Necessity is the mother of invention. Just ask Merilyn Konnerth, the founder of all natural skincare lines Pharmacist’s Daughter and Utopia Bath. For more than a decade Konnerth owned a New York City based design and import business, selling decorative accessories to the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s. When the economy bottomed out in 2008, the entrepreneur seized the opportunity to start anew.
Browsing through etsy.com, Konnerth was struck by, of all things, a bar of soap. After purchasing a $40 bar made by a woman in England, she was inspired to investigate the craft herself. She began researching, reading and attending courses across the country. She became hooked on the traditional cold process method—using only lye and essential oils. In 2010, Utopia Bath, a wholesaler selling organic, responsibly-sourced artisanal soap was born. Not long after, a loyal customer base followed. Three small batches later, an order for 1,000 bars came in.
In August 2010, two weeks after a great exhibition at the New York International Gift Show, Konnerth was diagnosed with breast cancer. She sold her New York City apartment and moved back to her hometown of Islip to stay with her parents. “Three days after that [first] chemotherapy was Christmas Day,” Konnerth recalled. “I woke up and my face was inflamed, splotchy, I had dry patches. I always had normal skin and I didn’t know what I was dealing with. I went to the drug store trying to find something that would work. I just ended up with a counter full of products that didn’t help. I knew I had to do something.”
Konnerth turned to her father, a retired pharmacist, to formulate a cream that would relieve her skin irritation. It worked. As different needs arose, more products were created with cancer patients’ needs in mind. The formation of Pharmacist’s Daughter was a natural progression. The brand focuses on gentle, plant-based and natural ingredients to soothe inflammation, including everything from nourishing scalp and body cream to mending scar oil.
Today, Konnerth revels in her Bellport home studio and is a fixture at the Westhampton Beach Farmers’ Market. She also shares her cancer experience as the breast cancer survivorship coalition coordinator at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, where she helps provide financial and emotional resources to cancer patients. At the forefront of a business expansion, Konnerth spoke with Pulse about her product lines and plans for 2017.
How do you formulate your products?
I don’t believe in fillers, every ingredient has to do something specific. First of all, I need to research. Lets say it’s the wintertime and I want to create a cream to keep you from itching. Everyone itches in the wintertime because their skin is getting dry, it’s an alert that you need more hydration. I will start looking up all of the plant oils that are beneficial to retard itching, like borage oil. From there, I have the base of my product.
Prior to being diagnosed, were you aware of the toll chemotherapy could take on your skin?
I had no idea. Everyone experiences side effects differently with these drugs, the oncologists don’t tell you all that much. They always leave out skincare, which almost everybody suffers from. It is an awareness that needs to get out there.
Can anyone use Pharmacist’s Daughter?
The line is great for anyone going through chemotherapy and radiation, but more than that it is a skincare line that services not only people with chronic illnesses, but anybody with sensitive skin or eczema. All the ingredients are natural and sooth inflammation and put intense moisture back into the skin.
Why is it important that you only use natural, organic ingredients?
I am very conscious of using ingredients that are ethical and safe…from beeswax to lanolin, there are enough things available that are natural, ethical and sustainable. We use essential oils or fragrant phthalate-free oils. Being phthalate-free is important because it’s a controversial additive. I want nothing to do with them. I keep them out of my products. [Phthalate are commonly used as plasticizers, added to things like PVC to increase flexibility and durability, among other things. When ingested, they reportedly cause kidney and liver damage].
What trends are you seeing develop in the natural skincare industry?
The more educated we are, the more selective we’re becoming. I don’t know if it started with food first and now it is coming over into skincare, but both industries are starting to give us better, more natural choices. It’s a great trend because it is just as important what you put onto your body as what you put into your body.
This is a second career for you. How has your professional life changed since launching Pharmacist’s Daughter and Utopia Bath?
Cancer broke my life totally open. It made me stop and think about my role in the world and the contributions I could make. There is something so gratifying about being an entrepreneur. I get to create. With my previous company I was making martini glasses, photo frames, servers, all sorts of different things for the home, but it didn’t really do anything for you. This skincare line is completely different. It is a tangible product that makes people feel better. Just knowing that their hands feel softer, they’re not getting those cracks around their nails this winter…it’s cool to know you’re helping someone with their daily ritual.
What does 2017 hold for Pharmacist’s Daughter?
It’s really going to be a breakout year for the line. Right now, I small batch all of my products. Next year, I’ll have a team of investors behind me and I’ll be able to take that line to a manufacturer where it will be able to be certified as natural. That means not only every ingredient will be natural, but it will also be processed in a natural way. That is really important, and it’s something no one else is really doing. What I look for this skincare line to do is be a replacement for any of those lines you’d think are natural ingredient-friendly, but still have petroleum-based products in them and other ingredients that aggravate sensitive skin.