“Live every day in choice, with true appreciation for everything.”
This post comes from our own FP Naomi.
First off, you have an amazing story. Can you tell us how you got to where you are today?
It began in 2008. I started losing peripheral vision out of my left eye. I asked my doctor to run an MRI just to put the worst case scenario to bed, but ended up being diagnosed with a rapidly growing brain tumor. I was told it was most likely caused by environmental toxins, which was really hard for me to understand. I thought I was living a healthy lifestyle — I had a greenhouse in my backyard where I was growing my own vegetables and herbs, and I ate organic! My doctors told me the tumor could have resulted from something as simple as what I was putting on my skin (after all, your skin is the largest organ and can absorb up to 60% of what is applied). It was a huge wakeup call…to realize that something as simple as beauty products could have caused such significant health issues.
Even though the prognosis looked grim, I knew in my heart that I would survive. I took it as a sign that it was my time to do something big — to leave behind a legacy of some sort. I became obsessed with learning everything I could about the beauty industry and set my mind on creating a vision of beauty by health.
On April 22, 2009 (serendipitously Earth Day), I woke up from surgery with complete vision restored. I will never forget, just after I woke up, when the doctor came into recovery. He looked at me and said “you are done.” I literally said, “as in stick a fork in me, done?” He smiled and explained that the tumor was partially fluid-filled and that they were able to drain it and remove the rest of the mass. It was then I heard the best words ever spoken: “welcome to the rest of your life.” I have not stopped since. I know my purpose is to leave a legacy of change. To help others make healthier choices for themselves. I launched the Indie Lee skincare collection out of that passion.
What is the major difference between how you live your life now, and how you were living it prior to all this?
Up until the diagnosis I was a happy gal going about life as usual. I had left my career in corporate finance to spend more time with my kids. I built a greenhouse in my backyard to grow plants and teach the farm-to-table philosophy at local schools. Sounds cool, right? It was, sorta, but the truth is I was just going through my life, checking off the boxes of things I thought I had to “accomplish” and I wasn’t REALLY living my purpose.
As I was driving back to the doctor’s office, after I got the MRI results, everything changed. The best way to describe it? I started seeing in technicolor. The trees were more colorful, the sky bluer — things came into sharp focus. I asked myself if I was truly present and fully living this gift called life? The answer was clear — NO, I was not. But as I always say, you live in choice and the stakes had been raised. I made a decision that day to start living passionately and presently. I knew then that everything that was happening to me was for a reason. The tumor was one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me. Now, I live every day in choice with true appreciation for everything I’m able to experience, both good and bad.
Once you decided to go natural, what did you start to look for? What things were important for a product to have, and what things were important to avoid?
The first thing I did was to learn how to read labels. I was already reading the labels on my food. Why hadn’t I been reading the labels of my beauty products? I started looking for simple and easy-to-understand ingredient lists, which was no easy task. I learned almost immediately that, just because a product had a green leaf on its label, it didn’t mean it was free of toxins. I looked for products that were botanically based and packed with vitamins, essential oils, etc. I avoided things on the skincare dirty dozen list (phthalates, parabens, sulfates, formaldehyde, coal tar, etc.).
What are some of your personal favorite natural beauty ingredients?
Squalane: One of all my all-time favorite ingredients for moisturizing, is olive-derived (though it can also come from sugar and even shark liver) and promotes skin elasticity, diminishes age spots and hyper-pigmentation, and boosts cell regeneration. Since our body produces squalene naturally in abundance until our mid 20’s, our body is very receptive to it. Squalane is great for all skin types, absorbs quickly and improves the skin’s texture and tone. I swear it’s changed my complexion. So many have referred to it as their holy grail and “game changer”.
Calendula: I consider it one of the best oils for first aid. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and healing properties. It’s also great for everything from hydration to anti-aging and helps soothe even the most sensitive skin. I recommend it for chapped, irritated skin, rashes, burns and cuts.
You recently explained to me that many products can be naturally derived, and that they can also be artificially created. What are some examples of these products, and how can consumers ensure that they are getting the good kind?
A perfect example of this is fragrance. You can purchase something that might smell like fresh flowers, but the scent is completely synthetic. If a label says fragrance, parfum or perfume, there is a good chance it’s not natural and contains phthalates, which can irritate your body, your airways and even disrupt hormones. Fragrances are protected by trade secret laws, so companies are not obligated to list out the ingredients in them. The simple word fragrance could represent hundreds of synthetic ingredients. Instead of choosing a product with fragrance or parfum listed as an ingredient, look for essential oils or botanical extracts for a natural scent.
You’ll be leading a workshop on our retreat to Yelapa. Can you give a little taste for our readers? What can attendees expect?
I’m so excited! I want it to be fun and informative and, who knows, maybe inspirational too. I’d love for the attendees to leave with the confidence that they can make healthier choices when it comes to their skincare. Plus, we are going to cook up some great products together. I love a good DIY project and have been testing out a few different recipes for the retreat.
For someone that’s scared natural products “aren’t going to work,” what do you say to convince them?
Oh I totally get it. I was skeptical too. When I began my journey there weren’t the choices that there are today. So much has changed in ingredient technology — it’s an amazing time for the industry. To those that are worried about going natural, I would say start small. When you run out of a product, replenish with a natural alternative. Do your research and find a brand that you trust…oh, and read the labels. Once you get started you will see how easy it is to make the switch and how great the results will be.
Lastly, what does free mean to you?
For me “free” means independence and choice. From there, authenticity is born.