It’s well known that what goes on the skin, goes into the body. While the number 60% is quoted fairly often, the CDC declines to put a number on absorption—“The rate of dermal absorption depends largely on the outer layer of the skin called the stratum corneum (SC)…it serves an important barrier function by keeping molecules from passing into and out of the skin, thus protecting the lower layers of skin” (1). The extent of absorption is dependent on skin integrity, the thickness of the SC at the location of exposure, the concentration of a chemical, duration of exposure, and the surface area of skin exposed.
This can be a good thing—White Egret’s owner, Ryan Fisher, notes that “When delivered transdermally, minerals bypass the first pass elimination of the digestion system and there is easy termination.” White Egret formulates their scrubs and creams to “complement the delivery of these minerals to nourish the skin and raise intracellular mineral levels.”
The negative, of course, is that chemicals in mainstream brands’ soaps, in skincare products, in oral care products, in menstrual care products—things that sit on our skin for extended periods of time, and that people often use on a daily basis—are all likely to enter the body as well. Fortunately, customers are becoming more and more aware of this, and turning to products with natural, plant-based ingredients to both rebuild and protect their skin. You’ve got the reputation as a seller of safe products; here’s the latest on emerging trends and science to help you grow that reputation.
For the face
Christine Allmer, VP of marketing at Desert Essence, told WholeFoods: “The skin on your face is thinner and smoother than the skin on your body. The face only contains 4 to 8 layers of skin, whereas the body contains 11 to 17. Because of this, caring for the skin on the face requires a gentler regimen than skin on the body.”
For a starter, consider the naturally astringent witch hazel—as a toner, pre-moisturizer, or a facial mist, post-makeup. Andrea Gity, marketing manager at Thayers, notes that “witch hazel contains tannins which are anti-microbial and antioxidants, helping to work against acne and protect skin against free radicals that cause cell damage. Witch hazel also assists in balancing the skin’s pH level, bringing it to a level the skin thrives at and halting the growth of acne-causing bacteria.”
However, just like in the gut, the skin has a biome, and that biome needs good bacteria to thrive. Consider stocking a probiotic product like the AO Mist sold by Mother Dirt—it restores ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, which, the company’s website says, used to exist on the skin, but has been removed by modern lifestyles.
In terms of other protective skincare, particularly as fall and winter approach, focusing on hydration should be your customers’ number one priority for their face, as one of the most protective and restorative things a person can do. Bill Levins, president of Reviva Labs, notes that “Particularly in the Northeast, as fall arrives, the climate becomes much drier and the temperature drops. People are driven indoors into dry, forced air heat, which is also very drying.” His recommendation: “Hyaluronic Acid (HA) continues to become increasingly popular as consumers discover how incredibly hydrating it is—it helps the body retain and gain moisture. The versatility of HA is also remarkable: It works as a serum or gel, and combines nicely in almost any formula.”
Vitamin C, too, Levins says, is gaining in popularity. “This simple ingredient offers so many benefits, from helping to promote collagen synthesis, to evening out skin tone, to combating free radical damage. Its many configurations from Ascorbic Acid to Aminopropyl Ascorbyl Phosphate and every variation in between makes it a must-have ingredient in today’s skincare arsenal.” He notes that layering Reviva’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum with the company’s Dual Source Vitamin C Serum can saturate the skin—or, for particularly dry skin, Cream Hydratante might be ideal: it combines Hyaluronate Gel with Vitamin C, and several other soothing ingredients.
There are a variety of options in the hydration department. Gity notes that coconut water, besides being hydrating, “has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties which help work against acne-causing bacteria. It also contains proteins called cytokines which promote cell growth, effectively providing anti-aging properties as well.”
