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domingo, 21 de fevereiro de 2016

Balbec: Natural Beauty, Natural Scent and the Green Future

by: John Biebel


Sometimes we run into an artist, an entrepreneur, a thinker, and our first reaction is “I’m looking at the future.” These are important moments to behold because time suddenly jumps forward as an organic force and seems far less abstract.
Such was the case when I met Maneesha Patel, founder and creator at Balbec Beauty. A New York City-based green cosmetics company, Balbec is remarkable for its decidedly artisan approach to skin care, its thoroughly engaging owner, and its fascinating embrace of both the past and present in its efforts to provide truly innovative products to promote better skin. From the perspective of a Fragrantica writer, I was equally amazed by the beautiful scents that arose from these concoctions. Fragrant roses and ambery frankincense; fuzzy, aromatic geranium, warm patchouli, spiky and green matcha. These products intertwined with natural clay and yogurt are striking for their seeming simplicity, and they smell wonderful.
Maneesha Patel
Maneesha Patel, Balbec Beauty
Maneesha and I met at the Elements Conference in New York last autumn, where we spoke at great length about her products, their evolution, her own personal journey, and how Balbec was emerging.
Beyond the basics of creating Balbec products, Maneesha curates a beautiful visual documentary of her creative process through herInstagram account, many of which images are featured here.
It occurred to me that as fragrance enthusiasts, we often don’t think much about what we actually put on our skin, whereas someone like Maneesha thinks about it constantly, and this perceived disconnection had some resonance for me. I wanted to talk at greater depth with her about fragrance, skin care, health, well-being, and creativity.
John at Fragrantica: I was extremely fortunate to meet you at The Elements Showcase in New York this past autumn. The Balbec Beauty products stood out, perhaps most because they looked delicious!
Maneesha at Balbec: Thank you, John! It was my pleasure to meet you. Balbec is an aromatherapeutic and probiotic skincare line comprised of clay and yogurt based cleansers, single ingredient hydrosols, and hydrating facial oils. What you are referring to would have been our four clay and yogurt based cleansers. They actually do feel like dessert on the skin.
J: I said before that I was fortunate to meet you, as you are a vibrant ambassador for your brand. There is clearly a personal commitment to Balbec, and you shared some of the background story of how you came to make your own products. You related to me that you'd had a rough time using traditional cosmetics and skin care products, suffering some allergic reactions, correct?
M: Yes, my skin was terribly sensitive and I had unrelenting cystic acne. I know now that I was continuously compromising my skin barrier integrity by using “gentle” products that were actually stripping the fine lipid layer of my skin, leaving my skin exposed to bacteria and infection and giving me a taut and dried out feeling. I changed my diet significantly (which helped), but I needed truly nourishing and gentle skincare. So I began by trying to quite literally get comfortable in my skin. I turned to some classic Ayurvedic recipes and found reprieve in a simple yogurt and turmeric preparation and was encouraged by how my skin responded.
J: I saw something very compelling on your site materials - you describe your products with these words: raw, organic, live, wildcrafted, and cultivated without chemicals. The force of the language struck me, it's firm, almost defiant. What can you say about this phrasing and what it reveals about Balbec and its mission?
M: Perhaps the sense of force and defiance that is coming across has to do with “raw” as opposed to refined, “live” as in perishable and “wild” as in untamed or domesticated. I would say these words sound energetic. The truth is that when ingredients are raw, live, organic, wildcrafted, and or cultivated without chemicals, they are at their very best energetically and make the most effective nourishment for food or skincare.
I am quite practical and like many of us, do not like waste. I needed to heal my skin and I didn't want to waste any more time using products that contained ingredients that took into account a lot of market factors but had nothing to do with skin nutrition. That is why we choose our ingredients carefully, process them minimally, and never heat them. I found that they work better this way.
J: As I applied some of the cleanser, oils and hydrosols, I was surprised by their beautiful fragrances. This is of particular interest to me, as a Fragrantica writer, since we deal a lot with fragrances. First I'd like to ask, what do you think about fragrance as it relates to health? As a follow up, do you think there is a connection between scent and wellness? 
M: Fragrance does affect health, and this is probably one of the reasons humans started making perfume in the first place. Fragrance is processed by the olfactory bulb in the limbic region of the brain, which has to do with emotional life and long-term memory. The limbic system also influences endocrine function.
Psychological stress is disruptive to skin barrier homeostasis, as it delays repair of the skin barrier. However some essential oils with sedative properties such as frankincense (which has long been used as an aid in meditation) are able to override this signal, which has wonderful implications for everyday skincare. If you perceive a fragrance as uplifting, relaxing, or comforting, that contributes to emotional wellbeing by diminishing stress, which is an important factor in disease and aging.
Having said that, a scent that is pleasing and has a positive effect on the body when taken in through the olfactory nerve is not necessarily beneficial when it is applied to the skin or ingested. Plant essential oils and ingredients used widely in perfumery all have distinct properties which carry benefits and risks depending how they are used and dosed.
