The first time Jolie Patterson’s eyes started itching and she began to sniffle and sneeze, the Whitehorse graphic designer didn’t know what was happening.
“I was in my 20s and had never had an allergy attack,” she said. “My friend had to tell me what was going on.”
As her allergies got worse, Patterson started to slowly eliminate products she’d used for years.
The first thing to go was her perfume.
But it wasn’t enough.
So Patterson started weeding out other scented products, including shampoos, hair sprays, lotions and makeup.
But she was still sick.
The next thing on the chopping block was toothpaste.
By this time, Patterson had started combing through ingredient lists on products and was coming to some disturbing realizations.
There were brand name toothpastes with warnings on them that said, “if swallowed by children, go to emergency.”
That’s a bad sign, she said. “Because children, especially when they’re just learning to brush their teeth, swallow a lot more toothpaste than most people realize.”
Most shampoos and lotions are no better. Most are filled with chemicals, like sodium lauryl sulphate, which are absorbed into the body and damage the liver.
So Patterson started looking up natural recipes online.
The first thing she tried cooking up was toothpaste.
Fluoride- and aluminum-free, Patterson’s product is a mix of baking soda, coconut oil, myrrh and cloves.
Despite these concerted efforts to avoid unnatural products, Patterson’s health problems continued.
“I was still using commercial deodorant,” she said. “Because I couldn’t find any natural ones that worked.”
So Patterson started mixing up a new concoction in the kitchen.
Her first batch of deodorant gave Patterson a rash. So she tried a new recipe, then started adding her own mix of oils and plants. “I just kept tweaking the recipe until it worked,” she said.
The result was a chemical and aluminum-free deodorant Patterson called Mr. Pit.
Her guinea pigs were co-workers, who tried the toothpaste and deodorant.
“One of them used to wear clinical strength deodorant, and now mine is working for her,” said Patterson.
“The body absorbs so much, especially in your mouth or under your arms,” she added. So having dangerous chemicals in your toothpaste and deodorant just doesn’t make sense, said Patterson.
As more and more friends started using her products, Patterson was convinced to share a table at a Whitehorse craft fair last October.
“I didn’t think I would sell anything,” she said. So Patterson just designed some labels using her blog name, Berry Blue Toes, and headed to the fair.
Within the week, she’d sold out and was back in the kitchen mixing up more batches.
Growing up in the Yukon, Patterson learned a great deal from her Danish grandmother.
“I was a girly girl and my grandmother also used to teach me how to make facial masks out of egg whites,” she said.
Patterson’s mom also got her out harvesting rosehips, juniper and other Yukon plants.
This knowledge stuck with her, and Patterson still finds herself collecting bags of rosehips, juniper and horsetail at the end of each summer.
So she started experimenting with rosehip oil, making body butter and lip balms.
Patterson also puts tea in these lip balms. “Because I like the smell,” she said.
So do many First Nation elders, who have started stopping by Patterson’s booth at craft fairs, sharing their traditional knowledge.
“They told me if I put juniper in my arnica balm, it would help with arthritis,” she said.
Patterson didn’t want to start getting into too many lotions and creams. “I didn’t want to step on any toes,” she said, mentioning other shops in town that make these products.
But demand continued to grow.
Patterson’s vegan friends wanted makeup that didn’t have beeswax in it, so she started mixing up lip tint, eye shadow, blush and foundation using mica.
And she expanded her deodorant line to include a Ms. Pit.
By Christmas time, Patterson was in her kitchen every night mixing up batches of toothpaste, deodorant, body butter and lip balm.
“I just love it,” she said.
But working full-time at the Yukon News and also running a sign business on the side, made for a busy holiday season.
Patterson has two friends who are international stewardesses who both use her products. Soon she was getting orders from as far away as Australia.
“But I want to keep things small,” said Patterson. “I want to keep it pure and fresh.”
Shipping from the Yukon also has its challenges.
Patterson uses glass bottles, and in the winter some of her products freeze in the mail.
Still, her online site is busy, and the local orders keep rolling in.
“I think people are starting to realize, more and more, that we can’t trust what’s in most products,” she said.
As Patterson’s business continued to grow, she spent a bit more time designing her labels and making a sign for her booth.
“It helps that I’m a graphic designer and have my own sign shop so I don’t have to pay for this part of it,” she said.
Patterson credits her “cute” labels for sales. “People buy it because it looks cute,” she said. “Then, when they find out it works, they come back.”
Patterson also used to work as a website designer before becoming a graphic designer so creating her online business has been a breeze.
Although she is selling to more and more customers online, Patterson likes being able to talk to her local customers, getting new ideas for her products, including detox baths and hair spray.
That she sells locally also allows Patterson’s customers to come back and refill their aftershave and deodorant containers, cutting down on waste.
Today, Patterson is largely allergy free, thanks not only to using her own products, but also getting her co-workers using them.
“When I first started, I felt like a pusher,” she said with a laugh. “I just wanted to be healthier and wanted my friends around me not to be making me sick.”
Now, Patterson wants people to know there are alternatives out there.
“I want people to try it and see that it works,” she said.
“So they don’t have to use all this other stuff full of chemicals and colours.”
Contact Genesee Keevil at