Women in Health: Sarah Villafranco – from the ER to natural skincare
Over the past few years I have been blessed to encounter so many inspiring women who use their unique gifts and talents to improve the health of those around them in profound ways. These healers come in many forms: they are our doctors, masseuses, acupuncturists, herbalists, midwives, doulas, nutritionists, coaches, farmers, pharmacists, yoga instructors, and more. Over the coming months I will be interviewing a few of these women who have kindly agreed to share some of their pearls of wisdom with us all in a new series titled Women in Health. I think you will find that their knowledge is inspiring and that their passion is absolutely contagious!
My first interview in this series is with Sarah Villafranco, MD. Sarah began her career in emergency medicine and then founded Osmia Organics, a Colorado-based organic skincare line (read on for the amazing story behind her career-shift). I discovered her products over a year ago and have been obsessed ever since. She now focuses on “helping people choose natural and organic skin care products, encouraging them to nourish themselves physically and spiritually, and detoxifying their medicine cabinets all the while”. I am so delighted that she agreed to participate!
Let’s start off with a question about you, because I find your story very inspiring. You began your career as a doctor working in emergency medicine, and after years of practicing you made a major career shift to found Osmia Organics. Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you make this change? Were you always passionate about natural beauty care?
I love medicine. I loved practicing emergency medicine, and I never lost sight of what an honor it was to be able to help people in such distressing moments. But, I didn’t want to keep fixing problems after they had occurred: I wanted to help prevent them. I would spend 15 minutes talking to a patient about smoking cessation or dietary patterns while the nurses rolled their eyes because the patient had come in with a sprained finger. But, I wanted to inspire people to embrace their lives and health with more joy and appreciation, especially after my beautiful mom died at age 64. Sometimes I just wanted to yell: “DON’T YOU KNOW THIS IS YOUR ONLY LIFE AND THERE IS SO MUCH BEAUTY IN IT THAT YOU ARE COMPLETELY IGNORING??”
I have been a lotions & potions girl for as long as I can remember – I loved watching my busy lawyer mama take five seconds to slow down her movement while she applied face oil (way before face oil was cool!). But, I didn’t have Osmia in mind until I took a soap-making class. Something switched in my brain – literally, like a light switch. First, there was no concept of creating a natural beauty line, and then- click – it was all I thought about, all the time. Making soap is an incredible combination of hard science (I am a nerd, deep down) and endless creativity (not so present in western medicine). And, as I started using essential oils to scent the soap, I became more aware of how they tap directly into people’s power to heal themselves. Then I knew I needed to make more than soap, and that I could use the brand and our products to practice a kind of medicine that made more sense to me. So, that’s how Osmia was born.
In the ayurvedic tradition, it is advised to avoid putting anything on your skin that you would not feel comfortable putting in your mouth. Could you help shed some light on why caring for our health should not stop at eating well and exercising, but should extend to personal care products as well?
Well, in a sense, you are “eating” some of what goes on your skin as well as in your mouth. Certain (though not all) chemicals that you put on your skin get absorbed into your blood stream, lymphatic system, and cells, just as your food does. There are a lot of people who use extreme scare tactics to discourage you from putting “toxic chemicals” on your skin – I don’t really take that approach. Instead, I encourage people to think of diet and skincare in the same category – as “fuel” for your body and spirit. If the food is low-quality or filled with unnecessary ingredients, the effect can be diminished performance – fatigue, lethargy, depression, hypertension, diabetes, etc. But, if you choose nourishing, plant-based food with fewer additives and less processing, you are providing premium fuel, and should see better performance. The same goes for your skin care: be sure it’s nourishment for your skin and spirit, rather than something packed with synthetic colors, scents, and fillers.
Do you find that some people’s skin go through a “purging” or transition period after switching to a natural skincare routine? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of making the switch?
Absolutely. Anytime you switch skin care products – natural or not – your skin has to adjust. Our bodies are made up of complicated (and amazing) feedback systems, and those systems are constantly calibrating themselves depending on the cellular environment. For example, if you are using products that are too harsh and pulling too much oil from the skin, your skin will increase its sebum production to maintain its barrier function, often causing acne. Conversely, if you are piling on too much product, your skin will produce less sebum, and may feel dry all the time. The trick is to strike the right balance, and you should expect some bumps (literally) while your skin regulates itself. It’s a bit like training a puppy – you need to provide a consistent, calm environment, and eventually the puppy will start to behave. But, if you change the rules every few days, you will end up with a neurotic, confused dog.
If you had the power to make everyone adopt 3 healthy daily routines, what would they be?
1. Exercise! It’s a free, healthy drug that makes you happy!! Seriously – the word “endorphin” comes from “endogenous” (meaning from the inside) + “morphine” (a drug used for pain relief). You can make your own morphine!! Just 20 minutes of brisk walking per day (especially to fun music) will change EVERYTHING!!!
2. Notice things more: listen to the music playing when you walk in a store; see what jewelry your coworker is wearing; taste your food and drinks consciously; feel compassion more readily, even for people you don’t much like; and, never let a hummingbird fly past without hearing the whistling sound of its wings and marveling at how movement that fast is even possible. Life is just so much more interesting when you really look around and use your senses.
3. Loosen up! Laugh more – at yourself, at your pets, with your family and friends, and at Life. Whatever it is that has you stressed out is probably not even close to the mountain you’re making of it. And, when it really is a big deal, all you can do is breathe through it. Handstands are great for learning to laugh at yourself – I do them all the time.
What is your favorite Osmia Organics product that you couldn’t possibly live without?
My LEAST favorite question – they are all like my little babies, and I can’t pick a favorite child! But, if I must, it’s probably the Black Clay Facial Soap. I use it twice a day, and it definitely helps keep my perioral dermatitis symptoms at bay. It’s creamy, balances my skin, and smells great. I take it with me wherever I go, and if I ran out – very unlikely, since I own the company – I would panic!
Isn’t she lovely?
P.S. I also panic when I run low on the black clay facial soap – I always have a back-up just in case!