Katharine L’Heureux—founder of skincare line Kahina Giving Beauty—has not always lived by words like “organic” and “pure.”
She experimented with diet trends until she realized the simple goodness of unprocessed and ethically sourced ingredients. And that newfound philosophy only began to dictate her beauty habits after airport security left her without skincare products on a vacation to Morocco in 2007. Forced to deviate from her regimen, she visited a local apothecary, where they advised substituting argan oil for her usual lotions and potions. In days, she was seduced by its myriad benefits.
L’Heureux was also soon captivated by the beautiful environment from which the oil comes and by the Berber women, who harvest it. Since she founded her company in 2008, she has made it her mission not only to provide high-quality argan oil products to her clients, but also to protect the people and places that enable her to do so.
Here, L’Heureux describes that fateful first trip, when she discovered her line’s key ingredient, and helps us make the healthiest beauty choices for ourselves, the environment and the world.
Live The Process: Has choosing sustainable food and beauty products always been of utmost importance you?
Katharine L'Heureux: No, not at all. I was raised on processed convenience foods as a child. Since then, I’ve been concerned about eating healthfully, but this concept has changed dramatically over the years and has only gradually become about eating organic foods. There was actually a time when all I ate was white bread and pasta—no fat. Now I practically live on healthy fats such as avocado and salmon.
It wasn’t until the last decade that my eyes were opened to the importance of eating organic, minimally processed foods for overall health, as well as for the effects these choices have on the environment. It was in 2007, the year I discovered argan oil, that I started to make the same connection with my beauty products. Of course, now I think it’s more important than ever to eat organic, minimally processed and ethically farmed foods and to use natural and organic beauty products. There are just so many more toxins in our environment now. Your skin will thank you!
LTP: It was on your very first visit to Morocco that you discovered argan oil. What inspired that trip? Can you describe your initial experience with this magical ingredient?
KL: My first trip to Morocco was purely for pleasure. It got off to a bad start when my skincare products were confiscated at the airport by security. Little did I know then what a favor they were doing me! I was forced to try something new.
At the time, I had never heard of argan oil and, under normal circumstances, would not have considered using a pure and simple oil on my face. But there was no other option. After I tried it in the apothecary of Marrakesh and used it for a few days, I was a convert. My skin, which was normally dry with oiliness at the t-zone, was balanced for the first time.
LTP: What is the idea behind your new FEZ Body Serum? What are its benefits?
KL: Fez, Morocco provides such a heightened sensory experience with its many layers of sights, tastes, sounds and smells. I somehow feel more alive when I'm there. The creation of the Body Serum, inspired by the scents of Fez, was a way for me to extend this sensation and bring it home with me. Our sense memory has a powerful ability to bring us back to a place. It’s very visceral. I've never worn much perfume, but I love the idea of a body oil that moisturizes while emanating a subtle scent. Besides smelling amazing, the ingredients in Fez have wonderfully calming and uplifting aromatherapy benefits. And the mixture of oils—argan, watermelon seed and olive—is very nourishing for the skin.
LTP: In your experience, what’s the biggest obstacle an ethically minded company faces, when trying to ensure the fair treatment of people who produce and harvest ingredients and also minimize its environmental impact? How have you worked to overcome this obstacle?
KL: My criteria for sourcing argan oil is as follows:
1. The oil must be of the highest quality.
2. It must be produced using the best harvest and extraction practices for minimal impact on the trees.
3. The women who work to extract the oil must be treated fairly.
4. The supplier must have a clear idea of ways they can improve their community with donations from Kahina.
5. They must be able to meet the logistical challenges of certification and exporting goods overseas.
It has been a challenge to find suppliers that can meet all five of these criteria. I have discovered many lovely cooperatives that were unable to meet Kahina’s quality standards and to deliver consistently and reliably. I have also found oil that was acceptable, but delivered through large US-based companies with no transparency to ensure sustainable harvesting practices or fair treatment of the women who do the extraction. My current supplier is certified Fair Trade and Ecocert, which guarantees fair treatment of the women as well as minimal impact on the environment.
Of course, this commitment costs money. It can be tempting to cut corners on ethical practices to reduce costs, especially for a small start-up, but we have found that our customer respects and admires our commitment and recognizes the value added in our practices. There would be no satisfaction for me in creating a product that wasn’t sustainable and ethical.
LTP: What advice would you offer those who wish to make ethical, wholesome dietary and beauty choices, but are unsure of where to find the information to make these educated decisions?
KL: Eat organic foods and use organic beauty products when possible, but don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t always 100% clean. Learn the seven most dangerous toxins that exist in beauty products and do your best to avoid them. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website is a good place to start.
At the same time, if you adore your red lipstick, go ahead and use it from time to time. The same goes for the deodorant and waterproof mascara, although there are some really good natural cosmetic lines out there now such as Ilia and Kjaer Weiss. I like the 80/20 rule: If you are doing well 80% of the time, you can give yourself a break the 20% of the time that you aren’t perfect. A resource I love is the No More Dirty Looks blog: they provide practical advice on food and cosmetics for people who want to clean up their routines, but don’t necessarily want to make huge sacrifices.
Certifications on food and beauty products are helpful to consumers to cut through the green-washing. Make sure they are legitimate certification bodies, though, and not made up certification seals.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
KL: It looks like peace with myself, with others and with my surroundings. I find I am happiest when I am being creative, with my family and spending time in nature.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process" and how do you do that every day?
KL: Make conscious choices. Be aware of the impact of your decisions on the environment, on your personal health and on other people, but make this knowledge a source of enrichment, not stress. Breathe. Be kind. Show empathy. Appreciate what you have and express gratitude.