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Crawford Street Q&A: Quality Natural Skincare Made in Toronto

Made right here in Toronto, Crawford Street Natural Skin Care is an impressive collection of face and body products made from high quality, naturally-sourced ingredients. We talked to founder Gaelyne Leslie about how pivotal personal experiences and a background in investigative journalism led to uncovering the truth about toxicity in everyday self and home care products. In-depth research and a desire to create a healthier life for her family resulted in developing Crawford Street – her very own continuously-expanding line complete with acclaimed deodorants, body and face care. 

Well TO Do: Please introduce yourself to WTD readers.

Gaelyne Leslie: Hello WTD readers! My name is Gaelyne Leslie and I am the founder and creator of Crawford Street Skin Care. I have been formulating small-batch, 100% natural skin care products for the past six years, and I have never been happier and more fulfilled!

WTD: What inspired you to start Crawford Street Skin Care?

GL: Crawford Street Skin Care started as a hobby. I was working in investigative television, at the CBC program Marketplace, and was researching stories about chemicals in our everyday environment. I was shocked to discover that there were chemicals in practically everything we brought into our homes; our cleaning products, shampoo, deodorizers, and even the children’s bubble bath for my toddlers. Then, in that same year, two horrible family health issues convinced me I had to make my own natural skin care products for myself, my family and my friends.

First, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and that led me on a frustrating and fruitless search for a natural deodorant. I tried everything – from crystals to powders –  and nothing worked and most smelled awful! Hundreds of dollars later with a pile of rejects under the bathroom sink, I was still without a solution.

Second, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I looked in the mirror to see that my entire face had broken out in spots and was swollen from a severe allergic reaction to a brand-name face cream. Tests and more research revealed that my reaction was caused by chemical preservatives used in almost all brand-name skin creams. As an investigative journalist, I dug deeper to uncover that most of these same chemicals were formaldehyde derivatives and were suspected as a contributing cause of cancer. Wait…what?? I couldn’t believe it – I felt like Erin Brockovich!  Especially when I found some of those preservatives were in my children’s body wash for “sensitive skin, and was “dermatologist recommended”!!

That was it. I started researching ingredients, reading everything I could find about natural skin care (surprisingly, the UK, France and Germany are way ahead!) and I experimented with hundreds of formulations until I found the balance between one that worked with a pleasant, natural scent. My hobby quickly became a growing business when friends told more friends and then one day I got a phone call from the buyer at The Big Carrot on Danforth Avenue asking if they could carry my deodorant. The orders started coming from health-conscious people concerned about chemicals in their cosmetics.

WTD: Your site includes a lot of in-depth information about the ingredients that you use. Why are quality ingredients important and what do you look for when sourcing them?

GL: I come from a family of amazing cooks. We love food! And my mother grew up on a farm, so my whole life I have been taught that the quality of a dish is the result of the quality of its ingredients.  I put that same philosophy into my skin care products.  I think it’s important to use the best quality ingredients because, like food, the better the ingredient the more effective it will be.

Crawford Street Skin Care uses organic, sustainable, fair trade ingredients and we buy locally as much as possible.

WTD: Having dealt with sensitive and reactive skin in the past, what skin care tips would you give to people who are feeling sensitive?

GL: After talking to hundreds of women and a few men, my belief is that we all have some type of skin sensitivity. Especially those of us who live in cities and are inundated by pollution on a daily basis.

The best things people with sensitive skin can do are to:

Sensitive skin should be treated the same way you would treat a sensitive soul, with gentleness and a delicate touch. The essential oils of rose, neroli, lavender and chamomile all work well for sensitive skin.

WTD: Crawford Street Skin Care makes everything from face creams to deodorant and body scrubs, all including natural ingredients. Why do you feel using non-toxic products is essential, and not only for skin care?

GL: Your skin works hard; it’s your outer shell but it’s also a permeable membrane – not an impenetrable shield.  Your body rids itself of toxins through the skin and the skin brings into the body whatever you put on it.

If you are putting chemicals under your arms in the form of antiperspirant, those chemicals are being drawn into your body through the skin. And, guess what? We have a lot of lymph glands in our underarms and the lymphatic system is designed to rid our body of waste and toxins.  So with chemical-based products, you are potentially overloading the whole system with harmful toxins.  Alternatively, when natural oils, like avocado oil or almond oil, are applied to the skin and they are absorbed, they bring with them all of their healthy ingredients like vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids. What makes more sense?

Now, take that theory and translate it into your entire living environment. If your environment is full of toxins that you are breathing, eating, bathing in, spraying near your eyes, nose, mouth, then its chemical warfare on your body. It’s that toxic overload that we should be most concerned about.

WTD: If someone was just starting to switch to a cleaner lifestyle with fewer synthetic chemicals in their routines, what advice would you give them?

GL: I think people tend to notice higher prices when they are switching to cleaner products and sometimes that can be a barrier when looking at all the choices out there. I typically recommend starting one step, and one product at a time – think about what products you use the most often, and have the most impact on your body, and change those first.

For example, a face cream or a deodorant might be something that you apply every day and it is absorbed into your skin, where as a shampoo you might use once or twice a week and it gets washed off. Better to invest in the chemical-free face cream or body lotion.

WTD: What’s in-store for Crawford Street Skin Care in 2017?

GL: It’s going to be an exciting year! This spring we are unveiling our redesigned packaging, with recyclable glass jars and new labels that put a contemporary twist on our classic apothecary look.  The new packaging is so beautiful!

We are also adding new products to our line. Our Lemon Deodorant Cream has been a favourite for many of our customers and they’ve been asking us to create new scents – so we did.  We’re about to launch a “Herbs de Provence Cream Deodorant” and a cedar wood-scented “Woods Cream Deodorant”.  On top of that, we have a new “Cuticle Oil” and more natural products are on the way – so stay tuned!

WTD: What is the future of green beauty?

GL: The future for green beauty is that it’s only going to get bigger and become less “alternative” and more “normal”. I can’t believe how much the category has grown in just the last few years. One of the things that inspired me to start Crawford Street Skin Care was that I couldn’t find natural skin care products that looked nice too. Five years ago, health food stores had products full of natural ingredients, but for the most part they looked bad and smelled awful.  Now there are all sorts of choices that combine natural beauty and luxury. Something for everyone!

WTD: What excites you about the Toronto green beauty and wellness scene?

Toronto has always been way ahead of most North American cities when it comes to wellness, holistic practices, environmentalism and awareness. Journalists like Gill Deacon and Adria Vasil, as well as the Environmental Defence, were all pioneers in the movement to rid our homes and our bodies of chemicals. Add to that our big-city sensibilities for beautiful design and sophisticated brands and it’s a pretty exciting place to be, and be a part of.

Crawford Street Skin Care makes a variety of skin and body care products from deodorants to bath soaks to beautiful face moisturizers (the Frankincense + Geranium Nourishing Face Cream is a personal favourite!). Check out their full line of locally-produced products here.