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TODAY contributor
updated 10/20/2008 3:51:56 PM ET 2008-10-20T19:51:56

What happens when a cosmetology school dropout named Spirit is unable to open the organic spa of her dreams?

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Good things, apparently.

After years of touting the benefits of organic beauty to her circle of friends, Spirit Demerson decided to streamline the often-challenging process of locating high-quality, all-natural cosmetics and skin care products by selling them herself. But though the idea was solid, the funding was not. When the cost of opening an organic spa in New York City proved insurmountable, Demerson remained positive — which seems to be the only option when you’re named Spirit — seamlessly moving to plan B: spiritbeautylounge.com. A “virtual beauty lounge,” the site allows users to purchase safe beauty products while tapping into the growing natural beauty community through Demerson’s frequent blog posts and current updates on the latest concepts and trends.

A one-stop beautifying-shop for all things organic and eco-friendly — cosmetics, fragrance, skin care, hair care — Spirit’s got you covered from head to toe. Spirit Beauty Lounge features only brands that have passed Demerson’s strict screening standards, a process she calls the “three P’s.” And though this lounge leans toward luxury brands with luxury prices, and you may be feeling the economic pinch, this might be one area where you still want to splurge. Financial crisis or not, there’s no escaping the fact that your skin is the body’s biggest organ and that it absorbs the majority of what you put on it. But don’t take it from me. Take it from Spirit.

Q: Why did you decide to start a business devoted to organic beauty?

A: I’m the type of person who likes to share everything I’m into with all of my friends. Being both the “greenie” and the beauty expert of my group, I would always encourage others to try organic and natural rather than conventional beauty products, but had to send them in a dozen different, often obscure directions to find the ones that really worked (and were pretty enough to fool even the strictly Sephora types). I knew the best way to reach people who hadn’t “converted” yet was to create a one-stop shop for the best of green beauty in a fun environment that felt more like a boutique or “beauty lounge” than a drugstore. I started hosting organic spa parties here in New York and decided to open an organic spa. When the overhead for opening the spa became prohibitive, we re-created the concept online.

Q: What were you doing before starting Spirit Beauty Lounge?

A: I have always loved making my own beauty products and trying new ones. Even as a child I would make perfume with vanilla from the pantry and facial toner with watermelon rind (my dad’s invention). I ran a beauty supply store and went to cosmetology school, but dropped out when I realized I was great with the chemistry and the theory but terrible at cutting hair.

Q: Why should people who have never considered the ingredients of their personal care products or cosmetics start to pay attention to what they put on their skin?

Q: As much as 60 percent of topical skin care products is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. We shouldn’t look at the moisturizer we put on our face every day any differently than we look at the food we eat. But it’s not just about the known toxins we want to avoid. It’s also about the incredible benefits of using antioxidant-rich, organically farmed plant essences and oils to beautify, rejuvenate and heal our skin, hair and nails. Like organic food, organic beauty is also higher in bio-available nutrients that feed your skin.

Q: What are some of the top ingredients to stay away from when shopping for personal care products?

A: I don’t believe in using scare tactics to convince people to go green or organic, but I do believe we should all be informed to help make the most educated decisions for our health and the environment. A wonderful place to get started is the Green Guide’s “Dirty Dozen” and Teens for Safe Cosmetics’ “Dirty Thirty” lists of chemicals to avoid. All are suspected or known carcinogens, hormone disruptors or system toxicants found in many everyday personal care products that you may already be using.

Q: How do you screen the companies represented on your site to ensure that they are meeting organic and/or sustainable standards?

Image: Spirit Demerson
Courtesy Spirit Demerson
"Even if the green fad dies, we are going to see more and more safe, natural beauty options going into the future," says spiritbeautylounge.com founder Spirit Demerson.

A: I developed a scoring system called the “3 P’s.” All of the products we offer are selected for their effectiveness, their quality and their beauty or uniqueness.

Performance is our first priority. A product should do what it promises and do it well. 


Potency/purity is next. We demand the highest possible percentage of organic or biodynamic active ingredients. 


Packaging is third. All of our products must be packaged in materials that are beautiful as well as biodegradable or recyclable.

All of the products from any line must score high on all three “P’s.”

