Big beauty brands sometimes steal a lot of the attention thanks to their massive followings and endless stream of new products. However, the smaller beauty brands are often where the magic happens. Case in point: Penny Frances Apothecary. The brand, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is all about producing organic, small batch skincare products. And the resulting products are ahhh—mazing. We spoke with founder Sarah Francesca Craig to find out more about the artisan botanical range and how she draws on her upbringing for the line.
How did the idea for Penny Frances come about?
"It just happened gradually. My mum and my aunties were a huge influence with their skincare and their lifestyles, so I grew up watching each of them get ready and applying their skin potions. (They still are all very glamorous.) One was all about the green beauty before green beauty was a thing. She was way ahead of her time in terms of organic food and skincare, especially in Scotland in the '80s—it was unheard of. She gave me my first natural skincare recipe book and she was very influential.
Their assorted perfumes [were also inspiring]. Scent was always there. My mum loved Chanel, Bois des Iles is her favorite. My auntie wore Paris by Yves Saint Laurent and my other aunt wore all sorts of fragrances. L'air du Temps by Nina Ricci was one of them. Samsara by Guerlain was another one my aunt loved.
Perfume was always there being spritzed, hair being blow-dried, lipstick being put on—lots of pretty jars of cream. [There are] so many sweet childhood memories surrounded by strong, very gentle-hearted, inspiring women who never put up with any nonsense.
Scent to me is always a very beautiful memory. We lived near forests and beaches so I spent a lot of my childhood playing outside in the trees with my little sister and building tree-huts with my cousins. We lived near a beautiful river where the scent of honeysuckle and old roses was abundant.
My grandmother grew the most beautiful geraniums and roses. She had all sorts of flowers in her beautiful garden that I adored. She would stop every five minutes and smell the roses when we were out walking. And my papa grew all sorts in his green house. The scent of vine-ripened tomatoes, peas, and raspberries remind me so of my beloved grandfather. [The garden] was also a favorite place for me to be.
My grandmother was just amazing. She loved the beauty of nature, flowers, birds, and the smell of the sea when we would go for fish 'n chips. Everything was a joy to her and it has stayed with me—the joy of scent.
[To summarize,] I suppose the line all just came together organically. I am obsessed. When my boys were younger and running and climbing I'd also, I still do, stop and just hold a rose to my face and inhale the beauty of rose. [When you smell it,] you instantly feel calm. Same with lavender and rosemary.
When I was pregnant with both of my sons, I made myself beautiful mandarin and lavender body oil. Then I started reading my books and experimenting with geranium as it's so good for women. And I started, like many others before me, tinkering away in my kitchen. Then it grew and grew."
The Three Stages of Madame freckle face (me 🤓) when I apply my beautiful, very small batch, calming, regenerating and uplifting ...Geranium Serum, now, BACK IN STOCK ❤️ #tbt #summer #botanicalbeauty #ecobeauty #smallbatch #artisan #skincareluxury#joy#freckleface#summertime#TheAce#organicskincare#highvibes#greenbeauty#papaya#avocado#geranium#ladolcevita#botanicalskincare#rituals#apothecary#MadeInScotland#SunWorshipper#calming#activebotanicals#ThisWorks#holisticskincare#aromatic#botanical
How do you choose your ingredients?
"Obsessively. I will read about a combination in a book and it will inspire me, or I will see something in an old movie, or something else. [For example,] my friend just wrote me a beautiful email telling me about the scent of the bougainvillea in Australia when she was out walking at night. I draw inspiration from everywhere—it's always on my mind.
I source my ingredients from small companies. I had a girlfriend bring me argan oil straight from Morocco once, and [I've had people bring me] sandalwood from Australia (I have very close girlfriends who live there), and olive oil from Spain. My best friend lives in Budapest and she is going to send me more Bulgarian lavender. The list is endless. My husband brought me the most exquisite lavender from Croatia, which I still have. One of my suppliers grows her rose geraniums out in her garden. It's very special.
[I'm] like a chef with their ingredients —they're integral to me and my products—you only want to source the finest. Also, I have been buying ingredients from my suppliers for nearly 10 years now so I know who I am dealing with. They have always been very helpful and I am learning every day about oils and essential oils and herbal medicine. It's fascinating and really makes me wonder why there are still products with the most heinous ingredients [that are] toxic and disruptive to our hormones and our bodies."
