Jessica Burman is a sentinel for natural beauty. Her passion stems from a deep connection to the physical, emotional and energetic properties of the plant life that surrounds us. By combining this love with an understanding of the intrinsic qualities and needs of human skin, Jessica boldly poses a challenge to a leviathan cosmetic industry that permeates everywhere, yet so few truly know. Ten years ago, Jessica Burman created Cocoon Apothecary, a celebrated organic cosmetic line that has been excitedly featured in publications including EcoParent, Best Health, Natural Home & Garden, and Votre Beauté.

Through her personal philosophy and politics, Jessica Burman advocates against the unnecessary and horrific consequences of harsh chemicals, including petroleum products, that insidiously violate women’s and men’s bodies through many of the soaps, cleansers, shampoos and make-up products that we use. She humorously points to the fact that organic products have been used successfully for eons, until, through more recently available economic routes, industry profiteers saw opportunity in making widely consumed products that offer little or no solutions for the skin, only to profit off of epidemic skin problems like early aging, acne, and irritation.

Many of the ingredients used in commercial cosmetics are artificial, intended to mimic qualities of regeneration, or provide fake layers of filling that quickly disappear leaving skin dry and prone to wrinkle formation. Effects of toxic cosmetics also include the contamination of water, increased potential for diseases due to absorbed chemicals, and many other economic, environmental, and inhumane consequences affiliated with company priorities being placed on cheap production and mass profits.

Still, every year, scores of new products invade every visible space of any given commercial beauty department. Concealers, foundations, and moisturizers are just a few of the most popular products available, and for many women–and increasingly young girls–buying these products is almost second nature. This is precisely one of the biggest problems of the dominant cosmetic status quo: we wouldn’t need to rely on powders and creams to cover our “imperfections” if these same blemishes and irritations weren’t caused, perpetuated or otherwise enraged by the harsh chemicals found in many cleansing products. Skin that needs concealing after cleansing is an obvious sign of a routine that isn’t working, but cosmetic companies have learned to capitalize on the idea of people caking their faces every day. A chemical laden toner can leave your skin flaky or painfully red, while a similarly toxic moisturizer can inflame more acne; this in turn would cause you to purchase all the makeup needed to cover this up, in addition to the extra for fun. This psychological attack has become so entrenched through advertising and product monopolies, that most of us won’t even think twice about this destructive paradox.

The solution however, is surprisingly simple: use natural products. Cosmetics and other beauty products are not evil; they are intended to be healing, enhancing, and yes, amusingly indulgent. The evil is found in the malicious attempts to confuse consumers into buying more products–filled with toxic chemicals–than necessary, and to convince consumers that skin must be covered to look healthy. Organic cosmetics, just like organic food are ingested internally; there is no such thing as skin-deep because our bodies are cyclical organisms. In this interview, Jessica Burman will explain these issues in greater detail, will lift your spirits with the little luxuries of plants that allow your face to look good naked, and will also share some of her own story behind the very humane inspiration to create Cocoon Apothecary.

Be sure to check out the great infographic from Natural Healthy Concepts at the end of this article!

[title subtitle=”JESSICA BURMAN”][/title]

WBM: Where are you from and where are you now?

JESSICA: I was born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario and that is where I live right now with my husband, two daughters, three cats and one dog. We live in a charming house built in 1925 in a vibrant central neighbourhood complete with beautiful parks and community gardens. There are many young, like-minded people here so it’s a great place to raise my children and grow a business.

WBM: Who are some inspirations for you, from any realm where inspiration can be found?

JESSICA: My greatest inspiration is the plant kingdom. I am obsessed with the beauty, the aromas and the healing powers that it offers humans.  It not only provides the tangibles such as air, food and medicine but it also replenishes us energetically in ways that are inexplicable. A walk in a forest can rejuvenate anyone’s spirit. I devote much of my free time to studying the properties of plants and their uses. I believe that in our modern world, we have forgotten our very sacred relationship to nature. This has hurt us in so many ways and is the root cause of environmental destruction on this planet. Humankind has spent several centuries trying to tame it, control it or better it but any sense of accomplishment in this respect is an illusion. We will never be able to compete with the complexities and overwhelming intelligence that exists in the botanical world.

WBM: You write for Alternatives Journal, a Canadian publication that highlights political, ecological, and other important social issues. What has been the response thus far to the facts you have been presenting through Alternatives?

JESSICA: Alternatives Journal has been around for over 40 years and they have a hard core environmental audience.  Writing for them is definitely a case of preaching to the choir. Their readers are already aware of the health and ecological impacts of synthetic chemicals so it’s just a matter of educating them on what exactly to look for on cosmetic labels. People are very appreciative of this information.


[title subtitle=”COCOON APOTHECARY”][/title]

WBM: How did you get started with hand-crafting cosmetics and starting Cocoon Apothecary?

JESSICA: In 2001, I discovered essential oils at a health food store where I purchased lavender and rosemary. I had no idea that there was a way to capture the true aromas of plants and was immediately in love.  It became a hobby of mine to blend them into bath oils and give them out as gifts. In 2003, I received a business grant as part of a severance package from a company I was working for that was going through a merger. Newly unemployed, I placed my first wholesale order for $600 worth of essential oils, carrier oils, beeswax and butters. I spent months experimenting with these ingredients on my kitchen stove and was never at a loss for ideas – the creativity poured out of me. I also took a course in aromatherapy so that I would be knowledgeable in the safety and properties of the ingredients that I was working with. The first products I introduced were lip balms, bath salts, bath bombs, bath oils, soaps, perfumes and therapeutic balms, which I sold at local farmer’s markets.

WBM: Not only are you products organic, they are also vegan! How does veganism, or at least the principles behind it, fit into your own life?

JESSICA: I love animals and feel nothing but compassion for them and their predicament on this planet. They are at the cruel hands of faceless industries. They suffer in labs, factory farms, fur farms, rodeos, circuses and zoos all over the world. They are treated like mere objects with no feelings. I don’t believe that animals are commodities and therefore they have no place in my products. I will not use lanolin, milk products, egg products, emu, silk or even bee products. I signed a contract with PETA in 2008 that promised to never test on animals or use animal ingredients in my products and I take this very seriously. My diet is mostly plant-based as well.

WBM: You link commercial cosmetics with rapid degeneration of skin. Are the cosmetics that are being sold to us actually speeding up the aging of our skin?

JESSICA: I believe that the majority of the beauty products on the market are poor performers and cause inflammation to the skin leading to premature aging.  Women age very poorly in North America and I blame the products they are using. People are shocked when I tell them I am 39 but I have been using natural products my entire 30s so my skin has not aged. I believe this is what everyone should look like at my age but unfortunately this is not the case. Many women much younger than me are turning to injections such as Botox to temporarily reverse the damage that has been done. The same companies that make skin care products also sell make up primers and foundations. If you’re using the right products, you don’t need to cover your face with layers of pigmented grease – you will look great without them.

The petroleum that is used in cosmetics is produced in the petroleum refining process. (Photography © Ron Watts)

The petroleum that is used in cosmetics is created in the petroleum refining process. Many of the chemicals that are found in non-natural cosmetics are directly related to industries that are invested in conflict and environmental destruction. (Photograph © Ron Watts)

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