By Jenny Leazer-Ragolia, Licensed Esthetician; for virgabotanicals.com
Every brand has a story. At Virga Botanicals, ours starts with one woman’s vision to create high quality, authentic beauty and wellness products – marrying the best in modern plant science with centuries old medicinal wisdom.
For our customers, Virga Botanicals represents a new approach to everyday skin and body care. On our platform, we empower you to build your own solution-based personal care rituals according to common concerns – including cooling and calming inflammation, clearing acne and correcting imbalances, as well as nourishing, harmonizing, and tonifying the skin.
Today on the beauty blog, we’re interviewing Kirsten – a seasoned acupuncturist, and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – who also happens to be the founder and formulator behind the brand. Keep reading to learn more and hear Kirsten’s story in her own words.
Question #1: You have an extensive background as a TCM and acupuncture doctor. How does this knowledge base inform your philosophy when creating beauty and skincare products?
You know, I started Virga when I was in acupuncture school 13 years ago. At the time, I already had a long-standing, self-created skincare regimen that I had been using since I was a kid (about 12 years old or so.)
I had always had people comment on my skin, asking about my skin care methods; and since I was pretty much still just using things I had concocted myself – from my mom’s natural health books years ago – I didn’t really have any helpful place to point them, other than to describe my own rudimentary formulas and regimen.
I figured out pretty quickly that most people want it to be easier than that. They prefer products that are already made, standardized, and tested. Eventually, needing money to complete TCM studies, and wanting to do my part to support my school during the economic downturn of 2009 by bringing business into the clinic, I decided to use my Western scientific/biomed background to create and standardize commercial versions of my lifelong DIY concoctions.
I used them in conjunction with a facial rejuvenation acupuncture offering I had created to draw business to the school clinic. I knew the formulations worked, since by that time I had been using them myself for almost 30 years to excellent effect. In fact, I had virtually never used any other products, even after I got my first healthcare job and could afford the high-end stuff!
I incorporated TCM herbs – and specific methods of combining them – into the products to reflect the spirit of the incredible legacy in which I was proudly training. I felt a huge responsibility to do this in an authentic way, using specific principles dictated by TCM theory, and with respect for the 3000 year old medical system that I love. As my original (self-) training was exclusively in western herbs, I retained those too, in established formulas. Virga fuses Eastern and Western phytotherapeutic science, taking advantage of current research on the biological benefits of plants as well. So with this in mind, I am always fine tuning them for the highest and best practices in formulating.
Question #2: For anyone who is new to Virga Botanicals, which products do you recommend starting with?
For any skin care regimen, I always recommend starting with a creamy/milky/cloudy cleanser – first and foremost, before anything else is said or done. This is because cleansers of those descriptions tend to be much gentler and pH friendly. And pH is everything when it comes to skin health (actually, when it comes to life itself; but that is perhaps another topic!).
Most clear and/or foaming cleansers are on the alkaline side, which is hard on skin, and does not, despite that, wind up leaving it any cleaner. Many many skin conditions can be improved almost instantly by using a pH-friendly cleanser.
After that, the Green Tea Moisture Serum is pretty much point zero, I would say. It is oil-free, so it can be used as a standalone moisturizer by those who do not want anything the slightest bit occlusive. It also makes a perfect moisture base – similar to an essence – for other products. I recommend this for all skin types, as it delivers moisture and high-quality nourishment deeply into the skin. Beyond that, product choice depends upon your particular needs. And we can help you determine that more specifically if you like; via a free online consultation!
Question #3: Given that you’ve been formulating products since the age of 12, what keeps you inspired?
By the time I ‘went commercial’ with these products, I had most of them down. After such a long time using them on my own skin (I was my own chief guinea pig for years, remember!) I had become pretty familiar with all the dermal comings and goings, and I was able to devise some kind of formula for any issue demanding a solution.
Because my own skin challenges have skewed heavily towards sensitivity and allergy-type issues, I have been perpetually inspired to focus on non-sensitizing ingredients, and healing, corrective formulas for any time my skin decides to ‘act all allergic’ in any way.
Most recently, I became ‘inspired’ by the results of my own choices. For example, trying a commercial sunblock on my face at the beach, against my better judgment. I know I react strongly to almost all commercial sunblock formulations, and thus make my own. But on this occasion, I had forgotten to bring it. Calculating that a potential skin reaction was better than a certain sunburn, I used what my family had on hand, and wound up with weeping welts on my face.
