Tooth powder? How a St. Pete shop is part of the organic care trend

Bodhi Basics specializes in essential oils and handmade self-care items, with shelves and tables packed with greenery that removes pollutants and chemicals from the air.
Published December 24 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Adam Hubbard opens his medicine cabinet and smiles.

"I'm doing pretty good," he says to himself.

It's stocked, but not with Axe antiperspirant or tubes of Crest. He has a deodorant made with coconut oil and baking soda in the scent "Lumbersexual" and a small glass jar of "tooth powder" made with charcoal he uses as toothpaste. Four years ago, he decided to stop putting toxins in his body. It started with overcoming an addiction to alcohol, then came everything else.

Hubbard, 37, uses handcrafted soaps and facial oils rather than standard body or face washes. He recently filled his home in the Old Northeast with plants that purify the air. Instead of CVS, he browses for hygiene products at Bodhi Basics, a small shop in downtown St. Pete near the intersection of 9th Street and Burlington Avenue N.

"I'm purchasing products I know are clean, not just without harmful chemicals, but with high-quality organic constituents and are made with care," he said.

When Kim Vorperian, owner of Bodhi Basics, started dabbling in essential oils and handmade self-care items just under a decade ago, she knew most other small sellers in her market. But as business became steady enough for her to open a brick-and-mortar shop, demand was growing on a global scale, too.

Now grocery chains like Lucky's Market and Publix's new GreenWise Market have their own "apothecary" aisles. Every Walmart and Target is selling aromatherapy kits that diffuse the sweet smells of essential oils such as lavender or rosemary into the air.

The U.S. natural and organic personal care market is predicted to exceed $7.7 billion by 2025, according to a report from market analyst group Grand View Research. The U.S. market for the same segment was less than half of that just three years ago.

Inside Bodhi Basics, shelves and tables are packed with potted snake plants and greenery that removes pollutants and chemicals from the air. Racks of freshly cut soap sit in the back drying out until they're ready to go on the sales floor next to rose water face toners, gemstones, herbs and oils.

"You come in here, and you're breathing in freshness," said Vorperian, as she inhaled the delightful mix of fragrances.

Vorperian said she's noticed shoppers become more aware, and concerned, about the ingredients in anything they are putting into, or on, their bodies. She keeps her recipes simple and transparent. Her biggest seller is the store's line of natural deodorants, which in addition to "Lumbersexual" also come in "Sweet Orange Patchouli" and "Tea Tree Lemongrass" scents.

Most everyday deodorants contain aluminum and other chemicals a growing contingency of shoppers are avoiding. The research put together by Grand View says that the demands for products free of synthetic fragrances, preservatives and sodium lauryl sulfate — a common chemical to create foam in shampoos and cleansers — have had a "sharp rise" in the past few years.

"If something is in here, it's because it's going to benefit you," said Jamie O'Berry, who heads Bodhi's just-expanded plant inventory.

Researchers also say the growth of online shopping has made it easier for consumers to avoid the mainstream products sold in retail chains. About a third of Bodhi Basics sales come from online, Vorperian said.

Big players have noticed the shift in consumers’ tastes. Johnson's now advertises a "natural" baby lotion. Beauty brand Tarte, which is owned by cosmetic giant Estée Lauder Companies, has seed-pressed face oils and "clean queen" deodorant, which is aluminum and alcohol-free.

Vorperian started experimenting with homemade, limited-ingredient skin care because store-bought cleansers irritated her own skin. She has expanded into all sorts of products that fall under the umbrella of holistic healing — even bundles of herbs and sage to be burned as smudge, part of a cleansing ritual that goes back centuries.

Bodhi, while the name of Vorperian's dog, means knowledge and awakening in Sanskrit. The shop's products all have a story — some that go back thousands of years. Others will make you laugh, like the "dirty pup kit" that comes with a spray to fight stinky dog breath.

"This isn't just a place to for people to buy gifts or buy themselves something," said Vorperian. "It's a place to learn."

Hubbard said he keeps the bulk of his purchases local, and attends classes held in the shop's back room where O'Berry and Vorperian demo how to use everything they sell.

"Who else is going to do that?" Hubbard said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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