By Mary, Body Care Buyer & The Naturalist Contributor
Just as our internal organs digest nutrients from the food and beverages we consume, our skin, the body's largest organ, absorbs the vitamins, minerals, chemicals, and toxins that are found in personal care products. However, the soaps, lotions, and scrubs on the market in the US are not nearly as regulated as the guacamole and hemp hearts we devour. At Cambridge Naturals, we strive to offer the cleanest and safest products for our customers throughout each of our departments. We’re especially excited when those safe products come from businesses right here in Massachusetts.
In the middle of our wall of soap sits a product that always catches my eye. The natural and distinct shape of Brianna’s Handmade Soap is just as pleasing and unique as its delectable smell. It inspires daydreams of having my own house with a beautiful guest bathroom prominently featuring a wooden soap dish on which I could strategically place Brianna's Oatmeal Agave soap... All that from a bar of soap, who knew?
Brianna’s soaps are handmade at her home in Arlington. Completely free of animal products, synthetic dyes and fragrances, they cleanse, moisturize, and soothe without stripping our skin of beneficial oils. An added bonus is that buying local allows our store to cut down enormously on excessive emissions from distant deliveries. Brianna even hand delivers her orders to the store! Read on to learn more about this savvy soap maker who we have so enjoyed getting to know, and see why she’s our October Monthly Muse.
What is your favorite place or thing to do in the Boston area?
My husband and I live right on the Minuteman Bike Path in Arlington and on a sunny day I love taking my bike out and riding out to the end of the path where there is an adorable little park. I’ll bring a snack and just relax on a bench and people watch before turning around and riding home. The last time I trekked out there, there was a man singing old railroad songs and playing his guitar. It was lovely!
On nice Sunday afternoons, my husband, Martin, and I like to take long walks in the city. We usually end up at one of the breweries in Cambridge or Somerville.
What is the last book you read that you couldn’t put down?
It has actually been quite a long time since I found a book I couldn’t put down. In the past year I have been increasingly interested in reading blogs and there are two which I can’t stop reading. One is Frugalwoods and the other is Cait Flanders. Both blogs talk about minimalism and conscious consumerism, among many other topics. The Frugalwoods actually used to live here in Cambridge and now own a homestead in Vermont. I find following them both to be very inspiring. The idea of simplicity in all aspects of life really resonates with me.
How did you first learn to make soap yourself?
My sister-in-law and very good friend, Liane, showed me how. She used to be a chemist working for a drug company and saw, first hand, how many ordinary chemicals found in most mass-produced bath and body products can affect us. For example, most “soap” that is sold is not actually soap, but a mixture of detergents, many which will strip the skin's natural oils. Soap is only allowed to be labeled as soap if it is made with some sort of fat or oil and lye. When other chemical detergents are added, it is no longer considered soap.
Liane made me aware of labels and encouraged me to look up the products that I use on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website. This website contains a large database of just about any mass produced bath and body product you can find. It assigns a health safety grade to each product based on available scientific research data. This was very eye opening as well as disturbing! She taught me how to make my own soap and skin cream both of which contain only natural, healing ingredients. Once I started to make my own, I never went back.
What inspired you to start your own company and sell handmade soap full time?
Once I began making soap, I could not stop! I find it to be extremely creative and fun and with this new found hobby, I was producing lots and lots of soap. My husband one day told me that enough was enough and that we couldn’t have all these bars of soap all over the house! When we were out to dinner one night we saw an ad for a small artisan market that was looking for vendors. He urged me to apply to it hoping I’d get rid of some of my supply. At first I didn’t feel like I was ready and wasn’t sure others would like my soap as much as I did, but I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did!
How do you go about creating the different scents?
To be honest, I pick my favorite scents and I play with different combinations and see what I come up with. One of my favorite combos is orange and clove. It’s tricky to get the ratios of this blend correct without it being overpowering. I was very satisfied when I finally came up with one that was just right!
What are your top three Cambridge Naturals products?
I have been faithfully buying Rainbow Light vitamins and I can actually tell the difference with the energy boost these give me.
Last year my husband and I went on a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail where we hiked 400 miles through the mountains. We both discovered GoMacro Macrobars which gave us the nutrients needed to keep us going. Around 3pm each day we would inevitably hit a slump and need the pick me up. These worked like a charm.
My favorite chocolate ever is Taza chocolate! I absolutely love the taste and texture of this stone ground chocolate bar and they are my go-to gift for any occasion.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Brianna! We carry all four soaps from Brianna’s growing line including: Unscented, Oatmeal Agave, Green Tea Lemongrass, and Lavender Blossom. They’ll make the perfect stocking stuffer for this holiday season!