In honor of Black History Month, we’ll be doing a series that highlights individuals who are doing amazing work in their respective careers while inspiring others. Their stories will showcase what being “real beautiful” is all about. I recently interviewed Yolanda Washington and Samyra Lyles, owners of the natural skin care line Irie Scents on switching from careers in finance to making skin care products that encourage self-care.
Many successful businesses begin by chance and for IrieScents owners Yolanda Washington and Samyra Lyles, this was exactly the case.
Once upon a time, Yolanda was working in credit counseling and Samyra in accounting. Both women were in fields they weren't necessarily passionate about, and ironically lost their jobs around the same time. Seeking career changes, they found themselves in the same massage therapy school in Atlanta. After meeting and finding out they both hailed from Baltimore, they clicked…and later discovered they were actually blood cousins! Through an assignment to create a dual purpose massage product, they discovered the benefits of soy candles and a mutual love of skincare; they eventually began to explore a product line together. In time, IrieScents was born.
I spoke to Yolanda and Samyra on the benefits of their products and how the line even helped when both women battled cancer. Judging by our chat and my own product testing, IrieScents is definitely here to stay.
You guys began working together through a class project and realized that you could do actual business together. Was a skin care line always the goal?
Yolanda: We created candles from a class project where we were instructed to come up with a product on different modalities of massages and that’s how we got into it. My dream was to always do a natural hair care line. I started in my own kitchen with ingredients in my own fridge and began with creating a product I called “hair food,” which was meant to be an analogy of nutrition for the hair. The hair food I created was great but it wasn’t cost effective. It was very expensive to make and sell and more importantly, it was difficult to make a profit. Switching to skin care ended up working better as the hair business is oversaturated.
How did you come up with the name?
Yolanda: Irie is a Jamaican term that means good feeling and good vibrations. When on vacation in the islands, you feel amazing, which is how we want our customers to feel when they use our products. We put the best intentions into our products when creating them; I even pray that whoever uses them are given the best that life offers.
What’s IrieScents offering currently and what are the products’ benefits?
Yolanda: Our whipped body butters can be used on your full body for external moisture and depending on hair texture works great for natural hair styles, like twist outs. The brown sugar scrubs exfoliate the skin and we encourage clients to use while in the shower to make skin silky soft and smooth. We recommend you take our foot scrubs to your pedicurist versus using what they have at the salon because it lasts longer. Soy candles are dual purpose to scent a room and [to be] used on skin during a massage on areas prone to crack such as the hands, elbows and feet. Our wax melts have the same effect but can be put on oil burners and candle warmers. A couple of clients use them in their car for scents - when the sun hits them, they melt.
What ingredients are in your products?
Samyra: It varies by product. For our eczema butter, we use neem oil heavily. Both of our daughters’ eczema flare ups stopped with our products. For others, we use nut butter, almond, avocado, vitamin e, etc. We also stress that a balanced diet is taken because certain foods affect the skin differently. The idea of “you are what you eat” is 100% true. You have to work the skin from the inside out. So many people use different lotions and things like vaseline to address the skin externally, but it doesn’t work.
How does vaseline not help the skin?
Yolanda: Vaseline clogs your pores. Most people don't like shea because it’s hard and it melts but with our products, we blend it with other oils to make it smoother. With Vaseline, it doesn't breathe it’s a lot of suckage.
What are some outcomes you’ve seen in your clients skin?
Samyra: The greatest benefit is the decrease in dry and flaky skin. As people of color, our skin is more prone to that, specifically in the winter because we may not drink as much water as there is not much heat. We’ve also seen tremendous outcomes when dealing with severe skin disorders. My daughter use to suffer from extreme eczema. I use the eczema butter on her and she doesn't have eczema flare ups unless she is off of her diet. The quality of our skin is different. Shea butter is a good remedy as it helps with elasticity, sunburn, discoloration.
Samyra, you mentioned something about your daughter’s eczema being affected if she is off of her diet. Could you elaborate as to how what we eat and drink can further affect our skin?
Samyra: I changed my diet completely after seeing how effective it was when I had to adjust my daughters. When she turned 1, I put her on cow’s milk and she developed eczema horribly and had to fight it later with products and a balanced diet. What we eat has so much to do with the way our bodies react. Look at how fast girls are now developing in terms of curves and weight. That’s not solely a result of “genetics.” The reason there are so many body issues is because there is no cycle for it to be filtered out before they give the milk to these girls at such a young age that has toxins in them. When you eat cleaner, you see the adverse reaction to certain dairy products within your skin. It’s been proven time and time again how a healthier and balanced diet for women specifically cures not only skin issues but also reproductive issues including fibroids, endometriosis etc.
What other testimonials from clients or even yourselves have you seen as result of your products?
Yolanda: My father was terminally ill and diagnosed with dementia which left him bedridden. As his caregiver, I used our butters after bathing him to prevent bed sores. His nurse was amazed at how even as his skin aged and began to break down, it remained soft. I was devastated after I put him in a VA hospital for 6 days when I traveled to Baltimore for a family visit. He came back with one bed sore after all the work I’d done to avoid that. Luckily, we cleaned it up in no time. His nurse began to use it on other patients of hers after realizing the healing effects it had on my dad.
Samyra: I was diagnosed with skin cancer during massage therapy school, which isn’t a common type of cancer within our community. The cancer was within the layers of skin and not the topical layer. Doctors had very little answers for my case. Radiation burned my skin, it was multiple layers darker. I was given a topical cream but opted out of using it because my skin was already vulnerable. I used our body butters instead and changed my diet. My color came back completely and my doctor was amazed. He attributed it to the cream and was shocked when I told him it was our products. My doctor said that my skin looked better than any other patient post follow up.
Yolanda: I went through breast cancer 3 years after Samyra’s diagnosis. I learned from her experience to not even try the topical creams given by the doctor during treatment and to use our products instead. As a result, my skin remained in tact as well.
That’s phenomenal that your products worked that well!
Samyra: We complicate things so much. Sometimes keeping it simple with natural remedies work.
How are you looking to expand?
Yolanda: We are working on perfecting the scents for our essential oil candles; they will be released within 60 days. Also in production are beard oils and beard balms for men and soaps. You can purchase IrieScents online.
Would you give these products a try? Follow Irie Scents on Instagram