Secret Lives: Beneficial Beauty
Creative soul Melissa McFarlin of Sway Sundries aims to heal with her suds and salves
For our Secret Lives of Seven San Diegans feature, get to know Melissa McFarlin, a freelance graphic designer who found inspiration–and healing–in making her own beauty products.
Excitedly explaining the benefits of clean beauty products while prying the lid off a bucket filled with raw coconut oil, Melissa McFarlin is completely in her creative element in her Carlsbad home office/soap studio (aka her garage)—electric blue rubber gloves, checkered slip-on Vans and all.
Melissa has always walked the path of creativity; her father is a creative director and artist—some of his paintings are hung in her home—and she followed in his footsteps, getting a degree in graphic design and doing concept design for companies, before going freelance to spend more time with her children, Otto, 8, and Colette, 6. Her husband Clint is also a graphic designer.
After feeling a “strong draw” to San Diego while visiting five years ago—and being especially enamored by the ocean—Melissa and Clint decided to move from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Carlsbad. A year later, Melissa developed hives that she attributed to a number of factors, but most importantly, the types of beauty products she used.
The hives prompted Melissa to try her hand at creating her own completely natural soaps. “This wasn’t my first time making beauty products,” she jokes. “My mom was a great sport about trying the glamorous mud masks I made as a child.”
A Student Again
Melissa soon realized that creating her own soaps would be a lot more complex than mud masks and enrolled herself in classes at Lemon Grove’s Soapmaking Studio.
“They taught us about saponification—the chemical process that oils undergo to become soap—how to use a soap calculator to factor the proper ingredient ratios and to be aware of the pH levels,” she shares. “I really found myself delving into the scientific process behind soap making and soon found empowerment in a field that I had never felt confident in before.”
Science + Research + Nature for Everyone
This led to plenty of solo research on different soap-making techniques and the differences between homemade bars and mass-produced soaps. Big companies, for example, remove soap’s glycerin (a natural soap-making byproduct that moisturizes your skin’s outer layer by drawing water from the air) for shelf longevity.
Melissa’s soaps are salt-based, vegan products—pure soap with no dyes or synthetic fragrances—that retain all of their glycerin. To avoid chemicals, she uses natural colorants like turmeric (yellow) and rose clay (pink) and essential oils that provide clean scents—she often uses grapefruit, tea tree, peppermint, jasmine and eucalyptus—and extra skin-soothing properties. “I don’t use any scents that are particularly geared toward men or women. That has always seemed silly to me. All of my products are for everyone.”
The Secret Formula
After some experimentation, Melissa arrived at her perfect formula: a blend of Dead Sea, Epsom and pink Himalayan salts. She uses a cold-process method influenced by classic European brine soap. In this technique, heated oils are mixed with a powdered-salt lye solution, then poured into a mold to firm for five hours. Once solidified, the soap blocks go through a four- to six-week curing process to evaporate excess moisture and create sturdy bars. Even though the bars contain salt, they are creamy, not gritty, yet still textured enough to be effective exfoliators.
Melissa began gifting her soaps to family and friends, whose overwhelmingly positive feedback inspired her to turn her new hobby into a side business, called Sway Sundries. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from the other startups [in Carlsbad] and at home—Clint is my tester bunny and my son, Otto, has a great nose for scents.”
A Second Venture: CBD
Supportive family members not only helped to develop Melissa’s soap business, but also played a large part in the conception of her second venture, which came about when her mother developed osteoarthritis. Melissa had heard that CBD (cannabidiol) worked well as a pain suppressant. Even though her mother was against trying any products containing CBD, Melissa set out to further research the hemp extract as an avenue for pain relief. After learning about all of the benefits, she began making her own CBD-infused salt soaks and salves (which her mom now happily uses), under the name Loden.
“I want to debunk some of the falsehoods surrounding CBD that keep people from using it for relief,” Melissa says. “It’s not THC [the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis]. It is just hemp oil, which is a natural extract. It activates our endocannabinoid system—the bodily system that deals with regulating hormone secretion in relation to stress—and provides relief from stress, anxiety and pain. It is also an antioxidant and great for your skin.”
Now, she is finalizing websites (swaysundries.com and loden.club) to sell her products and working toward attractive, eco-friendly packaging.
“Creating products that have a beneficial purpose is the most important and fulfilling part to me,” she says. “I had a short-lived period of making gem-shaped soaps. Aesthetically pleasing products are great, but I want to focus on products that people will use to help themselves.”
It’s #SecretLivesWeek at SDH/GL. We want to hear about your secret life! Do you have a side gig? A surprising talent? A superhero alter ego? We’re going to feature stories of some amazing secret lives—plus tips and tricks for managing all the extra to-do lists!—all week long. We want to see yours too; tag #SecretLivesWeek and we will add your pics to the mix!