Nadine Artemis is a true visionary in the fields of health and beauty. She is the creator of Living Libations, providing the purest botanical products on the planet—an exquisite line of essential oils, serums, elixirs, and dental care products. A passionate researcher, innovative aromacologist, and modern-day alchemist, Nadine develops immune-enhancing formulas and medicinal blends for radiant wellness. She is also a speaker, educator, and the author of Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums and the forthcoming book Renegade Beauty.
alanis.com: Welcome, Nadine. So great to be speaking with you. Alanis adores you and considers you a true mentor when it comes to essential oils, dating back to when she first became passionate about pure oils herself in Canada when she was 18 years old. When did botanicals first capture your imagination?
Nadine: It was really early on. When I was a child, our home was a cottage surrounded by nature. We had a huge backyard with trees, and I spent the majority of every day outside. Plus, all of my grandparents — which at one point included eight of them—lived out in the country; in different parts of Canada. I would play in the forests for hours, gathering and mixing the materials I found there — completely engaged in and in love with nature.
Later, in 9th grade, I was at the library beginning to do research for a science fair project when a book literally fell off the shelf. The title was How to Create Cosmetics. When I picked it up, I immediately landed on a chapter about perfumes and how they were made with essential oils that were first distilled in Egypt. I was fascinated by this book encounter because I was already into mixing and blending my mother’s perfumes. I didn’t quite get the division between natural and synthetic ingredients at that point, but that book helped me understand that perfumes were originally made of real plant matter like flowers and woods and berries. I found that really interesting.
As I’m sure many people are, I am fascinated by ancient Egyptian culture. For me, one of my connections to the culture is my great grandfather. He was the president of the London Egyptology Society and had done translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and had gone on archeological digs to Egypt as the illustrator.
There in the library, I felt these worlds were bridging — between nature, ancient Egyptian culture, and perfume. So I decided that for my science fair project I would recreate L’Air du Temp, the perfume by Nina Ricci. It turned out to be one of the funniest science experiments I have ever done — and my first official foray into essentials oils.
When I was 18 years old and at university, The Body Shop was really big. In the beginning, their products seemed to be a lot closer to natural than anything I had seen. They had oil perfumes, for one thing! But this was also the time when I was learning a lot about the quality of food and skin care products. I already understood that most foods on the grocery store shelves were totally processed and came from about five different companies. And suddenly I had a big revelation. Even though there were stores popping up everywhere with “natural” skincare product lines, I realized that there was no such thing as a “dew berry” in nature, and there was no cucumber in the face toner. “Oh my god!, I SO get it!” I said. The whole beauty care industry is completely false. It is no more real than the food industry.
From that moment forward, I started to make my own food and my own beauty care products, which led to making things for all my friends and family.
IN SEARCH OF THE PURE AND THE TRUE
I was reading any and every essential oil book I could find and learning about really special ingredients, like angelica and immortelle. But I couldn’t find them anywhere. This was just pre-Internet, and so I wrote to government consulates in several different countries trying to find out where the distillers were.
In addition to the more exotic oils, I started receiving samples of oils like bergamot, tea tree, and lemongrass right from the distiller—organic, artisanal oils of a whole different level of purity. This was when I came to understand that most of the health and beauty brands out there, including the ones at the health food stores, were using highly adulterated “essential oils” sourced from companies that were mainly based out of New Jersey that make “nature identicals” — for example, recipes that smell almost like peppermint and lavender, but not really.
True, authentic distillations of essential oils are rare in the world, and most of the production is for the food and flavor industry that puts the flavor in products like orange juice, menthol cigarettes, fast food hamburger patties, liqueurs, and of course, perfumes. So, the process of tracking down the pure oils was so awesome! That catapulted me into a whole different realm of research and experimentation. I was finding kinds of essential oils that weren’t even in the books I was reading. So a natural next step was to start an importing business of essential oils.
