New Beginnings: Roots Rose Radish

Photos by Lauren DeCicca.

New Beginnings: Roots Rose Radish

Whipped up in a kitchen in Freeville, Christian Toscano’s handcrafted line of organic cleansers and lotions are more than skin deep.

Photos by Lauren DeCicca

NEW BEGINNINGS: A collection of profiles published in the Fall 2011 issue of Fresh Dirt Ithaca.
An ethnomusicologist turned breadmaker. A healer who also makes natural beauty products. A woman who returned to her family’s dairy farm to start making artisanal cheeses. And a young couple who decided to create a permaculture farm. What is it about this region that inspires people to find new beginnings?




Christian Toscano admits she’s one picky customer.

The cabinets in her small bathroom are lined with “natural” beauty products from brands like Kiss My Face and Burt’s Bees, which she picks apart ingredient by ingredient, investigating how natural they really are. Some products contain unnecessary preservatives, while others use fillers like alcohol and water to make them cheaper.

“I feel like as a consumer, you’re always like, ‘Am I being fooled by the packaging? What’s really in this?’—especially as the world is becoming more clever and people are becoming more aware,” she says. “So for me, I just like to know that it’s healthy.”

Toscano’s new line of skincare—Roots Rose Radish—is all about nourishment. Her products do not contain any alcohol, which dries out the skin, but do contain vitamin E and honey, both natural preservatives. Toscano uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, but ensures everything else—like her shea butter and herbs—is 100 percent certified organic and fair trade.

Roots Rose Radish currently sells on Toscano’s website and as an exclusive line for Petrune, on the Commons.

Domenica Brockman, co-owner of Petrune, says she was looking to carry a skincare line with reusable packaging and natural ingredients. Toscano mentioned her line to Brockman when she was visiting the store, and the two decided to launch an exclusive line. Brockman, who uses the line, appreciates that she never has to think about what’s in the bottle.

“I like how they smell, I like how they feel, and I like that they’re all-natural,” she says. “I’ve basically replaced Clinique hypoallergenic face cream with the blue chamomile face cream. This is so much nicer.”

Toscano started creating skincare products when she was in college about 10 years ago, because she was frustrated that she was unable to find truly organic and natural products for her skin. She would tinker with lip balms and hair rinses, but never sought to sell her products.

Since moving to Ithaca from Brooklyn to study with 7Song, a local herbalist, at the North East School of Botanical Medicine, she’s learned about new ingredients and formulas that inspired her to create skincare products once again. The results elicited such a positive response from people who tried her products that she decided to launch a full line.

Roots Rose Radish, which includes body butter, lip balm, beard oil, and face cream and cleanser, is crafted in small batches in Toscano’s home—the second-floor apartment

of a big barn on a quiet road in Freeville. Her cupboards and shelves are filled with rows and rows of Mason jars full of herbs, oils, and tinctures that she uses for her formulas and healing. She uses the same measuring cups and food processor to make both the line and her dinner, because she believes her products should be so natural they could be eaten.

Toscano’s products seem almost edible—they certainly smell delicious. Her Gentle Face Lavender-Rose-Oat Daily Cleanser tastes sweet and nutty from the vegetable glycerin and ground oatmeal in the formula, while her Blue Chamomile Restorative Face Cream is intensely aromatic because of its blue chamomile oil and lavender oil.

“It’s just about playing with proportions,” she says one rainy Wednesday, analyzing a large Pyrex measuring bowl full of Luscious Rose Lip Balm melting over the heat. Wearing skinny pants and a loose, flowing cardigan, paired with her short bangs and petite frame, Toscano has a look that’s reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina.

“When you’re doing formulas, it’s all about how much medicine do you want to get? You have to figure dose, you have to figure surface area, and then you have to figure the amount that you think is effective.”

For this formula, which Toscano typed on an index card with her vintage typewriter, she has included shea butter, expeller-pressed unrefined grapeseed oil, and beeswax to moisturize and condition lips. Rosewood oil gives the balm a toning effect, while rose hip seed oil aids in skin cell renewal because it is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Alkanet root, a natural coloring agent once used by ancient Greeks and Egyptians, gives the lips slight rouge when it is steeped in the balm on the stove.

As in cooking, every ingredient has a purpose. The sweet, nutty Lavender-Rose-Oat Daily Cleanser contains ground oatmeal as an exfoliant and green French clay to pull out impurities. The Blue Chamomile Face Cream contains rare blue chamomile oil, which encourages healthy skin growth, reduces inflammation, and repairs damage, and carrot seed oil to stimulate circulation and tone.

Scheming about new products and formulas to try, she’s developed a citrus sugar scrub and is testing out bug spray and a lip balm with a homemade vanilla oil base.

Eventually, Toscano hopes she can source the ingredients to her line almost entirely locally by growing them on her property. And even though she wants the line to grow—at Petrune, at potential retail outlets in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as through online sales from her website—she hopes to continue to make everything by hand and in small batches.

“I’m trying to get it a bit off the ground, but not too much,” she says. “I want it to always be small—eventually bigger than this, but small scale.”

After she pours Luscious Rose Lip Balm hot off the stove into small aluminum tins, soon to hit the shelves at Petrune, Toscano puts a warm tin in a customer’s hand. “Your skin is your largest organ,” she says. “If you feed your stomach well, you should also feed your skin well.”

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