Aloe vera gel, too, is an option for a daily moisturizer. Most of your customers probably keep a bottle of this cooling gel on hand for sunburn, but, Jack Brown, VP of sales & marketing at Lily of the Desert, notes that “Aloe will leave your face feeling hydrated and soft. With our 99% Aloe Gelly, you get our patent-pending Aloesorb, which comes from high quality aloe polysaccharides. You can hydrate and moisturize at least 3
Exfoliating is another key to radiant skin—as long as the right exfoliant is used. Between the physical and the chemical, those safe for use on the face and those safe for use on the skin, there’s plenty for a customer to think about. When stocking exfoliants that use scrubby ingredients, look for fine, gentle ingredients. Levins suggests lava powder, found in Reviva’s Bamboo Charcoal Pore Minimizing Mask; finely crushed almonds, too, are acceptable. “For direct chemical exfoliation,” on the other hand, “We favor glycolic acid, such as in our 5% Glycolic Crème and 10% Glycolic Crème, or our Glycolic Cleanser or Toner. And for those sensitive to Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), we offer our Fruit Enzyme Mask featuring Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) derived from pumpkin, papaya, and pineapple.” Either way, Levins says, “We generally recommend exfoliating between 1 to 3 times per week, but how frequently someone should exfoliate depends on their skin condition, its durability, and what type of product they’re using.”
Ryan Fisher, of White Egret, adds: “The best exfoliants are free from harmful synthetics, harsh abrasives and micro-beads, which can lead to over-exfoliation and irritation of the skin.” White Egret’s Volcanic Sea Scrub, he says, is gentle and effective—and it contains jojoba oil, vitamin E, and lime, lemon, and orange oils, “which moisturize and help protect the skin from oxidative stress and free radicals.”
Sunscreen is also vital for the skin—no matter what geographical region your store is in, and no matter what your customers do for a living. Melinda Olson, founder and CEO of Earth Mama Organics, says: “Clouds filter out sunlight, but not UV rays. And if you’re typing all day in front of a computer, know this: A couple of recent studies suggest that blue light emanating from technology screens can also cause skin damage.” The solution, she says, is obvious: “So just wear sunscreen every day.” Regarding SPF, she notes that “SPF levels higher than 50 aren’t necessarily that much better for the skin, and might provide a false sense of security”—so those customers going on a fall camping trip or making one last trip to the beach shouldn’t worry so much about getting a higher SPF sunscreen than their daily choice, but more about reapplying diligently.
Earth Mama makes a tinted SPF 40 mineral sunscreen stick, Lady Face, made with non-nano zinc that won’t leave behind a white residue. Earth Mama also offers a bottle of non-tinted sunscreen with colloidal oatmeal and shea butter for kids, particularly those with sensitive skin, and the company makes sure customers can feel good about putting the lotion on their kids: Earth Mama’s products are NSF/ANSI 305 Certified.
The certification, Olson says, came about as an answer to the National Organic Program (NOP) food standard. “Not all personal care products can meet food-grade requirements,” she says, noting that emulsifiers, while essential to many personal care products, are not likely to meet the requirements set by a food standard. “NSF International created a new certification: The NSF/ANSI 305 standard for Organic Personal Care Products—now considered a best practice by the Organic Trade Association. So the NSF/ANSI 305 certification is the one retailers should look for.”
For the body
Caring for the rest of the body is generally easier than caring for the face, because the skin elsewhere is thicker. Thanks to those extra layers, exfoliating can involve something like Desert Essence’s Hydrating Sugar Body Scrub or Detoxifying Sea Salt Body Scrub, made with almond meal, walnut shell, and sea salt—ingredients that would be too rough on the face, but will make legs, knees, and elbows feel renewed. On the other end of the spectrum, an oil that would be too greasy for daily use on the face may be ideal for the rest of the body—for instance, Desert Essence’s body oils are made with Jojoba and a variety of other ingredients to keep thicker skin feeling soft.
When thinking soap, stocking castile soap can be a win—as Earth Mama’s Olson notes, “Not all soaps are created equal. True soap is naturally foaming saponified oils, and that’s castile soap. Some soaps, shampoos and body washes are actually detergents—a blend of synthetic surfactants, emulsifiers and preservatives. But not all detergents are created equal, either. Some have ingredients with a lower hazard rating on the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic Database than others.” Earth Mama sells castile baby soap; Dr. Bronner’s is a well-known manufacturer of castile soap.