Geranium botanical facial serum ❤️ new look & new formulation with beautiful Pomegranate Seed CO2 Extract which can promote skin regeneration, stimulate self repair mechanisms, improve skin elasticity, and helps plump up laughter lines. Pomegranate Seed Oil also has calming and skin soothing properties. ....which we all love 🐚🐚🐚🐚 #activebotanicals #botanicalbeauty#botanicalskincare#plantbased#organicskincare#organicbeauty#violetglass#facialserum#papaya#geranium#marula#luxuryskincare#holistichealth#holisticskincare#smallbatch#ecobeauty#slowbeauty#highvibes#pomegranate#nontoxicbeauty#artisan#apothecary#vancitybuzz#smallbatch#naturelbeauty#greenbeauty#crueltyfree#organicskincare ON LINK in PROFILE for more delightful info 🤓🐚🌞
How important it is for you to produce things in small batches using natural ingredients?
"It's the only way. It's just me making all my potions so it can only be in small batches. I have help with lots of parts of my wee business, but right now it's me who is making every single potion. I trained as a chef so I can handle it!"
How long do you spend blending a product until you get a formula you’re satisfied with?
"My perfect Eye Butter formulation took a few years tweaking it. My Ibiza Balm also took a couple years and my Geranium Serum also has been added to over the years—it's perfect now.
I recently went to India and the scents there were insane. The fragipani and jasmine that grows [is incredible.] The scent of it at night puts you in this permanent sense of bliss—it's truly inspiring so I added champaca to my Paradiso Body and Hair Elixir."
What are some of your favorite ingredients to use?
"Lavender is probably my favorite. It's instantly calming and takes me to the sunshine and the cool, salty breeze of the Mediterranean. I also love papaya oil. Its summery scent is exquisite and it instantly brightens your skin when you apply it. I also love the scent of jasmine sambac—the night blossoming flower—and vanilla. I mix [the latter] with lavender in a serum that I have worn for years on my neck and chest at night. The combination of vanilla and lavender is heavenly; it is instantly calming and sensual."
SMALL BATCH BOTANICAL MAGIC all made by moi ❤️💌🐚 #botanicalbeauty#botanicalskincare #ecobeauty#organicbeauty#organicskincare#greenbeauty#potions#highvibes#artisan#apothecary#holisticbeauty#holistichealing#earthmedicine#plantmedicine#herbalism#activebotanicals#madeincanada#violetglass#beautiful#organic#nontoxicbeauty#plantbased#suninfused#beautyrituals#slowbeauty#cleanbeauty#greenbeautyproducts#nontocicskincare
Where did the idea to use Miron Glass for the bottles come from? (Penny Frances uses Miron violet glass in its products. It acts as a natural filter that only lets in the sunlight that protects and improves the quality of the products.)
"My friend from Apothecanna planted the seed around four years ago. He told me I should put my Eye Butters in them because my products were so luxurious and beautiful. I'd never heard of it. I finally did it and I'm so in love with them. They are an obvious choice for natural skincare as they actually enhance the botanicals in the products and keep the potions fresh. That violet glass is so dense."
I'm over the moon. My gentle, botanical products are now being used for facial treatments at Mille Fiori Spa in Victoria. I used to love having facials, I think the last one I had was 20 years ago. I stopped having them as I didn't like the chemical laden/ perfumed thick gloopy products that were being used on my skin and I usually would break out afterwards and think "what the ...." 🙄😳 So this is really wonderful and all you beautiful people should go get an exquisite Penny Frances facial in the beautiful space that is Mille Fiori Spa. No toxins, no preservatives, no artificial fragrance, no fussy packaging ( I like to invest in my ingredients) - just beautiful handcrafted (very small-batch) artisanal skincare created with beautiful wildcrafted, fairtrade & organic ingredients that will truly feed your skin and enliven your senses, transporting you to an old rose garden in St Tropez or a field of lavender in Grasse or a secret beach in Ibiza 🐚#escape#millefiorispa#selfcare#apothecary#holistichealing#holisticbeauty#artisan#organicskincare#organicbeauty#botanicalbeauty#botanicalskincare#highvibes#spa#ecobeauty#greenbeauty#madeincanada#nontoxicbeauty#beautyrituals#beautifulskin#botanicalmagic#plantmedicine#herbalmedicine#luxuryskincare#violetglass#wildcrafted#nontoxic#organic
What is the biggest piece of advice you've learned running Penny Frances?
"What my grandmother always told me: Go with your gut feeling. If you are passionate, do something you love and with all your heart. My mum has always been very good at telling me I could do whatever I wanted. It's important for a kid [to hear that.] I do the same with my kids. [I tell them], 'Believe in yourself and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.'
Penny Frances is my joy, but it's hard work. I work my butt off, but I love what I do. I've worked since I was 14, so I have a good work ethic and lots of energy. When my boys were smaller, I was really busy with them so I took Penny Frances very slowly. I'm glad. I have no regrets as I had time with my babies.
