The idea for Sorrel & Sage—a wellness company that provides natural and curated products that promote and enhance the experience of self-care–had been percolating in founder Joanne Brathwaite’s mind since 2009. After developing a host of skin allergies and sensitivities and working to reverse those through diet, sleep and skincare, Joanne decided to create a line of products to encourage EVERYbody to incorporate more self-care into their days via synergistic, multi-purpose, minimalist skincare essentials that work together according to their skin’s needs. We chatted with Joanne to learn more. —Noa Nichol
Hi Joanne! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I’m Joanne, writer + editor turned formulator, and founder of Sorrel & Sage. My personal experience with extreme allergies inspired me to create a line of hypoallergenic, natural skincare + self-care essentials to help other sensitive souls live, look + feel better in their own skin.
When and why did you launch Sorrel & Sage? What niche were/are you aiming to fill?
The idea for this company had been percolating in my mind since 2010. I was living and working in Montreal at the time and found myself hospitalized for a stress-induced intestinal illness that led to an extended leave of absence from work. Around that time, my skin decided it had had quite enough of everything I was going through and putting on it (thank you very much), and I developed a host of allergies and sensitivities that still afflict me to this day. After more than a decade of tests, appointments with specialists, prescriptions for ointments, antihistamines, steroids, and supplements, it turns out I’m allergic to a host of common foods and ingredients. (Honestly, it’s so bad, I tell people that I’m allergic to life. My friends joke that I should have shares in the makers of Epi-Pen, Benadryl and bubble wrap.) Derivatives of those very foods and ingredients can be found in almost everything we put on our skin, so I was faced with the unique challenge of finding skincare that wouldn’t irritate or exacerbate my sensitivities. Long story short, the quest was largely unsuccessful, and I was compelled to start making my own.
What products do you currently offer, and what makes them unique?
I offer “hypoallergenic,” vegan skincare that even those with the most sensitive skins can use. I use quotations, because nothing is ever truly hypoallergenic—even in rare cases a “gentle” ingredient will cause a reaction to someone, somewhere. However, I do try my best to cater to hypersensitives like myself and give them a range of products that won’t trigger or irritate, for use on the face, body and in-home. (In addition to being coconut/palm-free, Sorrel & Sage products are also free of the most common allergen sources: gluten, eggs, peanuts, soy, milk, nuts (including the oils of closely related stone fruits like cherry, almond, peach or plum), celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide/sulphites, lupins, molluscs, fish or crustaceans.) Sorrel & Sage products were also formulated primarily with melanated skin in mind. There is a common misconception is that darker skin is tougher and less sensitive than fairer skin tones, and it’s exactly the opposite. Melanated skin is thinner, has a lower pH and is more susceptible to transepidermal water loss (TEWL). The dryness and itchiness associated with these issues can lead to issues like hyperpigmentation (dark marks) and scarring. Treating darker skin properly, keeping it hydrated, moisturized, and treating it with products designated for sensitive skin can help keep it healthy and happy.
Your brand has an interesting philosophy around self-care. Can you explain what (and why) that is?
The Pandemic really raised the issue of self-care as we became housebound due to coronavirus—stressed and fearful of the unknown. With a lot of time on our hands thanks to lockdown, many people were turning to self-care routines and wellness practices and sharing their experiences online. I thought about my own time of healing back in Montreal, where the focus was entirely on getting/feeling healthy again. En route to wellness, I changed my diet, got adequate sleep, and developed a dedicated self-care and skincare regime. I literally stayed hydrated, moisturized, and minded my own business—and in so doing, my headaches subsided, my stomach unknotted itself and I began to heal. I realized I’d also never looked better. My hair thrived and my skin glowed. Lockdown was a lightbulb moment for me, and I wondered how I could take what I’d done in Montreal and use it to help others achieve similar results? I wanted to create a line of products that would be appreciated during that time—not only for their effectiveness for the sensitive-skin set, but also for those seeking convenience and comfort (which, in turn, would help improve the stay-home experience). We’ve been out of the Pandemic for a year or two, now, but I’ve seen such a surge in demand for self-care and wellness; it’s as if we’ve had a collective realization that we all need to slow down and take care.
Natural, essential, intentional, responsible; how do these values inform your brand and products?
Natural: The first value really speaks to clients about the creative process around our products. I’m not a “natural-is-best” person by nature, because I appreciate (and sometimes miss) the convenience of buying right off the shelf. But my skin won’t let me (ha!) Our line is almost 100% natural or naturally derived, and I’m very proud of that. Clients find it important, and I’m happy to offer it to them.
Essential: Since starting the brand, I’ve really tweaked formulations to ensure that only the most essential ingredients were included. A lot of indie makers (including myself, as a newbie) tend to throw every oil and butter and botanical into a formula, thinking that more is better. It is not. There just ends up being a lot of waste—through ingredients or cost. Sorrel & Sage formulations contain only those ingredients that benefit skin, not just fill a jar.
Intentional: This one goes hand in hand with Essential. I always ask these questions—How is it made? What’s going into it? Is it something you would use daily? What will it do for you? How does it make you feel? I test everything for reaction, for skinfeel, for overall sensorial experience. I take the time to develop a formulation and test it repeatedly, tweaking it until it’s just right. I also don’t make anything I wouldn’t use myself—and yes, I use EVERYTHING in the line.
