Emilie Sennebogen decodes the complex world of essential oils
STORY: Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Photo: Kathryn McCrary
In enlightened 2018, natural home and skincare products are popping up everywhere as our wariness of toxins grows (raise your hand if you’ve engaged in some kind of detox). That wasn’t the case when Emilie Sennebogen started experimenting with creating bath and body products in her kitchen in the early 2000s.
“I was in Los Angeles and was educated about more natural living, natural ingredients and natural foods,” says the entrepreneur at the helm of Mama Bath+Body. “I wanted the company to be as natural as possible, so we switched to using just essential oils [instead of fragrances] in 2006.” She met her Atlanta-bred husband, and the pair moved to town 13 years ago, where she now employs more than a dozen staffers between her Krog Street Market location and the Avondale Estates spot where the crew makes and retails 100-plus products, including lotions, soaps, shampoo bars, body scrubs, room sprays and more. Here, she gives us a primer on approaching essential oils that can address everything from stress to breakouts.
Why are natural ingredients in bath and body products important?
Natural ingredients are like food. Your skin is your body‘s largest organ, so whatever you put on your body is being absorbed.
If you can’t pronounce something, is it undesirable?
That’s a good rule of thumb. The tricky part is that good labeling practices say to use a botanical name of the plant, which can sound chemical, though many people put the more mainstream plant name in parenthesis. I look for simpler, shorter ingredient lists too.
Why is it important to know about the essential oils you’re using and make sure you’re using them correctly?
Essential oils are the most concentrated, potent plant medicine since plants were our original medicinal source. You have to dilute them because most people will have reactions if they put them directly on their skin. We have them for testing to smell, but we see people smearing them on their skin, and we’re like, “No!” That’s one of the biggest challenges: These are safe if they’re used correctly.
How should they be used?
There are a couple of ways you can use essential oils. You can inhale them [after they’re dispersed through a diffuser], burn a candle that contains them or make a spray. On the skin, they should be diluted in what’s called a carrier oil, such as coconut, avocado or sweet almond. Ingesting is a really hot topic in the industry. From all of the herbal studies that I’ve done and the very educated herbalist whom I’ve learned from, everybody says don’t do it.
Other than your blended products, how could someone approach them?
It’s great to play with a single note. I recommend someone buy an inexpensive diffuser and a single essential oil. Go somewhere you can sample all the different ones [to see what you like]. Of course, there are popular ones that the staff can recommend to get you started.
Tell me about the scented soaps you’ve created for some of Atlanta’s best-known neighborhoods.
I used to do a lot of street festivals and noticed that certain scents sold better in certain neighborhoods. It was an interesting anthropological assessment. The first one was East Atlanta because the “Exhilarating” blend sold super-well there after I’d almost discontinued it because it never sold in Buckhead. I tried to think of the attributes of the neighborhoods. For example, Candler Park has cinnamon and clove because of the fireplaces in the old arts and craft houses there. The only one that’s really on-the-nose is patchouli for Little Five Points.
What’s next for you?
We’re always actively working on new products. We have a soap of the month subscription service with a new soap each month. And, I’ve gone back to school [through The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies] and plan to launch more facial products soon. There is always continuing education when you’re doing something like this.
Mama Bath + Body
99 Krog St. N.E., 30307