Exploring Etsy: The Library Apothecary

The Library Apothecary Lotus Oil
photo credit: The Library Apothecary

A feeling of wonder and mystery always come over me upon entering a library.  There is something magical about all of the knowledge to be gained and all of the stories to uncover.  I love the feeling of excitement when you find that piece of information you were searching for, or when you find a novel that you have to dive into reading right then and there. It is a feeling that always keeps me coming back to explore again and again. I had these same feelings upon discovering The Library Apothecary.

Hand crafted in Alberta, Canada by founder Mara, The Library is as unique as they come.  From the exotic ingredients used in her formulas, to the shadowed and mysterious photos, you are left feeling intrigued and curious about these beautiful creations and their clever product names.  The intense passion she has for researching oils and herbs leads to products that are made with intention and the utmost care and thought.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mara and learning more about The Library and I am thrilled to share more about both with you here on the blog today in the interview below.  Mara kindly shared some amazing sneak peaks into a few upcoming launches within her line, and I have no doubt that you will feel a strong desire to explore this beautiful line.  Like a good book, these products will delight and leave you wanting to know more.

The Greenly Guide: I first came to learn about The Library Apothecary via social media and hearing you speak about all of the amazing ingredients in the products you create – what was your inspiration for starting The Library and how long has your shop been open?

Mara: I opened shop January of 2015, not to sell makeup and skincare, but handmade jewelry made out of raw crystals and colorful, dried bugs. Over a very short period, I gathered quite the collection of bugs and rocks, but then came to the realization that I never really even liked jewelry, I just liked collecting bugs and minerals – HA!

Around the same time I first opened shop, I was dealing with some hardcore skin issues caused by food intolerances and prescription medicine. Oh, the joys of life! So, along with totally overhauling my diet, I chucked out all of the skincare products I had been using at the time. They weren’t doing much good anyways, so I figured I would be better off just make my own.

At first, I was only using whole ingredients like shea butter, argan oil, and jojoba as moisturizers, oil-cleansing with hemp seed oil, and adding essential oils to my sub-par concoctions for a bit more oomph. Being totally naïve, I had no idea that my new routine was one of the major causes to the severe flaking and excessive oiliness my skin was suffering through. Slowly, I began researching the issue I was facing, and lo and behold, I had discovered that trans-epidermal water loss was partially to blame! I was only adding oils to my skin when I should have been adding hydration.

In trying to understand which kinds of products would work best for my skin, I flung myself into the never-ending abyss of mystical, plant-based knowledge. I wanted to find the best ingredients to help with sensitivity while also strengthening the moisture barrier over time, so that my skin could better adapt to environmental stressors, but also be able to regain balance when thrown off by internal stress.

The more I learned about different plants, resins, mushrooms, and lab-synthesized ingredients, the more I understood in regards to my own skin, and skin in general. As I formulated products that worked on my own sensitive, acneic skin, I thought that, hey, maybe other people will benefit from this too. And that’s how things really got rolling.

The Library Apothecary Lip & Cheek
photo credit: The Library Apothecary

The Greenly Guide: Can you share the meaning behind the name The Library Apothecary or how you came to settle on that name for your brand?

Mara: Honestly, I just needed a new brand name because some candle maker had the one I was using originally. Ah, yes, so inspiring. I do happen to be a big fan of books and writing, though. Also, I do quite like the image of an apothecary hiding in the corner of a giant, private library, spiral-staircase and all.

The full name combines my two favorite things, which sounds really cheesy, but I swear it wasn’t on purpose. I’m only just now finding the hidden meaning of the name. Look at us, learning as we go!

I guess the name sort of plays off the many different ingredients I enjoy using within a single formula, too. Or perhaps that the products themselves are supposed to be much like a library of plant-knowledge?

When formulating and creating names for my products, I do envision my customers having questions that require them to do their own research. I want them to teach themselves about certain ingredients rather than having only the packaging tell them. Same goes for the names of the individual products. I want people to be able to type the product name into Google to find articles and stories about it. Take “Blackwood”, for instance. Look that up and you’ll be introduced to an array of horror stories written by Algernon Blackwood. Look up “Eldar”, and it will bring you to Tolkien’s lore on the first elves to grace Middle Earth. If the stories interest the customer, they may even pick up the full books!

