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Skin deep

Helena Lane’s journey to creating a beloved line of simple, organic skincare products
Helena Lane

f anyone understands skin, how it works and what it needs, it’s Helena Lane.

The 45-year-old entrepreneur launched a line of skin- and body-care products 12 years ago, a range of products defined by simple, organic ingredients designed to keep the skin in balance. Today she is at the helm of a flourishing business in the Okanagan, with a brick-and-mortar store in Vernon, an online store and Whole Foods as her biggest local retailer.

The journey to this point was anything but simple, though. Helena grew up in Oxford, England, and until her early 20s, she was working as a restaurant chef—and loving it. There was just one big problem: the eczema on her hands, arms and neck. The severity of her eczema forced Helena out of her career and into doctors’ offices.

“My hands were bleeding and cracking, so I was having to wear gloves, which was very awkward while cooking,” she recalls. “Food and cleaning products were irritating my skin even more and the late nights and long shifts didn’t help either.”

When doctors’ solutions proved ineffective, she started exploring natural alternatives, and as she delved into these options, new career opportunities opened up.

“I retrained as a holistic therapist, focusing on aromatherapy, massage and Reiki, and then I began working in a natural food store in their vitamin, herb and skincare department,” she recalls. “I soaked up the information, which was very relevant to me because of my skin issues. Eventually, I was managing the whole department.”

That time on the shop floor was invaluable, teaching Helena which solutions worked for different skin types.

“Lots of people would come in with skin issues that were not being treated effectively by conventional medicine. To be able to give them hope and solutions, and see their skin heal, made a massive impact on me.”

When the store was purchased by Whole Foods Market, she became a skincare buyer in their UK head office. In that role, Helena evaluated and tested the natural products of manufacturers who wanted retail space at Whole Foods. She worked with Dr. Hauschka, one of the first natural, organic skincare companies in the world, and Weleda, another large, international brand. Then she became a trainer at Neal’s Yard, a natural apothecary company that exposed her to product manufacturing.

Helena Lane. Lia Crowe

By the time Helena moved to Canada in 2009, she was fully versed in skincare manufacturing and sales. She understood what retailers like Whole Foods were looking for, and what customers needed. And she realized there was a dearth of Canadian brands she’d even consider for her skin.

“I’m a huge believer in buying local, so when I couldn’t find the products I needed, I decided to start creating my own brand.”

She began small in 2011, manufacturing in her Vancouver kitchen and selling at farmers’ markets. With positive feedback on her first products, she was able to launch the brand in 2012 with immediate exposure at Whole Foods.

“Because I’d worked previously at Whole Foods, I knew what they looked for in a brand. I’d asked them what they were missing in skincare and what their customers were looking for. Then I combined that with my depth of experience and the products I wanted to create. And because Whole Foods is a real destination, lots of other retail stores and valuable contacts followed.”

Helena’s skincare philosophy is based on simplicity and made by hand in small batches. No product contains more than five or six ingredients, and all ingredients are unrefined, which means they are minimally processed.

“In skincare products in general, there are a lot of nasty ingredients that are greenwashed, and for me, having just a few recognizable ingredients is crucial,” she explains.

“In my products I want to respect how our skin works and get it back into balance. I believe that when our skin is genuinely healthy, we will be naturally radiant. And my goal is for my customers to use fewer products over time, not more. Ultimately, I believe the less we do to our skin, the healthier it will be.”

Today the Helena Lane line has around 20 skincare and body care products. They include cleansers, masks, exfoliants, moisturizers, facial oils, mists and serums, hand and body cream, skincare sets and sun creams. Her three collections are designed to serve every skin condition. The Nourishing Collection is for dry, mature, normal skin, while the Balancing Collection is for oily, combination and congested skin and the Calming Collection is for those with highly reactive skin such as rosacea and eczema.

Now that she’s based in Vernon, Helena is loving the Okanagan and the opportunity it has given her to bring her business to the region.

“Having a retail store has been fantastic, giving me a day-to-day contact with customers, which I love. We have a few stores doing product refills for us, so that we can be as environmentally friendly as possible. And we sell through Whole Foods in Vancouver and Victoria, as well as through other retailers,” she says.

Some 20 years after starting her journey into skincare, Helena is grateful to be 100 per cent free of eczema today.

“For me, the trigger for eczema was emotional, and I believe our emotional health affects our physical health,” she reflects. “My lifestyle and the products I was putting on my skin were making my condition worse. So, I cleaned up my skincare, changed my lifestyle by leaving the hospitality industry, and worked on my emotional health.”

“Our skin is what we show to the world, and it mirrors what’s happening inside our body, emotionally and physically,” she continues. “Choosing the right skincare products is important, but to make big impact changes, we need to look at our whole being. We are a collection of everything we do and think, and the places where we exist, and all of those things have an impact on us.”

One of the biggest problems, she believes, is the culture of marketing and consumerism. Don’t buy into it, she cautions. “The mainstream skincare beauty industry puts crippling pressure on women to look perfect. Through advertising, it tells us that we’re not good enough, and that we need to be spending more money, using more products, and altering our bodies,” she says.

“It’s very effective at making us feel not good enough, and it doesn’t support reality. Through my messaging I try hard to normalize imperfections in the skin, and also in us, as people. Learning to love ourselves for who we are and what we look like can be one of the hardest but most rewarding journeys of our life. I hope that I can inspire us all to be kinder to ourselves, and to others, too.”

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