We are also “Dirty Dozen”-free and try to ensure that all ingredients are ethically sourced and cruelty-free. I don’t take anything for granted. There is a lot of dialogue that has to take place between the vendors and myself regarding the source of the ingredients and the company’s in-house and manufacturing practices with regard to the environment and fair labor. Organic certification is not the end-all, be-all of the selection process. We still have to look at every product, every ingredient and get answers from manufacturers about anything that isn’t transparent. We also share ongoing dialogue with all of our vendors about product developments and we encourage advancement toward completely certified-organic, chemical-free, fair-labor, cruelty-free products.

Q: In what other ways does Spirit Beauty Lounge reflect a green ethic? How are your products shipped, etc.?

A: I set out to build a green business first, a beauty business second. All of our facilities and services are powered by 100 percent wind, hydro and solar energy. All of our shipping materials are Cradle to Cradle certified, made with recycled materials, or are biodegradable. We purchase carbon offsets for all of our incoming shipping from vendors and our personal travel and offer easy carbon offsetting for the shipping of your purchase at checkout. We also donate 1 percent of sales to 1% for the Planet and another 5 percent of profits from special items every month to other nonprofit organizations. This month we are donating to Global Green to help rebuild green in New Orleans.

Q: What are your favorite products?

A:Organic Apoteke’s Rasayana Rejuvenating Serum has worked wonders in evening out my skin tone. Acquarella is the only nail polish that I can leave on for a week without drying out my nails, and skinnyskinny soaps are my go-to gift for any occasion. They are so adorable as well as beautifully scented. They never disappoint.

Q:Where do you see the organic beauty industry going in five or 10 years?

A: “Organic” has become more appealing to consumers both in a cultural sense and in a practical one. A rapidly growing number of consumers are buying organic products to avoid exposure to the toxins they read about in the news. What they don’t realize is how loosely the term “organic” is being used on these labels and that it doesn’t guarantee, by any means, that a product is free of the offending ingredients at all. Some of us are becoming aware, for the first time, that currently the FDA does not actually regulate personal care products to protect us from carcinogens and other health hazards that we are exposed to every day in our soap, our shampoo, etc.

Image: Skinny Skinny organic bar soap
spiritbeautylounge.com
Skinny Skinny's coffee and mint organic bar soap is great for eliminating clingy kitchen odors.

Organizations like the Organic Consumers Association, Teens for Safe Cosmetics and the Natural Products Association are helping to spread the word and inform consumers that there is a lot of greenwashing going on in the beauty business and that ultimately, you have to turn that bottle around and read those ingredients if you want to know what you’re really getting. That is quite a consumer burden.

There are at least 30 ingredients, the “Dirty Thirty,” that Teens for Safe Cosmetics has found in a large number of everyday personal care products, that are suspected and known carcinogens or health hazards. Some of them even pop up in so-called “organic” products. Can you remember all 30 toxic ingredients every time you run to the drugstore for shampoo? Probably not. These groups believe you shouldn’t have to, and they’re making great progress in getting manufacturers to commit to ending the confusion by signing the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, by filing lawsuits against allegedly lax organic certifiers and by getting lawmakers to vote for FDA regulation. Whatever happens with currently pending legislation and lawsuits, I think we will eventually see stricter labeling standards and a ban on many of these toxic ingredients like those that have already been banned in the EU.

While the negative aspect of the growth of the industry has been corruption and greenwashing, perhaps one of the most positive aspects has been the advancement of research into natural alternatives to chemical ingredients. Jurlique, for example, has developed a completely natural preservative system and just launched a line of biodynamic anti-aging skin care with ingredients that act like phyto-retinols in fighting fine lines and wrinkles. Ingredients like pomegranate seed oil and argan oil have incredible active antioxidant and hydrating properties that surpass any synthetic counterpart. Even if the green fad dies, we are going to see more and more safe, natural beauty options going into the future.

Q: Do you have any tips for navigating the world of natural and organic beauty?

A: There are so many choices and there is so much information out there — I know it can be overwhelming. You don’t have to use 100 percent organic products 100 percent of the time. Baby steps are bigger than you think, and if you have started to look into it or to learn about ingredients, you’re already doing a good thing for your health and for the environment. I hope that our shop and those like ours can take some of the anxiety out of shopping safe and green.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.

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