As someone with very sensitive skin and almost immediate negative physical reactions to certain scents and chemicals, finding the best skincare products that don’t give me a rash or a headache can be a nightmarish process of trial and error. So when I find that extremely rare product that is not only fragrant-free and chemical-free, but also pleasantly and effectively cleanses and moisturizes my skin, it is like finding a rose in the middle of the Sahara dessert. Skincare products from Connecticut’s own Zen Society are my own desert roses.
I was thrilled to discover handcrafted, skincare products that are 100 percent natural, with USDA Certified Organic ingredients. They are free of chemicals, sulfates, toxins, artificial fragrances and dyes, containing no parabens or phthalates. More than just having the popular organic label, this means good things for your health.
The skin, as our largest organ, is vulnerable to absorbing a lot of the chemicals that are in the products that we liberally apply to our bodies. Parabens and phthalates, which I will discuss in further detail in a follow-up article, are linked with a number of health problems, including obesity, thyroid and reproductive disorders, as well as skin damage and certain types of cancers. Sulfates are known to irritate the skin.
“My products are extremely pure as I do no not use any chemicals or preservatives,” said Kaitlyn Lockman, owner of Zen Society of Stamford, Conn.
Lockman and a board certified holistic health practitioner initially founded the company in February 2010. “I saw there was a need for more holistic skincare products,” Lockman said, who is now the sole owner. She wanted to create a skincare line with a “sense of wholeness and healing” that was more in tune with her upbringing.
Lockman grew up in a household where tea tree oil was used instead of Neosporin. “My family really cared about health and eating right,” she said.
While she has worked in finance as an adult, Lockman was always interested in holistic wellness, as well as natural and organic products. She attended the Global College of Natural Medicine’s Master Herbalist program, where she gained extensively training about all the herbs, their effects on the body, as well as how they treat the skin, illness and other applications. After her mother developed cancer and went through chemo and radiation, for instance, Lockman gave her mother grape seed extract and cat’s claw to help prevent more tumors.
Zen Society believes that holistic medicine can work with the body to stimulate its own natural defenses. Its products are made up of plant herbal, plant and fruit botanicals, organic oils and floral waters. “I avoid fragrances and allergy-prone ingredients as my products are meant for the most sensitive skin,” said Lockman.
The first product I tried was a Tea Tree Facial Cleanser, which has a fresh but not overwhelming scent. Having products that are free of artificial fragrances are crucial to people like me with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Chemicals like perfumes and the generic “fragrance” found on the ingredient list of so many of the skin care products on the shelves in stores can cause unusually severe sensitivity or allergy-like reactions in people with MCS. This can range from stinging eyes and respiratory problems to rashes, extreme fatigue and digestion problems. A survey published last year in the journal ISNR Nursing estimated that 12.6 percent of this country’s population suffers from MCS.
I, for instance, instantly get a headache when I come anywhere near someone doused with a powerfully scented perfume or lotion or am near the fragrance areas of a store. I’ve had to throw away soaps that appeared innocuous from the “hypoallergenic” label, but during a shower, turned out to give me a sore throat or rash. So I’ve become that shopper who opens boxes of soap, deodorant sticks and unscrews shampoo and conditioner bottles enough so that I have a chance to get a good whiff or make a quick skin dab before I make my purchase.
After sniffing the Zen Society’s facial cleanser, so far so good. I splashed my face with water, then pumped a couple drops of the cleanser onto my hands and rubbed it into my skin. It honestly felt like getting an energizing massage. Without irritating my skin, the tea tree oil wash, with also includes jojoba oil and aloe among its ingredients, left me feeling refreshed and bright after I rinsed it off. I was so delighted with it that I’ve made it a part of my daily routine—I finally look forward to washing my face!
For those looking for a chemical-free alternative to achieving a clear and healthy complexion, Lockman said, “Tea tree oil is acne-preventing as it kills off bacteria.”
Because I have a tendency for dry skin, I always use lotion after I get my skin wet. Through multiple failed bottles of lotion, I’ve finally founded a couple types that agree with me, but they aren’t entirely perfect. Lockman suggested I try the Replenishing Macadamia Body Oil.
“I’ve found that even people with allergies to the macadamia nut who have tried the oil don’t have an allergic reaction to it,” she said. All products are gluten-free.
While it definitely took a little time to get used to coating my body with a combination several oils instead of a creamy lotion, I found that the sensation goes away very quickly after the oil is applied. As I didn’t read this part of the directions before initial use, make sure you shake the bottle well before application.
Zen Society also makes a body scrub with ingredients such as coconut flakes and cane sugar. “I like sugar better in the scrub because salt dries out the skin,” said Lockman.
I rarely wear make-up, and if I’m being completely honest, one of the big reasons for that is because I truly dislike the chore of removing it at the end of the night. As much as I know I look better wearing mascara—and even a little eyeliner on a big night out—I detest the pain, literally, of the chemicals in the makeup removers.
But fortunately, Zen Society also has an alternative for that! Absolutely chemical-free, made of a combination of organic oils, there was no burning eyes removing my mascara and eyeliner. After applying a little cleaner to a cotton ball, I was able to very quickly, easily, and painlessly remove all make-up from my face in less than time than it takes me to apply one coat of mascara. While there were less than a few minutes of blurriness as the oils clung to my eyelashes, I will take that any day over the chemical burn and stinging.
For me, switching over to Zen Society skincare products is both a practical and personal choice to choose natural ingredients that don’t negatively affect my health and to support a local business whose mission aligns with my own—but there are additional reasons to support the homegrown company.
Zen Society supports local and regional businesses. “I only source my products from USDA Certified suppliers in the New England area,” said Lockman.
It also operates with environmental awareness. Bottles are PET- and BPA-free and tested to ensure there is no release of phthalates, chemicals or carcinogens. Packages are 100 percent recyclable. Shipping boxes are made entirely from recycled material, and the packing peanuts are starch-based, biodegradable and easily composted.
“I donate a percent of every sale to Friends of the Earth, a grassroots organization to help support a sustainable planet,” she said.
Additionally, no animal testing is done with the products. All products—except for two of the three lip balms, which are made from “sustainably produced USDA Organic beeswax”—are vegan.
While Zen Society has only been live with their nine face and body products for a couple months, this local company is serving a global need for more natural and healthy personal care products that are also environmentally sound. Order their products online at http://www.zensocietyskincare.com/