How a little girl's battle with eczema led to the creation of New Zealand's best-loved natural skincare companies.
Brigit Blair (pictured) is one of natural skincare's veterans in New Zealand. The Christchurch mum of three launched her first Linden Leaves range of skin oils in 1995 - well before the idea of synthetic-free moisturisers had properly caught on. But, as usual, necessity was the mother of invention.
Brigit had a small daughter who suffered terribly from eczema, asthma and allergies - including going into anaphylactic shock from eating peanuts. Frequently hospitalised, Catherine's irritated, cracked skin meant a long pre-bedtime rigmarole of lotions and potions every night.
"She was a very unwell child," recalls her sister Juliet. And as well as the discomfort, she was brought up with the aroma of pinetarsol, and medicinal substances such as emulsifying ointment.
Brigit, a primary school teacher, began tinkering with oils for Catherine's skin to find something with a pleasant fragrance which moisturised and nurtured dry, irritated skin.
"The whole thing was about trying to create something that smelled nice so she didn't feel like such a cot-case," says Juliet.
The first product was the body oil made up of sweet almond, apricot kernal, cold-pressed rosehip and organic avocado oils. And this product has changed little.
"A large amount of our product has been refined and tweaked but the original range has been pretty much the same for 18 years," says Juliet.
Now employing 20 full-time, part-time and consultant staff, the company has branched out internationally and a good chunk of business comes from overseas sources.
"And when people from overseas rate a product then New Zealanders sit up and take notice!" says Juliet.
Linden Leaves is now known for its distinctive " botanicals in a bottle" ranges. The botanicals are freeze-dried so they're approved for sending overseas but it's put them squarely in the gift market bracket.
Juliet, who speaks on behalf of her "very modest", publicity-shy mother, says she swears by using high-quality oils over lotions every day.
"The lotion's gone in half an hour. The oil is longer-lasting and goes deep into the cells."
As for Catherine, she's grown out of some of the ailments she suffered as a child but still suffers eczema. When her skin is vey bad she covers herself in body oil before taking a shower - it helps protect her skin.
Published 10 June, 2013