AROMATHERAPY & MEETING ALANIS
It was 1994, and I was still at university. Six months from graduation, I opened a store called Osmosis on Queen Street in Toronto, which is our hip area, like Soho in New York. It was North America’s first full-concept aromatherapy store. I made all the formulations from the gorgeous oils we were importing. We had a huge blending bar where people could even buy an essential oil by the drop.
That’s where I first met Alanis. It was 1996. I remember how I would mop the store floor at the end of the day listening to Jagged Little Pill. Alanis was on tour and came to town for a big concert, and a friend of hers from Ottawa knew friends of mine who suggested that she might want to check out the store. So we all rendezvoused there around midnight, after her show. It was so much fun! She was like a kid in a candy store, delighting in every smell and picking up on the many subtle nuances of the oils.
We closed the store in 1999. Although I still had a handful of private clients and worked on some perfume projects, I just wanted to chill for a moment. That had been quite a run — studying, importing, and opening a store. So I pretended like I was retired for a year, but it was really just a pause … to think and to re-create.
LOVE, PASSION & LIBATION CREATION
In 2000, I met Ron, who is now my husband. Coming together with him, I very quickly discovered a whole new level of alchemy — energy that seemed to multiply beyond the two of us. Within a month of us being together we had formed Living Libations online, which is our current incarnation. It has just been so much fun to have my husband as a business partner! — and to have work that comes together through our love and our passion for health and well-being.
Living Libations.com is the foundation of our company, and everything we do springs from there. It was initially created with my formulas from Osmosis, and then new ones have been developed over time. I hadn’t done oral care at the Osmosis stage, but it is such huge part of what we do now — it is so important.
HELLO VENICE, CALIFORNIA!
alanis.com: It’s so exciting that you’ve recently opened a brick-and-mortar store location again as well. Please tell us all about it.
Nadine: Yes, we opened a store in Venice, California, this year. We love that area so much and have many clients there. Also, one of our staff members who’s been with us for over six years lives there. She was ready. And we were ready. So we thought it would be a really fun thing to do. For our grand opening, people came from as far away as Spain to celebrate with us.
So, although our website is the foundation, it is really fun to have a physical location grounding everything we are doing. We’re hearing from so many people who are excited that there is a place on the planet where they can come to smell and feel and taste and touch all of our creations.
alanis.com: How do you help people who visit the new store but don’t know where to begin when it comes to essential oils and other botanicals? Do you offer some kind of education or coaching?
Nadine: One of our services is “appointment shopping,” which is great for people who need and want more focused time and attention. And there is no extra cost associated with that. In general, our staff is very knowledgeable, and we really go deep with our education. Also, there will probably come a time when we’ll offer onsite workshops.
alanis.com: Your YouTube channel is a wonderful resource for learning, too. Watching them is like going on a replenishing mini vacation. How can people find them?
Nadine: It’s the Living in Libations channel on YouTube. One of our goals is to give people a taste of nature while discovering something new or useful or healing.
ESSENTIAL OIL SOURCING: A STORY OF IMPECCABILITY
alanis.com: Where are you sourcing most of your oils these days?
Nadine: We have a great Canadian distiller that provides oils from many of the northern trees that I love. We also work with people in Madagascar, Peru, Brazil, Corsica, Australia, India, Argentina, Guatemala, and California — they are just about everywhere! The really cool thing is that almost 90% of the distillers I found when I began researching at 18 years old are the people we still do business with.
In earlier times, I traveled a lot to visit them, but not as much now. We have relationships that are now over 20 years old. A lot of the people we work with are fourth and fifth generation family distillers. They are masters at what they do. It’s like the wine industry, where you can find master artisan wine makers. It is rare that I will get a new distiller; plus they have to meet very specific and rigorous standards.
We enjoy supporting the families we work with. One of the ways we do this is through contract distilling, which we love to do. For them, it guarantees that their crops will be sold, and that is important because of the varying and often unstable economic situations in some of their countries. Plus, there are certain oils that have to be reserved a few years in advance, like immortelle. So that gives them and us a lot of assurance — of quality and stability.
