Toronto-based gardener with roots in Pakistan. Maleeha also works in finance and serves as a project consultant for an environmental non-profit. She uses her gardening skills to develop her own natural soap and skincare products and her favorite flowers are marigolds.
SHEER: Tell us a little about yourself and where you are from.
MALEEHA FAROOQ: I was born in Karachi, Pakistan and immigrated to Canada as child. My experience of both environments growing up had a big influence on my relationship with nature. Growing up I would compare my surroundings to understand the differences between the two places I called home. In Karachi my family had cultivated fruit trees, and flowers all through the home. I would help take care of our family of plants. They lined the courtyard, and as you walked through the front gate the smell of jasmine would fill the air. In Canada we moved into an area with forests, and trees that grew taller than I could imagine. These places were so different and captivating in their own way, and because of them I developed a deep respect and interest in the environment which has shaped the work I do today.
SHEER: How did you get into making soaps/ balms? What inspires your different ingredients and combinations?
MF: Soap making started as a natural extension of gardening that has turned into an art. Each season I dedicate time to learn about the properties of the plants I grow. This has inspired me to find ways to incorporate them into my skin care and wellness routine. My favourite yet has been Calendula, a part of the marigold family. This flower has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. I made a balm with it last season which helped with everything from dry skin to bug bites.
Knowing the history, and about the value of the things I grow has led me to have a reciprocal relationship with nature. The combination of ingredients I use are based on their purpose, some are meant to calm, others to energize. I discover ingredients through conversations with other gardeners, or through research. I create bespoke solutions for skin care needs, and challenge myself to do the work which also drives me to keep learning about plants.
SHEER: What would you say is your favorite soap to make? Can you help to describe the ingredients/environment that is ideal for making this kind of soap?
MF: My favourite soap to make lately is made of lavender and eucalyptus, this combination is intended to relax and ideal for use before bed. I planted lavender three years ago, and since then it has grown to be prolific in the garden. Lavender is fleeting in the garden because of the short span of the blooms. I never pass up the opportunity to harvest and dry to add to soaps. I cut the stems being careful to not lose the buds, and bundle for drying. Once bundled I hang them with twine and give them some time to dry. The other main ingredient of this soap is eucalyptus. While I can’t grow the eucalyptus tree of my dreams in my home in Canada, I have been able to cultivate a healthy houseplant. I take leaves sparingly and dry them from my eucalyptus plant. Once the ingredients are prepared, I do a cold process where I use almond oil and shea butter to make my personal favourite soap.
SHEER: What are your favorite ingredients for making soap and balms? How do you believe these ingredients are beneficial for your skin?
MF: I make my soaps and balms to help with the effects of city pollutants. I aim to keep it simple and refreshing. I look for ingredients that are compatible with multiple skin types, and make soaps with a blend of shea butter, almond oil, and olive oil. The ratio of oils determine how moisturizing the end product is. My favourite ingredients are sea-buckthorn oil which has a strong scent on its own, but is rich in vitamin E. I add this to my rose balm with beeswax and dried rose petals from my garden. I also love lavender soap because it helps me sleep, and is my go-to when I need to de-stress.
SHEER: You also have your own garden which is amazing and very admirable. How does having your own garden contribute to your soap making process? What kinds of foods do you incorporate into your skincare routine?
MF: Having a garden and an abundance of herbs and flowers inspired me to research and find ways to use them. I learned about traditions using plants for skin care and wellness and wanted to apply them in my routine. Now the two interests are interwoven, and I grow things that I know I can use. For example, I use peppermint not only in a cooling balm, but in a soothing tea as well.
SHEER: What would you say are the benefits of making your own skincare products?
MF: The benefits of making my own skincare products are seeing the process through from beginning to end. The intention in planting something to heal myself and others is rewarding. I know the ingredients in each product, and ensure that everything is high quality and has a purpose. The main costs of the products are the time it takes, a batch of soap takes four weeks to “cure”. Which means it takes time for them to be ready to use. In addition, I cut out the extra packaging, and transport of products, and have access to more sustainable products. A great alternative to making soaps, and what I often do, is support other makers online or at my local farmers’ market.
SHEER: What kind of advice do you have for someone who is looking to make their own skincare products?
MF: Soap making and creating any skin care products is like gardening, they require patience. I encourage finding one product to develop, and go from there. Balms and rose water toner are simpler, and require time and creativity to try combinations of ingredients that meet your needs.
For beginners I recommend melt and pour soaps, which are sold as a base, and can have other ingredients added as they melt. I discuss soap making on my blog, Blue Mondays, and explain the process I use. No matter the size or scope of your project, the intention to make time for yourself is what counts.
Check out some of Maleeha’s handmade soaps and ingredients below. You can also follow her on Instagram and learn more on her website linked below.
Dried calendula petals, orange essential oil, sea-buckthorn oil soap, with shea butter and almond oil
Dried lavender buds, dried eucalyptus leaves, lavender essential oil, shea butter, and almond oil
Bentonite clay, rose water, rosehip oil, and olive oil
Dried calendula petals, turmeric, grapefruit essential oil, shea butter, and almond oil