Q & A :
Welcome to our Spotlight, Li! It's finally our chance to get to know you better. Please share your upbringing and early life experiences with us.
I was born and raised in the D.C. metropolitan area. As a child, I loved to spend time outdoors and I felt a deep connection to nature; I’ve always felt drawn to plants since I was very young. I started learning about environmental issues as a teenager, and I’ve been studying them for around eighteen years now.
I have a B.A. in Environmental Issues (Biology), and a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy. I have studied a wide range of environmental issues, including plants (botany and also ethnobotany), organic standards, conservation, mammals, global warming, and endangered species. I have been crafting natural skin care, and also studying aromatherapy and herbalism since 2001.
I first begun learning about ecological issues when I was fourteen, but it wasn’t until after my undergrad studies (in 2001) that I begun educating myself on natural skin care and also researching synthetic ingredients used in cosmetics. I had perfect skin as a teen and the first few years of college, but during my last year of college, I was prescribed birth control pills for menstrual problems. They gave me acne, and made my skin very oily and dehydrated, and even more sensitive than usual. I stopped taking the pill after a couple years, but my skin still had issues.
After college I worked for a few months in a major department store selling perfumes. Being around huge amounts of synthetic perfumes daily, and using a lot of perfumed products (like lotion) made my skin even worse (my skin got even more oily and blemished). I also developed hives, and my skin became sensitive and allergic to many commercial products and synthetic ingredients. (At the time I used a lot of department store brands, as well as brands that touted themselves as ‘natural’ but were mostly synthetic and contained only minimal amounts of natural ingredients).
One day I was browsing in a bookstore, and a natural skin care book and an aromatherapy book caught my eye so I bought them. Those books were the spark that led to my journey into natural skin care, aromatherapy, and herbalism. I began to research ingredients, and switched to using natural skin care. I tried a lot of different natural based brands, but at that time, I didn’t find many truly all-natural products (though years later I would find many wonderful all natural companies).
Frustrated about my skin and the lack of truly all-natural skin care lines, I began to craft my own. I read several dozen books and articles, and experimented a lot with natural ingredients. Switching to an all natural routine got rid of my hives but did nothing for the oiliness and blemishes. I tried so many recipes and ingredients suggested for oily skin, but they all seemed to dry out my skin too much. Recipes and ingredients suggested for dry skin did not help either: they were often too rich and heavy. In addition, none of the descriptions of skin types seemed to describe my skin (which was oily but at the same time also felt parched/dry, had blemishes, and my pore size and skin texture was similar to dry skin—small pores and finely textured). I was about ready to give up, but luckily I reread a couple books and stumbled over literally a couple sentences about dehydrated skin, which made me realize my skin type was dehydrated (dehydrated skin is a special type of dry skin, which is water-dry/lacking in water). Those books didn’t really have any tips in dealing with dehydrated skin, but after I realized what my skin type was, I experimented more with ingredients, and also application techniques, and figured out on my own what did work. I eventually balanced my skin and totally got rid of the acne, oiliness, and dehydration, using only all natural products.
Back then, I was devastated with what I went through with my skin, but a few years later, I would see it as a blessing in disguise because I learned so much about the properties of ingredients, application methods, skin type, skin conditions, the herbal uses of plants, and safety of ingredients (such as irritation and toxicity of many synthetic and also some natural ingredients). My experiences have increased my understanding of plant ingredients and its effects on the skin, which has allowed me to help so many people with their skin issues!
You started out as a forum moderator and blogger before you were an actual beauty product manufacturer. I'm sure that this was a great learning experience. What did it teach you about all-natural beauty and environmental issues?
In 2005, I started my personal blog (Solarkat’s Eco Blog: http://solarkateco.blogspot.com/ ) because I wanted to share my thoughts on the environment and all my interests in the natural world (including aromatherapy, crafting cosmetics, environmental issues, vegetarianism, eco living, etc). My sister had a food blog, which I thought was awesome, so I wanted to start writing a blog too! I love writing and sharing what I know, so blogging was a natural extension of that. I was very surprised that over the years many entries have become very popular (many posts pop up on the first couple pages on Google’s search engine). I think that blogging has helped me become a better writer and also crafter (since I experiment and also research things in depth before posting).
