Beauty is skin deep — and that’s why the organic cosmetic revolution is on the rise. People are more conscious of the chemicals they are letting their skin absorb.

The devil is in the details

Have you ever tried to read a label of face wash from the drugstore? A lot of common, brand-name products are loaded with toxic fillers and chemicals such as synthetic fragrances, parabens, a handful of other concerning compounds of which you can hardly even read the names.

To make matters worse, it’s likely that you will probably never use the poor-quality plastic bottle that it comes in again and it will likely end up piled in the landfill forever. Chemical-filled products are not healthy for us, the environment, or animals. Fortunately, it is becoming increasingly easy to find a plethora of more natural options.

Businesses are beginning to cater to these concerns as international companies such as Lush, bareMinerals, and Tarte Cosmetics quickly grow in popularity in the beauty and body product industry.

Lush takes it one step further, as they sell unpackaged products such as shampoo bars to reduce packaging and therefore lessen harm to the environment. Needless to say, opportunities to help your own body and the environment are arising in the marketplace, and Vancouver is catching on with a collection of local companies catering to the health- and environmentally-conscious consumer.

Be good to your body

Helena, owner of The Soap Artisan, has been selling her natural soaps in Vancouver for over five years now. She explained that skin is like a sponge: “Whatever you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream through your pores in just a few minutes.” This makes me think twice about the kind of crap I’m slathering on there.

“The soaps I make are actually good for us. The essential oils I use are antimicrobial, antiviral — you know, they’re wonderful!” Helena told The Peak. By using natural products, you not only deter unhealthy repercussions to your body, but you are also putting good and healing properties into your skin.

Natural products free of toxins can actually make a huge difference in the condition of your skin. Helena sees this constantly, “People are telling me that they’re seeing changes in their skin [from using her soap], and it’s makes me super happy. I’ve seen people with eczema, cracked skin, and bad skin, and have watched as their skin healed — it’s a very rewarding feeling.”

Linh Truong, the owner of the Soap Dispensary, Vancouver’s first refill shop that supports low impact and natural living, shared a similar anecdote. “I had a customer who had eczema for about five years. She couldn’t really find products that really worked for her. We recommended this cream and she came back a couple weeks later, she bought more [. . .] we’re just a little retail store, but we’re helping to make people’s lives better; that feels good.”

Why not DIY it?

Purchasing pre-made natural alternatives to your daily bath, body, and beauty products isn’t the only way to find and use such products. Making natural products at home is a growing trend, but it’s made simple in Vancouver. Due to easy access to raw, organic, and natural products, you can mix and match to make your very own custom deodorant, lotion, or whatever else your heart desires.

Truong wholeheartedly supports DIY products — in fact, her store caters to the activity as well. They sell raw products as well as host DIY workshops where attendees can come and learn how to make natural soaps, bath bombs, scrubs, and more.

“Once people see how easy it is to make your own products, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Truong explains in reference to her workshops. “It’s cost effective, empowering, fun, and as easy as baking.”

“You don’t even really have to attend one of these workshops to make your own products, as there are resources strewn literally all over the Internet — which is perhaps what makes this trend so prominent.”

SFU student, Justine Crawford, embraces making her own products and has crafted a wide variety of natural products, including deodorant, lip balms, lip and body scrubs, face and hair masks, and makeup remover.

“While not necessarily my primary reason for making my own products, I do feel happy knowing that my products will produce a lot less waste than buying multiple containers of other products — as I am able to reuse the jars over and over again,” Crawford explains.

“There are so many things around the house that work amazingly well for a variety of uses — especially coconut oil. I found it kind of nuts in what I’m putting on my skin and hair.” Crawford is all about making effective use of what she already has around the house and reusing her containers, which all contribute not only to her own health but the Earth’s.

The Earth needs some love too

Diverting from the landfill is crucial in this day and age. Natural products and awareness of product packaging are both big parts of reducing waste, and therefore, our ecological footprint.

Products loaded with chemicals and toxins can be very harmful to the Earth and wildlife — it’s definitely something to consider when reading a product’s ingredients list, as it could cause irreversible damage in the natural environment.

The Soap Dispensary is a huge advocate for biodegradable products. Truong tells The Peak, “There are chemicals that you wash out down the sink or shower, and it goes through our water system and gets flushed out into the ocean, streams, or lakes. If it’s not biodegradable, it stays in the water and it can poison marine life or create algae blooms — which eventually will suffocate the living organisms in the water. You may use a product and it disappears from your life and your home, but it’s still creating a negative effect down the stream.”

Remembering that once something is gone from your own life, it does not mean it has been removed from the Earth, is a good principle to follow when thinking about reducing waste.

Helena agrees: “Anything that is toxic for us is also toxic for the environment.” Reducing and reusing the containers used for personal products can contribute to diverting a substantial amount of waste from the landfill. This notion is the whole inspiration behind Truong’s decision to open The Soap Dispensary. Moving to Vancouver in 2009 from Victoria, she was surprised to find that there were limited options for refilling her soap and body products in Vancouver.

“We used to lug our containers back to Victoria when we were visiting friends, or going camping on the island, or something. We weren’t making a special trip just to do that, it was more [that if] you were there, [you] might as well stock up. It just didn’t seem very sustainable to have to wait every time we wanted to go there to refill. So I started thinking Vancouver really needed its own dedicated refill shop. I really needed a place to refill all my containers and [the idea for The Soap Dispensary] kind of came from there. I just had hoped there were like-minded people looking for the same thing that I was.”

Her positive impact on the environment, since opening her store, is actually quite evident. The Soap Dispensary recently reached a diversion milestone. “We did our five-year plastic diversion count back in October. It was a nice proud moment for us that we had counted and diverted over 88,000 containers in the five years that we’ve been open. That meant that all those bottles that we diverted, people brought back to the store to refill. It was a collective effort.” Truong says it best — it’s a collective effort to keep waste at bay, and protect the environment.

Reducing harm on your body and saving the environment does not happen overnight. But with every small buying decision, you are putting your votes toward what you want the world to look like in the future. With a wide range of local options, health and sustainability appear to be on the near horizon.