I’m a librarian and artist living in northern/central California. I want to share with you some awesome smaller businesses (almost all women-owned and based in California) that embody today’s buzzwords ‘green beauty’ or ‘clean beauty.’ Like ‘slow fashion’ there is ‘slow beauty’ and the past year has allowed me to take more time to explore a new skincare routine. While skin is always regenerating, we each only get one ‘me’ so being aware of what we’re putting into and onto our bodies is crucial to well being.
We also have the social and environmental responsibility to not support businesses that harm both people and the earth through unethical labor and wage practices, and wasteful, damaging and non-regenerative production and distribution. I don’t want this post to be a ‘natural’ over ‘synthetic’ debate because natural chemistry is not always better than synthetic chemistry. So, I encourage everyone to do the work to better understand what is in the products we use and their impacts.
I’m approaching my late 30s and until March 2020 I was still using corporate brand skincare products. ‘Sustainability’ has become a trend yet many businesses are guilty of ‘green washing.’ While some have made efforts to improve, like no longer using palm oil or using green energy, there is hardly any transparency about sourcing, production, environmental effects, labor practices, and what the heck you’re really putting on your skin (and what enters your bloodstream). The sheer scale of corporate operations is frightening. I’d much rather support small and local businesses as much as possible, especially those who actively show they care about people and the planet.
Many of the brands I describe below were founded by organic farmers, biodynamic agriculturalists, botanists, ethnobotanists, plant biologists, herbalists, alternative medicine doctors and pharmacists, and surfers! Some have family histories of plant-based recipes and remedies, healing traditions and indigenous knowledge. Plants as medicine is nothing new, but sadly the concept of ‘people-and-planet over profit’ is only an emerging practice in most parts of our commodified world.
In this post, I focus on facial skincare but I also include some body and aromatherapy products. Please note that I personally tend to have oily and blemish-prone skin, so not all of the products I describe here may be ideal for you but the same brand may produce other products for different skin types and needs, so check them out! I also do not wear make-up so I can’t speak to products specific to make-up facial care, removal, or what order to use the products in relation to make-up application (but you may find information and tutorials on a brand’s website or Instagram).
Lastly, I want to acknowledge that using smaller brand products often entails a higher price point. That is an economic reality we all face when it comes to trying to have healthier lifestyles. We should all first ask ‘why are there economic barriers to accessing nutrient-rich food and ethically made products?’ You would think these things would be prioritized in the way our societies are designed and governed, and healthy living would come easier, but right now it is a challenge to holistically be good to the earth and our bodies while most of us are just trying to make ends meet. I’ve had the privilege to be able to try all the products below and I want to share my enthusiasm, but I understand everyone has a different budget.
That being said, I encourage everyone to continuously try something new or different. It’s a slow process. But each little step can move us away from the monolithic corporate business model that dominates the markets. It also takes time to explore and find what works for you. Luckily many small businesses offer free samples and may have online promotions, discounts for reviews, referral credits, free shipping, giveaways, reward or subscription programs, or birthday bonuses.
Thanks for your attention! I hope you find some helpful information. I realize this whole post is pretty California-centric but I encourage everyone to look around and see what’s available locally. There are a number of other brands I look forward to trying and please let me know about things you’ve tried and love! Next, I’m hoping to explore haircare and tooth cleaning options!
cleansers & dry masks
Image caption: Osea’s Ocean Cleanser (5oz) and Ocean Cleansing Milk (0.6oz), Palermo’s Grapefruit + Juniper with activated charcoal soap (2oz) and Tea Tree + Mint soap (2oz), Palermo’s Detox Facial Mask (1.1oz) and Vitamin C Facial Mask (1.2oz).
I like to cleanse in the morning and at night. I also like to change things up day-to-day. Osea and Palermo Body offer high quality options with a variety of textures for keeping my morning routine feeling fresh. Osea’s Ocean Cleanser has a slippery gel consistency that spreads over the face easily and smells invigorating. It wakes me up and doesn’t require much effort. It includes seaweed that provides mineral-rich hydration and gently exfoliates.
