Sandra and the Eczema Elixir
Many readers with delicate skin will have heard of - or may use - Green People products but may not be aware that the inspiration for them and the company came from one little girl suffering from severe eczema.
By the time Charlotte Vøhtz’s daughter Sandra was two she suffered from continuous coughing and sneezing (a combination of hayfever and sinus) and broke out in an eczematous rash every time she touched any kind of shampoo, shower gel, soap or skin product. Sandra also seemed to have a pigmentation problem as she was developing completely colourless patches on her skin.
Charlotte had trained as a nurse in her native Denmark but here in the UK she worked in research and development in the pharmaceutical industry. At this point she was responsible for clinical trials in the areas of hormones and dermatology. She was therefore only too aware that the only treatments that Sandra was likely to be offered for her eczema from within the conventional medical framework were regular applications of steroid creams - not a treatment with which she felt very happy. Charlotte had already tried eliminating the ‘normal’ allergens (citrus, dairy, tomato and wheat) from Sandra’s diet but it seemed to have made little difference.
It was at this point that she was introduced to Hein Zeylstra, the founder of the College of Phytotherapy, the person who, as she says, ‘made me change direction in life’. Hein Zeylstra introduced her to a herbal elixir, based on 12 organic cold pressed herbal juices and four tinctures, which had been formulated over the last 20 years by some of Europe’s leading herbalists. Sandra was to take 1/2 a teaspoon of the elixir in organic apple juice morning and evening before meals. Hein also told her to remove everything from Sandra’s food and environment which contained any synthetic chemicals.
For the first few days when Sandra started on the elixir her eczema got much worse (a classic de-toxification reaction) but within ten days it had all but disappeared although it took a lot longer for the respiratory problems to clear up.
So, fired with Hein Zeylstra’s enthusiasm, Charlotte embarked on a dramatic review of their eating habits and their environment. All refined foods and anything containing artificial additives or possible pesticide residues were jettisoned in favour of fresh organic produce.
At the same time she read up on VOCs, the ‘volatile organic compounds’ which are used in the manufacture of the foam back carpets and underlay, vinyl wall covering, paints, plastics, the particle board used in most modern furniture and all modern upholstery which by law has to be treated with fire retardant chemicals.
As their name implies, VOCs, the chemicals in the compounds, release toxic vapours at room temperature - a release which may continue over many months or even years so that one is exposed to them on a daily basis. The chemicals include formaldehyde (widely used in carpets, plastic products, foam filled furnishing and bed linen) and organochlorines (found in most cleaners, air fresheners and polishes). Charlotte was fortunate in that most of their furniture was over a hundred years old and so chemical free, but she did have to replace carpets throughout the house with wooden, stone and tile floors.
Having learnt about the VOCs she started to look at the personal care products which had sparked Sandra’s eczema. To her mounting horror she found that even the creams and lotions which were intended to soothe and calm irritated skins included dozens of chemicals. Indeed she discovered that there are over 75,000 synthetic chemicals in use which may come into contact with our skin and that up to 60% of any substance which is applied to our skin can be absorbed into our bodies.
Worse: personal care products need only contain as little as 1% of natural ingredients to be called ‘Natural’ and over 100,000 tonnes of man-made chemicals are used in the production of so-called ‘Natural’ cosmetic products every year.
Many of these chemicals are known to be toxic when used in isolation, but almost no studies have been carried out to investigate possible interactions between them. One of the few tests that has been carried out showed that the toxic effect of two synthetic preservatives increased a thousand-fold when they were combined compared with their separate effects.
So appalled was she that she decided to try to create and market a range of natural personal care products that were safe and gentle on the skin but still effective in use.
‘I was lucky,’ she says, ‘that my husband was able to help out financially. The first 3 years were very hard. I worked around the clock. No vacations, no free weekends. The first two years were spent researching, creating and developing formulations which would meet those criteria - a steep learning curve as we could not use many of the ingredients derived from petrochemicals which are commonly used in cosmetics: sodium lauryl sulphate, sodium laureth sulphate, propylene glycol, DEA, TEA, ethanol, parabens, PEG’s, synthetic fragrances and colourants..
Once we actually had a product, all my Saturdays were spent doing demos in health stores around the country. In the beginning we were only myself, our au-pair girl (when she wasn't with Sandra) and a young girl working part-time helping to pack the products.
Thanks to my degree in business studies and my nursing and pharmacology background I was able to do almost everything myself - accounts, marketing, PR, sales, product-development etc. But it was really hard. To start your own business you need to be a fanatic and NEVER give up. And you need to make sure you never spend a penny without analysing what you realistically will get in return.’
However, her hard work has paid off and from a turnover of £40,000 in the first year the Green People has grown to turn over more than £1,000,000 last year.
The product range has also grown to include over 100 formulations, 20 of which are certified organic. These include skin, hair and body, dental and sun care, special ranges for men and for babies and children and a small range of home care products. It also includes the herbal formula (known in the Green People catalogue as the Hawthorn & Artichoke Formula) that Hein Zeylstra originally recommended to Charlotte and which she explains above.
Hardly suprisingly, given the background of the company, the other product of which the Green People are particularly proud is their Organic Baby Salve. This is an organic blend of cold pressed plant oils combined with calendula and lavender which seems to be extremely successful in soothing infantile eczema - possibly due to the wide range of essential fatty acids that it delivers and which are essential for normal skin health.
For more information about The Green People and their products call them on 01403 740350, write to them at The Green People, Pondtail Farm, Coolham Road, West Grinstead, West Sussex RH13 8LN or check their website at www.greenpeople.co.uk
In America, you can buy a selection of their products via Amazon (US).