those ingredients and their uses:
Aloe vera. The juice from the plant's leaves is good for burns or as a moisturizer.
Argan oil. The oil, extracted from argan tree nuts, recently became popular as a so-called miracle product. It is used as a conditioner and treatment for face, hair and nails.
Borax. The mineral, also called sodium borate, softens water and is a cleanser.
Calendula. The dried yellow flowers are used in preparations for healing skin as well as lip balms and for brightening golden and strawberry hair highlights. Because it's gentle, it is used in children's skin-care products.
Sea buckthorn oil. This bright orange oil is pressed from the plant's berries. It's rich in essential fatty acids, carotene and other nutrients that nourish the skin.
White clay. The mild clay (made of aluminum oxide and zinc oxide) used in cosmetics, masks and bath salts.
Homemade deodorant and scalp treatment recipes
If you’re intrigued by the idea of using simple ingredients mostly found in your garden or kitchen to help care for your hair and skin, there are a number of books that offer guidance — among them, Annie Strole’s “Homemade Beauty: 150 Simple Beauty Recipes Made From All-Natural Ingredients.”
As a student learning to be a makeup artist, Strole eventually began questioning the products she was using. She began researching and eventually got busy in her kitchen. Here are two of her recipes.
Pit Conditioning Deodorant
This homemade deodorant soothes and hydrates while keeping unpleasant fragrances at bay.
In a bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons unrefined virgin coconut oil, 2 tablespoons raw shea butter, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch. Store the cream in a small, airtight container. To use, rub a small amount onto clean, dry skin.
Coconut Tea Tree Miracle Scalp Treatment (for all hair types)
“The moment I notice any flaking on my scalp,” Strole writes, “I pop the treatment on and my crown is in the clear for weeks! This recipe makes one treatment, but you can mix up a big batch and store it in a cool dry place.”
You’ll need 4 tablespoons unrefined virgin coconut oil. If it’s solidified, melt the coconut oil for 15 seconds in the microwave or in a small saucepan set over low heat. Add in 20 drops tea tree essential oil until thoroughly blended. Apply the mixture on your scalp (with dry hair) and massage for one to two minutes. Let it sit for at least two hours. You can even put your hair in a plastic shower cap or wrap it in plastic wrap and leave it overnight.
To remove, rinse thoroughly, shampoo (you may have to lather up to three times to get all of the oil out) and condition with a lightweight conditioner.