Apoterra Skincare is a small, holistic apothecary that is dedicated to providing cruelty-free skin care that is sustainable and handcrafted in a transparent way. Founder Dominique Caron is a certified herbalist and aromatherapist, and she was inspired to start Apoterra Skincare after hopelessly struggling to find natural, affordable skin care that was effective for her sensitive and acne-prone skin. Ms. Caron brings a unique perspective to this underserved skin type, and she shares some of her impressive expertise in a series of informative articles on Naturally Healing Acne on the Apoterra Blog (very much worth reading!). Apoterra Skincare is Leaping Bunny certified cruelty-free, 90% of ingredients are certified organic or sustainably wildcrafted, and all Apoterra Skincare ingredients are rated extremely safe (1 or less) on the EWG Database. Moreover, each Apoterra Skincare product has a hand-stamped batch # that can be used to find the product’s date of production and ingredients’ certification and countries of origin. Apoterra Skincare is a special line, and I was delighted when Ms. Caron agreed to an interview.
What is the story behind how you became a formulator?
Curiosity! I first became interested in botanical medicine, meaning making my own tinctures, syrups, and teas for digestive health, colds, and other minor ailments. I read as much as I could get my hands on about the subject and ultimately started taking courses about herbalism, aromatherapy, botany, and human biology. I became a certified aromatherapist after really falling in love with working with essential oils. There is a chemistry aspect to blending with essential oils which I love because it gives you the ability to blend based on scientific data. But there is also an intuitive part when it comes to creating scents and effective emotion which I also love. Once I started incorporating my knowledge of aromatherapy, herbalism, and skin care into formulating my own skincare products, that is when I really found my calling!
How would you describe your beauty and skin care philosophies?
I like to think of beauty and skin care as part of our health and self-care practices. To me, beauty is about more than just what you put on your skin, but also about the health of your mind and body. I formulate with this idea in mind – I look at skin care in a holistic way and formulate using ingredients that work with the body to bring it back to a healthy balance. This means considering the reason behind why your skin might be breaking out or dealing with inflammation, and addressing these issues by helping your skin heal itself, versus just dealing with the symptoms.
What are your biggest goals as a formulator/maker?
I love creating products that not only solve someone’s skin care issues (such as acne), but that also help one feel good about themselves by elevating their personal care ritual. A product that works, but also smells and feels amazing is what I always strive for. Sometimes it can be difficult when working with natural ingredients, as some ingredients that are great for the skin don’t always look or smell amazing! Finding a way to achieve both is part of the challenge.
What is your process for creating a new Apoterra Skincare product?
I start with an idea. Whether it be a specific type of product, an ingredient I want to use, a problem that needs to be solved, or a scent that I love. . . I start from there for inspiration. Once I have a starting point, I actually spend a good amount of time doing research before ever going into the lab. I look up research papers on ingredients, the chemical composition of new oils I want to work with, try to find evidence about the effectiveness of certain ingredients, etc. Based on my concept and research, I create a recipe for the product I want to make and then head to the lab to create it. I then test it and adjust the recipe over several versions to make the effectiveness, texture, color, scent, and experience are just what I want it to be.
If you had to pick a favorite product or two from your line of which you are most proud, what would it (they) be, and why?
I really love our Neroli Clarifying Toner. The aroma is really calming to me, and it works so well for me as far as preventing breakouts and keeping my complexion clear. It hydrates but also delivers acne-fighting and free radical-fighting ingredients such as green tea, vitamin C, and vitamin B3. I also really love our Night Regenerative Balm. This is my go-to whenever my skin needs a little extra repair due to sun exposure, dehydration or cold exposure. Of all our products, the balm is the one I get the most people reaching out to me telling me it was a “game changer” for them! I combined a really amazing butter, cupuacu (can hold up to 400% of its weight in water!), with nutrient-dense oils and collagen boosting actives like vitamin C and coQ10 – so this balm is a performer!
How would you describe the experience you want people to have with your products?
I want people really to look forward to using my products. I hope that when they use them, it helps them find a moment of peace in the day that lets them they feel pampered and beautiful. I also want my products to keep my customer’s skin healthy so that they can experience a natural glow that makes them feel good about themselves!
What do you see as the greatest success of your line so far and what are your hopes for the future?