If I want to spend a little more time and do some self-pampering, I’ll grab one of Palermo’s dry masks. I love the masks because you can either just mix the powder with water, or mix it with a liquid cleanser, or even with yogurt! I often won’t take the time to do a full-on 15 minute mask, so instead I use half the recommended amount of powder with some water and spread a thinner paste over my face for just a couple of minutes. Still feels rejuvenating! The Vitamin C mask gently exfoliates and brightens skin, and is better for sensitive skin, but I love the Detox mask since it clears the pores more intensely (and I love painting my face green).
At night I prefer Palermo’s soaps. They are great for both the face and body, and there are various soaps for different skin types. I love getting the smaller sized “trio” of soaps so I can mix-and-match. It’s a great value and enables you to try out multiple soaps. I personally love the black colored soap that has grapefruit, juniper, and activated charcoal. If I need some extra exfoliation I use the tea tree and mint soap with French green clay. They lather nicely and it doesn’t take as much effort as I thought it would to use bar soap on my face.
As an alternative to all of the above, sometimes I use Osea’s Ocean Cleansing Milk which is a nice change because it has no fragrance and feels really gentle, neutralizing and soothing. It’s the best Osea cleanser for sensitive skin but still does a great job removing pollutants, make-up, and SPF proucts. I got the smaller travel size bottle in the Anti-Aging Starter Set. Starter sets (or discovery kits) are a great way to try multiple products without having to buy the full-sizes.
toners & hydrosols
Image caption: Palermo’s Hydrating Facial Toner (2oz), Osea’s Sea Mineral Mist (3.4oz bottle empty, I moved the liquid into a reused Noto bottle because I like the spray pump better!), Botnia’s Rose Geranium Hydrosol (3.4oz), Biophilia’s Heart of Gold Toner (1oz), Redwood Toner (1oz).
I’ll admit I did not know what toner was a year ago. I think it’s pretty important. It helps balance your skins natural pH levels and acts as a humectant (preserves moisture). Pollution, oil production, makeup, and astringents can shift your skins pH. You know that’s happening when your skin gets shiny because your skin is overcompensating and producing more oil than necessary. Toner has definitely helped maintain my skins moisture levels and it assists the skin in absorbing moisturizers. So right after I cleanse I spray on toner before applying any serums or moisturizers.
For me, Palermo’s Hydrating Facial toner is tied with Botnia’s Rose Geranium hydrosol (linking to the Rose Water Toner instead since this hydrosol is only available seasonally) for first place. They are both refreshing and help my skin soak up other products. I learned that toners often contain essential oils and alcohol versus hydrosols that are purely plant or flower extracts and distillates. For some skin types essential oils and alcohol can be irritable so hydrosols may be a better option. Either way, they often have anti-inflammatory ingredients and are just an overall boost to any skincare routine.
Biophilia makes many toners and hydrosols and I’ve tried two smaller sized bottles of Heart of Gold toner that has Frankincense in it, and Redwood toner that literally smells like a Redwood tree forest. I love both and look forward to trying others. Since these two have scents that I wouldn’t normally want to spray on my face, I also find myself spraying my hair and neck. Toners can be good for your hair, too! And are often refreshing to spritz all over! Toners are what I use up the most quickly. Most of the other products I discuss here last a good while since a little goes a long way.
I also love how Botnia and Biophilia offer seasonal or limited release products based on seasonal harvests, so I feel more in tune with the cycle of the seasons and cherish a specific product more (for example, I have to wait until next year to get the Rose Geranium hydrosol again. I’m currently using the Botnia Toner with arnica).
