As firm believers in bodycare products relying on natually-occuring ingredients (from butter to balm), we’re delighted to welcome Tracy Perkins of Strawberry Hedgehog. All her enticingly colorful handmade face and bodycare products are 100% vegan, and are available at Strawberry Hedgehog (U.S. delivery only).
I asked Tracy a few questions about the production of her range and the sourcing and choices of her ingredients.
EcoSalon: As a college student, you were inspired to
produce your own vegan body products because of the lack of affordable alternatives on the market. What sources of expertise did you draw on when you first started soap-making, and did you have to track any specialist equipment down?
Tracy Perkins: You would be surprised how much you can do with a good stainless steel pot and some pyrex! I did hold myself back for a while at first researching and thinking I didn’t have the proper equipment. Really the most specialized equipment I had to get was soap molds, but if one is just starting out you could just as soon line any box with parchment paper and use that to pour your soap into.The hardest part was seeking out quality ingredients for my products and that just took time, trial, and error. There are several good books out there on natural products and I am working on my own e-book, but the key for me was just figuring out what the purpose was for all of the ingredients in conventional products, then finding a natural alternative.
EcoSalon: Soaps (or, more strictly, detergents) made by multinationals such as Unilever use synthetic chemicals (for example, sulfates and parabens) that have been associated with a variety of health problems. What do you feel are the most harmful side-effects of these large-scale commercial soapmaking processes, and how would you like the mass-producers to change their ways?
Tracy Perkins: I think the best thing the large scale companies could do is to go back to basics.We have over engineered everything and the most wholesome, healthy products seem to be the ones with the least processing.The focus needs to shift from infinite shelf life and synthetic foaming agents, unnatural colors and artificial fragrances to what is naturally available and effective.
– Sulfates and parabens get mixed reviews in the broader cosmetics industry but are frowned upon by people concerned with natural skin care products. Sulfates are added to products (usually shampoos, bubble baths, body wash, toothpasteand laundry detergent) to add lather. While they are effective at making suds they are at best a skin irritant and at worst, carcinogenic. With quality soaps available detergents like sulfates are totally unnecessary and with the potential health risk they just aren’t worth it.
– Parabens, too, are widely used in personal care products as a preservative due to their effectiveness and their low cost. Again, there are people on both sides of the fence but there is increasing awareness and interest on this topic with growing health concerns about parabens. Some people in the industry claim the bacteria that is prevented through the use of parabens is far more dangerous than the parabens alone. I don’t think this has to be so black and white though. If you use freshly-made products with natural preservatives (like grapefruit seed extract, rosemary extract, or even vitamin E) and use the products within a reasonable amount of time bacteria is not a problem. Parabens (usually Methyl or Propyl paraben) can build up in your system, they have been found in cancerous breast tissue, and they can lead to severe allergies.
EcoSalon: How much do you rely on locally-sourced ingredients for your products?
Tracy Perkins: I buy my ingredients from distributers in Tucson, AZ, New Mexico and Washington State. I try to use products that are grown in this region when possible, such as the jojoba oil grown in Arizona and used in my lotions and the carnuba and candelilla wax found in my lip balms and body bars grown in Mexico. Occasionally I use herbs from my own garden, such as dried lavender for my soaps or dreamy steam facial tea. Unfortunately, a lot of the products I use cannot be grown in the U.S. so my distributers import them from across the globe.
EcoSalon: You have an impressive and unusual range of ingredients and fragrances for your body products – from lotus to lemongrass. Are there any ingredients that you feel have become "lost" to the large-scale markets, and need to be rediscovered for their naturally soothing or medicinal properties?
Tracy Perkins: This is such a great question and difficult to narrow it down. If I had to name a few essential oils that are powerful and often overlooked due to scale I would say lotus is a big one in facial skin care, tea tree in its overall ability to fight bacteria, and lemongrass for its skin brightening properties and its cheering scent.The important point here, rather than a specific ingredient lost is the loss of an entire group of healing ingredients. I believe that the huge industry of cosmetics and personal care products has lost sight of the importance of actual plant-derived ingredients. Most products have synthetic fragrances that attempt to smell like something natural, however, in doing this you lose all of the benefit of the natural plant that you would find in its essential oil or extract and heap on loads of potentially dangerous chemicals under the name "fragrance." It is the plants that do the work in my products, not something that is similar to the plants, not a clever synthetic imitation; plain old Mother Nature does it far better than we can.
Many thanks for your time, Tracy!