The Greenly Guide: What have been your biggest challenges in working with natural ingredients to formulate your products?

Mara: The biggest issue I’ve encountered when working with natural ingredients is that the results can be quite finicky when mixing together different herbs. If too much of one herb is used, and too little of another, you can easily end up with skin the color of a tomato. There must be synergy. Without creating a balance within the formula, the results are just left up to chance.

Initially, it was hard to maneuver the field of synergy because I couldn’t instantly remember which ingredients were more astringent than another, or which had stronger exfoliating properties than another. Adding pineapple enzymes, strawberry extract, papaya, honey, and white willow could very well lead to some blotchy, itchy skin if too much of each is added, and they all have nothing soothing and calming to sit upon. Synergy is absolutely key to a well-rounded formula; something I caught onto early, thank the gods. All of the herbs used need to be best buds, hold hands, and help each other out. This is more difficult to do as the ingredient list grows, but if you learn enough about the beneficial properties and compounds of an ingredient, linking them with those that share similarities becomes second-nature.

While it is important to understand the scientific side of things, I find that how an herb looks, and its history are just as important. When I’m creating a recipe, even the names of the ingredients must sound like they belong together. For me, the best way to determine synergy is to just go with my gut. If it doesn’t feel right, I won’t force plants together.

The Library Apothecary Sample Set
photo credit: The Library Apothecary

The Greenly Guide: Many of the ingredients you use are incredibly unique, and not ones I have heard of often – can you share how you learn about these more exotic ingredients and how you source them?

Mara: I mostly just stumble upon them. I’ll peruse the internet, searching for a sustainable and organic source for one ingredient, and then end up finding three new ingredients. Travelling and trying new foods, like mastic ice cream, also leads me to wonder whether or not I can slather it all over my face. Sometimes I’ll even read a mention of some plant in a book, then look that up. Like Hamlet’s “gall and wormwood”, or how Roman soldiers used to put yarrow in their shoes to prevent sore feet, for example. I find that we can learn a whole lot more about a plant through literature like folklore, poetry, and the like, compared to the more academic literature like scientific papers and whatnot. Of course, studies are incredibly important to determine toxicity, recommended dosage, which chemical compounds the plant contains, etc., but they don’t detail how the plants have been used. History, be it true or not, shows us sides of a plant that science can’t reach.

The Greenly Guide: Can you talk about a few of your favorite ingredients and why they stand out to you as beneficial for the skin?

Mara: Prickly pear, licorice root, and indigo naturalis are some of my all-time favorites! Whenever I see prickly pear extract or prickly pear seed oil on a label I get really excited because it’s such a cute little fruit with really powerful benefits for the skin. It’s very high in vitamin E and linoleic acid, so it’s something I reach for when I want to ease itchy, red skin. It feels thick and emollient, but prickly pear oil sinks in so well and produces such a skin-brightening result that it has become one of my go-to’s. It is terribly expensive, as each seed only contains a small amount of oil, but it’s one of those ingredients that is truly worth the cost. Plus the prickly pear cactus is an excellent drought-survivor, making it an important plant for a more sustainable future.

I add licorice root to nearly everything I make because it is such a great ingredient to help with possible irritation, and is used in nearly all formulas of Traditional Chinese Medicine! Licorice is what’s known as a “harmonizer,” meaning that it can help neutralize potential toxins within many different plants. It brings a whole formula together while also calming and brightening the skin. You can also use it as a replacement for sugar in your tea as it’s incredibly sweet tasting. Almost a little too sweet at times, but it’s great when you have a very bitter, high-mountain green tea.

