Claire's Pure and Natural Products

In the late 1990s, Irene Claire James realized that she was subjecting her body to an onslaught of chemicals and synthetics—not in her stomach, but on her skin. “I was a believing and hopeful female, thinking that skin care products were preserving my skin and keeping me more youthful the more I applied,” James recalls. But over time her skin grew more sensitive under the constant application of mainstream skin care products.

Soon, James learned that cosmetic products are dangerously under-regulated (cosmetic ingredients are not reviewed by the FDA before being sold to the public), and that they contain potentially irritating or toxic petrochemicals like propylene glycol, a synthetic form of glycerin that has been linked to allergic reactions. “As much as 80 percent of what you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body,” she says, “so what you apply on your skin should be as pure and natural as what you put in your mouth.” James started by making a simple beeswax cream in her Oregon home studio, and she soon graduated to making homemade lotions and soaps with organically grown lavender, chamomile, roses, and calendula from her own yard. She shared these items with her circle of friends and soon developed a local following.

With the urging of her friends and a strong local interest in the products, James retired from her position as office manager and public educator at the local fire department in 2002 and opened Claire’s Pure and Natural Products. Using home-grown organic plants and certified organic materials from other suppliers, James makes more than 20 organic body care products, including facial serum, massage lotion, hand-stirred soap, natural bug repellent, and more.

She is building a new facility, surrounded by three-and-a-half acres of flowers, fruit trees, honey bees, and gardens, which is designed to meet the highest green standards and which will be certified as an organic processing facility. And there will be even more to show than happy, healthy skin for her efforts—three percent of profits from Claire’s Pure and Natural Products are donated to environmental and organic advocacy groups.

—Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist