This week we had a chat with Fernanda Menegassi-Lojac of North Fork Natural. A former Registered Nurse, she now specializes in aromatherapy with an online store that sells aromatic soaps, deodorants, therapeutic oils and skin care products. While some might be skeptical of the healing properties in that steaming cup of chamomile tea you just brewed, Fernanda has the scientific chops to back it up as a Certified Advanced Clinical Aromatherapist and Instructor. All of her products are based on distilled essential oils from organically grown plant material - some of which is sourced locally right here on the North Fork.GNF: I saw on your website that you are a nurse and an advanced clinical aromatherapist.
NFN: Yes my background is in nursing. After I moved to the North Fork I thought about going into homecare or something similar. I had an interest in making natural wellness products with essential oils, and then I started making my own deodorant and different remedies for different things. When I got my aromatherapist certification people started asking me to make products for them, soaps and oils, and that kind of thing. So it grew from there, and my family and friends encouraged me to start my own business which I eventually did.
GNF: What brought you to the North Fork?
NFN: I’m originally from Brazil. I came to the U.S. to go to school, and met my husband there when I was going to school in New Jersey. He was from Long Island so I ended up moving here and we lived in Long Beach for many years before coming to the North Fork in late 2012.
GNF: What is aromatherapy exactly?
NFN: Basically aromatherapy is using essential oils to create a sense of balance – that’s the textbook version!
Essential oils are pure extracts from plants, aromatic plant material that is extracted via a distillation process. You can use the essential oils for relaxation or physical issues - some essential oils can be very calming and relaxing to the central nervous system. Oils from lavender or chamomile have a sedating action. Lavender is anti-anxiety and an antidepressant. This has been scientifically researched.
GNF: So it’s not just some holistic mumbo jumbo.
NFN: No, that’s what I thought initially as well. In the U.S. we don’t have a lot of research on it, so most of it comes from Europe, China, and eastern countries – but they study the activity of essential oils.
GNF: Is it because the aromatic molecules are actually getting inside your body?
NFN: Right – so for example if you are breathing them in, the molecules in the essential oils have a direct relationship with the brain. You actually have a part of your brain matter in the bridge of your nose called the olfactory epithelium . It’s near the center of your body’s hormonal messenger system. When you breathe something like lavender in, it is absorbed into the pituitary gland which is actually sending a signal to your brain – and your brain is telling your body to relax, calm down, etc. Other oils can have an effect where you get sleepy, or more pumped up and energized. That’s essentially the science behind it.
When you apply it to your body like through a soap, it is sort of the same process but your body is absorbing it through the skin, so there is a slower rate of absorption. That works really well for massage work. I make a joint rub for arthritis, it’s one of my best selling products. It has other oils in it like Arnica and St. Johns wort, but also peppermint which is an analgesic – like a pain reliever.
GNF: What other products are customer favorites?
NFN: I have a headache oil that has peppermint, lavender, and frankincense. You just roll it around your temples and massage it to relieve pain. I also make skin care products because some fragrances and health care products have artificial ingredients that can be detrimental to your health. I like to scent all of my soaps and my skin care products with essential oils so you have the nice aromatic experience, but without all the chemicals.
GNF: What kind of chemicals can be bad for you in conventional hygiene or skin care products?
NFN: I would say in deodorant obviously, the aluminum, so when I make deodorant I use aluminum free baking soda. Also normally artificial fragrances contain Parabens which are a preservative and also phthalates which are a fixative – and they have both been linked to cause hormonal disruption, and cancer activity. So the problem is not like you using it once, but that we layer so many things on our body every day; We are washing our hands, and putting on deodorant – and especially for us women, we use lotion and makeup and hair products - and everything that we use, most of it, has artificial fragrance right?
You walk into a regular store like CVS or Walgreens and most of the stuff in there has artificial fragrances. So part of it is just trying to limit your exposure to artificial chemicals as well.
When I make my deodorants I use nice ingredients, just coconut oil, arrowroot powder, shea butter, etc. No heavy metals and no artificial fragrances. It’s not for everybody, it depends on the lifestyle as well. Some people tend to be more health conscious, they’re like “I’m going to eat everything organic and I’m not going to use anything artificial.” I’m not a puritan like that, sometimes you just need the convenience, but I try to minimize my exposure to these things.
GNF: And in addition to all natural and/or organic ingredients you source local ingredients as well?
NFN: It’s hard to source everything. Sometimes get lavender from the lavender farm, I have friends who grow or forage herbs for me like my friend April who provides the St. John’s wort for the oil that I make for my joint rub. Another friend of mine grows Calendula so I made an infusion out of it and I use it in a lot of my products – so I do incorporate local ingredients or local herbs whenever I can. Some of my ingredients come from different parts of the world like olive oil, the butters, and things like that.
GNF: Do you have a retail store or is NFN just an online business?
NFN: I had a shop in Cutchogue for two years, and then I closed down this past June and I’ve been doing mostly online orders – having two years there helped me to establish my name and get a good customer base, and now I don’t have the overhead and I work from home. It’s flexible, it’s different, I miss being there and talking to people, but now I can pursue other interests. Cutchogue doesn’t have great foot traffic, people tend to just drive by, so it was more of a destination store. For what I do I think online is going to be just fine. I’m planning on doing a couple pop up shops at local businesses during the holidays, some have already asked me to come and set up a table
GNF: Are your customers mostly local?
NFN: Most people are from Long Island, but it’s been growing due to word of mouth, and people giving gifts to other people. I have customers on the East Coast, a couple of customers from Lake Michigan, I just shipped something to Germany last week; you never know how people are going to hear about you.
GNF: Any cross promotions with other local businesses?
NFN: I make a lot of gift baskets for charities. I work with Jen at Revel North Fork, she sells some of my products over there, and Patty from the Cutchogue Farm calls me when she needs something, she sells it to her clients. I had my products at her farm stand all summer - I make a really good and effective insect and tick repellant, it’s one of my best selling items in the warmer weather. Actually I’m making soap now for a local winery, Shinn Vineyards. It’s for their winery and bed and breakfast. So I’m finding ways to collaborate with local businesses but you have to establish yourself first.
GNF: What about Greenport?
NFN: I did a few pop-ups there at Calypso St. Barth, I find it challenging to go to these places sometimes, because if people are shopping for clothes they don’t want necessarily want to talk to me at my stand. Aromatherapy is something most people don’t understand so you have to explain it to them. I also teach, I’m a certified aromatherapy instructor. I teach at the New York Institute of Aromatherapy and when I had the shop I taught a lot of workshops. I really enjoy it - one of my favorite things to do is to teach aromatherapy, so I’m going to have to find a space now. Maybe wineries in the winter because it brings people in.