NATURALLY GLOWING: CAITLYN SUTHERLAND, THE MAKER BEHIND MOUNTAIN GLOW
This month's Maker: Caitlyn Sutherland, of Mountain Glow handmade apothecary products
Hello and happy July! How is everyone’s skin doing these days? Between the smoke and the sun and all the delicious dehydrating beverages summer brings our way, we may find that our skin has been feeling tight, dry, hot, and itchy. When we feel like this, we rely on the emollients and humectants found in our lotions to help keep our skin soft and hydrated. I love my moisturizers—for years, I have been a Regular Lotion Lady.
And then I met Caitlyn Sutherland, and now I’m a Beeswax Salve Baby—I’m never looking back. Caitlyn is the brilliant and cheerful maker at the heart of Mountain Glow, one of the local organic brands we carry here at Noteworthy. I wanted to highlight a Missoula Maker for our maker profile blog this month, but I was not prepared to completely change my skin care routine as well. Yet that is the power behind Mountain Glow products—they are great at what they do because Caitlyn began making organic body care products out of her own needs for better care and ingredients.
“I noticed that lotions that contained lanolin made my skin actually worse, rather than better. So six or seven years ago, I started experimenting with stuff just for myself. I started researching natural and home-made alternatives.” Many lotions and creams on the market are made with lanolin, which can cause irritation in many skin types. In addition, most commercial skin products have added ingredients that are not good for our organs: alcohols, phthalates, artificial fragrance, and chemical preservatives. Products like shea butter, cacao, and palm oil, while hydrating, contribute to global environmental destruction.
“I really try to be conscious of what I eat, and what I use in my everyday life. I find if I source something locally, it’s more environmentally conscious than getting shea butter or cacao butter from the rainforest and importing it thousands of miles. So using beeswax is better in many ways.” For this reason, Mountain Glow salves (Caitlyn’s most popular product) have very simple ingredient lists: beeswax, carrier oils like flaxseed, coconut, avocado, olive, and grapeseed, plus essential oils for healing properties and aroma.
The mix of the salve is whipped to the right consistency, and the essential oils for the different varieties are added after. All salve has a rich golden color of the wax.
The process of making a salve that felt and behaved the way Caitlyn wished came through curiosity and trial and error. Her workshop is in her home, and because she uses ingredients that are not toxic in their original forms, most of her process happens in her kitchen. “I store my things in my workshop, but when it comes time to mix, I move my equipment into my kitchen, which helps with clean-up. I use an electric melting pot to melt the beeswax beforehand. And then I have a recipe that I’ve developed over time… I start with the beeswax and the coconut oil first, and then I add the four other oils. The melting and the mixing happens at a super low temperature, just to get them blended.”
An important step in Caitlyn's making process involves heating the beeswax before adding the oils to it.
It’s at this point in the interview that Caitlyn takes a regular kitchen mixer off her shelf and sets it on the table. “And here’s something that people who work with beeswax usually don’t do: I put the mix in this bowl, and I whip it continuously as it cools, until it has this color. Basically I discovered this gives it more of a smooth lotion feel, because it has a little bit of air in it from the mixing. I kinda discovered this on accident, and I didn’t really realize that people don’t do this. And then…” As she speaks, she produces another key tool to her process: confectioner’s piping bags, usually used for icing and cake decoration. “Before, I would individually fill each of my jars with a spoon. Now, I put the basic mix into a bowl, add the essential oils for each type, and then fill these piping bags, and use them to fill the jars. It saves me so much time! It’s great.”
Piping bags: ingenious timesaving tools!
The carrier oil blend that Caitlyn developed helps make the salve come together smoothly and with the right coverage. These salves are not greasy, and they don’t lay over the skin in a thick coating. The carrier oils provide the humectants, which attract and bind the moisture to the skin. Beeswax acts as a binder and emollient that smooths the skin, evenly transferring the oils, and helps the salve keep its form in various temperatures.
Beeswax has been a cosmetic ingredient for thousands of years, and has natural healing properties. When she realized she could start a business based on the popularity of her salve, Cailtyn reached out to Wustner Brothers Honey and asked them to become her beeswax source. They were happy to help, which makes the primary ingredient in Mountain Glow products also local to Western Montana.
The essential oils are also ingredients Caitlyn tries to source locally. She excitedly showed me a bag of comfrey a friend had gifted her from their garden. “I’m going to eventually make a first aid salve with calendula, comfrey, and I haven’t harvested any yarrow for it yet, but it’s about time. Earlier I harvested a bunch of lilacs...” As I look at her shelves I notice jars of lilacs already sitting in their grapeseed carrier oils. “It’s really fun. And if it doesn’t work out, then I just use it, and it’s whatever. I really like experimenting and making new things. When I was first starting out, I made SO many new things, but eventually I had to say, ‘Whoa Caitlyn, calm down,’ and now, I’ll make a bunch of stuff I just use but don’t sell, like I make my own sunscreen just for personal use, or to give to some of my friends, but I don’t make it for market.”
A bag of dried comfrey leaves, before infusion.
