YARMOUTH, Maine — Ashley O’Neil donned an apron last week to work at her sister Lindsay Crawford’s stove. O’Neil’s daughter, niece and nephew, all under the age of 4, stomped happily around the kitchen. The house smelled like chocolate chip cookies.
But she wasn’t baking sweets.
O’Neil stirred together cocoa butter wafers, bourbon vanilla extract, beeswax, coconut oil and vegetable glycerin in a pot. She then poured the hot mixture into dozens of tiny plastic tubes. After they cooled, the sisters slapped labels on the tubes, and voila: organic lip balm, the signature product from local independent business Herbal Grace Creations.
O’Neil decided this year that she and her daughter deserved better than the chemical-laden products she routinely used. So through online research and trial and error, she taught herself to make them organically.
Crawford came aboard in August to handle the business side, and now these stay-at-home moms are making a go of it as entrepreneurs in the field of natural skin- and beauty-care products.
“Most of the products on the market have a lot of drying alcohols that counteract what they’re intended to do,” O’Neil said. “A lot of [lip balms] have salicylic acid, which dries out pimples. You’re putting it on your lips, so you constantly have to reapply it because it’s actually drying out your skin.”
O’Neil, 28, spent the past few years trying to find a career. She studied baking and pastry arts at Johnson & Wales University; she then enrolled at the University of Maine and majored in English, before switching majors to food science and human nutrition. Now, she appears to have found something that keeps her fulfilled.
“My interest in pursuing holistic skin-care alternatives was rooted in the fact that I’m a single mother, and I was spending a lot of money on natural baby products to help heal [her daughter’s] bouts of eczema, [an inflammatory skin condition], … and nothing really worked,” O’Neil said.
“Eighty percent of the ingredients used in personal-care products on the market today have never even been tested because the cosmetic industry is almost entirely self-regulated,” she said. “Nobody knows the potential long-term consequences of using them, and it’s a scary reality for our generation.”
Crawford, 32, studied marketing at Bentley College and received a master’s degree in advertising from Boston University. She worked in public relations until she had her first child three years ago. She said she is thrilled to be putting her expertise back to use.
“My sister and I are very different,” Crawford said. “She’s very creative, she loves to get in the kitchen and make things, and I’m more on the business side. So it’s really nice to combine forces because we have such different strengths.”
O’Neil designs the labels for Herbal Grace Creations, which currently offers a line of 13 products, including facial grains, body salves, moisturizer, vapor rub, cheek and lip stain, shaving balm, facial toner, face powder and clay masks. She gets most of her ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs, which sells herbs and oils in bulk from Eugene, Ore.
The sisters compare increases in the market for natural skin products to the trend toward organic food.
“I think people are becoming much more aware of the kinds of ingredients they’re putting into their bodies and onto their face and skin,” Crawford said.
“You absorb it, and it goes directly into your bloodstream,” said O’Neil, who suggested that using mass-produced products filled with chemical preservatives is akin to “eating processed foods all the time.”
Herbal Grace has made most of its sales thus far through online retailer Etsy. Select products can also be found at stores in Yarmouth, including Clayton’s Cafe, Trimmings salon, Village Florist and the Yarmouth Historical Society gift shop. The sisters will have a table at the North Yarmouth Academy Holiday Fair on Dec. 7.
They’re not yet taking home any profits yet — all the money has gone back into the company — but they don’t seem concerned.
“Right now we’re in the stage of continuing to pound the pavement and trying to get the word out,” Crawford said. “It’s been a super rewarding experience, and it’s something we’re really excited to continue doing.”