My greatest success for me is all the positive feedback I get from customers. Every week we get customers writing new reviews on our website, and so many of them are success stories of people being really happy with their results. These stories are the reason I do what I do!
I’ve read that you have extremely sensitive skin that is dry and breaks out easily. This describes my skin type as well, and this cluster of challenges is not often addressed simultaneously. What are the most important things you’ve learned about caring for your skin type?
For the longest time, I had dry, flaky skin and breakouts on my chin ALL THE TIME. It was so frustrating! Every product I tried seemed to make me break out or become red. What I have discovered is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about acne and dry skin, and I realized over time that the reason my skin was the way it was, was in fact because of the products I was using. You often see acne being associated with oily skin. The truth is that acne can be caused by both oily or dry skin.
Without going too in-depth here – Acne is caused by clogged pores and bad bacteria. If you have dry skin, your sebaceous glands can try to compensate by overproducing sebum which can clog pores and create an environment that P. Acnes, the acne causing bacteria, will thrive in. When you have dry skin, you also deal with excessive dead skin cells, which can also clog pores. For this reason, the traditional advice of vigorous cleansing and using “drying” products on the skin to clear acne don’t work and actually make things worse. Drying the skin and over cleansing doesn’t keep pores clear, but it does dry the skin and cause barrier damage. What your skin needs is nourishment, hydration, and gentle exfoliation. You don’t get acne because you aren’t cleansing enough. You are getting acne because either you glands are producing too much oil, your pores are clogged because you’re not exfoliating enough, you have skin barrier damage, and/or your skin’s microbiome has been compromised, and the healthy bacteria on your skin is not there to fight off the acne-causing bacteria. I have a 5-part series on acne on our blog that goes into this more in depth, but the takeaway is:
- don’t over cleanse. Skip a foaming cleanser in the morning and use a gentle toner or hydrosol blend instead (or an oil cleanser)
- make sure you are properly hydrating the skin with a water-based product
- make sure you are moisturizing with the right oils
- Exfoliate a few times a week. Exfoliation should be gentle and non-abrasive
- Don’t use strong antibacterial topical treatments that can disrupt your microbiome
- Don’t use any products that make your skin feel tight and dry.
Can you explain your understanding the importance of finding a balance with exfoliation and not overdoing it, particularly for individuals with sensitive skin and acne? In general, what would you advise in terms of the best approach(es) and frequency for exfoliation?
Exfoliation is important to keep pores clear, but over-exfoliation can cause damage to your skin barrier. To be effective, exfoliation can be very gentle and doesn’t have to be abrasive at all! It shouldn’t leave your skin looking too red or feeling raw. I would say stay away from abrasive physical exfoliants and stick to gentle chemical exfoliants. This can be something like what I use in our Hibiscus Exfoliating Mud with is a blend of fruit, sugar, and yogurt which exfoliates with natural sources of fruit acids and lactic acid.
How can an impaired skin barrier worsen inflammation, and what tips do you have for maintaining optimal barrier function without worsening acne?
An impaired skin barrier means that your skin cannot defend itself properly, but is also means it will have difficulty retaining water. This means that your skin will be dehydrated, but also be more prone to infections such as acne. Without proper hydration, it makes it more difficult for your skin to protect and repair itself. Ideally, topically applying plant oils and butters that are effective emollients and provide a breathable occlusive layer, combined with plant extracts and essential oils that have strong anti-inflammatory properties will be effective in helping your skin repair itself. Sometimes people worry about using plant butters and oils because they have acne, but they shouldn’t! The key is to use the right kind of oil for acne prone skin that are also effective emollients and help repair the skin.
A note about essential oils – I have been getting a lot of questions about the safety and effectiveness of essential oils. The importance when using essential oils is that you need to use the proper % – too much can aggravate the skin. I like to compare EOs to salt. A little bit on your food is good for you and makes your food taste good, but add too much, and the salt might have a negative effect on your health. Try to eat a few tablespoons at once, and you might die! Saying a blanket statement that all essential oils are bad for the skin is like saying that salt is dangerous because it can kill you. It is not a black and white issue; there is a lot of nuance to the way you use essential oils. When used properly, essential oils can be very beneficial to your skin and health.
Can you tell us about any upcoming launches?
