Sashabelle: Beauty in the eye (and mind) of the beholder

Susan Norton with Sasha Belle products. — Photo by Kelsey Perrett

When Susan Norton began whipping up skin care products in her kitchen more than 15 years ago, she hoped only to make a cream that suited her sensitive skin. She ended up with her own product line, and an inspiring revelation about self-empowerment.

It’s not surprising that the pet project came with a personal journey — Ms. Norton is a Certified Social Worker and psychotherapist with a private practice in Vineyard Haven: she’s trained to recognize the emotional drivers behind any action.

Ms. Norton started the project because she was discouraged by mainstream skin care products: the chemical-laden, largely ineffective (sometimes, for people with sensitive skin, counter-effective) 2-oz. jars that sell for upwards of $100 behind department store counters.

“I’m a pretty damn good cook, and I’m just going to do it myself,” Ms. Norton decided. After all, what more were skin products than ingredients mixed together in a kitchen with the basic rules of chemistry and a bit of intuition? “Once you learn the rules of anything, you can be super creative,” she said.

“It woke up a creative part of me that I didn’t know existed,” Ms. Norton said of the endeavor. But she knew she wanted to dive deeper. The Internet was just emerging, and she jumped on her iMac — “you know, the big suckers” — and began tirelessly researching natural ingredients. She called all the essential oil dealers she could find. “I learned as much as I could,” she said. As it turns out, a lot of essential oils are traded via a vicious black market, so Ms. Norton also had to  learn to navigate fair and sustainable supply chains.

The end result was Sashabelle Skin Care Products, a line of environmentally safe and naturally healing facial oils and hydrants, which can treat dry skin, inflammation, and rosacea. Ms. Norton discovered the oil also treats breakouts (after some experimentation on friends of her 17-year-old son); it works as a great primer for makeup; and the essential oils in both the oil and hydrant promote relaxation when the scents enter the limbic system.

Ms. Norton grew up summering in Edgartown, and after bouncing on and off the Vineyard for several years, married an Islander and settled in Oak Bluffs. Though she still sometimes feels a restlessness that she feels is typical of Vineyarders (especially in the winter, especially in women), Ms. Norton says the Island has become a great home base for her practices. “It’s a more beautiful, easy way of life. Living here has enabled me the quiet time to learn what it is I want to do. If I was in the city I’d still be spinning all the time. I’m coming to appreciate that more and more.”

Ms. Norton’s career in social work began with Women’s Support Services, and then the counseling branch of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, before she moved on to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard. “That’s where I really started to adopt an attitude of ‘life is short, let’s just do this,'” Ms. Norton said.

When she opened her private practice five years ago, she chose to focus on empowering women to take charge of their lives and “do what they want to do.” She also runs the website, which is devoted to helping clients live their lives “radiantly.”

Her own experience developing Sashabelle taught her a lot about what that means. When she is developing products, she says, “I don’t pay attention to all the marketing rules. I do it my own way on my own terms, and I can keep it small and feel good about the product. It’s about listening to your own intuition, and it seems to take off more when I have that attitude of surrender.”

Ms. Norton says following that intuition is “not without bottoming out,” but she tries to inspire her clients through the pitfalls. “I try to encourage them when they get fearful and stop. You come up against your own insecurities.”

In the end, she said, it’s about creating something that works for you: whether it’s a skin care product or a way of life.

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