Responsible: Certified organic status is expensive to attain, and I often use ingredients that come from small producers who simply cannot afford that certification. However, they often adhere to practices that benefit the earth and environment, and those in turn, tend to yield a better-quality product overall. Wherever possible, the ingredients are Canadian/local, which means a smaller carbon footprint; I also choose to partner with family-owned or women/BIPOC-owned businesses. Lastly, I hope to provide clients with refillable versions of their favourites, and 100% non-virgin/recyclable containers by the end of 2024.
Speaking of products: your absolute personal faves from the range?
Oh, boy. It would have to be TOTAL, TERRA, DEVI, LUNA, and BLISS. TOTAL is our multi-use “everything oil” (but I can’t call it that because that phrase has been trademarked by another company). It really is amazing and the product I’m most proud of. If it came down to selling only ONE thing, it’d be the one. I use it primarily for oil cleansing and makeup removal at night. I also moisturize with it after the bath. It’s a great cuticle oil, it’s amazing on my hair…I put a little dab of it on my lips before bed… honestly, I could go on and on. I haven’t used a conventional cleanser on my face in more than a decade, and while I love oil cleansing and what it has done for my face, sometimes I need something a little more robust. TERRA cleansing grains use the natural saponins of oatmeal combined with carefully chosen botanicals to give an effective cleansing without stripping. It’s great after working out or on sweaty sticky days, due to its ability to remove excess oil, dirt, sebum, sweat and impurities from the skin, leaving behind a soft smooth complexion. TERRA also doubles as an amazing mask treatment. I love toners after cleansing and DEVI leaves my face feeling so fresh and dewy. It’s a simple formulation with skin soothing and brightening ingredients in it. It’s made with hydrosols and botanicals that help to minimize redness, and clients love it because it doesn’t sting or strip. I use it religiously, and I even spray it on my brushes to help my foundation set when I’m applying makeup. The finish is just so pretty. LUNA is my skin hero! It is PACKED with beneficial super fruit oils like prickly pear, passion fruit, cranberry, amla and cucumber seed. It is pricey to make, and probably one of the higher price points on the Sorrel & Sage roster, but a little goes such a long way that it’s worth it. It’s formulated specifically for night use, and when I tell you how plumped and soothed and refreshed my face looks every morning, it’s a marvel to me. It really is wonderful. BLISS is basically a daytime version of LUNA, with a lighter sensorial profile, quick absorption and perfect under makeup. I smile every time I put it on, because of its scent. It’s fresh and soothing and glides on beautifully. I know I’m waxing fantastic, here, but I can’t believe I forgot to mention SHIBA, our Good Body Butter. It’s got the moisturizer holy trinity of humectants, emollients and occlusives…that means it helps the skin to retain moisture, softens + conditions skin and prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL) to improve and maintain skin and prevent dryness. It feels so good going on, and smells like dessert—due to the addition of organic cocoa butter. It’s very “girly,” but I have clients tell me that their husbands sneak and use it, too.
Top gifting ideas from Sorrel & Sage?
As an introduction to the brand, I would recommend the Fresh Face Forward mini bundle that includes a trial size of TERRA, DEVI and a choice of BLISS, LUNA or our newest facial oil, CLARO. SHIBA makes a great gift, because of the scent. I love seeing people’s reactions to how it smells. It also feels amazing, so it would be lovely as part of a self-care package. I also like TOTAL as a gift because it’s so versatile and makes a great addition to a gifting basket. Allergies be damned, I have a longstanding love affair with perfume. If you have a fragrance lover in your life, then ELLIS is our unisex fragrance that is so lovely and unique. It dries down to a beautiful powdery finish that lingers without being overpowering. Lastly, AURA energy sprays are amazing to gift. They’re an alternative to burning sage or incense, and perfect for enhancing self-care practices where smoke isn’t wanted or permitted. When we talk about intentional making, these are formulated with aromatherapy principles in mind, and are intended to cleanse, enhance, attract, or remove energy. That makes them wonderful for new homeowners, those in need of a pick-me-up, if someone needs clarity or focus, or if they need some good juju. Funny story: one of my clients bought the Cleansed formulation (made with Palo Santo + Sage) in multiples when she was going through a divorce and nicknamed it the Demon Be Gone spray … after her divorce finalized, she thanked me for creating a product that helped her get through it.
Where can we snag Sorrel & Sage products?
The easiest place to shop is online, on the website. I’d like to offer Vita Daily readers a 20% off promo code for the entire month of February. They can enter VITADAILY20 when completing their purchase(s).
Win! A Sorrel & Sage Prize Pack!
One lucky Canadian winner will receive a Sorrel & Sage Prize Pack, including:
- One Fresh Face Forward mini bundle ($24 value)
- One Founder’s Favourites mini bundle ($45 value)
- One Booster Shots mini bundle ($30 value)
- One Hydrated + Happy body care bundle ($24 value)
To enter, head over to Instagram, follow @sorrelandsageca and @vitadailymedia and make sure to fulfil all the entry rules in the caption of the corresponding contest post. Contest opens February 9, 2024 and closes February 16, 2024. Complete contest rules and regulations here. Please note: if you are the winner, you will receive a DM (direct message) in Instagram directly from @vitadailymedia. Please be wary of fake accounts, which often use similar handles with an extra or missing letter, number or symbol. We will never ask for a payment or for your credit card number, and we will never ask you to click through a link. If you are unsure whether you have been contacted, via Instagram, by us or a fake account, email us before responding.