02, Stark’s first perfume

Can you smell it?

This is the scent of healthy, non-toxic, living, luxurious perfumes.

On October 22nd, our first Huile de Parfum will finally be available.

Natural perfumery is an art-form. It takes patience, imagination, love and commitment. It takes having the ability to “see” scents, to be able to imagine how they “look” layered one upon another, and learning when to freely use intuition as your guide and when to use a whole lot of restraint. It is painting on an invisible canvas, composing music that is heard all at once, then lingers for hours.

Natural perfumes, as I have come to learn, really are living works of art. They change and morph with time, they have unique personalities and express themselves differently depending on the company present. They are like people; complex and therefore imperfect, beautiful and interesting.

This rich personality created by these ancient resins and precious oils that have been coveted for thousands of years, simply cannot be replicated with synthetics. This is why in creating these perfumes, I took the utmost care of each ingredient, it’s sourcing, integrity, treatment and how it is presented in the perfume itself. I feel these perfumes are born, not made. They are creations, not products.

Stark’s Huile de Parfum are “100% bio”, French for organic perfume oil. (French having a rich perfume history, coupled with my background… couldn’t resist!) Our perfume oils are a blend of  pure essential oils, concretes, C02 extractions and absolutes in a skin-nourishing base of organic camellia sinensis seed oil (green tea), jojoba and coconut oil. They are bottled in violet-black glass, which has been used since Ancient Egypt because of the way the glass allows light to enter, natural oils actually get better with age.  They are also wrapped in unique packaging…no two bottles are quite alike!

My first Huile de Parfum offering, pictured above, is called 02. It is a deep, mysterious scent inspired by my travels last winter to both the Middle East and Europe. A mixture of ancient incense, with a comforting warmth that clings to scarves and hair, the precious woods of Oud and Sandalwood that compliment skin beautifully, and the warm breeze of terracotta patios with potted basil and blood-red orange trees, basking in the sun. Right in the middle of the perfume is a little surprise, perched in a tree! Can you guess what it is?

I know my excitement about this launch is probably quite palpable. I have a lot to say about perfume and I am very passionate about natural perfuming, and I want you to be part of this journey with me. Next week another special email will go out. (Hint: I was inspired this week to do something generous…)

Scented hugs,

Jessica Lafleur
Founder of Stark Skincare
& Perfume nut.

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The cost of “smelling cheap”…

There are over 3,100 inexpensive aroma chemicals available to the perfume industry. Only 40% have been tested for safety, and the tested ones are known for their toxicity.

This is what conventional perfumes are made of: cheap, toxic chemicals in expensive bottles.

Does this really, really annoy you, too?

Synthetic perfumes, 99% of the perfume out there, are actually really cheap to make. What the consumer is paying for is the packaging, the name on the label and the massive marketing campaign behind it. (By comparison, with a brand like Stark, you are really mostly paying for the quality of the raw ingredients.). The trouble with synthetic perfumes is that the safety is not well tested, and many of the chemicals –and these are the known, listed chemicals in them- are known to be hormone-disrupting, carcinogenic and are highly allergenic. I think, in fact, we’re all at least a little allergic to aroma chemicals (but that’s really just anecdotal). The fact is that synthetic perfumes aren’t safe. Yes, they are legal to sell (because the laws around cosmetics, specifically fragrance, is weirdly out of date) but it’s buyer beware, and most people have no clue, or don’t care, about how toxic they smell. And cheap.

In an alternate universe, where I do things “just for the money” and say things like “how does this affect my bottom line?” and do not really care about health, the environment, business integrity, art, beauty, cats and the safety of my loved ones, I’d totally make perfume out of lab-made chemicals. Business-wise, it makes a lot of sense (and scents, badum-ching!). Aroma chemicals, compared to essential oils and the even pricier absolutes, are a tiny fraction of the cost. Just for a little clarity, if it costs me at least $15 to make one bottle of perfume in raw ingredients alone, it would cost me less than $1 to make a synthetic scent. You see the appeal, from a business standpoint. (By the way, this is basically the same story with skincare. There’s a reason all-natural, organic stuff is pricier than drugstore crap, but the naturals deliver a lot of value, and that’s what counts.)So here IS the bottom line. Natural perfuming is a costly process. As I mentioned in last week’s email, it’s a labour of love, but as you can see, it’s so much more. Working with natural fragrance is MUCH harder than working with synthetics (but way more fun, I’m sure.) This is one reason why I make the perfume in tiny batches, creating no more than 50 at a time. Most perfume houses would charge an insane amount of money for this kind of value, but I like to do things that make my accountant go crazy. Our first perfume is just $65.

