The Skin-Care Line That Began With a Brain Tumor

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In July of 2008, 37-year-old Indie Lee was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Later that year, she would be diagnosed with another illness —  a brain tumor that was, according to her many doctors, not cancerous, but environmentally derived. Lee was dumbfounded. "'Environmentally derived'? What do you mean? I eat healthy," she remembers telling her doctor." His reply? "What you put on your body is just as important as what you put inside your body." As Oprah would say with her hands pointing toward heaven, this was her "ah-ha" moment.

The first thing Lee did when she arrived back home after the diagnosis was to toss out multiple garbage bags full of lotions and potions. Out went the perfumes, fancy face creams, and luxury body lotions. Gone was anything that promised to de-wrinkle, lift, and tighten. Following her successful craniotomy that spring, she made a promise to educate others about the dangers of chemical-based beauty products. Over the next year, she consulted dermatologists, acupuncturists, and holistic doctors, then teamed up with a chemist who aligned with her chemical-free vision. Her U.S.-made eponymous line, which recently relaunched this spring with new packaging, is a collection of all-natural, eco-friendly, FDA-approved skincare products that are void of chemicals, toxins, and anything synthetic. You can pronounce all the ingredients on her labels.

The product that started it all is her Coconut Citrus Body Scrub. She whipped up the formula while she was undergoing chemo treatment for her rheumatoid arthritis, which left her skin scaly and impossibly dry. "I like bath scrubs, but they’re all oily, and that is a complete hazard for me in my tub," she explains. "Coconut oil is solid in room temperature, so I made it with that as the main oil so you could tip that jar over and it wouldn’t spill." The scrub, which also includes sugar ("salt is drying") and lemon balm ("very soothing and used to treat eczema") is currently being re-packaged into an even easier-to-use squeezable tube that will be available in July.

Another hit is the Squalane Facial Oil, which is formulated with 100 percent natural olive oil, so it glides onto the skin and is quick absorbing. This lightweight facial treatment oil, when applied regularly to the skin, will help diminish age spots while also boosting skin's moisture levels and elasticity. It's hydrating enough to use daily as an overnight reparative treatment, especially during summer when you don't want a heavy cream sitting on your face. Squalane is one of those molecules that already exists in our skin ("you won't be allergic to it"), so you're not introducing a foreign substance to the body. Instead, the brain will think your skin is sufficiently moisturized and won't produce any extra sebum, which makes it a great product for those with oily skin.

The Blemish Stick and Lotion.

The two products that immediately hooked me were the Blemish Stick and Blemish Lotion. The Stick looks like a clear lip gloss, but is meant to be used as a spot treatment throughout the day over makeup (no one will know you basically have zit cream on your face). I dabbed it on various baby blemishes on my face (rough week) as soon as I noticed them, and by evening's end, they were no longer red. The camphor and menthol give it a strong, medicinal scent, but it quickly vanishes. The Lotion, which dries pink on the skin (due to calamine, an anitbacterial ingredient), is an overnight treatment for more stubborn spots.

Born Lisa Swengros, Indie Lee is actually short for "Independent Lisa," which is the blog name she wrote under while undergoing treatment for her brain tumor. Once she started her new skincare project, she felt more connected to her pen name than her birth name — so she legally changed it. Another thing to know is that those colorful bands around each bottle stand for something: blue is for face, pink is for anti-aging products (usually more pricey due to the quality of ingredients), while the white labels are for body.

Indie Lee will pick up and answer the phone herself if your call her company's line. That's because she's seriously devoted to helping you choose the right product for your particular skin concern ("I give people my cell phone number and make them text me pictures of their rosacea," she adds.) And while Lee's incredibly passionate about educating consumers on all-natural skincare, she believes in doing things in moderation. "If I want to rock the new Chanel Rouge lipstick, I’m going to rock it," she says. "I’m going to feel good and sexy and not feel bad about it."