Bergamot and cinnamon are examples of this. I find bergamot uplifting and drink Earl Grey tea because it energizes me and gives me a sense of well being. In its natural form, I would never use it in skincare because it is phototoxic. There is a bergaptene-free version of bergamot, but I prefer not to use it. When I smell cinnamon I feel warm and cared for. I use a bit in my cooking and hot drinks for flavor and to stabilize blood sugar, but it is highly irritating when applied on the skin and must be used with caution. So while I adore the fragrance of countless essential oils, I only use a very short list for Balbec.
J: Do you think that in the world of man-made concoctions, we've grown somewhat distant from natural smells?
M: We have become used to simulacra. When people smell the cleansers for the first time, they are shocked by the fragrances, that the rose smells like a real rose. They always say: Wow! It smells just like a rose. Having said that, man-made concoctions are a reality, even if we aren't talking about simulacra. I might sniff at my wrist having applied steam distilled organic rose oil with wildcrafted patchouli and while that can be wonderful, I might also be waiting to cross the street here in NY. So whether I realize it or not, I am also smelling pitch, an oil delivery, cigarette smoke, industrial strength cleaning fluids, and the pollutants from cars, and that becomes part of the experience. I think this is what the Comme des Garçcons fragrances Odeur 53 and 71 were pointing at, and that was interesting. Maybe I would have worn them when I was much younger when I had a lot more disposable wellness.
Even if I wear an old perfume that I love, I rarely put it directly on my skin; sometimes I'll put it on a scarf or my outer clothing. I'm very strict with what goes into Balbec, but I do have a sense of context and understand that people are doing their best.
J: You showed me some great photos of essential oils that you plan to age for sometime (I think you'd showed me some vetiver that you were keeping to mellow for a long while). What draws you to some essential oils and their intrinsic properties?
aged sandalwood patchouli vetiver frankincense
M: Yes! In time we will be introducing some very special limited edition cleansers and oils that are made with frankincense, vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood that we have been aging in house. These oils age very well, taking on a deeper nature and a different beauty while maintaining all of their fantastic therapeutic benefits. I like the idea that at the heart of these products will be ingredients that have aged gracefully.
From Maneesha on aged ingredients“As far as skincare goes, we are fresh. But in hanging back a bit in the cool and dark, we are also aging gracefully for you. Frankincense, sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli essential oils deepen aromatically as they age while maintaining all of their gorgeous, therapeutic potency. Some people speak of their 100 year old sandalwood as incomparable – sublime, even. And aged frankincense? It is well beyond my descriptive abilities to communicate that experience. Bet even 5-10 years of extra times allows these oils to acquire sweet distinction. In our time, we will occasionally create our cleansers and facial oils with these essential oils we are patiently aging in a cool, dark place. Curious? It will be a while, but I am telling you – I can hardly wait to share."
J: Are there certain oils or substances that have been particularly beneficial to you?
M: Yes. All of the essential and botanical oils that I use in Balbec and some others that I rely on for their medicinal value or to achieve some effect: teatree, rosemary come to mind.
J: I've found some people are upset to see more and more regulations as to what products can be included in perfumes and skin products; but then I've also talked to perfumers and makers who are excited by the new extraction methods that are available now that weren't even thought possible 10 years ago.
Where do you think we are in terms of that timeline? Is there room to explore, or could we risk losing some beneficial elements due to regulations?
M: Balbec's safety parameters are stricter than regulations call for, but that is by choice. My husband and partner in Balbec studies sustainability for a living and generally finds that innovative companies are always ahead of regulations. There is always room to explore and there are many new perfumeries that have wonderful offerings.
J: Do you have some particularly fond scent memories, something from childhood or even adulthood that draws out something distinct for you?
M: Of course. YSL's Rive Gauche and Hermes' Calèche meant intelligence, energy, and glamour to me. In the mid-70s, we were traveling a lot to London where most of my family had recently migrated from East Africa. My aunts and uncles were young, studying and working and making the most of everything that was so new and exciting to them. My gorgeous gaggle of aunts saved their money, bought and shared these perfumes among them and wore them everywhere--running off to work or study in their chic and scandalous home-sewn outfits or dressed up in their saris and heading off to the umpteenth wedding of the season. I used to just sit at the bottom of the stairwell in the rush of beautiful traffic at my grandparents' home in East London and inhale. There was a lot of sandalwood incense, ghee, and my grandfather's cigarette smoke in the mix, too. I don't smell these perfumes anymore because I think the formulas have changed; I prefer to keep the memory of them, which I can access sometimes if I really focus or if something else evokes them.
Patchouli I discovered in the eighties and every time I smell it, it is like love at first smell—probably because each one I have is slightly different due to age, origin, etc. It has signified so many things for me, but has never become over signified. It is more than a scent for me, it is a constant companion.
You can visit the Balbec Beauty website to purchase their clay and yogurt cleansers, oils, and hydrosols.

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