Skin care starts in the kitchen

06/17/2010 12:00 AM |

Connie McCaffery, owner of Nature Maiden, gets ingredients ready to create synthetic-free soap in her Cutchogue kitchen Saturday.

When it comes to skin care, for people and pets, Connie McCaffery is doing her best to get back to basics. The Cutchogue resident has been making and selling her own line of skin care products, including some items for dogs, and candles at her home since 2007 under the name Nature Maiden.

Except for a few synthetic oils, Ms. McCaffery, 40, uses only natural ingredients — including beeswax, shea and cocoa butters, tallow and essential oils — in her extensive line of soaps, lip balms, deodorants and solid perfumes.

Soap scents, which are created with flavored and essential oils, range from rosemary and sandalwood to unusual scents like freshly turned earth — popular among gardeners, Ms. McCaffery said.

“Being a gardener myself, I love the smell of freshly turned earth,” she said. “When I did various fairs and introduced the earth bar, other people loved the smell, too.”

Sweet-flavored lip balms with goofy names like “Dog Drool” and “Duck Doo” are a hit with the kids.

“Most people buy them to give to their kids, but I have had adults buy them for themselves,” Ms. McCaffery said. “They get a kick out of it.”

Nature Maiden also offers over 30 varieties of soy candles, which burn slower and cooler than traditional wax candles, as well as soaps in the shapes of animals for kids and a line of all-natural dog shampoos and insect repellents.

Prices for individual products range from $3 to $14.99, and a portion of the proceeds from the dog products is donated to the North Fork Animal Welfare League.

After about four years working full-time for Sea Tow in Southold and weekends spent developing the business, Ms. McCaffery decided to make the transition into full-time entrepreneur about a year ago.

Her “earthy” products reflect her own nature, she said.

“I drive a pickup truck,” Ms. McCaffery said Saturday afternoon from her kitchen, a space that doubles as laboratory and production facility for Nature Maiden. “I’m one of the most down-to-earth people you’ll meet. I have a great connection to nature in that regard, and I love old-fashioned things.”

Using only her own products, the mother of two does have nice skin. She says she and her family haven’t used store-bought skin care products, which are often made with synthetic chemicals, in years.

“The simplest ingredients are the most effective,” she said. “The Japanese have healthy skin just by using a little camellia oil.”

In addition to making the products, Ms. McCaffery runs every other aspect of her business by herself — designing and updating, blogging and taking photos, and handling the retail end. Her background is in horticulture, and she said the idea for Nature Maiden happened “by accident.”

“I really always loved the original ChapStick in the plain old black tube, so I researched on the Internet how to make it,” she said. “Then I started looking up how to make soaps and bath salts and solid perfumes and just thought — why don’t I start my own business?”

Nature Maiden is part of a growing trend. According to the website of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, an Ohio-based networking group, the number of handcrafted soapmakers has “increased exponentially over the last 10 years, and the support services for them, including vendors of all types, have become an industry unto its own.”

Ashley Beckman, owner of Golden Path Alchemy, a Los Angeles-based online retail company that sells herbal skin care products based on traditional Chinese medicine, agreed that as the world becomes “greener,” people are focusing on all-natural products for their skin.

“It’s very important what you put on your skin — it’s your largest organ and it absorbs over 60 percent of everything you put on it,” she said. “When you apply skin care products, the ingredients bypass the hepatic system, the filtering process of the liver, and go straight to the bloodstream.”

Selena Cozart, member of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild and owner of Salome’s Simply Delightful Creations in Virginia, said she, too, has seen a growing number of people who are “responding to products that provide a enlightened level of care.”

“The feedback from my customers is that the more they know about the benefits of all-natural, the more they want to try a variety of products that could benefit them without the use of pharmaceuticals, detergents or unnecessary preservatives,” Ms. Cozart said.

Though Ms. McCaffery describes sales at Nature Maiden — the bulk of which are done online — as “inconsistent,” she said she’s confident her focus on simplicity in skin care will help her business bloom.

“This really is a labor of love,” she said. “We do need to go back to nature.”

[email protected]