Amidst the chaotic realm of personal care products on the supermarket shelves it is a challenge to find those that are both good for you and good for the planet. Emma de Leeuw, founder of Whipped Earth offers a worthy solution, creating a simple range of products that are sustainable, safe, and free of nasties – and with an underlying ethos that nurturing your inner self is more important than outward beauty.
A renewed focus on health when Emma and her husband Jaan were trying to conceive their first child led to them evaluating the ingredients in their cleaning and skin care products, trying to remove any potential barriers that might be blocking their chances of conception. Of particular concern in Emma’s case were the endocrine disrupting chemicals — suspected to alter the way hormones work inside the body. These chemicals include phthalates, parabens and phenols and have been linked to reproductive issues, early onset puberty, obesity and diabetes. Scientific research in this field is ongoing and can appear conflicting when investigating online. Nevertheless, erring on the side of caution is a wise option, as the Danish government has done by banning the use of some parabens in products for children up to three-years old as a precautionary measure.
Choosing natural body products is sometimes met with a sceptical side eye, as if you had perhaps suggested bloodletting as a genuine cure for disease. The irony being that the amount of scientific knowledge and practice to combine all the elements necessary to make a workable product with a decent shelf life is considerable, as Emma discovered.
“I employed a whole host of resources when I started making my own products,” says Emma. “Courses to get a better understanding of the chemistry behind it – while wishing I paid more attention in high school to these things – to lots of trial and error and consulting with formulators when things didn’t go right.”
After four years of making products for herself, the transition to creating a business was initiated by the early arrival of December baby Ruby.
“Ruby was four weeks early, so that time I had planned for Christmas shopping didn’t happen!” explains Emma. “My brother and sister-in-law were visiting and I had nothing to give them – my mum suggested I gift them one of my body creams, which they loved and encouraged me to sell.”
Embracing creating a start-up business, Emma found herself on another learning journey tackling pricing, marketing and business administration to develop a saleable range that includes shampoo and conditioner bars, exfoliating and moisturising bars, deodorant bars, lip balms, bath bombs and more.
Absent but certainly not missed from Whipped Earth’s products are petroleum and mineral oils, replaced with plant-based oils; and sodium laureth sulphate
— used for its foaming ability but fast gaining notoriety as an irritant and potential carcinogen. Emma achieves her bubbles by using a combination of five safer surfactants. Synthetic fragrances, one of the most triggering ingredients, causing skin irritation to headaches, is replaced with essential oils.
“I use essential oils for fragrance for two reasons — they smell great and they have therapeutic benefits,” explains Emma.
“I also don’t use a group of chemical compounds known as thanolamines, which have been linked to liver tumours. They are used to help water based and oil-based products blend together. Instead, I used plant-based alternatives, such as cetyl alcohol.”
And while preservative-free is an attractive phrase, it’s not necessarily best practice. Rather, Emma gives careful consideration to the type of preservative used, preferring Vitamin E or an eco-certified preservative.
“You do need a preservative, regardless of what people may say. You really don’t want your products going mouldy — these sit in your shower, in humid, damp areas and they last a long time — you need a preservative.”
Emma is a regular at markets in the region, enjoying the opportunity to showcase her products to the public.
“Trying to convince people to buy it can be challenging. People are creatures of habit and it seems bizarre to run a solid bar through your hair rather than squeeze from a bottle,” she said.
“I think they know that it works, but they are not sure how to use it or are aware how long they last, which can make the products seem expensive.”
The same not-so-good-for-you ingredients also tend to be not so great for the environment, particularly marine life. It is a pleasant consequence that by being more selective with the products you put on your body, you benefit the planet as a whole. Emma has also adapted her range so the packaging is minimal and sustainable.
“One of the reasons I switched to making the products as solid bars was because I couldn’t find any packaging that was durable and ecofriendly. I was also trying to manage a refill program and it was doing my head in – I just thought I will eliminate the packaging all together!”
In a world where we are bombarded with messages to be prettier, cleaner, brighter versions of ourselves —particularly as a new year ticks over — finding companies and products that do as they claim without a negative pay off is hard. Whether it’s the environment, your wallet or your self-image that takes a hit, navigating this landscape can be tricky. Whipped Earth’s wholistic approach is reflective of Emma’s own personal values.
“I brush my hair and that’s about the limit of my beauty routine. You don’t need all these things that we are told to use to be beautiful, you just need to take care of what’s inside.
“I care more about my customers than my bottom line – I’d rather sell my stuff for less, knowing that it’s a better product for that person, if that means they won’t go buy the cheap and nasty alternative.
“Our planet is a fragile ecosystem. Even if you can just take one step in the right direction, eliminating something is better than doing nothing. One less plastic bottle being used is one less that needs to be manufactured.”
Written by Kyra Burns and first published in the Northern Valleys News Jan 2021