Last week, I also said I was inspired to do something generous (I had a company almost randomly treat my family and I very well last week. Being pampered once in a while is really great!). So I want to be generous within my means, too. I am sending out a bottle of Stark’s first Huile de Parfum (02) to three Stark customers, chosen at random! You will receive an email from me before Monday if you’ve been chosen.

Have a fantastic weekend (and long weekend to my fellow Canadians!),

Jess

PS. Want to see what the Environmental Working Group has to say about what “perfume” is? Click here.

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(pssst this is a re-post of a newsletter I sent out. HOW COOL ARE MY NEWSLETTERS? I know.)

Seriously. Kids should dress up as bottles of Calvin Klein Infinite Poison or whatever it’s called for Halloween.

In fact, maybe that’s what toddler Z should be dressing up as tonight (he’s not…we’re going to a 90′s Goth theme party tonight, and tomorrow he’s a scuba diver and I’m a lumberjack….actually, a coureur de bois because I’m really into Canadiana.)

ANYHOW.

Why am I so afraid of “conventional”, department store perfume? Ah, a refresher: Loads and loads of chemicals. Bad ones. Conventional perfume companies do not care about the welfare of animals, humans or the environment, so they use horrific animal testing practices, unsustainable manufacturing practices and have a total disregard of what should be considered not just acceptable but legal for daily exposure to humans (the laws are messed up, as I mentioned before).

Their products are loaded with chemicals known to damage brains, disrupt endocrine (hormone) systems, cause sinus damage, asthma and other respiratory problems, cause mental fatigue and vagueness and can cause horrific rashes and other skin problems. Yet, people still happily pay $200 a bottle for this. Blows. My. Mind. Also? They all smell so weirdly similar. (Well, almost all…I have to admit I have a soft spot for a scent by Maison Martin Margiela…but maybe I’ll just make a better, Stark version SO THERE.)
Yesterday I quietly launched 02, my first born child, err, all-natural perfume. Why quietly? Well, the launch was over a week late, and I was just feeling like “augh it just needs to happen! Send an email! Send it now! But I have nothing clever to say? Who cares! Send it!”. Launch jitters I guess (something my husband/biz partner/bestie talks about in an interview here…don’t let the wailing guitar intro put you off).

Mind you, launching a perfume is  exposing the world (I can only hope) to something very personal, like poetry or a painting, so it’s a little different from what I’m used to. It’s art. (And my writing doesn’t count…I used to write professionally but not, you know, artistically.) Anybody who claims their perfume is NOT art…well, I don’t know what they’re selling. I don’t want to know.

I’m really excited about 02, and I think it’s absolutely fucking delicious. Is it for everyone? I hope not. I’m not really into generic, and you shouldn’t be either. But if the description says something to you, I bet you will love it. (If you’re a sandalwood lover, just put down the mini Coffee-crisp NOW and just buy it before they’re all gone…or before the price goes up!). I can tell you though, if you’re more of a floral person, or want something that’s kind of light and fresh, those perfumes are coming. But 02 is not that. It’s hypnotic. Resinous. Deep, woodsy, deliciously exotic, eerily familiar….oh just read the description already!  (Also, if you’ve bought it and love it, send me your description of it! Scent description is freaking HARD to write!)

So there you are. I hope this Halloween you aren’t tricked by conventional perfume, and you do treat yourself to some all-natural perfume. (See what I did there?)

Nice smelling non-toxic hugs,
Jess

PS. Several bottles have been sold, and as I said, there’s really only a few left of this batch… if you want 02, get it now!

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Dry. Dehydrated. Synonyms, right? Wrong!