I did use Noto‘s Basil Yarrow Mist (that’s the bottle I reused for the Osea mist in the photo). Overall it is a great spritzer and has an herbal, earthy scent (more gender-neutral since it’s less floral), but my face seemed to be sensitive to it. I’m not sure if I experienced an allergy but I had a bit of redness and irritation on my face. So, I used it mostly to hydrate my hair. I also experienced the same sensitivity with Osea’s Sea Minerals Mist, though it does seem like the most compatible toner with other Osea products. It’s especially great after being in the sun since it has soothing aloe vera.
moisturizers & extras
Image caption: Osea’s Blemish Balm (2oz), Noto’s Moisture Riser Cream (1.7oz), Osea’s Anti-Aging Body Balm (1oz), Osea’s Advanced Protection Cream (0.25oz), Essential Corrective Complex (0.33oz), Essential Hydrating Oil (0.33oz), Palermo’s Regenerative Facial Serum (1oz).
I also came pretty late to skin moisturizing. Likely because I just accepted that my skin tends to be oily and it just didn’t make sense to me to add more moisture. But it didn’t occur to me that my skin was probably oily from pH imbalances due to drying out my skin from using a daily acidic facial scrub, so my skin was producing extra oil. Proper cleansing, toning, and moisturizing makes so much more sense to me now! It took a while for my skin to transition and build up better health but I definitely have a healthier glow, less redness, less inflammation, more even-toned skin, and less shininess. I still get a bit of occasional acne, but that’s likely due to my diet more than my skincare routine.
Osea’s Blemish Balm is my favorite facial moisturizer. It rubs in quickly and has a pleasant scent of Juniper and Thyme. I first tried it in the Blemish-Prone Starter Set, which also includes the Essential Corrective Complex which is a roll-on oil that targets blemishes. The Anti-Aging Starter Set includes the Essential Hydrating Oil, also a roll-on oil great for targeting fine lines on the face and neck. I wouldn’t say it gets rid of the lines but it does plump up the skin to reduce their appearance. And, the Advanced Protection Cream is great for an additional layer of protection. It really does lock in moisture and provides a more matte finish to the skin if you’re not going for the dewey look.
I really love Noto’s Moisture Riser Cream for my hands and arms everyday. Again, it has an interesting smell and color (from Blue Tansey) that I had to get used to but it’s my favorite product that acts like a lotion. It includes hyaluronic acid for hydration but sadly, I did not like it on my face. It seemed to make my skin a little too dewey. Osea’s Anti-Aging Balm is also great for the body. It has a silky texture from the coconut oil I think. The smell isn’t my favorite so I don’t use it everyday. A bit too flowery for me but I do enjoy the hint of Rosemary.
I haven’t explored the world of serums too much (folks rave about Noto’s Deep Serum which I haven’t tried yet), but I do love Palermo’s Regenerative Facial Serum. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about the intense orange colored oil but it’s amazing how quickly it seeps into the skin (right after toning) and the orange just disappears. I also enjoy the smell, it must be the geranium and mandarin. It’s best for the delicate skin under the eyes but can also be used all over the face. This is the most expensive item I’ve used so I try to limit my use to just a couple small drops under the eyes so the small bottle will go a long away. Palermo also has great discovery kits, one for the body (I recommend the body scrubs!!) and another for the face, which includes the serum if you want to check it out!
Removing dead skin cells contributes to smoother skin and oily skin especially needs exfoliation to clear out overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands. Exfoliating 1-2 times a week seems to be sufficient. I always look forward to using Noto’s Resurface Scrub! It has a great peppermint scent and you can feel the work it’s doing on your skin. You feel the grit but it’s not too abrasive. Great for the face and body. I love mixing it with Noto’s The Wash for an easier application. It really leaves the skin feeling smoother and brighter.
I really love Noto as a company providing gender-fluid options and they also donate a percentage of their profits to great causes. The last time I was in LA I brought my empty containers to their flagship location and got them refilled at a discounted price! I wish more brands offered these services.
