When St. Louisan Julie Longyear founded Blissoma, her holistic skincare and apothecary company, 10 years ago, she was met with some resistance for her all-natural approach. “People asked, Why would I want to do that?” she recalls. But these days, natural skincare is more than just a fringe movement, and the job of educating the public on its benefits has gotten a lot easier. We recently caught up with Longyear to discuss the evolution in the industry.
How did you get involved in the beauty industry?
I started off making aromatherapy candles, and when I was doing that, I liked working with natural scents over anything synthetic. It just made more sense to use plant-based oils rather than, say, ‘blueberry muffin scent.’ So I went through the process of getting to know those oils, and once we took the business a little larger, I began investigating the ingredients for skin-care products. My skin went through issues of its own in my late 20s—I started breaking out, when I hadn’t had any problems in my early 20s. I started trying different things from the store and was not happy with the results.
Around the same time, we were making our stress relief serum, which has peppermint, chamomile and lavender, and one of the base oils is hempseed oil. At the time, I needed a larger supplier and I found a company in Canada that does their own pressing. When the bottle arrived, the oil was emerald green with a nutty aroma and smelled amazing. I compared it to the stuff I had been getting from a cosmetic supplier, which was clear and had a different feel to it all together. I realized a lot of the ingredients used in the cosmetics industry are so refined that there’s no nutrition left in them, and yet they’re claiming the benefits of the botanicals. It’s like the difference between white bread and unprocessed quinoa. I felt passionate about trying my own recipes to experience the difference for myself. I managed to create a moisturizer that solved the skin issues I was having, and it became the Awake moisturizer that is now part of the line.
Do you think all-natural skincare products are just as effective as ones with synthetically produced ingredients?
Many modern medicines have been developed because of compounds found in plants, but you have to use them properly and at the right concentration. If it’s watered down or you use heat in the manufacturing process and the valuable compound is destroyed by exposure to heat, it won’t work. You have to be specific about the handling of materials. If they’re used correctly, plants are often more effective, especially for chronic issues because there’s an imbalance in the body. They’re an amazing way to help the body heal itself. The body wants to be heal and work well, but it needs the right compounds inside of it to be able to do that.
Explain your philosophy of being an ‘inner beauty’ company.
A lot of beauty companies sell by fear and insecurity. I’ve heard of aggressive sales tactics, like a company will have a demo and bring in a machine to magnify pores to humongous sizes. Then they’ll point out the gunk on your skin and say, Here, you can see the hidden sun damage below the surface of your skin. They’re freaking people out and prompting them to purchase the product by making them feel they’re doing themselves a disservice if they don’t. We try to make people feel good about themselves, not insecure. You can look in the mirror and say, I love washing my face, and spend that time to give yourself a facial massage—not because you might get wrinkles if you don’t—but because it’s healthy for your skin.
Tell us about your new deodorants.
We have three new deodorants that we’ll be releasing soon: a spray, a stick formulation and a cream. Deodorant is definitely something people are becoming more aware of. Many mass-market deodorants and antiperspirants include petroleum-based compounds and synthetic fragrances that are not necessarily beneficial.
What are some of your favorite natural ingredients to work with?
I always love opportunities to work with rose or jasmine oil because they smell delightful. When we finish a bottle, I have the staff save it for me and smell it when I’m stressed out. For skincare, an under-appreciated herb is plantain—I don’t mean the banana-like plants; it’s Plantago major, a leafy weed that’s all over the place like dandelions in this area. People have no idea how medicinal it is: You can make herbal tea and it will also take the sting out of a rash, bug bites or burns. For sensitive skin, it’s one of my favorite herbs to use in formulations because it helps avoid irritation.
Tell us about the nonprofits your company supports.
Being a botanically based company, we go through a lot of plant-based ingredients, so we support organic farming efforts. Earth Dance is one we’ve supported on a regular basis: They do organic farming apprenticeships and training. We love supporting them.
We’ve donated to local food pantries. I was a recipient for about a year during my divorce, so that means a lot to me being able to give back. I also run a community garden, where we distribute food to our neighbors for free. We also work with campaigns to end animal testing on cosmetics.