Dry skin and dehydrated skin are not the same thing. Although they are related, there is a difference, and knowing which you have will make soothing and nourishing your skin much easier. (And if you think dry and/or dehydrated skin is safe from breakouts… nope.)

Dry skin is a skin type, like oily or sensitive. It is hereditary, and will probably be present your whole life (or most of it) and the ageing process will exacerbate it. Those with normal skin could also end up having dry skin as they get older. Dry skin is due to under-active sebaceous glands, and like all body processes, the glands slow down further with age. Having less oil means that the skin is less able to protect itself from the environment and has less ability to retain moisture (which makes it dehydrated, but hold on we’ll get to that.) Having less oil means that there are less cells in the uppermost layer of skin, leading to more visible fine lines and making skin wrinkle easier than oilier skin. The good news is that pores on dry skin are smaller, which means less likely to get clogged and to breakout. But, this is only true for true, technically dry skin. Read on.

It is very, very important to protect dry skin with sufficient skincare products. Our Neroli Midnight Oil (which can be worn during the day as well!) and our Grapefruit Cleanse + Hydrate Balm are excellent for dry skin. See our recommended ritual for dry skin here.

Dehydrated skin is a condition, and a very common one at that. “Dehydration” is something that is done to the skin, and is not a feature of the skin itself (as “dry” is). Dehydrated skin might not necessarily lack oil, but it lacks moisture. It will feel and look dry, scaly and possibly flaky. To see if your skin is dehydrated, check your nose and forehead: does it look like an extra, super thin layer of skin is sitting on top of the rest of your skin? Dehydration.

So although dehydrated skin doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of sebum, a lack of sebum will cause dehydration as sebum helps with moisture (water) retention. Stay with me here. Oily skin can be dehydrated too, because I said, it’s caused by what’s done to the skin.  It can be caused by sweating, poor diet, skin getting beaten up by the environment (wind, cold, dry heat, etc), not using daytime protection (SPF, face oils, etc), not drinking water and getting too much sun. Oily skin also gets dehydrated by using overly harsh soaps and too much astringents, or failing to moisturise. (If you have dry skin, please don’t use soaps or anything that might dry it out further! gah! I’ve heard of and know people who do this…still…and it drives me bananas.)

But here’s the clincher for dehydrated, oily skin: When oily skin gets dehydrated, it tends to break out. 

Oily skin has larger pores and it needs to be exfoliated more as it produces more cells (and therefore needs to shed the dead ones, and not get them jammed into pores with debris and whatnot as well.) When oily skin is dehydrated, these cells harden and block oil secretion. For someone with acne, this will mean an infection, and will result in terribly painful cystic acne.

Our White Willow Bark Perfecting Tonic is ideal for oily/dehydrated skin. The willow bark helps to gently remove those old cells, the witch hazel is a very gentle, soothing astringent and the cucumber, watermelon and aloe are super nourishing and moisturising. A dab of kosher vegetable glycerine helps draw moisture from the air, and back into the skin. Oily skin, dehydrated or not, also needs appropriate daytime moisture and protection, and I cannot recommend our Cypress Purity + Defense highly enough. Read our whole ritual for oily skin here.

Bonus! Here are some tips for battling dry skin, when the weather gets extra parched.

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Getting the most out of facial oils

I can hardly believe it, but facial oils really have broken out into the mass market. Every single skincare company, large and small, natural and not, seem to have their own apothecary-style facial oil! (must be why my bottle supplier told me that they are “running out of the rubber” for the droppers…yikes.) In fact, I have noticed that my job has been less and less about “convincing people it’s ok to use oil on their face”, and that there’s nothing to fear about oils, as it was a few years ago. This is a major perception shift for a lot of people. People are getting it! Huzzah!

This oily invasion is such a great thing, as oils are truly the best for your skin…if you are using them correctly!

Here’s a few very easy tips to follow to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to oils.

1. Apply to clean skin, apply with clean hands. Make sure you’re face is clear of debris and detritus (lol), makeup, mime makeup, what have you. Make sure your hands have been washed as well. NEVER do anything to your face with dirty hands. Gross.

