Who knew buying all natural would be difficult?
The Handmade Bath & Body industry has seen a “Boom” in the past five years and is now being joined by Handmade Cosmetics and other products. In this blog post we take a hard look at what Handmade means and what the trend to craft-style bath, body, and skincare means for consumers.
Who are we?
I am Chris Untiedt, the founder of Brown Barn Botanicals. Brown Barn Botanicals is a handmade bath & body company based way up here in Northern Wisconsin. We are a small but active company that makes all natural bath and body products such as infused body oils, bath bombs, scrubs, facial items and more by hand. We hold University degrees in Biology and Education, we have a nationally certified Aromatherapist, and an experienced Herbalist. We are certified in all natural product formulation and are experienced farmers/greenhouse growers.
Much of our product line is infused by hand with amazing plant materials that we grow ourselves on our own farm. We are committed to providing a great product to our customers. It is also one of our goals to educate our customers so they can make sound choices about what they purchase and about what they put on their skin. And then in turn, hopefully, our customers will choose to buy some of their products from us.
We’ve been in business since 2009, selling from Brown Barn retail stores from 2011 until August, 2017. We are now available online at www.brownbarnbotanicals.com and with selected retail partners/wholesale accounts.
What is Hand-Crafted?
Over these years I’ve seen a LOT of change in this industry. From the home-crafter selling at area shows and trying to make enough money to buy supplies to online “teachers” sharing recipes to now a full-blown industry that varies from products filled with chemicals and parabens to fully USDA Certified Organic Labs.
In recent years the term “handmade cosmetics” has been used in so many different situations that its meaning has become diluted – right along with the terms “all natural”, “natural, naturale, and naturel”, and “organic”. These terms are the new darlings of the cosmetic, skincare, bath, and body advertising industry.
Regulation and Oversight
We see our customers, family, and friends quickly snapping these “healthy” products up in an effort to live a cleaner and healthier lifestyle. As is the case with many trends that pop up relatively quickly, legislation and over-site has been somewhat lagging in regard to the free use of these terms. The FDA and Congress is working toward new and more restrictive legislation however it is not yet in place. This leaves it up to the consumer to ferret out the “real deal” from the “less than honest” advertisers.
Soap making is a great hobby. Many people who start out making soap eventually try adding other types of body products to their mix. The Internet has allowed this industry to boom by bringing easy access to information and materials that previously were not so readily available. With the availability of the Internet, home hobbyists started posting “make it yourself” recipes and online videos. This was followed by companies specializing in selling ingredients to home crafters creating videos and sharing recipes and there you go…a whole industry has evolved.
Being located in the heart of Wisconsin’s farmlands sometimes provides us with a unique perspective. I will never forget one sunny, summer day a few years ago. One of our young Mennonite neighbors and I stood in my herb garden talking about Organic vs. Non-Organic farming. This particular young man always sported a black hat and traditional Mennonite clothing. No matter what the temperature was outside, he had on his black hat and long pants. At that time his family had a vegetable produce farm up the road from the Brown Barn Botanicals farm and they sold at stands. He said to me, “People come to our stand and ooo and aaah over all the “Organic” produce. They snap it right up. They look at me and assume we are growing Organically. I never tell them we use chemicals – I don’t lie either, I just don’t respond. They would not buy if they knew. But they look at my Black Hat and just assume we are Organic.”
The greatest misconception that I see on a daily basis regarding Handmade Cosmetic/Bath/Body products is the belief that if its labeled Handmade it must be all natural or somehow not contain harmful chemicals.
The reasoning I hear from our customers goes something like this, “They are a company making their product by HAND – they must be making the healthiest products on Earth. And of course they are honest – Right? Homemade/handmade means they are making their products from kitchen ingredients.”
People tend to associate a “handmade” and “clean” image with homespun, old-fashioned “clean” morals and unfortunately that just is not always the case.
Access to Chemicals
People who make products such as lotion, soap, wash, facial cream, etc. by hand have just as much access to harmful chemicals as any large and automated company. Many times the recipes used by small “handmade” hobby producers are from tutorials found on the Internet. This industry is wonderful in that so many people share their recipes and it is a true learning community. Unfortunately, there are quite a few people sharing these recipes and selling their “handmade” creations online who lack any real training other than YouTube videos or books. And there are companies who specialize in selling ingredients to small handmakers. Many of these companies post recipes and DIY videos as well.
With this type of booming growth we often see 1) producers who lack basic knowledge of formulating; 2) producers who do not understand how to label a product or just don’t care to learn; 3) producers/sellers who will tell you anything to get your money; and 4) little to no over-site.
With this boom we also often see 1) AWESOME formulators who really know their ingredients and the chemistry behind formulating and have education and experience; 2) Awesome new companies with amazing products at affordable prices; 3) Producers who care DEEPLY about their customers, products and health and 4) still little to no over-site beyond the integrity of the companies that are good.
With so much diversity in the market how does the average person who just wants to buy a good product that is cleanly made and smells pretty know where to shop and what to buy?
Things you can do to ensure you are getting the best handmade product possible:
Know who you are buying from and ONLY buy products that are properly labeled. Buy from reputable companies and from people you trust. Research the companies you are working with. If they do not put their ingredients on their website there is a reason for this!
A reputable, FDA compliant company will list every ingredient except their fragrance or essential oil combination. Those are the only parts of a bath, body, skincare label that are allowed to be listed as a generic “Proprietary” ingredient. With good reason – copying of scents is rampant in our industry. Unfortunately this also opens the door for fragrance companies to include any chemical they want in a formulation without fear of recourse. This is part of the reason we stopped using Fragrance oil in our formulas – because we could never be 100% sure of what was used to make them due to the fragrance oil companies unwillingness to share that information.