Beyond castile, look for organic ingredients with a low rating on Skin Deep. Desert Essence’s body washes, for instance, have organic aloe and organic black tea as the first two ingredients—both of which rate a 1 on Skin Deep.
Here, too, it’s worth remembering probiotics. Essential Formulas’ brand Dr. Ohhira’s has a Kampuku Beauty Bar, a probiotic soap. Using a probiotic soap, according to the company’s site, can help maintain the skin’s pH, hydrate and replenish the skin, and support a healthy barrier function.
Getting more specific, the feet and hands require special care. Suzanne Dean, VP of Tea Tree Therapy, Inc., notes that “Foot care is very minimal in the natural industry, but the customer cares about what they put on their body, and feet are no exception. Tea Tree Therapy 100% pure tea tree oil and Eucalyptus radiata have been successfully applied to a number of fungal infections; the two are particularly good for relieving the symptoms of athlete’s foot. We made a spray to alleviate athlete’s foot and itching, foot powder to keep feet and shoes dry and odor-free, and an anti-fungal serum for infected nails.” So while customers should consult a licensed healthcare practitioner for any health concerns, Tea Tree Therapy products may help maintain foot hygiene.
Hands, too, require special care, due to the amount of strain that they tend to go through—extended exposure to hot water, dirt, and, of course, the sheer number of germy surfaces that they encounter throughout the day. Brown recommends Lily of the Desert’s Aloe Vera Gelly—“If you work hard with your hands and they are feeling rough, its soothing effects really help with the chapped and cracked skin.” And for all the germs your customers encounter, consider stocking Desert Essence’s Probiotic Hand Sanitizer—packed with Kefir probiotics, it restores bacterial balance to the skin while killing 99.99% of most common harmful germs.
Speaking of bathing: Thanks to Lush, bath bombs and bath salts are trending. Compete with them by showing off your all-natural bath products: Warfighter Hemp sells CBD bath bombs made with plant-based ingredients, hitting two buzzwords at once. Or look into companies like Made Natural, which makes their bath bombs with ingredients like Epsom salt and coconut oil.
Those customers with particularly sensitive skin can benefit from your stock of pure Epsom salt: Fisher notes that, while many bath bombs contain baking soda, which can cause reactions in more sensitive people, White Egret’s “pure pharmaceutical grade Epsom salt is a much cleaner and healthier therapeutic alternative that helps soothe aches, remove odors, soften rough skin and provide a deep detoxing cleanse.” The scents offered all come from certified organic essential oils.
While we’re discussing skincare, we should talk shaving. According to Schick’s website, proper moisturization is vital: dry hair is difficult to cut, and breaks down the edge of a razor blade—and the sharpness of that blade is what allows a close, irritation-free shave (2). Exfoliation isn’t a bad idea, but it should happen before shaving, not afterwards. Given that shaving causes micro cuts in the skin, pre-shaving exfoliation should be done with a chemical exfoliator, which doesn’t cause micro cuts (3).
Moisturizing generally means wetting the hair with warm water for at least three minutes, and then applying a shaving gel to hold the moisture in, which makes the hair easier to cut. Lily of the Desert’s Brown notes that “Our gelly is amazing as a shaving gel—guys love how great their skin feels without the post-shave bumps and irritation; women love that they don’t really need to use lotion after they have shaved their legs.” Other brands that sell shaving creams include Burt’s Bees, Dr. Bronner’s, and Pacific Shaving Company.
What people put in their mouths matters—and people are deciding that they don’t want fluoride, or toxic chemicals like PFAS, to be part of their oral care regimens anymore. Mainstream toothpaste brands might also contain sulfates, or artificial sweeteners. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural options.
Tea tree oil is a popular one. Dean notes that it “helps to rid the mouth of bacteria that forms plaque, tartar, and gum problems.” Tea Tree Therapy’s toothpaste combines tea tree oil with dicalcium phosphate: Dean says that it “safely removes most stains, and plaque buildup when used as part of a daily oral program.” Tea Tree Therapy also makes alcohol-free mouthwash and birchwood toothpicks, for all oral care needs.