Indigo naturalis happens to be an umbrella-term for a group of indigo plants that have been used medicinally for thousands of years. There’s Indigofera tinctoria, Isatis indigoteca, Baphicacavthus cusia, and Polygonum tinctorium. These plants have accumulated an incredible amount of research associated with the treatment of dermatitis, over the past 20 years. It’s normally used to help with skin conditions caused by inflammation and irritation, so of course it’s one of my favorites. While all the science backing the effectiveness of this plant is very interesting, and I do suggest you all do some more digging, the story that I always immediately think about when I’m faced with indigo is that of the samurai. Way back when, the robes the samurai would wear beneath their armour were dyed with indigo naturalis! If a warrior was stabbed or cut by the enemy’s blade, the tightly-bound indigo-dyed robes would act similarly to a Band-Aid, while also aiding to hasten the healing process of non-lethal wounds.

All three of these ingredients reside within the Eldar Herbal Unguent, which is designed to calm and protect the skin. A favorite skin-treat I always reach for after using actives like AHAs, vitamin A serums, or before leaving the warmth of my home to face the deadly Alberta winters.

The Library Apothecary Eldar Balm
photo credit: The Library Apothecary

The Greenly Guide: It is easy for people to get caught up in skincare trends, new products or be influenced by social media, possibly resulting in them purchasing a product that does not best suit their skin type – What do you feel are the most important things someone should look for when choosing their skincare products?

Mara: The most important thing about a new product is, and forever will be, the ingredient list. I rarely pay any mind to all the claims made by the packaging, or the person trying to sell it to me. I just flip the product around and scan the ingredient list.

Personally, I try to keep away from any product containing fragrance, so that’s the first thing I look for. If the product contains plant-derived oils, I make sure that they are low in oleic acid. The whole fatty acid composition of oils is something I pay a lot of attention to because too much or too little can really throw your skin off balance. I am prone to clogged pores, oily skin, the works, so too much oleic acid can lead to some painful breakouts for me. Olive, avocado, marula, moringa, camellia and hazelnut are all extremely high in oleic acid, which makes them great for dry skin, but potentially terrible for oily, dehydrated skin. I’m fine with any of the mentioned oils if they’re used at 10% or lower, but my skin needs the linoleic, alpha-linolenic, and gamma-linolenic acids! So, if a product is being marketed towards skin prone to breakouts, yet contains olive oil high up in the ingredient list without an oil like grape seed to balance it out, back on the shelf it goes.

Another thing I pay attention to are the emulsifiers used to hold serums or creams together, and the cleansing agents used to produce a lather in face washes and shampoos. My skin and scalp always do best with the least irritating of cleansers, so “sulfate-free” is what I’ll look for on the front box or label, and ingredients like cocomidopropyl betaine, sm cocoyl taurate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, coco glucoside, etc., in the ingredient list because I know my skin can tolerate these best. In the winter, I stay away from foaming facial cleansers completely.

Now, some positives! When I see green tea, licorice, gotu kola, tamarind seed, watermelon, cucumber, seabuckthorn, sodium hyaluronate, panthenol, xylitol, allantoin, niacinamide, or MSM in a product’s ingredient list, I get excited. When a product contains two or more of these, I get really excited. Because I understand how these ingredients work with my own skin, I can then assume how well the product in my hand will function overall. Naturally, different ingredients may work differently for different people, so it’s very important to be aware of your own skin and its picky preferences. If the base of the formula looks promising, and the actives and extracts look promising, then there’s a high chance the brand will be getting my money.

The Library Apothecary Baobab Oil
photo credit: The Library Apothecary

The Greenly Guide: If you were having a night of self care, pampering and just unwinding after a stressful day – what products would you be using?

Mara: When I get in the pampering mood, I don’t normally think of topical skincare. I might do a more intense routine since I have the extra time, but I mainly focus on de-stressing. This is where herbal extracts and teas come into play!

Inflammation is a big cause of skin flare-ups, and stress is a big cause of inflammation! So, focusing on calming the mind can be just as beneficial as coating the skin in hundreds of dollars of product. In order to de-stress effectively, I like to grab a big fuzzy blanket, (or three), brew some caffeine-free tea, make lots of snacks, and marathon some Netflix.

Passionflower-based teas have been a current obsession of late, as they truly relax the heck out of body and mind, but are better prepared and drunk later in the day when all you want to do I be a couch-potato. During the day, I rely on extracts like reishi mushroom, Rhodiola rosea, and ginkgo leaf, which are adaptogenic in nature, and also somewhat nootropic. These two terms mean that something, plants in this case, may help the body and mind adapt to environmental and internal stress, even enhance memory, and the processing of information. I find that when I have better control over my mind, stress becomes a non-issue.

