Daron Hope at EarthTonics is a maker after our own hearts. Deeply connected to Mother Nature, healing and the products she creates, each formula of fresh, herbal ingredients is an alchemic conduit for holistic skincare. A return to nature’s definition of true beauty and self-care. Founder Patti Pagliei recently interviewed Daron. Read their conversation below.
I first met Daron at a maker event we did at our flagship The Shopkeepers in Santa Barbara and was so taken with her calm presence and connection to the products she make. When she’d describe each formula, I could feel a connection to the alchemy myself.
We all love Earth Tonics at our shop! Your blends are really unique. We talk a lot at Waxing Poetic about listening to our inner guidance, and “writing our own way” - meaning, each of us authoring our own life. I get the sense you followed a singular path to healing and transformation much in the same way…
What was it like at the beginning?
I began making botanical formulas when I was in my late teens. At the time, I had a love/hate relationship with skincare... I both loved the act of using it, the sensuousness and ritual of it... but hated that it never helped my troubled skin very much. I resented the lists of synthetic ingredients that made up most of the label. I wondered why there always needed to be so much filler, so many preservatives. To me, these were dead substances that weren't bringing life-force to my skin.
My first formulas were simple but nutrient-dense. They made an immense change in my skin for the better. I fell in love with caring for myself, learning from the gentle potency of the plants themselves. It led me down a path of herbalism and energy medicine, learning all I could about different plants-- their energies and effects on the body, their traditional uses across cultures. I cultivated relationships with them one-by-one as I anointed myself with their essence, while I steeped my mind in research and ancestral wisdom. It was pure play, experimentation, and discovery.
How has it changed you?
I've learned about the holistic nature of beauty. I believe true beauty is an outward reflection of vibrant health--mind, body and spirit. The more I come to understand this, the more I see the lies and propaganda of the commercial beauty industry. Our mainstream culture aims to make people (especially women) feel insecure in our bodies and ashamed of our natural aging process. Rather than investigating imbalances in our skin from a loving perspective, we've been conditioned to wage war on our skin as if it were separate from us, using weapons like acids and injectables. Skincare is an epic, ongoing opportunity to listen to our bodies. We can glean so much information about our health (both physical and emotional) from what is going on in our skin, if we slow down and listen. Making EarthTonics and working with people (including myself) to fall in love with themselves through their skincare practice, feels like a vital reclamation of our self-worth. It activates us as our own healers, as we see that we have the ability to listen, care for and make visible changes to ourselves through acts of love. It's an ongoing personal journey of self-love for me.
The delight you get in making skincare really seems to come through in the products you choose to make. Like, when I use your products, I almost feel a connection to the formula, which I really don’t with many other skincare lines.
It really is magic! How do you know when you have “hit” the right blend?
Such a good question! Creating a new formula is a long and intricate process of refinement. There is a lot of intuition involved as to when I've "hit" the right blend, usually a reflection of my own obsessive usage!
I've noticed over time that EarthTonics' aromas carry an association for our customers, usually of deep relaxation and pleasure. Of a time for self-care and down regulating the nervous system.
Aroma is powerful and emotional. It's processed in the limbic brain-- the same area where memories are held. I love hearing how different formulas remind our clients of different moments in their life, different places they've been, different big life events. I'm always honored when mothers-to-be bring products with them into labor, or folks take my products with them to faraway lands!
There has been so much talk about “self-care” during quarantine. What is your definition?
I believe self-care is any act that returns you to the present moment and fills your cup. In our overly productive world, it usually works in tandem with rest. This can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, a bath, stretching the body a bit. To me, self-care is also about setting healthy boundaries and being authentic about your bandwidth in a given moment. Making choices that your future self will thank you for.
I've always enjoyed skin care ritual as a means of self-care because I love the sensuality of it-- the textures, aromas, my own loving touch. A fact I like to share: In utero, our skin and nervous systems unfold in tandem from the same tissue. Touching your skin has a direct down-regulating effect on the nervous system-- releasing oxytocin and reducing cortisol levels.
But skincare isn't inherently self-care. It becomes self-care when you set the intention to be kind to yourself, to touch yourself with healing hands. Can I look in the mirror and love who I see? Can I tend to myself with kindness? Can I anoint myself with healing tonics while I sip medicinal tea, rather than pick, prod and examine every pore? Can I empower myself to heal through nutrition, hydration and rest?
You live and work in Ojai, less than an hour outside of Santa Barbara. Tell us about life there – how did you choose it?
I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Ojai. I moved away to the Big Apple as a youngster before swiftly realizing that I had grown up in paradise-- ha! Ojai is a very special place. It has changed a lot since I was a kid, as people catch on to the magic here. The valley is incredibly beautiful. I've been enjoying keeping life simple-- gardening, walks at the river bottom and tending to our new Apothecary Shop, which we will be opening soon!