I have some new product launches that I hope to release this fall! I have been working on new PH balanced and microbiome friendly cleansers and also some new mood enhancing scents for some body care products. 🙂
How do barrier function and the acid mantle play into dry skin with breakouts, and how do your products address this?
If your barrier is impaired, or acid mantle is disturbed by products that are too acidic or too alkaline, your skin will have to work to repair and rebalance itself. Remember – acne is a bacterial infection. If your skin barrier or acid mantle is impaired, it will be more difficult for your skin to fight off the bad bacteria. By using products that provide your skin with hydration and moisturization in a way that does not disrupt your acid mantle and promotes a healthy skin barrier, you are helping your skin return to and maintain a healthy balance. A healthy balance means clear, hydrated skin. All our facial oils, toners and masks help your skin do exactly that, without disrupting the acid mantle.
How can those of us prone to breakouts use oils intelligently?
The thing about oils is they are not all created equal. Oils high in oleic acid, like olive oil, can aggravate acne. Oils rich in linoleic acid, however, are really great for acne-prone skin. You can incorporate oils into your routine as much as any other skin type, but the key is the use the right oils. My blue (clarify) line is designed for breakout prone skin with oils that are rich in linoleic acid and nourish the skin in a way that is ideal for acne-prone skin.
The Apoterra blog is amazing, and I highly recommend everyone take a look at it. I love that the information and advice you share is truly evidence-based (for examples, see the amazing links in the first article of an amazing series on treating acne naturally). How do you find your citations, and what do you do to stay abreast of the literature?
Thank you! I really appreciate that. 🙂 Honestly, I do a lot of online research. I find articles that address what I want to learn more about and look through their citations. From there I just keep digging deeper and deeper until I find the evidence-based data I am looking for. I never take information from a blog or magazine as fact – but instead always search for peer-reviewed articles relating to what I am researching. There is so much misinformation out there; you really can’t believe a lot of what you read. For instance, if you google “rosehip vitamin C,” you will find page after page of articles claiming rosehip oil is rich in vitamin C, which just isn’t true! I wrote a post on my blog about the vitamin C myth regarding rosehip oil. This is why I go and find peer-reviewed papers, when they are available, as a reliable source of information. But even those you have to be careful and look at the way the study was conducted before accepting their conclusion as accurate. When working with natural ingredients, sometimes part of the challenge when formulating is that there just aren’t many studies related to skin care about them. So what I will do in that instance is look up the chemical composition of said ingredient, and look into research involving those components instead.
Do you have any favorite resources (whether books, online databases, etc.) for enriching understanding of ingredients and/or skin-related topics that you would recommend to an interested audience?
If you are interested in working with essential oils, I highly recommend www.aromahead.com as a source of information. For an annual fee, you can get access to their component database, which gives you access to research papers organized by each chemical component found in essential oils. They also offer excellent aromatherapy courses.
This is a great database to find research papers: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
As far as books, here is a list of my favorite books for someone that is looking to start delving into aromatherapy or herbalism.
Medical Herbalism (Hoffman)
The Chemistry of Aromatherapeutic Oil (E. Joy Bowles)
What do you see as the most important things that set Apoterra Skincare apart from other lines on the marketplace?
I am a firm believer that science helps shine a light on what is true, but I am also a firm believer in the knowledge that traditional methods such as herbalism have to offer. I combine both of these beliefs to offer a unique skincare line that marries the best of both worlds by combining herbal infusions, plant oils, raw botanicals and essential oil, with cutting-edge, naturally-derived technology like liposome encapsulated vitamin C and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid. We offer natural, safe and effective products that approach skin care holistically to bring and maintain balance to the skin.
Our products also offer you an opportunity to connect with yourself and nature by elevating your personal care ritual through natural scents and textures. I really believe these little moments in our day are essential for our well-being, and through the experience of using them, our products are meant to help you tune into yourself and take care of both your skin and mind.
We also offer guidance and education through our blog, skin care guide, and one-on-one guidance through email (firstname.lastname@example.org). We believe that knowledge is power, and we want to offer you helpful and eye-opening information so you so that you can be empowered to take the best possible care of your skin.
I also believe in being kind to our planet and in being honest, which is why we strive to be environmentally friendly and transparent in our practices. We are Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free certified and a Green America Certified Business. We also hand stamp each of our products with a batch # which can be looked up on our website to find out more about the date of production and ingredient sourcing.