What new treasures await you at The Library Apothecary? Mara shares more about her newest releases below:

The Library Apothecary The Eldar Herbal Unguent
The Eldar Herbal Unguent (photo credit: The Library Apothecary)

The Eldar Herbal Unguent

Named after the elves of Tolkien lore, this balm was formulated to calm skin subjected to a dry environment, and to provide antioxidants to the skin so that it may fiercely combat city pollution.

Brazilian cupuaçu butter and Indian kokum butter make up the base of this product. They are rich and moisturizing, while also being quickly absorbed and loved by all skin types. Cupuaçu butter is a personal favorite because it provides a silicone-like feel without the pore-clogging effect, so it can help prevent a dry climate from turning you into a flaky prune.

Canadian hemp seed oil, Turkish pomegranate seed oil, hazelnut oil, meadowfoam seed oil, grape seed oil, and rice bran oil then make up another portion of the formula. This blend of oils is used to extract all the oil-soluble goodies from the various herbs added to this balm. There’s a healthy amount of dragon’s blood resin, purple gromwell root, indigo, and rooibos to deal with sensitivity and blemishes, chaga and reishi mushroom for a big dose of antioxidants, and schisandra berry, ginkgo and rhodiola rosea; all-powerful adaptogens which enrich the skin with the nutrients it needs, so that it may better adapt to environmental stressors.

To top it all off, barbary fig seed oil and sacha inchi nut oil are added during the last stages of formulation, accompanied by Bisabolol, vitamin E, Phytosterols, and freshwater pearl powder. These luxurious additions really kick the balm up a few notches in terms of effectiveness. Sacha inchi oil is known for being one of the richest omega-3 sources, light in texture, and great for sensitive and blemish-prone skins. Prickly pear seed oil, on the other hand, is heavier in texture, yet is still absorbed well by the skin. Its high vitamin E content makes it beneficial for all skin types looking for moisturization and a little glow, which the sustainably-sourced pearl powder isn’t too bad at providing either.

The Library Apothecary Jasmine Pearl and Green Clay Mask
Jasmine Pearl and Green Clay Mask (photo credit: The Library Apothecary)

Jasmine Pearl and Green Clay Mask

This clay-based mask clears pores of excess sebum while soothing and softening the skin thanks to silk amino acids, ground ginkgo leaf, imperial matcha, and the extracts of licorice, cucumber and gotu kola. Hand-ground jasmine pearl green tea syngergises with ginkgo to provide the skin with free-radical-annihilating antioxidants, and irritation-qwelling quercetin. The delicate scent of night-blooming jasmine is released upon mixing with water or milk.

The Library Apothecary Oil Serum
Voltaire Oil Serum (photo credit: The Library Apothecary)

Voltaire Oil Serum

This facial oil only contains 5 ingredients of which organic amaranth seed oil plays a big part. Why? Because this oil is crazy good. It contains 8% squalene which is the stuff our skin needs to stay healthy and moisturized, especially as we grow older. Amaranth seed oil is also quite high in linoleic acid, making it a good choice for oily, blemish-prone skin. Extra-virgin olive oil contains about 3% squalene, but it has such a high amount of oleic acid that it can be quite troublesome for those with oily skin. To help amaranth seed oil be all it can be, I’ve added apple seed oil and kiwi seed oil to the mix. These two fruit oils provide a boost of antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, something blemish-prone skin needs a whole lot of. And since no product is complete without at least one herbal infusion, I’ve added the soothing wonders of red reishi mushroom.

Interested in trying out The Library Apothecary creations for yourself?

After hearing about all of these amazing products, my guess is you may be interested in doing some shopping!  Mara has so generously offered a free shipping code on all purchases of $80CAD or more with the code FREEGREEN. So, head over to her shop HERE and try out her new Eldar Balm or one of her facial oils or masks!  Let us know in the comments below which product intrigues you the most!


Connect with Mara and The Library Apothecary through her Etsy shop and Instagram.

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