I posted on several forums (including anb’s forum!) before becoming a moderator for Garden of Wisdom’s forum in 2006 (GOW is owned by my friend Markey. She sells natural based skin care and ingredients to make your own cosmetics). I was so ecstatic to be asked to be a moderator, since I really admired Markey and also Jen (who is another friend of mine, who is an employee of GOW and also has her own line too). I was a moderator there for over three years (I gave up being a moderator there a few months before I opened my business, but I am still a regular poster there). I learned so much from that forum. I also made a lot of friends there: in my opinion it is one of the most caring online communities.
I think being a moderator there helped me become an even better formulator and also researcher, since by helping others, I learned so much in the process (I often had to refresh my memory on a specific ingredient, or had to research things from scratch, so spent a lot of time researching ingredients, the properties of plants, and skin conditions). It helped me expand my knowledge of natural ingredients, as well as lab and synthetic ingredients, since I not only researched ingredients I formulated with, but I also researched ingredients that I didn’t use. I used my knowledge of ingredients to create skin care routines for people (based on their specific conditions), and I tweaked people’s routines if needed. I had the opportunity to try a wide range of ingredients because of my time there, and I learned a lot about customer service (though I was not an employee for GOW, the forum is GOW’s official company forum). During my time there I discovered I really enjoyed helping others with their skin care problems. And somewhere along the line, what were once my hobbies (natural skin care, aromatherapy, herbalism) became a huge part of me.
Why is the organic movement and environment so important to you, and what do you think that most people don't understand about it that you wish they would?
The organic and ecological movements are very important to me, because of my spiritual connection to nature. I’ve always had a deep understanding of nature, which led me on my path to environmentalism. When I first learned about ecological issues, I was very disturbed that they were happening, and I could not stand around and do nothing: I wanted to help solve the current issues and prevent new ones from happening.
I have studied environmental issues for a very long time now, and through my research (including my thesis) and my personal observations over the years, I think that many people care about the environment, but may not know what they can do to help resolve the issues, or think that doing environmental activities or making eco-friendly changes in their lives is very time consuming. That is one of the reasons why I started my blog so many years ago, and also why I write eco living articles. I wanted to not only educate people on the issues but also show that it was easy and doesn’t take that much time to be green!
The public’s response to recent ecological disasters has strengthened my belief that we can solve global and severe environmental problems. I think that ecological issues, such as the gulf oil spill and global warming, are wake up calls that have led many people to question that maybe the way we have been doing things isn’t necessarily the best way, and that we need to make some changes for the better. People are becoming more aware of the issues every day, and this gives me great hope for the future.
You started your own all-natural beauty company, Earth Alkemie, this year after much research and development. Please tell us what makes your company unique and the place to go for all-natural beauty care?
I started my company because I wanted to provide products that were eco-friendly and truly natural. I have a very strict definition of natural, so I formulate all natural products, or as close to all natural as I can get! My skin care products are completely natural, and I use eco-cert approved preservatives, such as geogard ultra. In addition to using only natural ingredients in my skin care, many of the ingredients are also organic (some are certified and some are not), ethically wild harvested, or fair-traded. Natural ingredients are more expensive to use (and organic, ethically wild harvested, and fair traded natural ingredients are even more expensive than conventionally grown natural ingredients) but I think it is worth it!
My mineral makeup is as natural as possible, and made with only non-toxic and safe ingredients (Many mineral makeup formulators consider mineral makeup to be ‘all natural’ but I personally do not, since many ingredients such as pigments are lab altered, lab made, or synthetic. Some of these ingredients may be naturally derived, but they are still lab altered or are synthetic). For example: my mineral makeup does not contain bismuth oxychloride (that is in many lines), ferric ferrocyanide (which is in most lines), non-vegetarian ingredients (such as silk, pearl powder, or carmine), or D&C Alum lake and FD&C colors (synthetic colorants that are not found in the majority of mineral makeup brands, but that appear in a few mineral makeup lines. Some people are allergic to certain colors, and there are concerns with irritation and toxicity with others). My mineral makeup is one of the simplest and purest mineral makeup lines available.
I am vegetarian so I formulate with vegetarian/plant ingredients. Though I am vegetarian and not vegan, I usually craft vegan products for my line, and do not use non-vegan ingredients (like ingredients derived from eggs and milk, or products from bees) unless I can’t find an alternative. An example is that some of my future products will contain coconut milk powder, which contains casein—a milk protein. According to one coconut milk powder manufacturer, there are currently no manufacturers that produce coconut milk powder without milk protein, and I haven’t been able to find one either. My products are not tested on animals, and they are cruelty free (including the makeup brushes, which are made with vegan, synthetic makeup bristles).
