The apothecary has come a long way. Traditionally known for healing stores of herb-based remedies, these wholesalers came about in 16th-century London, emerging as the pharmacists of their time. Today there is no shortage of purported “natural remedies” and products masquerading as healing tonics or crèmes, especially in the beauty industry. There is, however, a not-so-secret import out of Covent Garden that is staying true to the roots of its founding city, despite having just set up shop in Canada last year: Neal’s Yard Remedies.
Founded in 1981, Neal’s Yard challenged the notion that the superior approach to health and beauty lay in synthetic stand-ins. Founder and former teacher Romy Fraser was inspired by the pioneer apothecaries who had come before her, and so she chose to harness the time-tested healing properties of herbs. Fraser applied ethical standards to the production of her products, luring in conscious consumers with certified organic ingredients, certification from the Soil Association (a first-ever for a skin care company in the United Kingdom), and sustainable initiatives.
Lisa Costello, CEO and founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies Canada, echoes Fraser’s founding sentiments at the Calgary flagship. “Everything we do is full circle, from where we source our ingredients to who we work with,” she says. The Frankincense Intense cream and serum, for example, source their namesake ingredient from frankincense trees in Kenya while supporting female workers and building wells. The effort is admirable, but what will continue to drive Canadians to buy the product is what Costello refers to as “the art of herbal science”—in other words, the results are clinically proven. Take the Frankincense Intense Concentrate, a gluten-free and vegan gel serum that smooths and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in 30 minutes (as this writer can attest).
What feels perhaps the best about allowing your skin to imbibe in Neal’s Yard products is knowing that essentially everything on the ingredient list was found in nature: gardenia plant stem cells; organic argan oil; aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder. As one might expect, the scent is inviting and pleasant. Neal’s Yard uses the world’s first FairWild certified organic frankincense, too—a magical ingredient, certainly. The power and preciousness of these potions are underscored in their packaging: blue glass bottles that keep out harmful UV rays, as much a necessity for delivering results as it is an immediately recognizable totem of the brand. The Wild Rose Beauty Balm is a success story in its own right, and is the brand’s most popular product, recently celebrating its 10th anniversary. Neal’s Yard employees and fans continue to discover more creative uses for it: moisturizer, makeup primer, cleanser, exfoliant, face mask, lip balm, nail balm, heel softener, minor burn treatment, eyebrow tamer, sunburn relief, eczema and psoriasis aid, even scar treatment. Among devotees it is often referred to as the desert island product. “People really like that it helps with a lot of skin concerns,” affirms Costello, who adds that it has been particularly popular in Calgary due to the dry climate. “There is science behind all of [the products],” she says.
While skin takes time to decide, consciences and bodies will nod and hum in approval much faster. Where ethics are concerned, consumers can be proud to purchase items from the Bee Lovely range, created in support of bee populations and made with organic honey and orange flower oil. At the Calgary outpost, customers can round out their beauty routine with organic facials, massage therapy, acupuncture, medicinal Chinese treatments, craniosacral therapy, clinical aromatherapy, and even nutritional counselling. It’s this whole health approach that is allowing Costello to open a second store in the city and 10 more across the country in the next five years. In the meantime, however, shoppers can order items to be shipped anywhere within Canada, or simply stroll into the small, bright shop and pick up a blue bottle teeming with the cherished, sacred remedies of Covent Garden.