I always wanted to interview Charlotte Vøhtz, the founder of “Green People”. For me she is the original Ms Organic. She agreed to speak to “Berkshire Woman” and share her wisdom with our readers.
B.W. – Charlotte, it’s well known that you came to the idea for the business through your daughter’s problems with eczema. How did you manage to make that transition from “mum with a problem she needs to solve” into a business woman? Did you already have links with the industry or was this completely out of the blue?
C.V.– I did not have links with the industry but gained invaluable knowledge from my many years in the Pharmaceutical industry as well as four years of Business Studies. As you say, my motivation for creating an organic beauty company came from wanting to help treat the eczema and allergies that my daughter Sandra suffered from as a small child. After much personal research, it became clear that focusing on a more natural and holistic way of treating children’s allergies and skin problems was the best approach…and Green People was born! It was not a hard transition as I was on a mission to find a solution to a problem many people suffer with and my passion kept me going through the early days.
B.W. – At which point did you realise this was going to be a very successful business?
C.V.– For me, success is defined by all the individuals we have managed to help over the years. I can still recall the first time a customer came up to me at a health show and expressed how our products had changed her life. We all get a real buzz from the testimonials that are sent to us on a regular basis, it makes all we do worthwhile.
B.W. – Your products have won a lot of awards over the years. How well were you received within the chemical-heavy beauty industry to begin with?
C.V.– I don’t believe I have any enemies in that industry and I don’t believe that companies deliberately use chemical ingredients to harm – they use certain ingredients for economical reasons and lack of knowing the harmful downsides.
B.W. – Way back in the 1990’s people were not aware of the chemical dangers within cosmetic products. How much do you think you have helped raise the general public’s awareness about this issue?
C.V.– When I began ‘my mission’ going from store to store, no one was aware of the fact that up to 60 percent of what you apply on your skin goes straight to your bloodstream. Nor did anyone realise that a product could be labelled natural with less than 1 percent natural ingredients in. Sadly this is still the case today but I believe more people are becoming aware and looking for certified organic products.
B.W. – The Green People philosophy is centred on avoidance of harmful chemicals within personal care. Would you pick the three most common chemicals that cause health problems for our readers?
C.V.– Most ingredients used in cosmetics are perfectly safe, and occasional contact with them will cause no problems at all. However, some of these ingredients are used in so many different products that we can be exposed to them many times a day, and it is this cumulative exposure that may cause reactions and sensitivities. An example is Sodium lauryl sulfate, used in shampoo, shower gel, facial washes, liquid hand washes, washing-up liquids – even in toothpastes. Repeated and continual use of these products can lead to sensitivity against this ingredient. Other chemicals that can cause problems include synthetic fragrances, which are the leading cause of allergies and sensitivities in personal care products, and ethoxylated ingredients such as Sodium laurethsulfate and Polyethylene glycol (PEG) that can be contaminated with the known carcinogen 1,4-dioxin.
B.W. – If there is one chemical that should be avoided at all costs which one would that be?
C.V.– Of all the chemicals to avoid, I would rank as the most dangerous the group called phthalates. These are used as plasticisers in both cosmetics and some forms of packaging and which have been shown to affect human hormone levels, and interfere with the reproductive process. Although these are now banned from use in children’s toys, there are no restrictions on their use in cosmetics.
B.W. – What are the most common signs of chemical allergy in children?
C.V.– Allergies can manifest in many ways. Food allergies can cause abdominal bloating, mood swings, behavioural problems and skin disorders. Conditions such as eczema and dermatitis can be greatly affected by allergies, not only to food and drinks, but also to substances that come into contact with the skin.
B.W. – Once a child has an allergy related to products the mother might be using externally, is it not enough to just change the products? You have used various herbal tonics for simultaneous internal treatment as well. Would you tell us a bit more about that?
C.V.– I used a herbal tonic to help detox the liver to clear it of toxins and supplemented with essential fatty from Omega Oils that are essential to many body functions, especially skin.
B.W. – There is some controversy relating to regulations for herbal products in the UK. How are your products regulated?
C.V.– We sold one herbal tonic which we no longer have due to this regulation. The cost of applying for a license is beyond most small companies.
B.W. – There is a lot of information on your website about health hazards in various popular products. How could our readers take advantage of this knowledge and still “keep within budget”?
C.V.– People need to learn how to read ingredients lists on labels. Under EU law, all cosmetics must be labelled using approved INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names. Although this means that the names are generally in Latin, they will be consistent regardless of the brand or product. Some people carry a brief list of the ingredients they most want to avoid, and use this to check against products before they buy. Alternatively, buy products that have been independently certified organic – certification bodies such as Soil Association, EcoCert and Non-Food Certification Co all set very strict standards for the ingredients allowed into certified organic cosmetics.
B.W. – If there is one single product for a child you would not go without which one would that be and why?
C.V.– Children’s skin has greater sensitivity to sunlight, so I would choose a truly natural and organic Sun Lotion, not the usual chemically laden ones. A lotion that doesn’t aggravate the skin, cause prickly heat and block pores. Our sun lotions for children use natural mineral sun filters and skinfriendly ingredients to effectively protect against UVA and UVB rays. So going organic means that kids can still have fun in the sun, whilst their delicate and sensitive skin is protected.
B.W. – Is there any advice other than the above you wish to give to our readers?
C.V.– Learn to look at labels and don’t be taken in by all the nice marketing words and claims that are made. Trustworthy companies will declare all the ingredients and show if they are certified or what the percentage of organic ingredients are. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if in doubt!
(Charlotte was interviewed by Billie Krstovic)