Desert Essence makes several toothpastes for those with different needs or preferences: “Our Pink Himalayan Salt toothpaste is carrageenan-free, packed with 84 minerals to help
remove impurities and soothe gums,” says Allmer, “while our Coconut Oil toothpaste utilizes coconut oil to remove impurities and reduce build-up.”
And, of course, trendy charcoal has a foothold in oral care in My Magic Mud. My Magic Mud’s toothpaste is made with charcoal particles at precisely the right size to scrub plaque away, without harming the enamel. The company also sells tooth powder—a gentle, grit-free charcoal and bentonite powder—as a toothpaste alternative, gum, floss, mouthwash, and, in keeping with the “what goes in your mouth should be good for you” theme, eco-friendly toothbrushes.
While it’s tough to call menstrual care a trend, there is a growing interest in natural products. Natracare writes on their website, www.natracare.com, that the company has been “trusted by women since 1989” thanks to their pads and tampons that are free of plastics, perfumes, and chlorine, not to mention the fact that the products are made with certified organic cotton and other biodegradable materials. The pads are ideal for vegans—and anyone else who uses pads and tampons.
Maxim notes on their website, www.maximhy.com, that “What looks like cotton in other products is not always 100% cotton. Synthetics that may be bleached with chlorine are sometimes used as a substitute.” Maxim also sells beauty products, intimate wipes, and baby wipes, all made with the same chemical-free cotton. And the company isn’t just talk: Maxim supports government officials trying to pass menstrual health-related bills and has donated over 250,000 tampons to women in need.
Menstrual care doesn’t stop with pads and tampons: DivaCup pioneered the menstrual cup, made with body-friendly silicone that can be boiled for cleaning without molecules breaking away from the product. The silicone doesn’t contain latex, plastic, PVC, BPA, dyes, phthalate, or other harmful chemicals. DivaCup is ISO 13485:2016 certified—the standard to which medical devices are held—and a B Corp, to boot.
As people become more aware of what chemicals can do to their bodies, and more aware of just how much stuff can enter the body through the skin, it will become more and more obvious that organic, natural, eco-friendly menstrual care products aren’t a choice, but a necessity. Make sure you’re using bright, visible signage to direct people to your natural menstrual care options, and make sure they’re easily accessible, not just crammed on a bottom shelf. Mainstream stores have half an aisle dedicated to menstrual care options. You might have to go for quality over quantity, but you might want to make it clear that you have quality on your side.
Pampering with Essential Oils
Essential oils are growing in popularity, but a high price for a little bottle can make a potential customer put the bottle back down and order online, from a cheaper brand. That’s not generally a great idea, though, according to Tina Tews, solutions brand manager at NOW: “Cheap oils might not be what you think they are. In fact, the odds are they are not, so you won’t get the results you expect. Our in-house lab put a number of inexpensive essential oils purchased online through the same tests for identity and purity that our own oils undergo, and the results were pretty startling: Out of 18 samples tested, 2/3 of them failed, mostly due to adulteration. Pure essential oils are just not going to be cheap; they can’t be.”
More specifically, she says the most common adulteration was dilution with fixed oils—the pressed fatty, non-volatile triacylglyceride portions of plants that usually come from the kernels, nuts, or seeds. Synthetic fragrance components were included in several lavender samples, and some oils were composed of synthetic fragrance in isopropyl myristate—which, Tews says, can cause skin rashes.
“Buyers should be careful when purchasing essential oils,” Tews adds, “because the increased popularity of aromatherapy has many companies trying to make money without fully understanding the nuances of essential oil quality.” The effects of a low-quality oil can range from not working well to causing allergic reactions or burns. This is something that you should convey to your customers—that cheaper oils aren’t just subpar, but can be actively harmful.