I have been studying plants for a long time: both the science and also the alternative perceptions (aromatherapy, herbalism, ethnobotany). When formulating, I craft the products with a specific skin type or condition in mind: I add herbs and other plant ingredients that have been used for that specific condition. They are true herbal and aromatherapy skin care; I do not use randomly chosen, hyped herbs.
Earth Alkemie is a green company. In addition to using many organic, fair trade, ethically wild grown, and vegetarian/vegan ingredients, I have tried to be as eco-friendly as possible when running my business. My web host runs on solar energy. The boxes I ship using first class mail are from a green, sustainable packaging company (Globe Guard). Some of the labels I use on my products are made with 100% recycled paper. The bags I package my soaps in are biodegradable cello bags that can be composted. I sometimes donate the proceeds from products to environmental and social organizations. I package nearly all of my products (except the mineral makeup) in glass, and a few items in PET plastic #1, so they can be reused or recycled. I do not formulate any products with threatened or endangered wild harvested plants: I either don’t use these plants, or I use plants that are certified organic and grown in an area where they are not threatened or endangered.
One thing that draws many people to my line is the scents. Many people have mentioned that my products smell beautiful, delicious, and unlike many other lines they have tried (several customers have stated that each product smells like a gorgeous perfume). I always try to formulate scent blends (made with only natural ingredients such as essential oils, absolutes, and CO2 extracts) that not only smell wonderful but that also benefit the skin.
Lastly, I try to educate my customers as much as possible, whether it is about ingredients (natural or synthetic) or the environment. In my business, I have combined all of my passions: formulating, environmentalism, writing, and aromatherapy and herbalism.
What types of products do you currently offer at your site, and which ones have been the most popular with your customers? What products do you see on the horizon and what future plans do you have for your business?
I currently offer a few types of African black soap, cleansing oil, toners, elixirs (which are oil based facial serums), perfumes, mineral makeup (currently I only sell multi-purpose colors), vegan makeup brushes, Dreams and Buttercremes (which are made with antioxidant rich oils and/or butters), gift sets, and some seasonal products, like my outdoor oils (which contain ingredients like citronella or catnip essential oils). I will be adding a liquid cleanser, another toner, and a scented bar soap to my line too, very soon. I will be releasing more mineral makeup colors, and some lip products within the next few months. The most popular products have been my elixirs, Balance toner, and also my perfumes.
All of my elixirs have been selling really well, but I think the ones that are the most popular are Bliss Elixir, Eden Elixir, and Butterfly Elixir. I am especially proud of these three, since many people have commented how they have balanced and improved the appearance of their skin.
Bliss Elixir is designed for oily, blemished skin types (though some people with mildly dehydrated skin can use it too!). It is a basic but highly effective formula. The ingredients were chosen to help balance sebum levels and improve the appearance of blemishes. I love the smell since the combination of the essential oils (clary sage, lemongrass, and ylang ylang) smells a little like candy! Bliss is a Solaris Elixir (the Solaris Elixirs are my basic, economic line).
Eden Elixir is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients. It is a complex blend which is made with many carrier oils, herbs, and essential oils, absolutes, or CO2 extracts, including certified organic camellia oil, certified organic elder flowers, blueberry seed oil, certified organic pomegranate CO2 extract, and organic Turkish Damask Rose essential oil. It is suitable for all skin types, especially dehydrated (water-dry, oily, and blemished). It helps balance the skin’s sebum levels, and improves the appearance of blemished skin and also fine lines. It contains a lot of beneficial ingredients for dehydrated skin such as meadowfoam oil (which helps the skin retain moisture better). I love this elixir since I originally designed Eden for myself (my skin is balanced but can sometimes get dehydrated); many of the ingredients makes my skin glow! Eden is part of my Luna Elixir line, which are complex, luxurious formulas, that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins.
Butterfly Elixir is made with some of the most potent antioxidants in the plant kingdom: it contains marula oil, cold pressed grapeseed oil, red raspberry oil, blackberry oil, black raspberry oil, blueberry, and orchid flower extract. It is naturally scented with the carrier oils and exquisite essential oils and absolutes such as jasmine sambac absolute, organic Damask rose essential oil, and organic chamomile essential oil. It is like an antioxidant and vitamin jolt for the skin! Butterfly is one of the Terra Elixirs, which were formulated for special skin conditions. They are super rich in antioxidants and nutrients.
