Recently a friend from Morocco visited me, bringing gifts of lovely natural body care products: rose water, orange flower face tonic, argan oil, frankincense. I was delighted to present her with some of the locally made, natural personal care products available within a 20 minute stroll of my house in Ubud.

Over the years I’ve researched and written several stories on commercial skin care products, and as a result have stopped using most of them. Those attractively packaged and heavily marketed creams and lotions contain parabens, phthalates, sodium laurel sulfate, formaldehyde and toluene to name just a few chemicals you probably wouldn’t rub on your car, much less your epidermis. And in Indonesia it’s almost impossible to buy skin products that don’t contain some form of bleaching agent (hydroquinone is the most toxic) to make the skin lighter.

Commercial products contain preservatives and stabilisers which make them so chemically stable that they never degrade even after years on the shelf. Your skin is your largest organ, covering an area of about 20 square feet. It is absorbent, so whatever you use on it will penetrate the tissues and eventually enter the blood and travel to the vital organs; children are especially vulnerable to transdermal toxins. Personal care products contain carcinogens and chemicals which collect in the body over many years.

In 2006 the European Food Safety Authority banned propyl paraben in food (parabens are just one of the many dangerous chemicals found in personal care products) because of evidence it disrupted sex hormones and sperm counts. North American authorities are less concerned. From the FDA’s own website: “The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act does not require cosmetic products and ingredients to be approved by FDA before they go on the market, except for color additives that are not intended for use as coal tar hair dyes.” Buyer beware.

For several years now I’ve been using natural skin care products created here in Bali without chemical additives. They’re made by real people from real plants, oils and other natural materials on the principle that if you can’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your body. Natural skin care products are dated and should be kept in the fridge because they contain no preservatives.

We’re fortunate here in Bali to be able to buy a wide range of excellent natural care products at a reasonable price. Here are four of the brands I use. I’ve met the people who make them and know them all to be ethical and committed to using only natural ingredients. All these businesses are run by dedicated Indonesians with a passion for producing high quality products. All have relationships with local farmers and producers who supply the raw materials.

Utama Spice ( was one of the earliest to start capturing traditional Balinese herbal lore in personal care products. Starting in 1989, Dayu Suci and Melanie Templer saw a need to retain Bali’s deep herbal knowledge and traditions before they were lost. They began making remedies by hand for their friends and families. The product range grew over time and now includes a large variety of face care, moisturisers, scrubs, incense, essential oils and much more. (Their natural face serum is wonderful, especially when travelling in dry climates.) Utama Spice have dedicated stores in Ubud, Sanur, Kuta and Jakarta and some of their products are available in Guardian Pharmacies nationally and in other outlets. Utama Spice has long term relationships with its producers and most of its staff has been with them from the beginning.

Ibu Lilir and her husband Pak Westi are both descended from traditional Balinese herbalists. They’ve been working with healing plants all their lives and in 2011 formally established Nadi’s Herbal ( Deeply impressed by her knowledge of healing plants, I’ve been consulting with and writing about Ibu Lilir since I arrived in Bali in 2000. She describes herself as a traditional doctor and has a degree in Ayurvedic medicine; she’s currently back at university studying for her Masters of Science. Ibu Lilir has received several national awards and presidential recognition for her work.

Almost all the raw materials for Nadis Herbal products are grown and processed on their large, chemical-free garden in Abiansemal near Ubud. They offer jamu (traditional medicine) workshops and Pak Westi leads walks through the rice fields to help visitors identify medicinal plants. Nadis Herbal is the only business still preparing and selling traditional Balinese herbal remedies for local people from their little shop on Jalan Suweta. Beside the creams, scrubs and essential oils are packets of boreh and herbal teas popular with older Balinese.

Blue Stone Botanicals ( has been creating beautifully crafted and packaged natural products from local materials since 2012. Its products include steam-distilled essential oils, body balms, soap and hair tonics but their most unusual item is called RainMist. Created as a healthy alternative to synthetic air fresheners, the aromatherapy mists are made with pure essential oils and rainwater harvested from the slopes of Bali’s volcanoes. Mists use a lot of demineralised water; in a sustainable livelihoods program for women living in rural households, the rainwater is collected in special containers in open areas directly from the sky. It’s tested in the field, then further purified through ceramic and carbon filters before essential oils are added. View a delightful little video of the process at This has to be one of the purest products ever created. Their two shops are on Jalan Dewi Sita.

Ubud Botany Interactive ( is the business of a dedicated young local botanist named Mbak Dewi. Dewi is a farmer’s daughter who earned Bachelor and Masters degrees in Botany from Udayana University and is now sharing her knowledge with visitors. Her programs include agricultural and botanical walks, Balinese cultural tours and a workshop to make coconut oil. From her little shop at the end of Jalan Kajeng she offers daily workshops in making natural shampoo, sun protection cream, face masks and traditional healing scrubs/boreh from plants. She also has a small range of natural products for sale, including essential oils she makes herself.

The walks and workshops offered by Ibu Lilir, Pak Westi and Dewi provide fascinating links to a rural Bali that is fast disappearing. Rapid development is paving over the pathways and rice fields where healing plants grow wild. Traditional recipes for therapeutic teas, scrubs and skin care products are being lost as the new generations prefer commercial products.

Our support for these small businesses has many benefits. It keeps alive traditional products and therapies and demonstrates their value to the young Balinese who are working in these businesses. It encourages farmers to continue growing traditional herbs and flowers. It gets visitors out into the countryside learning about this facet of Balinese culture. It gives us great ideas for gifts. And it provides us with safe, affordable personal care products. The skin wins.



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Ibu Kat’s book of stories

Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail and Retired, Rewired – Living Without Adult

Supervision in Bali are available from Ganesha Books and on Kindle