09 Jun Recommendation Corner: Ablu
Ablu Botanica is a family-run artisanal bath, body and beauty company founded in San Miguel de Allende. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Lowenstien, co-owner of Ablu, about their products, practices and more.
Tell us the story of Ablu. How did you get involved?
My first interaction with Ablu was as a loyal customer. I was so excited when a bath and body shop of Ablu’s caliber opened in San Miguel—and better yet, all the products were made here by two of our dearest friends (Tim Johnson and Tom King). I’ve lived in San Miguel full-time since 2005 after visits every year since 2000, and my mother, Nancy, grew up in Mexico City. She started working with Tim and Tom in their lab in 2013. She’s always been a DIY pro and already made soap and lotions in her own kitchen, so it was a great fit. Tim and Tom moved back to the US, and as of September 2015, my mom, husband Greg and I became partners in the business. We decided to refresh and update the brand with a focus on native Mexican ingredients, so we have done a lot of work tweaking formulas and testing new ones. And we’re so excited to have our new retail location in the awesome Dôce 18 Concept House!
Ablu’s philosophy of beauty in balance takes the best of nature and human ingenuity to make their line of beautifully inspired skin care products, calling yourselves “modern day alchemists”. What does that expression mean to you and how is it reflected in your products?
I see striking parallels between alchemy–“a seemingly magical process of transformation or creation…concerned particularly with attempts to find a universal elixir”–and cosmetic chemistry. Of course, alchemy was the historical precursor to modern chemistry, and when it comes to transforming botanical materials into bath and beauty products, sometimes it feels like there is a little magic at work!
I also think it’s important to talk about the science of skin care, which is really where human innovation and nature meet. There is so much interest in “natural” and “green” products in the beauty industry right now. This is a positive thing, but underlying the marketing buzz there are many complex issues to consider, not least of which is the lack of a definition of these terms. It’s not as black and white—or green and white—as people might like, and sometimes it seems that “science” and “chemistry” are used as bad words in the lexicon of environmentally-conscious beauty. We feel this is a mistake. Soap itself is the outcome of a chemical reaction between lye and fat. Neither one of those ingredients on their own in their “natural” state would be able to clean your skin the way soap can.
The truth is, some natural ingredients are irritating to the skin while some synthetic ingredients are very effective and healthy. For raw natural ingredients to deliver all their inherent benefits to your skin or hair, you need chemistry. In other words, don’t try using a cactus pad on your face at home.
What are your favorite natural ingredients used in the products and why?
Our product line is driven by native Mexican ingredients and some of my favorites are members of the succulent family (aloe vera, agave, cactus). Succulent plants grow in arid regions and have evolved to store water in remarkable ways. As part of their defense system against water scarcity, they have developed rich mucilage content high in polysaccharides. This means they all have healing, soothing, skin-protecting qualities when applied to the skin. These ingredients also may help prevent transepidermal water loss, keeping skin hydrated and more elastic. As an added benefit, cactus extract in particular is high in antioxidants, which are so important for skin health—and health in general!
We are also big fans of goat milk, which we source from a small local dairy farm (El Capricho). Goat milk has been used to beautify skin since ancient Egyptian times, and we use it in our soaps, bath milk and ultra moisturizing night cream. Goat milk is full of essential fatty acids, vitamins and an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) called lactic acid, which is mildly exfoliating.
Mexico has long since been a source of botanical inspiration. What inspired Ablu to source their ingredients here? Are the products inspired by the botanical history of Mexico? If so, how?
Mexico is incredibly rich in biodiversity, plant and animal. We feel so fortunate to have this abundance at our fingertips—for us, sourcing within Mexico truly provides a beautiful spectrum of raw materials including avocado, cacao, coconut, mamey, cactus, vanilla, tuberose, hibiscus, jojoba, agave, aloe, and on and on. We try to source ingredients here in San Miguel as much as possible, and are always seeking out more. We also believe that sourcing close to home is a more sustainable approach to beauty than trying to collect and transport exotic raw materials from all over the globe.
What is the next step for Ablu?
We are working on a program for refillable products and packaging returns to reduce the number of empty bottles or jars ending up in landfills. It is important to note that all our packaging is recyclable, and we try to use easily recyclable materials like glass as much as possible.
In the lab, we are working on producing more of our own extracts, tinctures and infused oils using local herbs and flowers. In the future, we hope to also produce our own distillates.
In the coming weeks we will be launching some new products, so stay tuned! We will have some special items that are perfect for Mother’s Day, and will also be adding to our baby line and starting the men’s line. There will be newcomers on the shelves for summer as well.