With green fast becoming the new black, it's no surprise that more and more Canadians are concerned about what they are putting into - and onto - their bodies. And retailers and skin-care companies are responding with a bevy of stylish new product lines that add hip to the holistic factor.
Shoppers Drug Mart, for instance, has added a number of environmentally friendly lines in the past year, says Tammy Smitham, director of communications and corporate affairs. At Shoppers' new freestanding beauty chain Murale, "organic" ranges include Dr. Hauschka, Care by Stella McCartney and Kibio, while "green" lines include Skin by Monica, Nuxe and Plant Love. Shoppers also carries Boots Botanics, Yes to Carrots and Organic Surge.
While most of these lines are imported, Canada also is seeing more indigenous eco-labels springing up. Toronto-based Consonant Body ( http://www.consonantbody.com) is one; it features sleek packaging and clever copy - "Well look at you, you unapologetically discerning shopper you" - on its handmade soaps and small-batch moisturizers and body washes.
"We take care of our lungs and our heart," company founder Bill Baker says. "But when it comes to our skin, it's shocking what we put on it. We're willing to turn a blind eye to ingredients which are harmful because they smell good."
But the label "organic" can be used loosely: There is no established body in Canada to regulate the natural or organic content in skin-care products, and what's out there runs the gamut from Consonant's mix of vegetable-derived and organic ingredients to the Intelligent Nutrients line (intelligentnutrients.com), which claims to be so pure you can eat it.
"There are spectrums of natural, just as there are spectrums of organic," says Jacqui MacNeill, chief executive officer of Escents ( http://www.escentsaromatherapy.com), a Vancouver aromatherapy products company that has just launched an Escents Naturals line. "For us, 'natural' is phosphate-free, non-synthetic, biodegradable and uses essential oils," says MacNeill, who has now teamed up with the David Suzuki Foundation to make the company greener. "It's about unpampered products, meaning using ingredients from nature, as close to the form they come in as possible."
Vancouver Island-based Sea Flora ( http://www.sea-flora.com) has turned a salty, vitamin-rich natural resource into a line of luxe scrubs, creams and bath products. Founder Diane Bernard started out hand-harvesting seaweed for the restaurant industry. Now, her products feed the body, using "all-natural wild seaweed" from the company's "exotic underwater garden."
Just this fall, she received USDA certification for her products, which means it meets U.S. government food-grade standards for organic ingredients. "Seaweed is a perfect resource," says Bernard, known locally as the Seaweed Lady. "And what's good for you internally is good externally. You want to keep that same quality."
In the absence of a USDA seal of approval, the best way to be a discerning shopper is to read the ingredients lists - as more and more of us are doing with food products. But sometimes you feel like a newbie chemist, trying to figure out what this stuff all means. There are dozens of ingredients used in Intelligent Nutrients, the brainchild of Aveda founder and eco-activist Horst Rechelbacher, which was launched in Canada at Heather Reisman's new retail chain, Pistachio. While Rechelbacher has gone the extra step to obtain USDA certification for the line of shampoos, conditioners and styling products, the bigger message is what they don't contain: "plastics, parabens and petrochemicals."
Consonant's body lotion "contains no parabens, no added colours or perfumes and no harmful phthalates." These are all ingredients that have been associated with health problems in recent years. Baker founded his line in response to a skin condition in his mid-30s, when he started investigating the products he had been using. The main irritants were common lathering agents such as sodium bora sulphate and sodium bera sulphate as well as phthalates, industrial chemicals that are being phased out in many countries.
Baker started out with a back-to-basics soap - an olive-oil base with just four ingredients, handmade in small batches. While not all of them may be organic, the formula is gentle and sulphate-free.
Hailing from a marketing background, Baker says there was a gap in the marketplace for virtuous skin-care products that are also luxurious to use. Consonant is sold at beauty boutiques and chic lifestyle shops such as Toronto's Lileo, giving the line credibility in the prestige beauty department.
"Until now, I felt as though you had to make a decision to buy products that are natural and good for you, or to buy products that are indulgent and sexy and great to use," he says. "They don't need to be mutually exclusive."