I also try not to get overwhelmed and to really keep my sense of humor. I've made lots of great friends through doing this. Vancouver is full of very talented artisans who have become my friends. It has all been very positive. I'm stoked. And my customers are all very sweet and supportive and write me the loveliest emails."
What are your favorite products in the range?
"That's hard because they are all my treasures, but the ones I use the most are the mist every morning after my shower then my Geranium Serum. I take them everywhere so if you see me on a plane or by the pool, you might get asked if you'd like a facial. I gave two lovely French interior designers facials when I was in India. They loved it.
I also really love my Rose Cucumber Eye Serum—it's light and fresh. I also use my clay mask twice a week."
Paradiso Body & Hair elixir NEW formulation! - I've added the deep, seductive and complex aroma - vanilla/ orange blossom/ honey notes of Champaca ( inspired from my India adventure) Also known as champa and #champaka, #Champaca Absolute harnesses the sacred, aromatic power of the Indian #Magnolia Tree and its gorgeous white flower buds. Revered by the people of India for thousands of years, extracted from the fragrant flowers of a tree that is highly revered by the Hindus, and is dedicated to Vishnu and Kamadeva (the Hindu god of love). There's also pracaxi seed oil which is a supreme hair brightener, adding shine, strengthening and a seriously good hair detangler and the exquisite, warm almond breeze of virgin french plum oil- these notes add to the exotic vanilla Jasmine aroma of PARADISO and this will be available online in March. 🐚 #elixir#botanicalbeauty#champacablossom#ecobeauty#botanicalbeauty#botanicalskincare#tropical#organicskincare#holisticskincare#slowbeauty#greenbeauty#nontoxicbeauty#artisan#apothecary#holisticbeauty#plantmagic#herbalmedicine#beautymagic#handmade#vancouver#vancity#madeincanada#organicbeauty#smallbatch#violetglass
What has been your proudest moment so far?
"My proudest moment was my Geranium Facial Serum being featured in The Financial Times' 'Best of Beauty 2016' and when Alanis Morissette gave my serum a shoutout. That was pretty sweet. She's a real sweetheart and supports lots of beautiful green skincare [ranges]. Penny Frances is my third baby so most moments I'm pretty stoked as to where I've come with her. My grandmother would be proud and my husband and aunties, mum, and sister are proud. And my girlfriends are all addicted. [Laughs]"
What's next for the brand?
"I'm keeping it very small batch. I make the products so I am happy having my potions in smaller boutiques where I have good relationships with the owners. I've also just recently [launched than brand in] a beautiful spa. Hopefully, my brand is just growing at a nice slow pace as I can't spread myself too thin.
I also really love to travel with my family so I am delighted where it's at for now. This is good. La dolce vita."
#tbt to maybe 3 summers ago with my littlest cub. Did you know I love freckles, OLIVES, having a tan 🙄😬, the scent of lavender, roses, Jasmine and honeysuckle in the air on a summer's night, summertime, good wine, cold beers on the beach, Pedro Almodovar, carbs - mainly bread and pasta, forever. I trained to be a chef in Edinburgh many moons ago and worked and managed restaurants mainly in Scotland and Italian restaurants in Sydney, Australia. All the Italian chefs (and not forgetting my mama , Gigi) taught me about flavours and simple, fresh ingredients- olive oil, good wine, and good pasta - that's when it all began, appreciating flavours - the place in Scotland was called L'etoile and it really was the most amazing place, (my boss allowed me to travel a lot too - she was a real character and gave me a lot of freedom). So, food is a big biiiiiiiiig thing, I prefer other people cooking for me now though ha ha, I love Ask for Luigi 🇮🇹 ! I make a good salad - mixing up flavours and reading cookery books in my bed. I've lived and gone on missions all over the world, so I am very inspired by those travels - it opens the mind. I've settled here and I'm happy as Larry, looking after my kids and making magical potions - obsessed - that is the short story of me - I am the one and only maker of Penny Frances, small batch artisan skincare ❤️🐚🕊🍋📸 @jonathancruz #ladolcevita #freckles#frecklesgalore#summeryime#artisan#smallbatch#ecobeauty#organicbeauty#organicskincare#salt#lavender#nontoxicbeauty#vancouverisawesome#escape#wanderlust#highvibes#witchywoman#potions#pedroalmodovar#winelover#aromatherapy#botanicalskincare#botanicalbeauty#indiebeauty#poseytwat#pennyfrancesapothecary#herbalmedicine#holistichealth#holisticbeauty
Have you tried any Penny Frances Apothecary products? Which are you favorites?