Nancy Newsom is the founder and chief alchemist for Botanic Organic, a Bay Area artisanal skincare brand featuring a unique line of products crafted with whole, plant-based ingredients.
Articles about the nasty components lurking in mainstream skincare lines tend to strike a chord and scare me (preservatives or parabens, anyone?), so I was thrilled to listen to Nancy Newsom's 10-minute lightning-talk at a recent Supergirls Club event in San Francisco and wanted to share the choice bits of information with the rest of our community!
Sophie: Tell us about why you decided to found Botanic Organic.
NN: A number of years ago, I started hearing about the toxic nature of some ingredients we find in mainstream personal care products. Up until that time, I hadn’t given it much thought. In our household, we were already committed to cooking and eating whole and organic plant-based foods, so it wasn’t a big stretch to start thinking about what we were putting onto our bodies. I found a couple of inspiring books that both enlightened me about these issues and taught me how to make simple and healthy skincare products for myself and my circle of friends and family.
The more I read about using traditional herbal remedies and plant-based oils and extracts to make my own cosmetics, the more excited I became. It became a bit of an obsession for me. Who knew that the chemistry of oils and hydrosols could be so riveting! I found local classes that taught the art of making lotions, creams, balms, plant extracts, perfumes, and hydrosols. My fascination grew with my experience, but what I found most compelling were the dramatic improvements that I was experiencing to my own skin. After a few months of using my natural formulations, my skin became smoother, the visible sun damage diminished, and my skin had that healthy glow I had been missing. I was astounded that these seemingly simple and yet also complex ingredients from nature were working better than any of the mainstream products I’d been using my entire life, and without the potentially harmful side effects. A friend from yoga wanted me to teach her how to make products for her own family. Over time and a good deal of soul searching, we decided to launch Botanic Organic and share our products with a wider audience.
Sophie: Why are raw oils so much better than refined oils for our skin?
NN: While most of us understand the distinction between an organic versus a common (non-organic) oil, not everyone understands how different a raw (unrefined) oil is from a refined oil and why your skin would care.
Unrefined oils are either cold-pressed or expeller-pressed, which means they are minimally processed using mechanical extraction (pressure) and low-temperature controlled conditions to extract the oil from the seed, nut, etc. These relatively gentle methods of extraction allow oils to retain their plant-specific, non-lipid (non-oily) compounds. These compounds give each type of oil its distinctive color, taste, scent, and nutritional value. It is this portion of the oil that contains the vitamins, minerals proteins, waxes, plant sterols, carotenes, and antioxidants that make up the healing fraction of the oil.
Why avoid refined oils for skincare? When an oil is further refined beyond the initial stages of extraction mentioned above, the oil undergoes various further methods of processing using temperature treatments with heat up to 450°F (232°C) or cold-conditions as low as -30°F (-34°C), solvent treatments for deodorization, and bleaching to fade the color or further remove scent. Those precious, non-oily compounds that give individual oils their nutritional and antioxidant values are stripped away during this refining process. Creating skin care products using oils that are rich in phyto-nutrients is key to the efficacy of our products. Raw and organic oils rich in antioxidants, vitamins, tannins, sterols, polyphenols, and terpenes guard and nourish your skin in a healthy and holistic way.
Sophie: Can you recommend some essential oils our readers can try for common health and beauty needs/concerns?
NN: I’ll recommend one very common, but terrific essential oil, then recommend that your readers pick up a book on the subject. There are just SO many oils, and they can be used for everything from perfumery to cleaning agents, so it’s super helpful to have a book on hand to reference.
Lavender has great benefits for skin due to its antiseptic and anti-fungal properties. It’s helpful in treating acne, wrinkles, and various inflammatory skin conditions. It can help to speed wound healing and sunburns because it improves the formation of scar tissue. Its calming scent has aroma-therapeutic value for anxiety issues and can also be helpful in treating migraines, headaches, depression, nervous tension, emotional stress, and sleeplessness. We use it in our soothing balm but you can add it to a carrier oil like sweet almond or sunflower oil to nourish the skin, or to an eye compress or in a diffuser.
Here are a few books that have great info on essential oils: The Aromatherapy Beauty Guide: Using the Science of Carrier and Essential Oils to Create Natural Personal Care Products by Danielle Sade BSc CAHP and The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon & Lora Carbo Cantele
Sophie: Do you use anything else on your skin? Perhaps an eye cream?
