Clean state

Sarah Smellie
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Last Christmas, Esther Squires’ made some all-natural cosmetics as gifts. This year, she’s given herself a small business

Esther Squires of Esskin cosmetics, pours Rose Geranium Lavender body lotion into bottles. She makes the products herself in the basement of the Lotus Centre. — Photo by Sarah Smellie/Special to the Telegram

In the basement beneath the Lotus Centre on Prescott Street, Esther Squires stirs a thick, fragrant liquid in a large Pyrex measuring cup. She’s been at it for about 20 minutes.

The liquid will eventually thicken into Rose Geranium and Lavender body lotion, which she made from a mixture of oils, shea butter, and natural preservatives like vitamin E oil and grapefruit seed extract. She’ll get seven bottles of lotion from this batch which took two hours to make.

That may seem like a lot of effort to produce just seven bottles of body lotion, but in the world of natural, chemical-free cosmetics, that’s what it takes.

After a lifelong interest in plants and their medicinal properties, Squires started her line of cosmetics, Esskin, a year ago, almost by accident.

“Last summer, I started doing an online course in aromatology with Jan Benham, who is based in the U.K.,” says Squires.

“She said she was coming to Toronto in November to offer a cosmetic-making course and that I should take it and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not that into cosmetics, I want to do therapeutic essential oils and learn how to cure skin problems or health and emotional issues.’”

Benham eventually convinced her and Squires flew to Toronto for the course. There, she learned how to make almost 20 different chemical-free cosmetic products using pure, natural ingredients.

“And I got the bug!” she says.

“I came home and instead of leaving it, I just went right into it. It was Christmas time, so I started making little kits of everything I had learned, including lipstick, for all of my friends. Then the phone started ringing after that with friends asking for more, especially the shampoo and the face moisturizers.”

Squires began making products ranging from shampoo and conditioner to lipstick, sun screen and facial moisturizer in the Lotus Centre, using a small stove.

Her products are entirely free of chemicals and made from organic ingredients that she or a supplier she trusts have researched and checked out. She sells them under the name Esskin, and they’re available at the Lotus Centre, Soothe Spa, Dynamis Health Centre and Johnny Ruth.

“Everyone is wanting products that are pure,” says Squires. “Every second person that I talk to has a chemical allergy or is allergic to scents. And though the essential oils have a strong smell, it dissipates quickly, and it’s therapeutic, so it’s beneficial for your system in some way.

“I only use the oil that’s good for what the product is intended for,” she continues. “For example, in the moisturizers are all balancing oils for mature skin. I wouldn’t put anything in the product unless it was geared toward that product’s intention.”

As for scent allergies, Squires says that many people are actually allergic to the chemicals in scents and synthetic versions of essential oils, but not the oils themselves. She goes to great lengths to ensure that all of her ingredients are naturally, and not synthetically, derived and says that many people with scent allergies find they can use her products without a reaction.

If they can’t, she can make all of them completely and naturally scent-free.

“Most of my plant-based ingredients and some of my essential oils come from my teacher,” she says.

“She’s sourced her ingredients for the last 25 years, trying to find the best quality ingredients, to the point that she goes to these places to find out what they clean their machines with in order to produce the ingredient. If they use any harsh chemicals at all, she will not buy from them; it has to be really, really pure.”

According to Dr. Tanya O’Brien, a naturopathic doctor at Health For Life, all that sourcing effort is necessary, especially for essential oils: labels don’t often reveal whether an oil is natural or synthetically derived.

“It’s hard to find 100 per cent pure essential oils,” says O’Brien. “Really, the only way to know is to contact the actual company. You actually have to call them and as if they’re using natural or synthetic ingredients.”

The effort, she says, is worth it.

“I would definitely say that you get more of a benefit from the natural than from the synthetics,” she says.

As Squires fills up the bottles of rose geranium body lotion, she says all the work is worth it for both herself and for her customers.

“I read David Suzuki’s Dirty Dozen list (of cosmetic chemicals to avoid), and I was thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, in time,’” she says.

“But as soon as I came back from my course, my teacher was so adamant about staying clear of all that stuff, and I started cleaning out my cupboards. And once I got into making cosmetics, and started actually putting it on my body, I could see a difference in me and the people that use it.”

But the benefits aren’t just skin deep, she says.

