In her late 20s, pastry chef Liesa Helfen’s skin revolted. Rashes appeared. As did eczema.
Longing to work outdoors, she switched careers and became a beekeeper. Beeswax, honey and propolis dripped on her hands daily. “My skin felt amazing,” she said. She decided to launch her own line of bee-based skin care products.
Helfen began to study bees to learn how their honey and beeswax have been used to treat skin disorders and radiation burns. “You really can't break the mold until you understand how it works,” she said.
Then she combined bees’ products with the edible oils that left her hands soft when she mixed salads. She teamed up with a friend, Michael Sedlacek, and launched Worker B, a natural skin care line of lotions and balms made from beeswax, raw honey and propolis. Later, her brother joined their team.
Worker B's biggest hurdle has been educating customers on the cosmetic industry. “It’s fairly unregulated. Most fragrance companies aren’t required to disclose their ingredients as they fall under ‘trade secret,’ but think of the recent study on lipstick and its lead content,” Helfen said.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Krnetic Vladimir/Shutterstock.com
Helfen and Sedlacek have relied on “rouge marketing”, like speaking at farmers’ markets, to educate consumers to be thoughtful about what products they put on their largest organ—their skin. “We try to create demand, rather than just having a marketable brand with no real substance,” she said.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Valua Vitaly/Shutterstock.com
Worker B, which makes all its products by hand and keeps some of its own bees, turned a profit in its first year of business—which Helfen and Sedlacek poured right back into it. Although their products are available in stores throughout the United States like Whole Foods, both still work their full-time jobs. “We are just too paranoid to put all our eggs in one basket yet,” she said.“And we’re inspired by the work ethic of the bees.”
In her research, Zolke discovered Arnica montana, a flowering plant that acts as an anti-inflammatory. She combined it with a modern day therapy, lactic acid, which she had previously tried on her daughter. “I had glowing, shiny skin,” she said.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of MilousSK/Shutterstock.com
But her mixture didn’t last for more than a few days. She turned to a private label manufacturer. Their chemist came up with a stable formula, and with it Zolke launched BrilliantFx Anti-Aging Body Serum.
Lee-Driver, a country girl from Virginia, modeled her product on one she used in her children’s salon located in Philadelphia, PA. “I started thinking, ‘If I can bake a cheesecake or a pound cake, I can make a hair product,’” she said.
She researched which natural ingredients worked best and met with dermatologists. Then she launched Oria’s O’shay Nature Butter, a natural body butter comprised of oils and Shea butter, which can be used from head to toe.
While testing her product, she received conflicting advice. Some people liked the use of coconut oil; others didn’t. She listened, but, in the end, followed her gut. “Your passion comes out in your product,” she said.
Then she got the flu. She went a week without wearing a thick layer of make-up, and her complexion cleared. “I questioned marketing terms for make-up, like non-acnegenic and suitable for sensitive skin,” she said.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of caimacanul/Shutterstock.com
She founded a company called Larénim (which is mineral spelled backwards). Within two years, nearly 1000 natural product stores in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and Hong Kong carried it. "There were women everywhere with a story and pursuit similar to my own," she said.