Many customers have mentioned that they think Balance toner is appropriately named, since it has helps balance and also clear their skin. I formulated it for all skin types, especially oily, dry, dehydrated, and blemished. Balance Toner is made with only hydrosols and an eco cert preservative (geogard). Some of the ingredients in Balance include soothing lavender hydrosol, and rare, calming owyhee hydrosol. It is a potent yet gentle blend, and can be used as a toner, to hydrate the skin, and to set mineral makeup.
Because customers love the scents of my line, my perfumes are very popular too! Paradise is a sweet, citrusy floral with green notes and lots of vanilla. I love this blend because it is so fresh and light, but has some heady, heavy notes too. Hu (which means Tiger) was formulated in honor of the Year of the Tiger, and it contains lush florals, green notes, woods, and spices. I love the fresh, sharp note of violet leaf absolute, which pairs perfectly with exotic jasmine and heady, real carnation absolutes.
What books, teachers and classes would you recommend to someone that wanted to know more about all-natural beauty care and environmental issues?
There are so many good books out there it is hard to pick and choose a few! I have a very extensive natural skin care, aromatherapy, herbalism, ethnobotany, and botany library collection (over two hundred books) as well as many articles and scientific studies on plants and plant ingredients.
I think the best advice I can give when reading books, articles, or studies is to read at least 5 to 10 different resources (the more sources the better), analyze and cross compare, and decide what makes the most sense to you. I recommend reading a wide range of topics: herbalism, natural skin care, aromatherapy, botany, indigenous people’s knowledge of plants, modern books, the classic plant and perfume books, alternative perceptions, scientific articles, resources from doctors and nurses, natural ingredients as well as synthetic, and even online articles or forum posts, etc. Every book, article, and study I have read, I have learned a lot about natural skin care, aromatherapy, herbalism, ethnobotany, and plant ingredients in general. That said, there is a lot of misinformation out there (especially in aromatherapy), differences of opinions, and also debate about ingredients and how plants work. I can honestly say that nearly every book or article I have read I have found at least one mistake or misinformation, or contained some things I just didn’t agree with. Even studies can be flawed (from the design of the experiment to misinterpretation or assumptions of the results). So I think it is best to educate yourself as much as you can about a subject, and to take everything with a grain of salt!
There are many wonderful resources but here are a few of my favorites:
• Any book by Jeanne Rose, especially her book ‘375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols’ (which has excellent essential oil profiles). Rose is a pioneer of both aromatherapy and herbalism.
• Mindy Green and Kathi Keville are also both herbalists and aromatherapists, and have written several books (together and also separately). I think their book ‘Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art’ is an awesome introduction to aromatherapy since it covers a wide range of topics. Be sure to get the second edition of their book, since it is much expanded. Green’s ‘Natural Perfumes: Simple Aromatherapy Recipes’ is one of my favorite natural perfume books (but is a very expensive book to get since it is now out of print).
• I really love the work of Chrissie Wildwood. She researches both the scientific and also the spiritual aspects of aromatherapy. ‘The Encyclopedia of Aromatherapy’ is a great resource that covers a wide range of topics.
• Shirley Price and Len Price have some of the best books out there, and their latter (recent) works reference many studies. I like their books (such as ‘Aromatherapy for Health Professionals 3rd edition’, ‘Carrier Oils: For Aromatherapy and Massage 2nd edition’ and ‘Understanding Hydrolats: The Specific Hydrosols for Aromatherapy: A Guide for Health Professionals’) since they address both the practices of aromatherapy and scientific viewpoints.
• I highly recommend anything written by Martin Watt (his website ‘aromamedical’ is a good resource). He is known for debunking misinformation in aromatherapy.
• Maria Lis-Balchin’s ‘Aromatherapy: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals’ is an excellent resource. She is a scientist that conducts many studies on essential oils. (Many of her studies have appeared in the journal Phytotherapy Research).
• James Green’s ‘The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual’ is one of my favorite books on making different herbal extractions (like tinctures, glycerites, infusions, and herbal infused oils).
• Rosemary Gladstar’s ‘Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health’ is a great reference. It covers how to make all things herbal (medicinal as well as cosmetic uses). (This book was previously printed as ‘Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal’, which is a hardcover).
My favorite scientific plant journal is Phytotherapy Research. It has a lot of plant studies on herbs (all types of extractions including essential oils). It is a medicinal plant research journal.