If a label ingredient section says something like “all natural lotion” instead of listing all of the ingredients in the lotion then do not buy it. To me, that is the worst type of consumer cover-up and it is in violation of FDA regulations. This type of practice also is what gives handmade manufacturing an unprofessional and bad reputation (did I mention this is a pet peeve of mine?).
A label such as the one pictured above would tell me that this maker either 1) has no knowledge of FDA regulations (which, if that’s the case, leaves me wondering about this maker’s overall formulating ability), or 2) is trying to hide something in their “all natural” formulation, or 3) got this lotion in from a large outside manufacturer, doctored it up with essential oil and arrowroot powder and then re-bottled it but failed to find the ingredient listing or doesn’t want us to know what the ingredients are in the “natural lotion” base. Regardless of the reason, this is not a product I would risk buying. You would not a can of vegetables in the grocery store labeled “all natural vegetables” and nothing else. Don’t accept this in your body products.
Correctly labeled products will include every ingredient name in its common and technical form, written such as “Melaleuca Alternafolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil”. Ingredients will be listed in order from the largest amount present in the item to the least. This is why lotions and moisturizers all begin with water or Aloe extract/juice, etc. on their ingredient listings.
I recommend avoiding purchasing from a company that does not list its ingredients up front. When you ask for their ingredient lists or question why they do not list their ingredients on their website so consumers can buy knowledgeably they may tell you things like, “Oh that’s proprietary information – we’re afraid our super special formulas will be stolen if we tell you what’s in it.” Don’t buy it. That’s ridiculous.
Only buy from companies that list their ingredients publicly. It is my opinion that when a company refuses to list the other ingredients they are most likely hiding something.
Read the Label! Read the label. Read the label. Read the label. READ. THE. LABEL! I cannot say that enough. There are companies out there with names like “Baloosla’s All Natural Organic Luxuries” who sell products that are not only not organic, they are full of chemicals or use man-made chemical based fragrance.
Because there is little government regulation right now these companies get away with fooling consumers by using the term “Organic” in the name of their company. Example: There is one extraordinarily large bath & body company that sells all over the world who uses “Handmade” in their label. I’ve been to their shops in several states and at each of my visits the sales clerk tells me it’s “all made by hand” and “it’s all 100% Organic”. One of the reasons I started Brown Barn was because after spending money at this very retailer, my daughter and I looked up the ingredients of the products and found they were NOT Organic and back in 2009 their products were not even 100% natural. We literally looked at each other and said “We can do better” and we went out and did just that. Just because a company has a word in it’s name, does not mean it is what it says it is.
Ask Questions. I have a standard set of questions I now ask when I go into any bath & body shop. I am probably that clerk’s worst nightmare – but hey, if you are going to advertise you are something you need to be it!
I pick up a bottle and pick out an ingredient that is somewhat technical. I then ask the clerk what that ingredient is. I almost always get an answer that is incorrect.
Educate yourself a little on some ingredients and memorize them. Then try this yourself at some of your retailers to see what happens. Only buy from companies that can talk knowledgeably about their products. Don’t believe what the sales clerks tell you – again – read the label! I recommend having your cell phone available and looking ingredients up right on the spot before purchasing.
Ask where its made and who made it. Lately there has been a surge of small companies with their “own lines” of cosmetics and bath products. What these “lines” often consist of is their buying in from giant contract manufacturers large buckets of pre-made product such as lotion, bottling it themselves in a back room, and then labeling it with their own name on the front. This is called “private labeled” or “white labeled”.
Unfortunately a lot of these products are made by a few large companies that are far from handmade and some are loaded with unhealthy chemicals. And even more unfortunate is that this leaves a huge opportunity for a less-than-honest business person to put whatever they want on the label and market it any old way they want. For some reason removing themselves from the production process seems to make it easier for them to justify to themselves being dishonest.
Beware of improper preservation. Another issue that I personally avoid – and I know there is a lot of controversy over this topic but I feel I am amiss if I don’t mention it here – are home manufacturers making water based products in their kitchen. I would avoid purchasing items like lotion, mist, liquid wash, creams, body butter, and skincare products from someone who says they make their products in their kitchen. The reason is that these products are more prone to bacteria, fungus, and spoilage than oil based products.
I would limit purchasing water based products from a reliable lab-based company. I know there are many very clean, fabulous people who can be trusted to follow good manufacturing processes when making these types of products in their kitchen but I also know there are some people not following good manufacturing practices as well. Use your best judgement in purchasing at shows and farmer’s markets.
Lastly, use common sense. Look around you. Are you purchasing a “handmade” product online, in a grocery store, at a big box store, at a craft fair, or online from a small business that specializes in Handmade Bath and Body? Are you purchasing from an expert in our field, a knowledgeable and reliable hobbyist, or at a location that perhaps does not scream “handmade bath and body” (such as your car dealership)? Do you have confidence in this person? Are they answering your questions? Are they calmly selling or using pressure tactics such as, “Believe me, if you don’t do this you’ll be sorry…”. Is the maker’s name and address clearly present on the label? Are ALL of the ingredients listed on the label? Are the ingredients listed in a common form that you can understand and also the technical name? For example, “Rubus Idaeus (Red Raspberry) Leaf Extract”. And form? For example extract, essential oil, or leaf?
I hope this blog helps you in your journey toward learning more about handmade bath & body and cosmetic products. And I also hope you take some time to explore Brown Barn Botanicals at www.brownbarnskincare.com or read more Brown Barn blogs. We are here to answer questions and provide support whether you purchase from us or not so feel free to contact us with questions by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to explain any ingredient or provide support!