Encourage customers to check the labels, and see for themselves that the only ingredients are pure essential oils; buy from brands like NOW, which supplies safety data sheets and has their products Non-GMO Project Verified. Other brands worth looking into include Aura Cacia, a member-owned co-op that sources their oils sustainably and ethically, and Guru Nanda, which supplies the laboratory report for each oil. Stocking quality oils from two or three brands gives your customers choices, without overwhelming them, and reinforces the idea that quality oils will cost more than subpar oils, regardless of brand—which will bring them back to you again and again, as a source for quality essential oils.
When it comes to actually using the oils, Tews notes that aromatherapy is very user-friendly. “Diffused essential oils are excellent for inhalation and room freshening, which I prefer because it doesn’t change the nature of the oils or their benefits.” Inhaling from an open bottle of essential oil can offer benefits, but, she notes, a “diffuser that emits the scent continually into your space will create the perfect environment to benefit from the essential oil’s therapeutic properties.” Choice of diffuser should just about always be ultrasonic over heat-based—“Ultrasonic diffusers use ultrasound high frequencies to produce micro-sized droplets of the essential oil and water, producing a micro-mist that is circulated into the air of your room,” Tews says. “The mist is a big benefit in dry climates. Heat-based diffusers thermally heat the oil/water mixture and produce a steam-distilled mixture of the essential oil’s individual chemicals and water molecules. Since heat is used, hydrolytic degradation of the essential oil components may occur.” Other than that, choice of diffuser is based on desired run time, coverage of room space, and aesthetic preferences.
Oils can also be used in the shower or bath, although, of course, users should be careful about where they pour the oil—they may want to consider a shower vapor disk, which can be homemade with baking soda. (Directions can be found on NOW’s website by searching “shower vapor disk.”) Those who want to use the oils in a bath should first dilute the oils with a carrier oil or foaming product to emulsify them, Tews notes—and “add to bath salts for extra indulgence.” If you carry bath salts, then, it might not be a bad idea to cross-merchandise, and place some lavender oil or other calming oil next to the salts.
“Essential oils can also be topically applied, once properly diluted with a carrier oil,” Tews notes. “By massaging or dabbing the oils on the wrists or specific body parts, topical applications can be very useful for directing the essential oil’s therapeutic qualities to those specific areas.” The choice of carrier oil, she says, is a personal choice. “Any carrier oil may be used, for the most part. We do have a chart showing recommendations based on skin
type that can be downloaded from our website at www.nowfoods.com/sites/default/files/carrier-oil-chart-print.pdf.” Those with sensitive skin, the chart notes, should avoid almond, argan, castor, sesame, and shea nut oils; those with dry skin should avoid apricot and grape seed; and those with oily skin would find apricot, argan, glycerine, grape seed, and jojoba oils most useful. Glycerine and jojoba oils are safe for all types of skin, making them ideal go-to carrier oils for those who are just starting to use essential oils.
It’s getting easier and easier to find products that meet customers’ demands: plant-based, allergen-free, and safe. And as more science emerges showing the dangers that chemicals bring—read “Prenatal Exposure to Personal Care Chemicals” or “Chemicals in Sunscreen” for more info—it’s becoming a matter of health and safety to ensure that the personal care products you stock meet those demands. Stay a step ahead of mainstream stores and Amazon by vetting your products thoroughly to ensure that they’re safe and clean. WF
- “Skin Exposures & Effects,” CDC. Last updated 7/2/13. Accessed 8/1/19. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/skin/#dermal
- Julyne Derrick, “Why It’s Important to Prep Your Skin and Exfoliate Before Shaving,” Byrdie. Posted 3/29/19. Accessed 8/1/19. https://www.byrdie.com/top-shaving-tips-346378
- “Shaving tips for women,” Schick.com. Posted 7/10/18. Accessed 8/1/19. https://www.schick.com/us/en/shave-code/shaving-tips-for-women
- “Skin Care Products Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report, By Product (Face Cream, Body Lotion), By Region (North America, Central & South America, Europe, APAC, MEA), And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2025,” Grand View Research. Published 3/19. Accessed 8/1/19.