2. Layer the right way. In the colder months, especially, you may find yourself layering your facial products just as you layer your clothes. Now, on Christmas morning my family likes to put on new undies on top of their PJs, socks on their hands, new PJs on their heads, and just muddle up the whole logically procession of things, but that doesn’t work with skincare. Just like dressing for a regular day, you apply lightest layers first, then heavier items on top. You will do this for two reasons: your skin absorbs the lightest of layers first, working it’s way to the top layer. The top layer, being the heaviest, will act as a comfy coat (aka an occlusive layer, acting to keep in moisture and block out the world), protecting your skin from the elements. Lightest to heaviest. So, it would be something like this (if you used a lot of product): After cleansing, toner, water-based serum, light lotion, oil, cream, balm. My own layers would be toner, new super-secret product I’m working on (it’s SO freaking awesome I can’t wait to keep developing it!!!), oil and the new balm I’m working on.

3. Apply to very damp skin. I always, always do this and it makes a massive difference. In fact, this could be the #1 tip if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Why? You will feel your skin absorb the oil quickly, and it will sink in beautifully, with zero residue left over. It will help your skin rebalance itself and just feel soft, healthy and beautiful. When I’m massively lazy in a huge rush, that’s all I do to my skin. Wash (or spritz with WB), shake off slightly, 2 drops oil on face, let it do it’s thing.  If you have very dry, thirsty skin, you should definitely still follow this step, but layer, as per above. Your skin will need a bit more of an occlusive layer to achieve maximum happiness.

4. Tap and massage. Don’t worry about getting this precisely right, but part of the beauty of facial oils is that it gives you an excuse for a little massage. Tap the oils in a few dots across your forehead, along cheekbones, on the chin. Press, into your skin (and breathe in! You’ll get the aroma-therapeutic benefits of the oils!), then gently massage in an upward/outward motion.

There you have it! 4 tips to get the most of facial oils, so you can continue to have a long, beautiful relationship together (because it’s SO worth it!)

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How Green Beauty is like Parenting

There was a time in my life that I thought the most opinionated people were those in certain sociology and/or anthropology classes I took in university. It seemed not a. single. thing. could be discussed without much further discussion happening. Something always offended someone, something always seemed to be unjust, oppressive or the spawn of the evil normative parameters that society has set. As annoyed as I sometimes was at those students whose hand shot up 87 times per class, I was impressed by the depth and breath of their….opinions.

Certainly, they were the most opinionated people on the planet!

Not so. When I entered the green beauty world, as loving, kind, clean and pretty as it is, is also a fertile breeding ground for an over-abundance of great advice and yes, the opinions of others. It’s also a place where one can easily go about getting really into the lifestyle, only to alienate those with a different beauty philosophy. For one product to be “just fine” , or perhaps, even a coveted and beloved beauty staple for one person and be sheer poison to another person is a surefire way to stir up some bad feelings. We ladies take our beauty products very personally.

Some time later, I became a mother. I discovered that that’s when you really get to see opinions shine and glimmer like a diamond made of good intentions with some very sharp edges. Everybody had an opinion about when to feed baby Z (“He clearly wants solids!” when he was only 4 months old), when I should stop breastfeeding (“Certainly not until he’s 2!” or “What? You’re STILL breastfeeding him?!”), that infant potty training was a waste of time (until they see him in action!), that we needed a stroller back when we were still happy carrying him, that he needs more toys (when he loves tupperware and plastic cups more than his actual toys) or that we’re are insane for wanting to home school him.

So on and so forth.

What people don’t realize (or do, but tend to forget) is just how personal parenting is. Not only are my husband and I 2 unique individuals but, -miracle!- so is our son. What works for us wouldn’t work for another family, and vice versa.

Parenting, like self-care, is so individual. We’ve adopted certain practices from some philosophies, and abandoned others. In the end, some practices are inconvenient for us, and although I love it in principle, I simply do not have the time, money, resources or patience to be extreme.

