The incredible edible body scrub

Evidenced by surging demand for organic non-food produce, consumers today crave more natural beauty products than ever before

“Would you eat your face cream?” asks Lynn Shulman, founder of Toronto’s Elixir Organic Spa. Take a moment to ponder Shulman’s question.

According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2010 Organic Industry Survey, organic non-food sales in the U.S. grew almost 10 per cent in 2009, reaching $1.8 billion. Global organic sales, food and non-food, reached about $51 billion in 2008 and almost certainly grew further in 2009 and 2010, says the report The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics & Emerging Trends 2010.

Consumers are seeking natural ingredients, and products without preservatives or chemicals. They want to know what they are spreading onto and absorbing into their bodies. Spas carrying organic products today—products with identifiable, natural ingredients—are responding to consumer demand and reaping the benefits.

A small 2004 study at the University of Reading in Berkshire, United Kingdom, found traces of chemicals called parabens in tissue samples taken from women with breast cancer. The study called for increased research into the connection between the chemicals and breast cancer. Though researchers remain unable to show a direct link between parabens and breast cancer, the original study was enough to get people talking.

Parabens and a host of other synthetic chemicals are used as preservatives in cosmetics and other spa products.

“Consumers are aware of this sort of thing now and they don’t want to use products that could cause adverse effects,” says Erin Hughes, owner of EcoChic Spa in Whistler, British Columbia.

Honing in on the ingredients

Any product applied to a client’s skin enters their body through a process called dermal absorption. Even if a client does not ingest a product, it is still going to infiltrate the internal workings of the body.

“You’re essentially eating your moisturizer, so you better be sure what’s in that moisturizer is okay for your body,” says Shulman.

To determine if a product is natural, turn the bottle around and look at the ingredient list. “A company can brand something as a natural product but it doesn’t mean they have to actually follow through and make it natural, it’s just the brand,” says Hughes.

For natural products, Shulman recommends spas work with suppliers who provide full disclosure on their ingredients. Spas should provide the same kind of disclosure to clients.

“We just tell the truth about what’s in the products,” says Sanandra Black, owner of Sea Chi Organics. More than 16 years ago, Sea Chi started making tea. Black discovered her Kombucha tea worked topically and with the help of a master herbalist, developed the first Sea Chi organic cream.

Many organic product manufacturers can tell spa owners exactly where an ingredient comes from. “If I want to, I can look into the origin of every single ingredient and I don’t think you can say that for products from large skin care companies,” says Shulman.

Natural and local

“Natural products don’t last as long on the shelf,” warns Hughes. In response, EcoChic orders in small batches. Product orders go out at the start of the week and fresh batches arrive by Friday. Because organic products omit preservatives, batches stay in circulation for a maximum of six months. After six months, products are given to staff or donated to a local women’s shelter. “We have to operate on a different schedule than some spas who order large quantities of product, but it’s not a whole lot more work,” adds Hughes.

Taking organic and local a step further, Hughes runs an indoor hydroponic garden, providing the spa with natural ingredients. Hughes nurses organic ingredients in the garden until they are large enough to move to a local organic farm, where they mature. The ingredients eventually return to the spa for use in treatments designed at EcoChic.

“We’re growing cucumbers right now and soon they’ll move to the organic farm,” says Hughes. “When we get into July and August, we offer a cucumber cooling body wrap that helps people with sunburns.”

All-natural success

In its third year, EcoChic upgraded from a 1,000 square foot facility to more than 3,000 square feet, with pregnant women, weary of potential chemical therapies affecting their pregnancy, arriving in surprising numbers.

Elixir opened eight years ago in the crowded downtown Toronto spa market and continues to thrive as the only 100 per cent organic spa in the area, Shulman says.

by Jason Hagerman | Summer 2011