Osea’s Ocean Cleansing Mudd (travel size came in the Blemish-Prone Starter Set) has a similar peppermint smell as Noto’s Resurface Scrub but it’s much more intense and made my eyes water. It’s a smoother texture that doesn’t have that skin stripping feel that grittier scrubs have, but still acts as a great exfoliant. Very tingly! I was not a fan of Osea’s Vitamin C Probiotic Polish which is grittier. It’s meant to help with dark spots and uneven skin tone but I just didn’t enjoy the smell or texture so I stopped using it. It was included in the Anti-Aging Starter Kit.
Remember whenever you exfoliate you are exposing more sensitive skin cells so be sure to rehydrate your skin afterward and try to limit your sun exposure 1-2 days afterward.
Speaking of the sun, I’ve also been reminded of how important sun protection is, especially now being back in California and spending more time outdoors. I never liked the smell and oiliness of sunscreens when I was growing up. I know there are better options today but I wasn’t aware of the toxicity of chemical sunscreens until recently. Many include the chemicals Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Avobenzone, Benzophenone, and Octyl Silicate. These chemicals are carbon absorbers so they act as a vehicle to help UV light penetrate into the skin and convert it into heat. They are increasingly proving to be harmful in the bloodstream and are also damaging to ocean wildlife when folks wear chemical sunscreen in the ocean. Hawaii and Florida have taken steps toward banning these ingredients.
So, is there an alternative? Yes! “Physical” mineral sunscreens sit on top of your skin instead of being absorbed into the skin. It reflects UV rays with zinc oxide and titanium oxide. New sunscreen brands are emerging from the surfing community like Manda and Rancho Organics. Manda offers a sunscreen cream, a thicker sun paste for long lasting protection during outdoor activities (now available in 3 color tones), and an after sun exposure salve. They have great scents with hints of cacao, cinnamon, and coconut oil. The ingredient Thanaka has anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and moisturizing properties.
Currently, my favorite sunscreen is made by Rancho Organics. I love all of Rancho’s products (more below) because they include full-spectrum (un-distilled hemp oil) cannabidiol that helps to heal skin. You can feel the relief and therapy it provides. It doesn’t feel oily either and almost becomes matte on my skin. It’s also a smoother application and can also liquify if you leave the tin in the sun long enough. While I love the color of the Moroccan clay I do have to be mindful of the clothing I’m wearing so it doesn’t stain. But it’s often not an issue for me since I mostly use it while wearing a dark wetsuit in the ocean.
Since I live in a cooler climate I usually need to let these products warm up in the sun or in my pocket before application, or else the consistency gets clumpy and doesn’t spread evenly. One thing to note about physical sunscreens is that it is best to leave a visible tint (a screen!) on your skin instead of rubbing it into the skin like a chemical sunscreen. So, these may not be the best options for everyday wear. I have yet to find a physical sunscreen for everyday wear. I’ve been reading the blog by Meow Meow Tweet, another clean beauty brand that I haven’t explored yet and hope to try their everyday sunscreen soon.
I also want to share my favorite spray hand sanitizers by Yield! My hands got so dry last year from so much hand washing and that’s how all of this exploration started for me! I was trying to find good lotions and sanitizers to use during the pandemic. I don’t like the feel of gel sanitizer nor the strong scent of alcohol most of them have. Yield produces great spray-on sanitizers that include coconut oil for hydration and really nice scent options like bergamot or lemongrass, and there is an unscented version. Big pluses are the recyclable and refillable glass bottles, and the larger refill bottles that are available so you don’t have to keep buying the small bottles. I always keep a 1oz spray bottle in my bag.
Image caption: Biophilia’s Monk’s Balm (1oz), Rancho’s Menthol CBD Relief Salve (2oz), Extra Strength CBD Salve (2oz, menthol-free), Lip Rescue Relief Balm (.03oz), Coconut Sun Block (1oz), CBD Tattoo Balm (2oz).