I will be honest, it’s the same with natural products. Obviously, most of what I use is 100% natural. I prefer it that way, there’s no doubt about it. But my family has a limited income, and sometimes using conventional dishsoap or toothpaste just makes way more sense financially for us ($2 vs $8, for example). Sometimes, I momentarily give up on holy-grail natural products in certain categories, like shampoo, which I switch between clean and not-so-clean (I have both in my shower). I also think that it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to hang on to an absolute favorite product, even if it’s totally dirty. A favorite lipstick shade only worn on special occasions? Probably not going to kill you.

What I remind myself, and I believe we all need to remind ourselves, is all things in moderation. All. Things. Even the very good. Because it’s hard to be so good, all the time. Sometimes we need ease. Sometimes convenience, in that moment, is healthier than the “very best” you can do. I think that if the core of your beauty regime, or of your parenting, is something you are proud of, respect, and cherish, then being a little slack in some of the details is not a big deal.  It’s more important to act in a way that is full of love than in ways perpetuated by fear, guilt, or because of the opinions of others. Especially the latter. Fuck ‘em.

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Canada Day sale!

By the way? This  post is actually  a newsletter.
THIS IS THE FUN YOU MIGHT BE MISSING OUT ON IF YOU DON’T SIGN UP!

Happy Canada Day!

Neighbours! Buddies! Hot enough for ya? Happy Canada day, and go easy on the Beaver Tails and Raspberry IPA, eh?

Hey, even if you’re not in the Great White North (which is positively tropical at the moment, here in Montreal) you can still enjoy Canada, Canadian things, or just pretend to be Canadian!

No really, it’s easy. You don’t even have to wear plaid or know how to maneuver a canoe or portage the thing over a beaver damn, which actually really makes them mad, and man those things have HUGE teeth! By the way, did you know beavers let muskrats live in their sweet, cozy dams all winter long and just expect them to haul in a few twigs as rent? Considering they are the architects of the rodent world, that would be like Frank Gehry (who was born in Canada) letting you stay on his couch for making him a sandwich. Beavers are really considerate.

But I digress.

Here’s how to bring out the inner Canuck in a few simple steps (if you’re already Canadian, do carry on.)

I know you’ll read all the mind-blowingly
fun stuff below, but here’s the sale code anyway:

Canada2014

20% (!!) off any purchase over $100, from NOW until 11:59 PM EST on July 1st!

What you need to do is make some vegan whipped cream a la Canadienne. Take a can of full fat, pure coconut milk (this is important), turn it upside down and place it in your fridge overnight. Then, open the can (right side up), carefully scoop the ice-cream like wonderfully fatty layer on top into a bowl, and whip it! Fold in maple syrup to taste (I suggest an obscene and generous “glug”, as Jamie Oliver would say.) This is the most wonderful thing to come from a can in the history of things coming from cans. You may then proceed to place said whipped coconut cream on everything in sight, because, yeah, it’s good.

And yes, all it takes is some maple syrup flavoured whipped coconut milk, facts about beavers, the mention of a famous Canadian and knowing to comment on weather to be an honourary Canadian for a day or two.

If you get yourself some Stark, of course. And add lots of “u”s to words while writing (spellcheck loves it). (Psst, if you add some of our Cypress Purity + Defense oil to your hair, you’ll smell like a Canadian forest! Just make sure you can outrun squirrels if you’re also carrying around a bowl of the maple syrup coconut stuff.)

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Love your Acid Mantle.

Stark Skincare

Most of us with oily skin are all too aware of this top layer of oil on our skin. It is, after all, the evil layer that we battled throughout teenage-hood. Stop the grease! Stop the grease! Right? This is what most face-wash ads were telling us to get rid of with harsh soaps and strong facial-wipes. (On the other hand, those of us with dry skin pine for a little more of this slick layer.) I really hate it when misinformation is used to sell products, and in this case, how brainwashed mainstream face-washers have been for decades because companies decided to wage war against natural skin oils. Ugh.

Let me just say this right away. This top layer of the skin is made of lipids from the sebaceous glands (not grease…your skin is not a deep-fryer…OR IS IT?) and yes, sweat, and is NOT dirty. Let’s repeat that: NOT DIRTY. It is, in fact, a beautifully designed self-defense mechanism, vital to your skin’s health. Much like the healthy living things in your gut (which doesn’t sound so sexy, I know), the top layer of your skin is a delicately balanced ecosystem of living cells and ceramides and lipids that, if you could find them in a bottle, you’d pay major money for. Why in the world would you wash it all away!? The truth is that too many people willingly destroy this healthy, protective layer of their skin, then add more and more products to their repertoire to recover some of the skin’s lost function.

