Kimberly Luker, Founder of Botanicals for Hope, was living her dream life as a successful telecommunications manager with an ocean view on the central coast of California. That was all about to change when she received a Stage IIB breast cancer diagnosis in 2008. After six rounds of chemotherapy, not only had Kimberly lost her hair but she noticed that her scalp was inflamed with sore, itchy bumps and her skin, lips and nails were extremely dry, cracked and irritated. She was miserable.
Kimberly, a friend elementary school, is known as an eternal optimist with a well-honed knack for research. Not one to be easily dismayed, she single-handedly began studying cosmetic formulation guides and consulting with cosmetic formulators. She was a woman on a mission and would soon begin blending and mixing her own cocktail of soothing lotions and balms in her kitchen in Shell Beach in an attempt to soothe her discomfort.
As her own first, true test case, she realized almost immediate results from switching to all natural and organic body care products with gentle ingredients. Kimberly officially launched Botanicals for Hope in September 2009 and now carries a fragrance-free line with seven different products to soothe the sensitive skin of cancer patients and others with skin and fragrance sensitivities. Now, Kimberly is realizing another dream – giving back to help other cancer patients. A portion of all sales of Botanicals for Hope’s products are donated to cancer support and wellness programs throughout the central coast community. It’s Kimberly’s way of saying “thanks” to the many kind people who supported her as she regained her health.
We spoke with Kimberly at the beginning of April in honor of National Cancer Control Month.
Q: What does “all natural” and “organic” really mean when it comes to skin-care products?
Kimberly: There is some controversy surrounding skin care products labeled “all natural” and “organic”. While “organic” has become a fairly regulated term and products can be certified, “all natural” products cannot. The FDA regulates the safety of cosmetics but there are no strict regulations regarding these terms and because they have considerable market value many companies use these buzzwords fairly arbitrarily. Making it even more confusing for consumers the use of these words are often used together or interchangeably when they are actually very different.
The dictionary describes the word “natural” as produced or existing in nature; not artificial.” By that definition, anything derived from plants, animals or the elements found on Earth could earn the “all natural” label. The key is in understanding that it is the process, not the source that makes a product “natural”. When ingredients are chemically or structurally altered into a form that no long appears anywhere in nature, it’s no longer natural. The FDA regulates the term “natural” in food only as it applies to added color, synthetic substances, and flavors. The classic definition of “natural” skin care is based on using botanically sourced ingredients currently existing in or formed by nature, without the use of synthetic ingredients, and manufactured in such a way to preserve the integrity of the ingredients. Unfortunately, companies can market a product as containing natural ingredients while loading it with synthetic filler, dyes and fragrances.
When it comes to food the definition of organic is extremely clear, thanks to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). The NOP defines organic as a product being produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers or other synthetic or toxic substances applied to the land for at least the previous three years. Additionally, no artificial flavors or coloring can be added. It is important to note the USDA Certified Organic standard was designed and created for the food industry so when it comes to body care products these definitions are not so clear. While there are many food ingredients that can cross-over into skin care products, there are not as many skin care ingredients that are also used in food. Therefore, and this is really important, a skin care ingredient that is not used in food will not be among the approved ingredients for organic definition.
The NOP has defined four levels of organic:
- 100% Organic – must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids.
- Organic – must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on NOP’s National List.
- Made with Organic Ingredients – processed products that contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients.
- Less than 70% Organic Ingredients – These products cannot use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredient deck.
Many skin care products fall into the “Made with Organic Ingredients” category. These products may not display the USDA Organic Seal but can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients”, the percentage of organic ingredients used, the certifying agent, and list up to three of the organic ingredients on the principal display panel of the product packaging.
Bottom line – it is up to the consumer to be educated on the definition of these terms and familiarize themselves with the ingredients in products labeled “natural” or “organic” to ensure they are really getting what they are paying for.
Q: Are organic body care products are really better for the environment?
Kimberly: Absolutely. Organic skin care ingredients, like organic produce, is grown without the use of synthetic or toxic substances so not only are they good for your skin but also the environment in which they are grown is healthier as well.
Q: What makes your products different?
Kimberly: Most skin care products consist of an ingredient deck primarily made of water, sometimes up to 90%. While water is decidedly good for you it is not one of the most beneficial ingredients for skin care products. In fact, it is impossible for water based products to be fully effective in cosmetics because skin is basically waterproof. After much research I chose aloe vera as the main ingredient in my skin care line with the exception of my balms. Unlike water, aloe vera absorbs into your skin synergistically, delivering powerful nutrients and a complex combination of therapeutic antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and moisturizing polysaccharides proven to hydrate, soothe, protect, and heal your skin.
Q: Using aloe vera in your products instead of water must be expensive. How do you keep your products so reasonably priced?
Kimberly: When Botanicals for Hope was born my clientele primarily consisted of cancer patients. My oncology nurses told me about a skin care line specifically designed for cancer patients but mentioned it was expensive. They said they rarely recommended it because many patients complained they didn’t want to have to make a choice between doctor copays and buying a lotion. That really stuck with me so I was determined to work hard to keep costs down while still providing exceptional and effective skin care products. While I use only containers that can be recycled, which tend to cost more, I do not invest in flashy packaging, labels, ad or marketing campaigns. I believe in the quality of my products and let them speak for themselves, and honestly, mostly rely on word of mouth. This really helps to keep the cost down.
Q: What new products are you whipping up these days?
Kimberly: Last June just before Relay for Life San Luis Obispo I launched a mineral based, physical barrier sunscreen consisting of Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide that has been very well received. This year I’m working on a facial moisturizer to complement my Soapless Facial Cleanser and Hydrating Serum. Additionally, I’m exploring the possibility of creating a cooling gel for people who are going through radiation treatments.
We love a happy ending, and we are pleased to announce that Kimberly is healthy and happy and once again thoroughly enjoying those amazing ocean views with her fiancé, Scot.