“I feel like I’m contributing,” she says. “I’m getting a total of seven bottles, and I’ve been working on this for two hours, but I like that. It just feels more intimate to make small little batches rather than these big cauldrons. There’s something nice about it, it feels more like me.”

Organizations: Lotus Centre, Dynamis Health Centre

Geographic location: Toronto, Prescott Street

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Recent comments

  • A neighbor
    January 06, 2013 - 09:48

    Yes James I do live in a wonderful neighbor hood, and Karan that is why we elect city members to represent us hen we need it,they don,t have to be there they could it home and enjoy their pensions like everyone else.By the sound of this you are all clients of this business and good for her and you.But you are missing the point,downtown business were Duckworth Street,Water Street but now these business had taken over all of downtown,houses had been turned into 3-4 apartments,yes there were little candy stores here and there.But parking had become a problem down here,and it's not that I just bought a car,so don,t sound so selfish Karan and James when we are just looking for a place to park.Do you know that me as resident is only allowed to have one visitor,s pass for my family or a friend to visit,but a bed and breakfast can have three passes,but when they put in a request for a permit to run a B&B that they did,nt need parking,because downtown guest don,t have cars they like to walk,what a scam they are using.So be fair to us.

  • Jaye
    January 04, 2013 - 20:14

    I received some Esskin products for Christmas and they've become fast favourites!! My hair feels (and smells!) wonderful and healthy after using the shampoo, I can't believe the difference after only a few washes. And I didn't realize how harmful some of the chemicals that we use daily really are - lipstick is a great example. It's wild to think how careful we are about the foods we put into our bodies, but most people don't think twice about what's in the products we put ON them. It's wonderful to see this kind of natural products being developed, and I love knowing that this kind of care and attention to detail went into developing them. I highly recommend Esskin products for anyone who hasn't tried them!

  • Karan
    January 04, 2013 - 16:30

    People complaining because they bought cars, while living downtown, and now have trouble parking because their neighbours also bought cars? Seriously, you can't make this stuff up! Lets shut down all the businesses downtown - to alleviate the parking problems! Of course, that would also mean a drop in property value... No wonder city councillors all appear to be nuts. You'd have to be crazy to listen to these complaints all day long. You're screwed if you do a good job. You're screwed if you do a bad job.

  • Neighbor
    January 03, 2013 - 15:41

    @Ruth I,m sure the product is wonderful,and @James Do you think 35 years ago when we bought our homes that we would be fighting today for a place to park,off course not we were to poor to even own a car.The only place we could afford tp buy was downtown,i don,t own a deep fryer,I,m not a junkie,I,m not an alcoholic.But I,m a older person who cannot get parking,because of all these B&B,s,Breweries,and other business,there are still older families on this street and surrounding areas that had been there for more then 40 years.So sir please don,t tell me to pay for my parking,I have been paying for more then 35 years.

    • James
      January 04, 2013 - 16:23

      @neighbour: So you are upset because you live in a healthy, thriving neighbourhood? Wow - sounds to me like you are in a great place.

  • James
    January 03, 2013 - 14:21

    @A Neighbour - how is using your stove to melt a bit of wax more dangerous than everyday cooking? I'd be more worried about the neighbour with the deep fryer, the alcoholic, the junkie, or even the smoker then I would the natropath who is developing a craft, creating a very small-scale product that is thought to improve the local economy, the environment, and to improve overall health. As for parking - the business is in the middle of downtown - the perfect location for mixed use buildings, especially for clients that are more environmentally and socially conscious. Free parking is a privilege not a right. If you want a designated parking space - then pay for it. It has been free for to long - thus our broader community's general lack of interest in improving social or environmental health.

  • Ruth Lawrence
    January 03, 2013 - 13:47

    Congratulations, Esther. I bought some of your ESSKIN products as Christmas gifts and treated myself to a lipstick that I've been using every day since. I Iove it and use it knowing I'm doing something good for my body and the neighbourhood!

  • A neighbor
    January 02, 2013 - 21:26

    How does the city give a permit to a person to run this kind of business,with a small stove in a basement,highly residential area,row housing all the homes are well over 100 years old,tinder boxes just well to say.And let's not forget the 3 alarm fire that took place in that same row of houses that almost took the whole block out some years back.Also where to the residents park with all the business that they are running.Don,t tell me they don,t need parking because I am one of the ones fighting for a spot to park.