In Our Own Backyards: Karen Van Dyck’s Cures for What Ails Us

karen van dyck

Karen Van Dyck is a professional herbalist, natural health consultant, educator and perfumer from Vancouver Island. In this interview, she shares the story of her path to natural health care and some tips for using scents for energy and relaxation.

Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us about your journey in to natural skin care?

When I was a child growing up on Saltspring island, we used to rub seaweed on our skin, dig clay from the banks for face masks, put lemon juice on our hair to sun streak it, and put aromatic flowers in jars of rainwater to make perfume. This elemental connection to nature was more important to me than I knew at the time.

The lightbulbs started going off when I was studying herbal medicine and learned a very important thing – the body has an inherent ability to heal itself if you give it the natural building blocks it needs. This includes the skin as the largest working organ of absorption, protection and elimination. Working as a natural products specialist for a pharmacy chain, I saw that the cosmetic industry (in the interests of money) was mystifying what should be a natural solution to skin issues. Like pharmaceuticals, they lived in a world of patented synthetic molecules, that were highly potent, but they strained the liver and left a damaging trail in the body. They can result in eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dryness and fungal rashes. My philosophy is simple: cleanse, hydrate, nourish and protect – with whole food molecules from nature.

During my eight years in pharmacy, I developed a philosopy that nature in all its complexity and balance held potent solutions for beauty and health. I had the priviledge of attending many seminars and workshops, and also had access to the compounding lab. People started asking me for natural alternatives. My first creations were not elegant! I took a natural cosmetic formulating course with the Cosmetic Formulators of the USA and used what I learned to formulate using superfoods (foods that are highly nutritious and powerful) instead of isolated patented synthetic molecules and thus Natures First Beauty Bar was born.

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Can you give us a sneak peak in to your creative process?
My clients usually come to me with an ingredient/food that they want to develop into a line; like fermented rice paste from the sake makers on Granville Island, or aronia berry from Ontario… and then I put my thinking cap on. I research the ingredients and all their powerful nutrients for their skin/health properties. Then I use the traditional methods of one step extraction (distilling, fermenting, tincturing, maceration, infusing) to stabilize the foods for use in products. I consider each of my formulations a work of art, and I use organic, sustainable, unrefined butters, oils, essential oils and other ingredients to produce a skin care product that is highly functional, beautiful and supportive of skin health. One thing that I love is that my products are not clear or bleached white – you can see through the colour that the wonder of nature is in each jar.
Scents can be very powerful. What would you recommend to someone who need more energy? For someone who would like to relax?
I completed a three year program in natural perfume with Aftelier in Berkeley California. Aromatherapy uses steam distilled essential oils, and perfumery uses resins, tinctures, absolutes, concretes (the waxy part of flower blossoms) and other mysterious and amazing ingredients. All of nature is therapeutic, but essential oils have the highest profile for their therapeutic effect since they enter the bloodstream quickly. Every person is different and responds differently, but if someone is needing more energy because they are tired – I would recommend peppermint or eucalyptus. If they are writing an exam – add rosemary to that. If they are needing mood uplifting, citrus oils like grapefruit and lemon work. If a person needs energy because their hormones are out of whack – I would recommend rose geranium. If people are tired because they are highly stressed, I would recommend lavender, ylang ylang, sandalwood or grounding oils like patchouli. These oils are also relaxing and calming. For enlightenment or focus – rose and sandalwood are wonderful.

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The world of aromatherapy can seem overwhelming! What advice would you give to someone who wants to experiment with scents?

To make a simple aromatherapy blend – choose a balanced blend with an equal amount of each note [and blend with a base oil such as jojoba]

top note:
1. citruses like pink grapefruit, bergamot, lime, lemon, orange
2. spices like black pepper, ginger, coriander, cardamom
3. light woods like cedar or rosewood, fir or spruce

middle note:
1. florals like rose, jasmine, lavender or ylang ylang
2. herbs like rosemary, sage, fennel
3. spices like cinnamon or nutmeg

base notes:
1. resins like myrrh, frankincense, benzoin, peru balsam
2. vanilla
3. Indian grasses like patchouli or vetiver (only a small amount!)

To have a more uplifing blend – use more top notes
To have a more grounding blend – use more base notes

A cautionary note for people with low blood pressure – stay away from lavender since it definitely lowers blood pressure and can cause dizziness. If you have high blood pressure, lavender should be your best friend!

What has the world of natural health taught you about taking care of yourself?

A connection to nature brings profound health benefits. Whether it is watching a sunrise, walking through a forest or swimming in the ocean…. Health is physical, mental and spiritual. Beauty is Health. There is an old saying that a remedy for what ails you is within 10 feet of your back door. Herbal teas are the best and fastest ways to recieve that remedy. Natures bounty is our food and our medicine.

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