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Bay Area beauty:
San Francisco’s best natural products
If Willy Wonka had gone into cosmetics instead of chocolate, he might have imagined a company much like 100% Pure. Lychee, cherry, and raspberry lip glosses. Peppermint deodorants. Pink-grapefruit body scrubs and mushroom eye creams. To be clear, those are real fruits, herbs and vegetables, not just names assigned to them for the colour. Only in the Bay Area beauty scene could a fruit- and vegetable-dyed makeup be invented. Instead of “eating your vegetables,” you might find yourself wearing them. Or eating your skincare regimen.
100% Pure is one of dozens of natural beauty companies that takes this region, surrounded by redwoods, ocean, and mountains, as its muse. It tempts residents to be outdoors, to live healthy, and to eat right.
“The beauty that surrounds us is a huge inspiration,” says Susie Wang, founder of the Napa-born company that extracts pigments from the things we eat to add colour as well as antioxidants and vitamins. A flaxseed-coloured eye shadow contains a veritable cornucopia: carrot, squash, and tomato, and even red wine resveratrol. What you slather on your skin, that largest of organs, is absorbed into the body. If you’re not going to eat synthetics and parabens, best not to put it on your skin.
The line is sold from the company’s various boutiques throughout the U.S., with four of them in the Bay Area (including San Francisco International Airport).
“The Bay Area has always been at the forefront of natural and green,” Wang explains, ever since the 1960s and the hippie culture of Haight Ashbury and Berkeley. “The hippies then had children who grew up with the natural lifestyle instilled in them.”
In short, the people of the Bay Area are a bunch of tree-huggers. Although a stereotype, there is a kernel of truth in that, says Jonathan Plotzker, who is the co-owner of Heliotrope, a fragrance- and synthetic-free company that launched in 2010.
“When locals come to the store, and I tell them that there are no perfumes in our products, they say, “Wow, that’s great.’ If I said that in Paris or New York, they might look at me strangely. Natural really resonates here.”
Customers who come into Heliotrope’s Mission District store can blend essential oils to create their own fragrances, infusing them into a lotion, shower gel, or shampoo. The lotion, for example, comes with an aloe and shea butter base, which is unscented. You can add aroma through mixing natural oils like citrus patchouli, or vetiver jasmine.
Heliotrope’s shop is called ACACIA (because it shares space with another company). All bottling and formulating is done onsite, but Plotzker outsources the manufacturing to local experts. For example, a woman in Marin County (across the Golden Gate Bridge) makes Heliotrope’s balms and soaps.
When an industry evolves, the players tend to locate close to each other, Wang says. “Just like the tech companies in Silicon Valley; the movie industry in Los Angeles; the furniture industry in North Carolina.” Ancillary businesses sprout around the main industry. Talent grows, and all can share in the pool.
Bare Escentuals Beauty, which sells under the brands bareMinerals, Buxom, and MD Formulations, and Benefit Cosmetics brought awareness to the Bay Area beauty scene when they launched in 1976. Although neither focuses on all-natural products, they did spawn the talent that Wang alludes to. Plotzker did time at Bare Escentuals in the 1990s, and Shashi Batra, who launched Sephora USA in San Francisco, is behind the Bay Area beauty company Credo, which carries only “clean” brands. Credo sells a selection of artisanal, natural beauty brands online, and offers a tool called “Clean Beauty Swaps.” Plug in your current (dirty) brand, and it will match.com you with one of the good-for-yous. Its first store, with a spa, was launched in 2015 on beauty-centric Fillmore Street in San Francisco, and it has a second store in New York City.
Local natural beauty line, In Fiore, is also on the Fillmore beauty strip, within the spa International Orange. Julie Elliott started In Fiore in 1999 when natural beauty was but a blip. “You’d only find products in health-food stores,” she says. Elliott, though, wanted to make something artisanal and high-end.
She chose San Francisco for the creative freedom. Other cities, she says, with well-established beauty industries, have a set of parameters and expectations. With a botanical scientist and herbalist on payroll, Elliott obviously had something different in mind. Over the past few years, she has become a plant whisperer. From raw plant materials – and with the help of a green, nature-loving team – she makes the essential oils, herbal infusions, and floral waters that end up in In Fiore’s body balms and tinctures. In a single 125 ml. bottle of Lustra Cleansing Oil is a delicate balance of around 15 botanical essences and oils. It takes eight weeks to make each of the products, Elliott says.
Looking to reinvigorate your beauty regime on your next trip to San Francisco?
Here are a few additional Bay Area beauty brands worth seeking out for their natural products:
Earth Tu Face: Masterminded by two local herbalists, Earth to Face has created a line of 100% natural plant-based products.
EO Products: Family-owned EO Products are serious about their eco-credentials, creating their natural products from essential oils and plant extracts and manufacturing everything they sell locally and sustainably.
Juice Beauty: This local brand uses only organic ingredients in its products, reducing the amount of pesticides and chemicals contained in our everyday beauty regimes.
Laurel Whole Plant Organics: A flower and herb-based brand, every one of Laurel’s skincare products uses natural, organic ingredients sourced from local farms.
Sumbody: Founded by renowned skincare expert Deborah Burnes, Sumbody are passionate about their all-natural, earth-friendly products and carefully selected organic ingredients.
Written by Christine Ciarmello