How do your surroundings play a port?
It's my first and foremost priority to serve my local community. As a small business owner, I'm often asked how I plan to scale and exponentially grow my company. Folks assume my goal is to become a global brand. The truth is, I am not trying to build an empire. Rather than quantity, my focus is quality. I value sustainability, impact and integrity. The truth is, these botanicals are not infinitely scalable, we must honor Mother Nature as we use her gifts. There has to be reciprocity. My focus right now is creating that. It's the intention that informs my work and the heart that goes into each hand-blended batch. My natural surroundings remind me to honor rather than exploit the precious nature of each living ingredient we use.
Ok, we have to talk about “Mushroom Milk,” a favorite of mine. It is so earthy, and fungi are known to be healing. How did you discover the formula?
A favorite of mine too! It's changed my skin entirely. I'm often inspired to work with superfoods and herbs that I'm using internally, and that's where my idea for the Mushroom Mylk came from. Medicinal mushrooms are incredibly healing. Specifically, they're very anti-inflammatory.
Inflammation can be caused by stress, toxic chemicals, dehydration, pollution in the air/food/water, excessive sun exposure (to name a few). Inflammation shows up as a defense mechanism to further protect the body (especially compromised areas) from further damage. When there is inflammation in the skin and body skin our cells have to focus on reparative measures (calming the inflammation) rather than pro-aging processes, like collagen production and cell renewal. The Immortelle Mushroom Mylk blends 5 potent anti-inflammatory mushrooms to work on inflammation in the skin (which can take the form of discoloration, redness, sensitivity, acne or dullness). The wonder of mushrooms is that they're adaptogens, meaning they bring balance each person differently, in the ways your body needs most-- truly intelligent healers!
What are your favorite botanicals?
There are so many! I've spread them out and built formulas around my favorites... Tamanu, Calendula and Chamomile in our Repair Creme Concentrate.
Kukui nut, Blue Tansy and Rosewood in Our Calm and Replenish Oil.
Cardamom, Lemongrass and Jasmine in our Cardamom Cream Cleanser.
As most native and indigenous herbal methods teach, it is important to listen to our bodies changing needs, as the seasons change. To shift how we care for ourselves each season, using what's in season. I've begun offering Limited Edition Tonics from time to time, to celebrate this pillar of holistic healing.
Right now, we are moving into the heat of the summer, so I am loving cooling herbs like mint, lemon balm, and tulsi, and indulging my senses with beautiful fruits of the season-- apricots, mulberries, strawberries. I eat some and mash the rest up as a face mask! Although skip the mulberry face mask unless you want to be purple for a few days.
Ooooh where do I begin?! We offer incredible holistic beauty rituals in person, at the hands of our in-house facialist, Shae Christy. That is an experience. I recommend "The Works."
Really though, ritual can take so many forms! Morning coffee, exercise, or cooking, when done with intention and gratitude can all be transformative rituals that bring awareness of the present moment, and our gift of embodiment.
At home, my favorite rituals for skincare include facial self-massage and gua sha (see my website for tools and a tutorial). I use my hands or a gua sha tool to release tension, assist lymph drainage, and re-educate muscles to a more relaxed, lifted position. I'm always shocked at how much in transforms both my face and mood! We carry so much tension (unconsciously) in the face, which effects energetic channels in the body... so facial massage, to me, is a vital tool for wellness, beyond aesthetics.
The world is opening back up slowly. I feel forever transformed by the pandemic - saying goodbye to the life we knew as “normal” to awake to a new world. What sort of changes, or transformations, do you wish to see as we re–enter a new way to socialize and be together?
It's been a humbling time for sure. I am forever surrendered to the great mystery, to all I don't know. At the same time, I'm also committed to my full realized self as a creator. I believe we are all creators. I mean, it's really magic. We start with our imaginations, then we act and-- boom-- we create our reality. I think we're all waking up to our ability to work together and create a better world.
During this time of relative isolation, I've tried to identify my guiding values, and align my actions to those values. I value freedom. I value justice. I value health. I value pleasure. I value Nature. I believe in a future where all people have access to these things.
I’m also recognizing that I am working from within a system that doesn't necessarily share those same values. For those of us that dream of a better, more equitable world, we're working with a toxic system we've unwittingly inherited and perpetuated. It feels like we could be entering a new era of awareness and empathy. This is a time to really choose actions carefully and intentionally. Personally, I am working to dismantle systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and other domination structures that live within myself. I am listening to the voices of people who have been marginalized in the ways I have been privileged. I am committed to waking up to the Truth, however hard it is to swallow.
I hope that beyond any fear that shows up, that we're able to take our power into our hands to create a more beautiful world together. I think it is possible.
Photography: Brendan William James @bwilling