When Sheetal Kabra was bathing her daughter one day, she noticed something unusual — the skin around her baby’s wrist was starting to peel off.
The 43-year-old Hyderabad-based mother recalls, “Later, I saw the same happening around the knees, ankles and chin. This was shocking, as there was no reason for the skin to be so dry after an oil massage.”
Sheetal began weaning her daughter off skin products such as powders, baby soaps, or anything the little girl was being exposed to on a daily basis. Eventually, her research and experiment yielded the culprit — baby soap.
“As soon as I stopped using the commercial baby soap, the skin stopped peeling,” she notes.
Seeing her daughter’s skin turn dry and itchy also made Sheetal fear the worst, owing to her own battles with eczema. “The last thing I wanted was for my baby to go through the same ordeal,” she tells The Better India.
This incident served as the inspiration for Earthy Sapo, a natural personal care brand she launched in 2013. Earthy Sapo offers a range of self-care products that she says are safe and eco-friendly, tailor-made for those with sensitive skin and conditions such as eczema.
Sheetal notes, “Our products cannot cure skin conditions like eczema, but can help manage them safely.”
Handmade and mild
When Sheetal, a former banking professional, began her research to find alternatives to improve her baby’s skin condition, she found that natural soaps concocted with ingredients found in the kitchen were not only simple to make, but also mild on the skin.
“The first soap I created had great results. Neither my daughter nor I saw any bad reactions on our skin. For an eczema patient, this is a huge deal,” she notes.
She adds that there is a simple chemistry behind soapmaking. While both commercial as well as homemade soaps depend on this same foundational chemistry, there are fewer additives and no fillers in natural soaps, making them safer.
The ingredients to make these, she says, can be found on a grocery list.
“We follow a cold press method of soap making,” says Sheetal. “I used natural ingredients — the first is vegetable oils like coconut, sunflower, sesame or even rice bran. The other ingredient is butters like, shea butter or cocoa butter or kokum butter.”
Once the ingredients are ready, a chemical reaction follows. “The acid in the vegetable oil and the fats react with the alkali sodium hydroxide, also a catalyst. The reaction produces soap and glycerine.”
While in olden times, wood ash was used in place of sodium hydroxide, the latter is a wiser choice, Sheetal says. “The wood ash was treated (process called leaching) and reduced to a substance whose properties resembled sodium hydroxide. So, essentially it is the same thing.”
The bars of soap were left to set and cure, and during the next bath time when Sheetal used it on her baby, the results were amazing. “It cleansed beautifully without causing a reaction,” she says.
Reetha, shikakai, multani mitti
While Sheetal initially produced the batches of soap in her home, with production ramping up, she soon transitioned to a workshop in Hyderabad. In this 2,000 sq ft space, eight women from Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad work hard to meet production needs.
Earthy Sapo’s range of products includes shampoos made of reetha (soapnut), shikakai, multani, etc, as well as soaps and creams made out of almond oil, coconut oil, neem, etc. You can take your pick from a vast variety of self-care products.
“We process around 3,500 orders on a monthly basis and ship pan-India, as well as overseas to countries such as the US, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore,” she says.
Earthy Sapo customer Pravidev, who used the eczema cream, said it “heals the skin beautifully” even though the results take time. Disha Ahuja, who used the cream for her son, says “It smells great and does not irritate my son’s skin who has mild eczema. I also use it as a general moisturizer for myself as it absorbs completely in the skin.”
For Sheetal, these reviews mean all the more when she recalls her own struggles with eczema. “When I am able to help someone manage their skin condition, it gives me a sense of satisfaction. There’s also a guilt-free feeling while using natural products,” she adds.