For many of us, the skin-care world is terribly hard to navigate. When was the last time you asked yourself: What products are the best for my skin-type? Or perhaps: Should I switch up my skin care routine during different seasons? And that perennial freak-out: Why isn’t this working?!?
Let’s just say we are constantly being bombarded with 101 reasons for why we should buy this product, that product, and then toss that product to buy the latest “break-through” product to hit the shelves. (Honestly, how about “break-out”?) At the end of the day, sometimes less is more, and slowing down— calming down in my case—is the best dermatological remedy. Lucky for both you and me, this philosophy aligns exactly with that of Sassafras Botanical Care, a Hamilton-based company created by the wonderful Amina Suhrwardy. Each Sassafras product is blooming with wild-crafted, organic, and carefully sourced ingredients. When we discovered her skin-care line, we knew she had tapped into something great. Her values are blemish-free, and one we can really get behind.
Have you always had an interest in botanical care and natural remedies?
As a kid, I’ve always had somewhat indulgent self-care rituals. It was, and still is, a way for me to slow down and reconnect with my body. That, coupled with my curious nature and my parents’ emphasis on healthy habits, this doesn’t seem so far fetched! For example, almost every night, my mother and I would do a gentle cleanse with chickpea flour and turmeric mixed with a bit of milk and rosewater. It’s what I used for much of my childhood, well into my early twenties. Over the years, I’ve developed a strong interest in natural healing and started exploring different herbal traditions. I have an odd relationship with the word ‘beauty’ and I feel like I’m still figuring out what it really means. I try and approach my products with the hope that they will encourage people to take care of themselves.
When did the idea to start your own company really blossom?
I had never really considered starting my own company, and in many ways, I kind of fell into it. Because I had bit of a reputation for making my own products from scratch, I was invited to put on a workshop at McMaster. It did well, and led to some wonderful exposure. But it had me rushing around trying to come up with a name, a website, finalize products; all the things that take a long time work out! I really wasn’t ready at the time and felt I had so much more to learn. I gave it a rest and decided to focus more on my education and training. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to the study of plants in different ways: various herbal traditions, aromatherapy, ethnobotany, nutrition. I received professional training in aromatherapy last year, and this coming September, I will be studying skincare at a local school. Next year, I have planned on undergoing more formal training in herbalism.
On the business side of things, I got involved more seriously this year and decided to focus on it full-time. I’ve had the opportunity to go through business programmes at the Small Business Centre at City Hall, and one more specifically for women through the YWCA. I encourage anyone who is considering starting a business in Hamilton to look into both these resources. It’s a very supportive and helpful environment.
Where do you source your ingredients?
Ingredients are definitely the heart of each and every product and I am very thoughtful in how I source. First and foremost, I always look for a supplier who is able to offer carefully grown plant material that are either organic or wild-crafted. There is a lot more awareness now about the effect of pesticides on our bodies; however, what is of equal importance to me is how these farming practices affect our land, water and air. I always place an emphasis on local growers, but it is difficult to find everything I need within Canada. That being said, almost every product features Canadian ingredients, and I am slowly transitioning all the ‘stragglers’. Some of my favourite local materials are raw honey and beeswax, which I source from the Hamilton area.
I don’t think I could ever limit myself to only Canadian ingredients, especially when it comes to beautiful and therapeutic aromatic materials like essential oils. We live on a large and diverse planet that has so much to offer and if I had to be without my rose, frankincense, cypress and geranium, I would not be happy! The movement of people and goods has existed on this planet for a very very long time; however, it is of utmost importance that one engages in these dynamics in an ethical and respectful way.
What's your thought process when creating new remedies? Where do you look for inspiration?
I am endlessly inspired by the changing seasons and the bounty that each of them has to offer. The needs of our skin evolves as does the cycle of the natural world, and I am always looking to create products that sit harmoniously between these intersections.
There is far too much "green washing" happening in the beauty industry. What should we be looking for to ensure we are using products that are safe?
The best advice I can offer is to try and look at the product and company as a whole, from the ingredients, to the packaging, to the values of the company. If a company was fully invested in offering a truly natural, high quality product, apart from avoiding unnecessary, strange sounding ingredients, a company would also package carefully, making sure to avoid plastic, place an emphasis on organic or wild-crafted ingredients, display real transparency about ingredients and also make an effort to educate their customers. A consumer shouldn't have to dig so deep to find out whether or not a product is harmful. Companies also need to take responsibility and make that work easier, especially considering the amount of misleading marketing there is out there.
Can you offer a few pieces of simple advice we should follow when it comes to our beauty regime?
To care for the whole self. I have always struggled with my skin, but learning to slow down, calm down and focus on both my inner and outer worlds has made a huge difference. It’s an ongoing process and whenever I fall out of balance, it really shows up on my skin. More particularly when it comes to my regimen, I start my day with lots of water and gentle stretching. In the mornings, I only use a hot wash cloth to cleanse my face and follow with my toner and face oil. At night, I do bit more and either oil cleanse or use my Clay & Flowers honey based scrub. About once a week I use a dedicated clay mask. I try and eat fresh, seasonal foods, while still allowing the occasional indulgence. I stay active by getting outside and walking or biking everywhere. I also try and make time to do things that I love - it’s a simple and indulgent luxury that really helps me stay balanced and calm.
What's your favourite DIY we can try at home?
I love using infused oils. They are simple to make, therapeutic and wonderful for face, body and hair care. They can be used on their own, or made into lip balms, body butters or herbal balms. They are also a great introduction to making herbs a greater part of one’s life as they are essentially an oil based herbal extract brimming with healing qualities.
The method is quite simple. Take a mason jar and fill it to the rim with the dried herb of your choice. Pour in your oil (olive, jojoba, sunflower or untoasted sesame oil are good choices). Press the herbs down to remove any trapped air. Cap tightly and place in the sun for 2-4 weeks, making sure to shake regularly. Strain through a sieve, cheesecloth, or coffee filter. Bottle and enjoy! Some herbs that can be used are calendula, chamomile, plantain, dandelion flowers or roots, lavender or even green tea leaves.