This is a lovely thing about Caitlyn Sutherland: when she speaks about something she’s passionate about, that feeling is infectious. She is genuinely curious and loves to try things out. She learns as she goes, letting her natural curiosity and energy bring her into new ideas for what to make. Some things are easier than others: making one’s own eyeliner has proven to be difficult.
“I tried to make eyeliner and mascara for a while, because that’s what I wear, but it’s really hard! It’s not simple! I did so many experiments, but it’s hard to get a consistency that will stay on the skin, but still be soft enough to be applied.” When she can’t make it herself, she diligently sources her cosmetic needs from other handmade and organic makers in the U.S., a practice I’ve also been inspired to take on since this interview.
A lilac infusion waits on the shelf
Living one’s values of locally-sourced and ethical goods is very important to Caitlyn. As we sat and talked, it became very lear that Mountain Glow’s success is also tied to the generosity of its maker. Mountain Glow began out of this generosity, with Caitlyn making her classic pine salve for friends as holiday gifts. “Basically, I accidentally started this company. About two years ago I started selling my stuff because my friends wanted it, and it just kind-of snowballed into this business. I’m a very motivated person, and If I’m going to do something, I do it 100… or maybe more than 100%.”
She laughs at that, but her honesty about her motivation and her passion for ethically-sourced ingredients have led her to make something valuable. Speaking from personal experience, it is obvious why there is a demand for them. They smell good and they feel good, and they work twice as good as your other moisturizer. (Please note: I do not use this salve on my face; I use a hydrosol of witch hazel and rose water, followed by a rosehip facial oil blend.)
I use Mountain Glow’s lavender and eucalyptus salve the way I used to use my regular lotion—applying it to my arms, legs, and torso after showering. My skin seems to greatly prefer Mountain Glow salve. I use less of it because it lasts longer, and my skin feels softer and more moisturized. I also have noticed a decline in mosquito bites, thanks to the eucalyptus.
Caitlyn honestly loves to share goods that help people, and this gift is an important part of why she runs a booth at the Saturday Clarkfork Market in the summer. “A woman contacted me, and she had bought some salve for her grandfather, because his hands had been sore and tough and cracked his whole life from working, and she said that my salve had really helped. Another woman came to my booth, who was using a natural deodorant that was giving her a lot of chafing. And she started to use the deodorant that I make, and contacted me to tell me there is no chafing or issues at all, and that her skin feels so much happier. I like feeling good about what I give to people.”
Though making healthy and organic body care products is a passion of Caitlyn’s, she sees growth of her business as a slow and steady progression. She works full time as a dental assistant and is an outdoor enthusiast. When it comes to balancing the various priorities in her life, she makes it quite clear that organization is key, and that she must plan her time wisely.
“I make boundaries, like any job. When I first started out, I struggled with keeping those boundaries in place, and I caught myself thinking ‘I have to do that.’ But those words, ‘I have to do that,’ that’s not what owning your own business is about. Instead it’s like, ‘Okay, I’ve made time to do this now. I’m going to do this now.’ I also make sure I make time for myself as well. If you make a schedule and keep it, it helps keep a balance. I make lots of lists. Those are key. I set aside making days, but I make my products in stages. I keep my lists on my phone (in my notes-app). I like how it comes with me everywhere.”
Her future dreams and ideas for Mountain Glow involve developing more of her own infused oils, and leaning into organic and locally-sourced first aid products. Caitlyn is a natural when it comes to owning and promoting a small business. “I am very proactive. The thing I always tell myself is, ‘The worst thing they could say is no.’ So I just ask everyone.”
In fact, this is how she came to be carried at Noteworthy. We share Caitlyn’s love for handmade, quality goods with simple and healthy ingredients. When Caitlyn reached out to Noteworthy about carrying her products, we knew it was a natural fit.
Her curious and friendly approach has led to steadily expanding business connections, and Caitlyn can easily dream of a future offering bulk apothecary items to the public. However, more than grandiose dreams of future expansion, running her own small business over the past two years has inspired Caitlyn to feel gratitude for the flexibility of a small business that balances with her current lifestyle.
“It’s definitely more sustainable for me to keep a smaller focus, so this season I’m focusing more on the first aid salve, the lilac salve, and using my current infusions for products. I love this business because it is flexible and not my entire life. I’ve learned a lot about what I don’t want… I don’t want it to be something that might expand into something stressful.”
Of all the fascinating aspects of Caitlyn Sutherland and Mountain Glow, that easy humility and practicality might be most inspiring. She clearly makes her goods for the love of it, and to help people in her community feel better. Most days, all we really need is that type of simplicity, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
You can find Caitlyn's popular salve at the Noteworthy brick and mortar store in Missoula Montana, and her other offerings at the Mountain Glow booth each Saturday of the Missoula Clarkfork Market.
About the Author:
Kate R. Morris is a playwright happy to once again make her home in Missoula. Her most recent writing can be read in Funny Looking Dog Quarterly, and the Garden City Beast. When Kate isn’t writing her own work, she is working to help others with their writing through teaching, coaching, and consultation. In her free time, she’s usually in the woods or on a lake or river. Kate loves working at Noteworthy because it makes the act of writing feel special, and she gets to be nerdy about things she loves like pens, paper, and communication.