Other good scientific/research journals: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (which has a lot of articles on oils), Flavour and Fragrance (essential oils and herbal extracts), and Food Chemistry (herbs/plants). You may be able to access many of these journals (or other plant journals) in your local library, or if you are a college student in your university/college’s library.
Aromatherapy Today is a good international aromatherapy journal from Australia.
I previously wrote an Eco Living article on some of my favorite plant related online resources.
I highly recommend the courses by Jeanne Rose. She has in person classes and also courses by correspondence for both aromatherapy and herbalism. My review of her one of her in person aromatherapy courses is here on my blog. http://solarkateco.blogspot.com/2007/11/review-of-jeanne-roses-aromatherapy.html
Several other aromatherapists have courses but I have not taken them. Watt’s course is by correspondence (through his website ‘aromamedical’). Keville (who is director of the American Herb Association) offers many aromatherapy and herbalism courses on American Herb Association’s website. Sylla Sheppard-Hanger’s correspondence course (from the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy) is often cited as one of the best aromatherapy courses. Another excellent school I have heard about is the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy, which is run by Kurt Schnaubelt (who is a chemist). Schnaubelt has several excellent books too!
What do you like to do for fun, (besides make beauty products of course!)?
I love spending time with my family and friends. I enjoy reading and writing (in addition to writing Eco Living articles, I write poetry and also fantasy/sci-fi). I read many kinds of books including herbalism, aromatherapy, natural skin care, botany, ethnobotany, fantasy, science fiction, and manga. I also like spending time in nature (light hiking/nature walks, and also meditating in nature). Other crafts I like doing (besides making natural cosmetics and other aromatherapy products) are book binding (journal making) and basic sewing (things like pouches and herbal dream pillows).
Picture your perfect day of pampering. What would it be like?
When I need serious pampering, I use my very long pampering routine. It’s pretty time consuming (it takes a few hours to do, including the time to make the cosmetics for each step, since I make many fresh cosmetic recipes using foods for this routine) so I don’t do it that often. (Most of the time, I usually prefer doing simple and fast beauty treatments every day or every other day; so I use many of the steps of my long pampering routine, just spread out over days instead of several hours in a row).
For my long pampering routine, first I make all the cosmetics I need to use. Many of them take only a few minutes to make (but when you are making 7 to ten products at a time, it takes a little time!). I also make a simple meal (to eat after I finish my routine).
I dampen my hair and apply either a mask or oil to my hair, and let the mask or oil soak in as I take a long aromatherapy bath, usually with scented candles. I like using some sort of bath soak made with different milks, herbs, salts, or vinegars, with a few drops of essential oils in the mix. Sometimes I use candles I have made, and other times I use natural store bought ones. I usually soak for 15-20 minutes, and then I will apply a cleansing, softening, exfoliating scrub and mask to my skin. After letting the mask or scrub soak in for several minutes, I rinse them off and shampoo my hair. I apply an herbal rinse to my hair and also rinse my skin with it too!
I gently massage either an aromatherapy oil or cream into my body skin, and then take care of my facial skin: I apply toner, and oils or a cream. Next, I apply any special products (such as eye cream or spot treatments if needed). I then lay down, cover myself in towels, and rest and meditate for at least a half an hour, as I breathe in the essential oils from all the products I’ve applied. After resting and meditating, I will cut my nails, pluck my eyebrows, or do whatever other beauty treatments need to be done, while I wait for my hair to finish drying.
Finally, I will eat something delicious, healthy, and fresh (a fruit or veggie salad with whole grain bread, cheese or bean dip and other toppings like guacamole is yummy!), and I drink a good soothing tea, usually while reading a book.
Please make sure to visit:
Other Spotlights for this company:
- Earth Alkemie: Mineral Makeup 'Periwinkle' (February 2010)
Shimmery & Sexy
- Eden Elixir ()
Sheer Magic for the Skin
- 'Ariel' Mineral Eye Shadow & Brush (September 2010)
- Earth Alkemie: Northern Lights Eye Shadow (November/December 2010)
Let Your Eyes Shine...
- Earth Alkemie: Northern Ghana African black soap (Spring 2011)
Natural from head to toe cleansing
- Aromatherapy Bar Soap (July 2011)
Clean & lovely from head to toe
- Earth Alkemie: Cinderella Mask (November 2011)
Feel like Cinderella!
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- Need Help in Emulsifying Beeswax Lip Balm (Wednesday, June 18, 2014)