I was quickly impressed by Rancho Organics‘s product line that has recently expanded from CBD salves and sunblock to include lip balm, tattooed skin care, and massage oil. Sometimes I experience discomfort or slight pain around my neck and back. The Relief Salve instantly warms the skin and muscle, and within 10-15 minutes I don’t feel the pain anymore. Many surfers who suffer from injuries claim Rancho as their go-to for pain relief and I can see why. I really love the hint of cloves in the salve. There is a newer menthol-free version for those with sensitive skin. They also have a calendula bath bomb and I love their hemp soaps but I think the soaps have been discontinued to make way for the newer products. If you are seeking cannabidiol products I recommend the high quality that Rancho provides. Each product is jam packed with goodness. They also have great resources on their website to learn about medicinal plants.
Biophilia offers a wonderful healing balm for cuts, scratches and bruises. Monk’s Balm is like a liquid band-aid and has also helped me with sunburn (on the days I forgot to bring sunscreen), and it’s even helping to smooth down a tiny skin tag I have on my side! It’s based on an ancient recipe by religious herbalists in the South of France, and has a deeply therapeutic herbal scent.
scent & body oil
Image caption: Palermo’s Hydrating Oil and Repairing Oil (0.5oz and 2oz bottles), Maison Louis Marie’s Antidris Cassis Perfume Oil (0.5oz), Palermo’s Vitality and Enlivening Aromatherapy Oils (.33oz each), Fat and the Moon’s Deodorant Cream (2oz).
Palermo for the win again! Body oil is a new thing for me. I didn’t know where to start but thankfully Palermo offers a discovery kit that includes a Hydrating oil (with Geranium and Ylang Ylang) and a Repairing oil (with Bergamot and Lavender) for after-sun exposure. Both feel pretty luxurious and I’m in love with the scents that provide aromatherapy. They work especially well after using Palermo’s body scrubs in the shower. The oils seep into the skin amazingly and do not leave an oily feeling on your skin. They feel replenishing and hydrating.
Palermo also makes three aromatherapy roll-on oils. The Enlivening oil is great for mornings when you need clarity and ability to focus, and the Vitality oil calms nervous energy and has a grounding quality that encourages confidence and positive spirit. I only tried a sample of the Tranquility oil that de-stresses and soothes mental fatigue so I can’t speak to its longterm effects but the lavender scent is lovely and calming.
I also love Noto’s Agender Oil as a body oil and massage oil. It’s also great for the hair and can encourage hair growth (hair is definitely thinning and falling out more these days!). It has an awesome smokey Vetiver and Hemp scent!
Lastly, I want to share a perfume oil and a deodorant because I never get excited about perfume or deodorant! Maison Louis Marie‘s Antidris Cassis perfume oil goes a long way since you can just roll-on a dab on your pulse points. I’m just in love with the enchanting scent of white rose and bergamot, and the floral notes are balanced out by the emergence of oakmoss and musk. I find it strangely enlivening and calming at the same time. Fat and the Moon‘s Deodorant Cream is super effective in reducing stink! I think the baking soda really does the trick. There is also a non-baking soda version for sensitive skin but I haven’t tried that one. You have to scoop it out of a jar and rub it on, which was different at first but it melts onto your skin once it makes contact with your body heat so applying it is very easy. I don’t notice I have it on which is the whole point! Why do so many other deodorants have noticeable smells?
Biophilia Founded by Alice Duvernell, Marin and Sonoma counties, CA.
Botnia Founded by Justine Kahn, Sausalito, CA.
Fat and the Moon Founded by Rachel Budde, Grass Valley, CA.
Maison Louis Marie Founded by Marie du Petit Thouars & Matthew Berkson, Los Angeles, CA.
Manda Founded by Cyrus Sutton, Encinitas, CA.
Noto Founded by Gloria Noto, Los Angeles, CA.
Osea Founded by Jenefer & Melissa (daughter) Palmer, Malibu, CA.
Palermo Body Founded by Jessica Morelli, New York, NY.
Rancho Organics Founded by Miranda Joseph, San Luis Obispo, CA.
Yield Founded by Rachel Gant & Andrew Deming, St. Augustine, FL.