It was a warm and windy day in Tucson when I first met Kaelen. With the first true heat wave of the summer building, I stood in front of an unmarked warehouse trying desperately to keep my dress from billowing over my head ala Marilyn Monroe. As I curse my ignorance, the door opens to a gorgeous, fresh-faced woman whose infectious energy washes over me immediately. She ushers me in as she excitedly tells me that she just found out she had been featured in French Vogue.
“I’m sorry, I’m a little flustered. French Vogue! Can you believe it?” she says as she brings me immediately to her desk to show me the proof. Instantly, we are best girlfriends talking about skincare, the future, and the unbelievable strength of essential oils. This is Kaelen Johnson, unassuming skincare maven
Kaelen has been in the skincare game for 20 years, beginning her career at Canyon Ranch working as an herbal therapist in the spa. Wanting to take her career to the next level, she enrolled in a local cosmetology school. In 2006, she opened Pure Aesthetics Natural Skincare School, whose mission is to “provide superior skincare education through a unique and integrated approach.” Realizing that the skincare products available to her students weren’t in line with the mission of her school, Kaelen decided to formulate her own skincare line to be used exclusively at the school. The demand grew for a retail line and in November of 2015, Kaelen Harwell Natural Skincare was born.
Kaelen generously shows me around her workspace and her lab, pulling out yummy non-GMO ingredients for me to smell along the way. While telling me about using the dehydrator to keep mold at bay, it strikes me: this is a woman who is completely living in her zone of genius. She is extraordinarily passionate about what she does. As she talks about her products, Kaelen positively glows. Sure, that could be because the skincare she has formulated is amazing, but I believe it runs deeper than that. It’s the inner glow of someone that is unabashedly following her dreams. And that is what makes her a force to be reckoned with.
Q: How do you think natural products like yours compare to more synthetic products full of chemicals? Aside from being more harmful, do you believe that they are as effective?
A: Yes! Absolutely! The body recognizes and absorbs natural ingredients quickly and more efficiently than their more synthetic counterparts.
Q:Speaking of ingredients, what is the number one ingredient to stay away from in our products?
A: Well, petrochemicals in general are something to watch out for. There are a lot of them, some worse than others. However, my number one ingredient to avoid is Phenoxylethenol. It is made from coal tar and has been known to depress the central nervous system.
Q: Ummmm, excuse me, what now? COAL TAR?!?! And we put it on our body?
A: Yeah, scary right?
Q: What is the long-term risk of these ingredients?
A: (She turns and looks straight at me and simply says) Cancer. That’s where this all leads.
Q: I know a lot of these ingredients can be used as preservatives to extend the shelf life of products. What preservatives do you use and how long can we expect your products to last?
A: I use a lot of essential oils in my products, which are natural occurring preservatives and antibacterial themselves. They also smell amazing! In addition, I use organic grain alcohol and radish root as natural preservatives. Unopened, the product will last 24 months; after opening, it's 12-18 months, which is actually right in line with most products these days.
Q: How do you keep your products so affordable?
A: I believe that everyone should have access to clean and affordable skincare, so I am determined to keep my prices as low as I can. I try to source the ingredients as affordably as possible without compromising on quality. They have to be non-GMO, that’s nonnegotiable. Organic can be a little harder to find because the licensing to claim “organic” can be really costly for the small businesses that provide some ingredients. After that, it’s just a matter of staying true to my philosophy. Could I make them more expensive, sure, but then not everyone could afford them. It is more important to me to get natural, non-toxic skincare in people’s hands. (She says this with passion, as though non-toxic skincare should be a right, not a privilege. I have to agree with her).
Q: Who formulates your products and how are they tested?
A: I do most of the formulations, with a few exceptions. I’ve done so much research in the past that I have a great working knowledge of ingredients. Mostly, I come up with an idea of a product that I’d like to make and then I start playing in the lab with ingredients. Right now, I’m working on my desert line (which smells ah-mazing, may I add). I “test” the products on myself, friends and then at the school for effectiveness.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing to do for any skin type?
A: Exfoliation. Our skin needs to be regularly sloughed off to help turn over the cells and thereby give us smooth skin. This is just as true for acneic skin as it is for aging skin, and everything in between. Beyond that, practicing balance in our daily life will help improve the skin as well. Oh, and the new LED facial at the school is a must!
Q: Ok, now for some dream time. I know you have lots of amazing products on the horizon that you are formulating, but where do you see Kaelen Harwell in 10 years?
A: (A smile spreads across her face) Spas! I definitely see using the products in our own spa.(Sounds dreamy to me.)
As I’m leaving, Kaelen hands me a few products. With a smile and a hug, she urges me to steal some time and treat myself to a mini spa day, and I happily oblige her that night. I tried the Regenerating Geranium Cedar Toner, the Dual Action Carrot Scrub-Booster, and the Activating Cinnamon Vanilla Mask. I am in love! Not only do they make my skin super glowy and refreshed, they also smell ridiculously good! As if gorgeous skin wasn’t enough, there is also the peace of mind knowing that I’m not putting anything toxic on my body. I’m officially addicted.
Check out her website KaelenHarwell.com. And while you are there, do yourself a favor and pick up one of the toners. They all smell amazing and are really refreshing when sprayed on the skin in the summertime.
Here’s a list of common petrochemicals to watch out for, borrowed from https://blog.cocoonapothecary.com.
Cosmetic Petrochemicals · Paraffin Wax · Mineral Oil · toluene · Benzene · Phenoxyethanol · Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol) · Anything ending in ‘eth’ indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth · Anything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine) · Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’ – butyl alcohol, butylparaben,butylene glycol · Ethanol and word with ‘ethyl’ – ethyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid), ethylhexylglycerin · Any word with “propyl” – isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propylalcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine · Methanol and any word with ‘methyl’ – methyl alcohol, methylparaben,methylcellulose · Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum
*this post and its original content first appeared on Territory Magazine.
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