The whole process is very important to us, including of course always going with organic and wild-crafted botanicals. Quality is always the most important factor for us. We don’t really care about the bottom line. All we want is to create the most pure products for people to put on their skin. And we’re devoted to keeping the purity levels alive and strong.
Most essential oils on the market today are still adulterated in some tiny way, which we know through third-party testing. There are so many subtle nuances in real essential oils, so you want distillers who are distilling slowly and at low temperatures rather than hot and fast because you will actually get more botanical properties that way. One drop of oil can have over 500 different natural components to it, and a slow, low distillation might pick up on another one hundred of these tiny factors. That is when you’re getting a more holistic oil that will have greater subtleties. For example, you could have a mandarin petitgrain (petitgrain being an essential oil that is extracted from the green twigs and leaves of the bitter orange tree) and actually discover a really neat clementine petitgrain. So these are some of the subtle nuances that we love to explore.
HOW ESSENTIAL OILS ARE CAPTURED
alanis.com: Tell us more about the various ways of distilling essential oils.
Nadine: Most essential oils are created through a steam distill process. The simplest way to explain it is you have a vat where you put the plant matter, and then you have a heat source underneath the vat, like a fire. Sometimes they will use dried out plant matter that has already been distilled for the fuel. The essential oil vapors get released from the plant, and then they go into a condensing coil. From there, the vapors are sort of brought back to life through a cooling. And what you have left is the water and essential oil.
There is also a cold-pressing process that is often done with citruses. This is another reason it’s important to have organic citruses as your raw material because they’re pressing the peels and extracting the essential oils from the peels as well.
There is one company that I’ve been working with since 1994 that does something called “supercritical extraction.” It’s a fluid extraction process that often uses CO2 or carbon dioxide. One of the botanicals they do for us is our seabuckthorn. The process uses pressure to extract essential oils that previously were not able to be extracted.
Some of the rare oils, like jasmine and tuberose, are only available as an absolute, but that process involves the chemical called hexane, which gets 99.9% removed, but again, you need a good distiller for those. Those are the oils we recommend for perfumery — they aren’t oils we would ever put into something that is for skin care or for medicinal use. The absolutes just don’t have the properties and the dynamics that we need for really pure skin care. But they are amazing for perfumery, so we include those.
But then with the CO2 extraction, we were able to get vanilla, for example. Vanilla was only available as an alcohol extract for a long time, like you find at the grocery store. But with the CO2 extraction you get this amazing, beautiful, pure vanilla that has no alcohol, no hexane. And it is not an absolute; the extraction just really captures the plant.
From some plants, like seabuckthorn berry, it’s also able to capture some of the waxes and lipids (or fats) that steam distillation can’t capture. So you usually get something from the CO2 extraction that feels different in texture, and it can be thicker depending on the plant. For example, when you get a supercritical extraction of calendula, you’re getting a calendula that is a thousand times more concentrated than you would with just an infusion of calendula flowers. You also get a far more potent seabuckthorn this way than you get from the cold-pressed method.
For thousands of years, there was only steam distilled and cold-pressing infusions — until the supercritical extraction. I love it!
By the way, if you’ve used essential oils, you know that they’re not really oily. It’s not like the feeling of olive oil. They are actually volatile, which means they have an evaporative quality. So, on one level, the term “oil” doesn’t make much sense.
Also, not all plants have the aromatic molecules that provide the fragrances that we all love so much. But for the ones that do, you can extract the essential oil. So in the cooling process, you get both the water and the essential oil. The essential oil sits on top of the water, and then the two are separated.
If it’s a flower that’s being distilled, the water that is left over after the oil has been skimmed off the top is the flower water — which is also called the hydrosol. If you’re familiar with rose water, for example, that is actually rose-hydrosol from the steam-distilled rose.
While the essential oil is really the gold of the distillation, it is great when distillers make the water available because that is a huge byproduct of distilling. And that water is very special because it is not really water — or at least it shouldn’t be if the distilling process is done with care. It’s not just drops of rose oil in water. It actually contains the micro-soluble, water-soluble components of the essential oils, which have many healing properties of their own.
alanis.com: What are some of the basic medicinal properties of essential oils?
