Stop and Smell the Jasmine


Published in FirstMonday magazine, By Sarah Sekula

Karen Peters was traipsing through remote villages in Cameroon, Africa, when it hit her. Everyone she met in the bush country, from young children to elder Baka tribesmen, had flawless skin. No blemishes. No wrinkles. Just smooth, soft complexions.

Could it be their environment? Peters wondered. The wonderfully cool breezes from the ocean? The sweet and mellow aroma of hibiscus and eucalyptus trees? The lack of smokestacks and gas fumes? Nothing more than majestic palms as far as the eye could see, surrounded by stunning black-sand beaches and waifs of lemongrass?

Was it the food they ate—the freshest papaya, sugar cane and cassava yams? Collard greens and spinach? Eguzi pudding, made with fish, spices and banana leaves?

Her curiosity was on overload.

After three months in the peaceful villages, she returned home to Ocoee. First on her agenda: buy $50 worth of ingredients, all indigenous to Africa, and start experimenting. Her lab: the kitchen. Her favorite elements: baobab fruit seed oil, cocoa butter and aloe vera.

Soon enough, friends and family were clamoring for the mélange of sweet-smelling products. Peters responded by launching Sakilé (pronounced “sah-key-lay”), an African word meaning peace and beauty, her own natural skincare line.

Lotions and Potions

On a near-daily basis, Peters concocts rich liquid creams laced with lemongrass, lavender and lemon ginger. Her cocoa butter shampoo is a mix of moisturizers designed to cleanse the hair without stripping the scalp. And her refreshing basil lime shower gel softens and tones the skin without leaving it dry.

Better yet, the products ($14 to $20) are all free of perfumes, preservatives and synthetic ingredients. Her mixtures are so pure, in fact, that she was able to help relieve her son’s eczema with a product she created as part of her Honey B.U.N.S. baby line.

Peters is onto something. She now serves customers nationwide with her Internet-based business. And she sees the demand as a natural progression in environmental awareness.

To that end, she focuses on quality, not quantity.

“I make it in small batches,” Peters says. “My product cannot sit on the shelf for two years or in a warehouse like most over-the-counter products can.”

This, of course, contributes to a pricier product. Nevertheless, natural skin care is increasing in popularity. Mass-market products like Organic wear, Physicians Formula and Burt’s Bees (which is now owned by The Clorox Co.) are evidence of that fact. Even fashion designers like Stella McCartney have launched lines made solely from purely organic extracts.

Even so, it is still a challenge to change people’s way of thinking. “We buy things based on smell,” says Peters, “and we might read the ingredients later.”

Simply put, many people adore aroma and still prefer to buy from the trendy stores that market their superintense fragrances, she points out. What’s unfortunate, she comments, is that many of those products are made with water and synthetic oils, fragrances, preservatives and fillers.

Yet the use of such products can often do more harm than good by irritating or drying out the skin, Peters advises. “If there are [ingredients] you are finding hard to pronounce,” she says, “you want to stay clear from it. There can be up to 200 chemicals in one little fragrance oil.”

With her green-grooming knowledge and passion, it’s no surprise that Peters has attracted a nationwide cult following that continues to blossom. Apparently, many people agree with her simple philosophy: “There are so many things in nature that just cannot be mimicked.”