The Passionate Alchemist
According to analysts, “the global skin care industry is estimated to be worth $121 billion in 2016. And by 2018, the U.S. skin care market will reach nearly $11 billion.” (Source: Global Cosmetics Industry). These numbers are perhaps a reflection of our innate desire to preserve what we perceive as being desirable as it taps into our search for eternal youthfulness. Fashion magazines and advertising have a long tradition of delivering content that connects skin care with being fashionably minded. From blatant images of flawless faced models to the articles subtly endorsing celebrity skin care routines, it is no surprise that the global beauty industry controlled by a handful of multi-national corporations has been thriving.
Prior to the early twentieth century and before mass production, the kitchen and garden were generally the source for beauty products. It would not be unusual for most women to reflect on the ancient wisdom of their mother or their grandmother for their skin-care regime. As a collective, we seem to be demanding less processed ingredients in what we eat and also in what we scrub, slather or roll on our skin. My mom and grandma had very simple beauty routines that favored natural over synthetic and taking my cue from them I’ve always tried to seek out products that lean towards simplicity.
So, recently, while strolling through a local market I was drawn to a sign that read ‘Shae Shea’ and was excited to find skin products that were both natural and local. I felt like I had stumbled upon a treasure trove. I got chatting with the owner/creator - Ms. Shae Thomas and was bowled over by her passion and her alchemist skills.
Q&A with Ms. Thomas
How did you find out you were allergic to commercial products?
As a child I never could use the bubble baths and lotions available without breaking out into a rash. Even things like sunscreen I had problems with using. After a few trips to the doctors I got a good idea of what was going on.
What inspired you to make your own products?
After trying some handmade soaps my mom bought me from a market I was shocked that they didn't cause any problems. I spent about three months researching the basics before I attempted my first few projects. With regard to deodorants, I had the hardest time finding anything aluminum-free that could work all day in stores. I had an active schedule as a fitness instructor on top of daily tasks, so I needed something really effective. Finally I just decided to make something myself. I couldn't actually believe it worked, but it did!
What are some of the things you found out about the ingredients found in commercial skin products and its effect on skin?
There were several regularly found "No's" for me in commercial products. Aluminum has been the topic of many cancer research projects, especially breast cancer in women. It's used as the antiperspirant ingredient in deodorants. Parabens were being linked to cancer as well, and they're in so many lotions and body care products. For myself, I didn't notice "immediate" issues with these, but level of concentrated fragrances and detergents in certain products was just too much for my skin. I ended up watching a few too many documentaries on risky ingredients and made a plan to lookup every cleaner and body care product on a third party consumer research website (skindeep.org).
What were some of the challenges in making natural products?
When I meet people at events I get several different types of conversations because of it. For example, I have to explain the differences in fragrance versus essential oils and that even essential oils can cause problems for people allergic to the plants they come from or the amount used. I worked for over a year getting the consistency of my deodorants to what people would "expect" since the original recipe was a sludge. Also, a lot of people are unaware of the differences in candle waxes and why soy wax is a great alternative to petro-carbon based waxes. Of course, soaping is an entirely different world though. I had to learn some chemistry to get that one down!
What inspires your unique fragrance range. i.e. Dragon's Blood or Lemongrass?
A lot of the ideas I have come from people I meet at events or talk with in the body care world. My Lemongrass Bamboo soap is one that I made specifically for my mom. She had been traveling and smelled some items that made her want something with a lemongrass base but "fresher." At the time, I was housing my studio at her place, so one night I brought her out to the studio and I showed her how I make soap. We sat there mixing up scents all evening until I got the right balance she was looking for. With many of the scents I products I have, I likely got requests from different people for something similar.
Why aluminum free deodorant?
The aluminum is used to make deodorants antiperspirants which seems like a great idea at first. Unfortunately, it's been the topic of a lot of research regarding cancer and especially breast cancer. There are also several studies going on regarding other potential issues that aluminum may be contributing to. As much as I like the idea of not having sweaty underarms, it's a bodily process with a purpose. Blocking glands seems to be causing more issues down a road I don't necessarily want to take!
What made you take the leap into beekeeping and what have been the rewards?
The world of bees has always been something I thought was pretty nifty. A few years ago I started looking into more about how people "keep" bees. One of the most dominant things I would always see was the concept that beekeeping could be done almost anywhere, with the right tools. Also shocking to me, it didn't require tons of time like I originally thought. The hardest thing was learning about the equipment that you use. I contacted the LSU Ag Center about beekeeping clubs. The clubs were great because I got to meet people around the area that were concerned with the nectar flow of local plants and weather. They were able to help me locate where to buy bees. David Young, of Capstone Honey, has basically been my bee mentor. As much as I'd like to say I did it for the honey or the beeswax, I'm so much more protective about my bees since learning and working with them. You'd be amazed at how gentle they are. Even before keeping bees, if you read up on their daily lives, bees are just plain amazing. I often catch myself watching the hive outside my window and thinking about how life would be different if we were like bees...oh the possibilities!