NN: Gosh, I use a lot of the products that we make on my skin and they’re not all straight oil blends like our Pomegranate & Argan Antioxidant Oil Serum. I love our hydrating mists made from fresh plant distillates and plant extracts. I like to mix these with our Pomegranate serum to provide extra benefits and hydration for the skin. Our dry cleansing grains are fantastic for double cleansing and polishing the skin without drying. We have a day time moisturizer made with zinc oxide to protect skin from sun and the elements. This is a super important part of anyone’s daily regime because it protects our skin from sun damage which is considered the biggest cause of future wrinkles alongside smoking. And yes, we also have a beautiful eye cream which helps with those fine lines and puffiness.
Sophie: Are there any other natural remedies you frequently use?
NN: I visit a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who prescribes herbs for various issues along with acupuncture treatments. I like to go for a monthly visit just to keep everything running smoothly. I also love natural creams that contain arnica for muscle soreness. I practice yoga and tai chi which I consider to be natural remedies to strengthen my body and help with stress.
Sophie: How did you know it was time to branch out and start your own company?
NN: It was definitely a leap of faith. This was really not in my “life’s plan” but it just felt right at the time and I decided to run with it. I’m pretty sure I would never have taken the leap had I not had someone who wanted to partner with me on this adventure. She (Kit Gordon) had an MBA, was a chemical engineer, and conveniently had a pool house up in the beautiful Los Altos Hills that we could use as a dedicated workshop to make our products. Having a partner in a complex business like this is really important. Not only does it help to share the workload but hopefully your partner contributes additional skills and strengths to what you yourself bring to the company. Maybe even more importantly, you have someone you can talk to about the business and who you can share both your victories and setbacks with. This sharing is terribly important.
Sophie: What have you learned from this journey?
NN: Wow, it certainly has been a journey! I’ve grown so much throughout this process. It’s given me a confidence that I didn’t even know I was missing. It’s a treat to create something from nothing and to watch it grow little by little and to know that it’s “your baby.” I would definitely say that you have to have a great passion for what you do if you have your own business. It’s definitely not the easiest way to make money, so bare that in mind if you’re the one in your family who is putting food on the table. It’s also a fantastic amount of work and if you don’t love what you’re doing, you may not want to keep going with it.
Sophie: Do you have advice for fellow female entrepreneurs in the health space?
NN: Haha, I often tell “would-be” makers that if they’re going to make a product, it’s WAY easier to make several versions of one product than to make a whole line of individual products. For example, I met a fellow who started a natural lip balm line. He only makes lip balms but he makes a whole bunch of different flavors. This is SO much simpler than what I do and is so much easier to scale. Also, making any product that has a relatively short shelf life is a lot more difficult to manage. That said, skincare has the added benefit of being a “consumable” so customers keep coming back for years. :-)
Sophie: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
NN: I sometimes wish that I had started this as a younger woman. I was in my fifties when I started Botanic Organic and I think because of this, I never really wanted to take the line to the next level in terms of size. It seemed like more than I wanted to take on at this point in my life so I made the decision to keep Botanic Organic a “life-style” company which has been more fun for me.
Also, if I were to do it again, I might have tried to keep the line simpler. I like the idea of those companies that have just a few good products in their line. Not too many bells and whistles. My problem was that I just liked coming up with cool products that I wanted to bring to market. Sometimes makers don’t make the best business people because to them, the making is the most important part. This is a good reason to find a partner who’s more about the business and less about the making. :-)
Sophie: Tell us about your self-care routine.
NN: Caring for my skin has always been super important to me. I would never go to bed with my makeup on and always did my cleansing and moisturizing routine before sleeping. In hindsight, I just wish I’d had better access to sunscreen in my early years and spent less time suntanning as a teenager.
Diet wise, I eat mostly vegan and whole foods and watch my fat intake. My family get annoyed with me for sneaking leafy greens into almost every dish I make. I believe that food is an integral part of our wellness and is reflected in our energy levels and even how our skin looks.
Exercise wise, I run three times a week and practice yoga and tai chi on the other days. I look for opportunities to walk or bike ride to activities or run errands. I hike and cycle in the beautiful hills around the south bay area. Opportunities to get into nature and explore my neighborhood add value to my life and help to offset the craziness that life can throw at us.
Age has taught me to value the sweet micro-moments in life and to be grateful for the loved ones in my life who surround and support me.
About the author:
Anne-Sophie Bousset ("Sophie" to English-speaking friends), is a freelance marketer and community builder. She helps companies build their brand, attract clients, and build a community around their product. Her favorite things include sunshine, yoga, reading, and lazy Sundays in with her cat, Phelps. She can be found on Twitter @Sophie_Bousset.