Indie Lee thought she was guarding her health by watching her diet, to the point where she started an extensive backyard garden full of edible flowers and greens. Inspired by the farm-to-table movement, she even had a garden of seedlings that she enthusiastically took two local schools in Long Island, where she lived, to teach students about healthy food and the relationship between man and planet.
Then came a frightening diagnosis. Over time, she had noticed her vision disappearing and when she went to see the doctor she got the bad news that the problem was caused by a brain tumor.
She was given six months to live.
That was in November 2008, and nine years later, she still here.
In the moment she learned that she had a tumor and a possible death sentence, she said she wasn’t afraid. For her, it became a wakeup call, an a-ha moment. “I realized I had forgotten to live life fully and I knew something would come out of it,” she said.
Months later, she was given 50-50 odds of surviving an operation to remove the tumor.
When she awoke, her surgeon told her, “Welcome to the rest of your life,” words she took to heart. It was the start of her journey to empower others to take care of their health.
The founder of a her eponymous natural beauty care company was in town recently to share her story at the Nordstrom beauty trend event. After learning from her doctor that her tumor was likely a result of environmental factors, she began reading up on naturopathy, aromatherapy, homeotherapy in the months leading up to her operation, and examining products in her home that might have contributed to her ailment.
She learned that the United Kingdom has banned more than 1,300 chemicals from cosmetics; yet the United States has banned only 30. Among ingredients that remain prevalent in cosmetic products in this country are pthalates that are known to be hormone disruptors and formaldehyde that is carcinogenic. And, a lot of potentially hazardous compounds are hidden in fragrances with ingredient lists that are protected by trade laws.
“I wanted to create change in the industry, that is largely unregulated, by creating cleaner products that are just as effective,” she said.
She created her first products with essential oils at her dining table, and as her fanbase grew, she enlisted the help of chemists to formulate nourishing, multipurpose oils with natural essential oils, skin softening oils such as jojoba, plant stem cells, skin-clearing glycolic and salicylic acids, and antioxidant COQ10.
She joked that it’s taken her 10 years to become an overnight success. Because of her green message, she had been optimistic that people would flock to her website once it was up, launched on Earth Day 2009. “Of course nobody knew I existed,” she said of the relative silence that followed.
Trials included photographing her products only to realize bottles had been discontinued so they no longer matched her products, but she said she looked at those experiences as building blocks, not stumbling blocks. Today, her eco-chic beauty brand continues to grow as people become more aware of potential toxins in every day products, and she’s happy to offer an alternative.
“I just want people to take a look at ingredients with the same care they take in reading food labels.”
Products: Courtesy Indie Lee
Indie Lee: By Nadine Kam