Beauty With a Clear Conscience
Organic cosmetics in Vienna: Will these salons become the new norm?
St. Charles on Gumpendorferstraße sells homemade organic products | Photo: Saint Charles
From gardens near Prague, Botanicus has been available in Vienna since 2009 | Photo: Botanicus
Today’s organic cosmetic products are leaving the image of burlap bags and musty oils and going for a fancy look, with brands like The Organic Pharmacy and luxury cosmetics with ingredients like gold and diamonds. Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robbie Williams treat their first-class visages to organic pampering – if you believe the spin-doctors. Will organic cosmetics take off like the trend of organic food? Are we approaching the consensus that only pure and contaminant-free products are allowed into or onto our bodies?
Next to godliness
“If you firmly believe in something, you have to follow it though to the end,” explains Alexander Ehrmann, founder of “Saint Charles” and the youngest of six generations of pharmacists. The Saint Charles group comprises a natural cosmetics shop, a treatment room, and a small restaurant, all on Gumpendorferstraße. They have inspired names, like “Cosmothecary”, “Hideaway”, and “Alimentary”, the last currently under construction.
Saint Charles’ organic line is called SAINT. Its products are made in the pharmacy, according to Traditional European Medicine (TEM), based on age-old knowledge of medicinal herbs and health treatments (e.g. anthroposophical medicine based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, homeopathy or naturopathy). As a chemist, Ehrmann makes his own products. The ingredients carry the seal “Bio Austria Garantie” and are grown in Ehrmann’s own fields at his country house in Prigglitz, or bought from organic wholesalers.
At the Cosmothecary, across from the pharmacy, all cosmetics on offer are certified organic. Beside their in-house cosmetics, they sell brands like Weleda, Dr. Hauschka, Santaverde, and Sapofactur. Out the back door is the Hideaway, where visitors can relax while getting a facial, Ayurveda massage or a “Weleda-Mommy-Treatment”. Lying on the massage bed, tender hands, warm essential oils, and natural aromas let you sink deep into relaxation. But do reserve ahead, since the Hideaway is fully booked for weeks in advance.
“Back-to-the-roots is our guiding principle,” says Ehrmann, father of a four-year-old son, “because you are what you eat, how you live, and which kind of medication or nutritional supplements you take. Organic is the antithesis to the era of greed we live in.”
The smell of Latvia’s hayfields
The stattGarten-shop on Kettenbrückengasse sells organic cosmetics and a variety of exclusive products. The house’s beauty salon, stattGarten Studio is on the floor above – furnished with chic second hand furniture from a shop down the street (Bananas). The stattGarten philosophy is a kind of “up-cycling”, based on recycling and adaptive re-use.
The cosmetics are strictly organic, but not so the fragrances. Also old-school laundry flakes and organic chocolate are for sale on the store’s wooden racks. For the stress-plagued urban dweller in search of Mother Nature’s cure, being slathered in Dr. Hauschka and Organic Pharmacy products is the perfect remedy.
“The typical customer is the 40-year-old educated woman who is conscious about nutrition and wants cosmetics that meet the same standard,” says the salesperson Andrea Lackner. Men also come into the shop, and not just to buy presents for their girlfriends. They like to treat themselves to a little pampering: The brand Mádara, which “smells like Latvia’s hayfields” is a favourite of male customers. Among the clientele you’ll find people with allergies or suffering from blemished skin, even breast cancer patients, who are all looking for non-chemical cosmetics.
The stattGarten is also affiliated with the Pharmacists Guild. The shop’s founder, Eva Seisser, runs a pharmacy specialising in naturopathy (alternative medicine based on a holistic approach to treatment) and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
A garden of beauty
“Ninety percent of the people who come into the store buy something. And the chance of them coming again is very high,” says Eva-Maria Prikoszovits, owner of the Botanicus shop off Wipplingerstraße in the 1st District. She spends no money on advertising – in this business, when it’s about trust, what counts is a word-of-mouth recommendation. After working in the international commodities trade (cotton and grain) for 25 years, the 51-year-old businesswoman wanted to do something useful and good for people and the environment.
“Botanicus is not only a product – it’s a way of life,” says Prikoszovits of the company that she brought to Austria in 2009. She can relate the origin of every plant they use and organic cosmetics in general. The Botanicus herbal gardens and main house are located in the Czech village Ostrá near Prague, and include the garden of Dagmar and the late Václav Havel. The entrepreneur and mother of two stresses that “All plants from the Botanicus gardens, as well as the oils and extracts, are certified organic.”
Out of the Birkenstock-box
Madgalena Riekmann’s Beauty Boutique Natural Cosmetics, located in the 1st District, totes the motto “Where glamour meets nature”, the best of both worlds, so to speak. Riekmann had worked as a manager in the pharmaceutical industry for 17 years, specialising in dermatology – when she began to question the industry.
“Consumers would never put conventional cosmetics on their skin if they knew what was in them,” says the stylish woman with a short black bob. Her 40th birthday was the turning point in her life, when she opened an organic cosmetics shop in 2011. This is a place that offers glam-but-conscious products, including gold-, platinum- and diamond-infused creams (Julisis), but also not-so-pricey make-up and nail polish for teens and twenty-somethings.
But not everything that says organic is organic: It’s vital to look out for certain certifications. The name “bio” or “organic” is not legally protected for cosmetics. The cosmetics industry is far from standardised guidelines. According to Anna Baumgartner, a Harvard Law School graduate and co-founder of the organic cosmetics blog twist (www.thetwist.ch), you can trust the following certifications: Natrue, Ecocert, Bdih, Cosmebio, USDA Organic, Cosmos (see below; and Bio Austria Garantie for agricultural products(r.)).
Saint Charles Cosmothecary & Hideaway
6., Gumpendorferstraße 33, Mon.-Fri. 8:00-18:30, Sat. 8:00-17:00, www.saint.info
4., Kettenbrückengasse 14, Mon.-Fri. 10:00-18:30, Sat. 10:00-17:00, www.stattgarten.at
1., Postgasse 1-3, Mon.-Fri. 11:00-18:30, Sat. 10:00-17:00, www.naturalcosmetics.at
1., Schwertgasse 4, Mon.-Fri. 10:00-19:00 Sat. 10:00-15:00, www.botanicus-vienna.at