This layer is called the Acid Mantle, and it is your skin’s first line of defense against bacteria and infection, against water-loss and against the elements (harsh weather, pollution, etc.). The ideal pH for the Acid Mantle is as you probably guessed, slightly acidic at 4-6.5.

One of the WORST things you can do for your skin is upsetting the pH balance of your Acid Mantle by using products that are too alkaline for the healthy function of skin (hint: most soaps). Although these products initially feel great, with a luxurious lather and make skin feel amazing for an hour or so, it is actually changing the pH balance of the skin, making it too alkaline. This weakens the skin’s immune system,  can cause or exacerbate a slew of inflammatory skin diseases and conditions (like acne), and also leads to dry skin. It even leads to the dreaded dry skin AND acne combo that is so confounding. Drying out skin that is oily or acne-prone only makes the sebaceous glands freak out and produce more oil, throwing off the whole fine balance your skin is trying so hard to achieve. Many facial cleansers, and certainly 99.9999998% of what you find at the drugstore, work in this counter-productive way. Giving your skin that squeaky-clean feel and oh-so-smoothness one minute, then that overly-oily feel a few hours later, then what do you know? An acne eruption to boot! This often leads people in a vicious cycle of drying skin out with more cleansers, treating pimples with super harsh topicals, eventually reaching for the cortisone and antibiotics. Rinse, repeat.

So, how can natural skincare handle this so-called Acid Mantle I speak so highly of? Well, for one thing, developing products that are pH balanced for skin. Our White Willow Bark is slightly acidic, normally at around 5 to 5.5 (as with any natural products, batches vary slightly due to the raw ingredients used). This helps keep skin at a healthy acidity. (Which I know feels a little counter-intuitive when we’re told how important alkalinity is for the body…but not the skin, ok? It’s just no bueno.)

This is one reason why I’ll never create a “regular”, soapy, foamy, squeaky-clean-making detergent-based cleanser and why you shouldn’t use one on your lovely visage. Detergents wash away the Acid Mantle, disrupting the skin’s barrier function and permeability, ruining the delicate ecosystem needed for skin to thrive (I’m guessing you caught that point by now, but really just trying to drive it home). Oil cleansing is an ideal way to maintain the health of the skin’s Acid Mantle, as vegetable oils are so similar in structure to the human skin’s lipid layer (like, freakily so). On that note…did you know Prevention Magazine just named our GF as THE balm cleanser everybody should be using? Pretty cool! Balm cleansing, whatever kind you use, essentially uses the “like attracts like” law of quantum physics, just kidding, of basic chemistry, to gently lift excess oils and grime from the acid mantle and replenish them with skin-loving, bio-dynamic plant oils (that are as compatible as a match made in internet dating!).

Have you ever experienced a bad reaction to a harsh facial cleanser? What did you do?

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This is about how I pretty much  lost my shit.

In just a few days, my little company turns two years old. So strange. I can’t remember what life was like BS (before Stark). Or before I had a baby. Or before I met my husband, for that matter. Even though all those things? Individually, doesn’t even add up to 8 years total! I really can’t get over the idea of time. You think you kind of get how long an hour, a day, a week, a year feels, and then things like hitting 30, being a mom and/or launching a business happens. Then you realize that you had no idea what time was before. Or if you did “get it” at some point? It’s different now. Just as I’m sure it will be and feel different in a few years time. [keep reading...]

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I think I may need some kind of intervention. I had created a nice little washing routine in Kuwait with my beloved honey and rosewater, and then when it was time to leave for Italy, what did I do? Intentionally NOT pack these items. I like to travel light, which is difficult with a baby, so of course, being a mother, this often means sacrificing my own creature comforts to make sure the baby Z has all the socks and array of cute hats his little heart could ever desire.

[keep reading...]

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