Although I was decidedly regretful – to put it mildly – I used this as an opportunity to experiment with ingredients that maximize healing and defuse the awful dermatitis inflammation cycle I had triggered. I am happy to say I came to several clinically helpful conclusions, and a new product will likely evolve from this experience soon… with me as the lucky before-and-after subject, I’m sure! I also have been inspired by the skin care issues of my patients and customers, who frequently present their queries to me regarding their own specific conditions – notably acne, which is something with which I have not struggled personally and thus had less experience with treating. I have several amazing products targeted for that acne-prone skin now, thanks to the trust my patients have placed in me.
Question #4: Your products are renowned for being natural and organic. What can you tell us about your approach to sourcing ingredients?
Sourcing ingredients is an easier process for me now; but that is largely because I negotiated SUCH a steep learning curve when I first started. I researched everything I could find – scientific studies, supplier websites, manufacturer websites, agricultural producers, and traditional and current herbal resources.
I checked and fact-checked EVERYTHING until I was satisfied I had the most complete and accurate body of information regarding ingredients. Some things I simply had to leave out – for example any ingredient I could not definitively ascertain was plant-based and not animal-derived.
I have been a vegetarian for more than 30 years, and respect life by not casually or unnecessarily using it for non-essential purposes. That is a non-negotiable value for me. I also researched toxicity potential, sustainability, cruelty-free status, potential chemical interactions (my medical training makes a big deal of this), therapeutic effectiveness, and of course, irritant/sensitivity potential.
If an ingredient does not meet ALL my markers, I do not use it at all. I never compromise on this, and it has caused me to be pretty creative at times when there was an ingredient I knew would be perfect, but for one reason or another, belonged in the ‘no’ column.
But I use theseevery day on myself, on my kids. When we offer them to people on the platform, I want to be sure that they are the very, very best we can do, on all counts. Our customers trust that we have done the work to make that true, and I will never betray that trust by lowering my standards.
Question #5: What does your brand slogan – “Real is Beautiful” – mean to you?
Thanks for asking! It is very meaningful to me, still. “Real is Beautiful” has been our slogan since we started in 2010, and at the time it was sort of puzzling to many people. I found myself explaining what was meant by ‘real’ and how, exactly, that could be the ideal of beauty when there were so many enhancements – invasive, non-invasive, medical, topical, etc. – coming into mainstream awareness.
But I figured out – and was fortunate to figure out while fairly young – that so much of beauty really DOES come from inside, as maudlin as that sounds. We’ve all had experiences where we go out, having ‘not tried’ at all with our appearance, only to have people stop us to compliment our glow. And maybe we ‘didn’t try’ because we were already feeling content, confident. That shows up as beauty – the deepest, truest kind. Really, it’s a lot simpler (or can be) than some of us think. I cannot name a woman whom I think is more beautiful with makeup than without. Of course, that’s just me – my bias. Enhancements are fun, creative, empowering, compelling! But it’s just nice to know that beyond that, beneath that, you are beautiful in yourself. Everything else is just gilding the lily! As far as I’m concerned: gild away! At Virga, it’s the lily that is our particular concern.
Question #6: What are your personal wellness must-haves?
Green tea, a careful vitamin regimen, good skin care, meditation, exercise, enough sleep, and purpose!
Question #7: Do you have any plans for new products and offerings in the near future?
I am happy with my product line, but new products do evolve from time to time when I see a need. As I mentioned previously, I tend to explore new product development in specific cases where I am suddenly inspired by seeing a need for something. Most recently that has been my personal – and altogether inadvertent – foray into severe sunblock-induced dermatitis. I am conceiving a healing balm for both acute phase and persistent sequelae (i.e. redness, discoloration, broken capillaries) of eruptive inflammation.
Question #8: What is the best testimonial or bit of feedback you’ve received from supporters of the brand?
When my customers or patients tell me that Virga is their entire skin care system, and they use nothing else, it makes my day! That, and when I am seeing a regular facial rejuvenation patient for cosmetic acupuncture, and I notice their skin is looking amazing – only to have them remind me they are using my products! These things make me certain it has all been worth it!