Nadine: Essential oils are just so fascinating. I love anything to do with plants. Herbal extracts. Flower essences. The essential oils are incredibly multifaceted and concentrated. They reach us on many levels — mental, physiological, emotional, and spiritual levels. Even for people who have temporarily or permanently lost their sense of smell, putting essential oils on the skin is going to have a positive, healing impact.
Every essential oil — whether it is rose or clove or tea tree or another kind — is antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. And many are anti-inflammatory as well. At the same time, they are so gorgeous. Essential oils are dripping, literally, with amazing medicinal properties AND beauty — and I think that is so important on the planet right now. I love that we can use them in so many different ways, from cleaning our house to oral care to getting rid of a zit . . . to just smelling like a dream.
USING ESSENTIAL OILS
alanis.com: Which botanicals can go on the skin vs. which can be ingested internally?
Nadine: We are so used to thinking that we have to ingest a substance for it to really work in the body. We forget about the power of transdermal absorption. So when you want to apply a botanical medicine on your skin, it helps to remember that the skin is our largest organ and that everything we put on our skin goes into our body. Often, the absorptive route through the skin is faster than through the digestive tract. Through digestion, we have substances like saliva and enzymes that help filter and break things down. The intestines, the kidneys, the liver, each of those organs move into gear if we’ve ingested something that is toxic. The skin, though, is a direct route — and there are no other filters.
It’s sobering to know that the average woman is applying over 200 chemicals a day to her skin, a lot of them before she even leaves the house in the morning.
And let’s not forget the nose. When you inhale essential oil molecules through your nose, they connect with the hypothalamus, travel to the lungs, and immediately start working physiologically. And then those molecules are easily transported out of the body a few hours later.
So whether we use them through inhalation or transdermal application, there is no toxic build-up when using a pure essential oil.
alanis.com: Breast health is such an important topic. Do you make a product blend for breast health in particular?
Nadine: Yes, we make a breast massage oil that includes frankincense, rose otto, cypress, broccoli seed oil, Saint John’s Wort blossom oil that’s infused in organic olive oil, and other exquisite ingredients. For the DIY people, you can make your own very easily just using ingredients like olive oil and frankincense.
When we massage our breasts, we’re stimulating the lymphatic tissue, which helps in so many ways. It aids in getting rid of excess estrogen in breast tissue. It also helps to strengthen the connective tissue, and that is not only important for overall breast health, but it’s also supportive of the cosmetic side of breast health.
If our breasts are in bras all day, it can cause lymphatic edema in the breast tissue, where we get this sort of cesspool effect because the lymph isn’t circulating. If you find that your bra is leaving red marks on your skin, then you want to look for another type of bra or for yoga-type tops that are softer and not cutting off the circulation and stagnating the lymph system in that area. We basically want to set them free as much as we can every day.
We also need to be aware of the antiperspirants and deodorants we’re using.
Every day, many of us are applying aluminum and parabens to our armpits, and a lot of breast cancer is found in the armpit. It’s also been discovered that 99% of breast cancer tissue has parabens in it.
But the wonderful thing is that every day our beauty care can be something that is adding to our overall health, including our breast health.
alanis.com: How often do you recommend that we do breast massage?
Nadine: I’m really low maintenance when it comes to self-care. So I love knowing that I’m set up from the start with purity and that anything I do is going to benefit my body. That’s my baseline. Then I just incorporate breast massage after every bath, as I’m moisturizing my body anyway.
Dry brushing the body is awesome too. I do it every day. Before a bath or shower, it’s extra beneficial if you add an essential oil to the dry brush. I often like one or two drops of frankincense or cypress. We also have a lymph blend. You put a couple of drops in the palm of your hand and then glide the brush over the palm of your hand, getting a fine sort of sprinkling of the oil along the brush. Then start at your feet and just go up up, up, up — so every stroke is up. When you get to your hands and arms, start at your fingertips and brush up toward the heart. Just don’t dry brush your face.