What if essential oils could be more powerful than prescription medicines for pain relief and anxiety? That question was the basis for the inception of Saje Natural Wellness, a Vancouver company started more than 25 years ago by husband and wife duo Jean-Pierre LeBlanc and Kate Ross LeBlanc. Now, along with their daughter Kiara LeBlanc, vice president of brand and creative, they’re leading the essential oil industry with 100% natural blends that help combat everything from indigestion and headaches to anxiety and insomnia. In fact, some of their blends are so well-researched that they’re registered Natural Health Products in Canada, and considered over-the-counter, non-prescription medications in the United States.
How Saje Natural Wellness Began
After a serious car accident, Jean-Pierre was left with chronic pain and fibromayalgia, with only prescription pain meds to help. When the chronic pain became too much (“We used to have to choose the restaurant we’d go to based on what type of chairs they had, or Jean-Pierre couldn’t sit,” says Kiara) and led to depression for Jean-Pierre, his doctors recommended Prozac. “He was like, ‘wait, what?'” says Kiara. “He knew there had to be a better way.”
Fortuitously, Kate and Jean-Pierre happened to hear about an upcoming local aromatherapy symposium while listening to the radio. “After they attended,” says Kiara, “Jean-Pierre started blending his own essential oils to help treat his pain. They worked so well, he wanted to share them!”
It didn’t hurt that he had a background in chemistry and could readily understand how the components of each essential oil worked synergistically with the body to create relief. Add to that Kate’s background in retail, working in her mother’s fabric store, and Saje Natural Wellness was born.
Saje Natural Wellness’ Commitment to Health
What makes Saje Natural Wellness stand out in what is now a sea of essential oil companies, is two-fold. First is the company’s commitment to using the highest-quality EOs, with no fillers, no additives, no synthetics and no petroleum. “Other companies can say they’re ‘all-natural’ but that doesn’t mean they don’t contain fillers or additives,” says Kiara. “We use 100% natural ingredients, and our sources come from around the world so they can be harvested at the peak time.”
When other ingredients are added, they can dilute the potency of the EOs, or render them ineffective, says Kiara. “Not only does adding petroleum to a product mess with your body’s immune system, it also blocks the essential oils from actually getting onto your skin and you can’t get their benefits.”
A dedicated commitment to customer service is the second piece that differentiates Saje Natural Wellness. Growing up working in her mother’s fabric store, Kate learned how to create a retail space that was more than just about selling product. “That store was the place people met for tea, to chat and build community,” says Kiara. “Kate brought that to Saje—she wanted to build a powerful place where we could have our lives witnessed.”
That vision is a reality in the Saje Natural Wellness stores today. “No matter how long it’s been since you bought your Saje blend, whether you have a receipt or not, whether your bottle is full or it’s nearly empty with the labeling scratched off, if it doesn’t work for you, you can bring it into our store and we’ll help you find something that does,” says Kiara. “We don’t want anything from our brand to end up in that personal-care graveyard—you know, that drawer full of unused products that just didn’t work for you, or didn’t smell right.”
Why Essential Oils Work
Essential oils have long been touted as powerful natural remedies for nearly any ailment, but scientific research to prove those claims has been sparse—partially because research is expensive and companies can’t trademark a specific essential oil, making it difficult to make that money back. But because Saje Natural Wellness was co-founded by a chemist, the company’s blends are more informed on the powerful components of each essential oil.
For example, the practically ubiquitous lavender oil contains a chemical constituent called linalool. This component has been shown to have a number of health-benefiting properties, including its ability to promote calmness and relaxation. Says Kiara, “Each of our oils goes through two types of testing—gas chromatography and mass spectrometry—to determine that they contain the proper balance of their known chemical constituents.” Translation: Saje Natural Wellness tests each oil for its specific potency, ensuring its effectiveness.
What’s more is that essential oils can create both immediate and lasting relief. For example, when you use Saje’s Pain Release blend, your body prioritizes the cooling sensation of the peppermint and menthol over whatever pain you’re experiencing. Then, while your brain is distracted, the other essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary go to work helping to speed up healing.
Another piece of the essential oil puzzle is that the body recognizes and can use the components of natural oils more readily and easily than synthetics. “Our bodies can’t process synthetics,” says Kiara, “so they never actually go away. They stay stuck in our bodies until who knows when.”
Essential oils on the other hand, are recognizable, and our body knows what to do with them. “Your body also knows what it wants and what it needs because smell is a direct link to our brain, unlike our other senses,” says Kiara. “All you have to do is smell something and if it appeals to you, you can tell your body needs it. If not, your body is already full of that, and you don’t need it.”
She gives an example of when she was a kid: “I wouldn’t always know what I was feeling, so my mom would give me oils to smell. Before I could name my emotions, my mom would know what I was feeling based on what oil I was drawn too.” Kind of amazing how smart our bodies are, right?
Kiara’s Daily Essential Oil Routine
“In the morning, I use our Skin So Clean cleanser—I love the gentle exfoliation from the oatmeal. It’s not harsh, so you’re not taking off an entire layer of skin when you cleanse, and your skin is left feeling soft. Then I use our Chamomile Smile face lotion for moisture.”
“If I’m out traveling or speaking or meeting with people, I always have something for the immune system, like our new Fortify Nasal Inhaler.”
“I like to have our Goddess blend in the diffuser during the day to inspire connection.”
“For an afternoon pick-me-up, I love Peppermint Halo instead of reaching for coffee.”
“At night, I love our Tranquility blend to unwind and relax. And I’m obsessed with our Bare Face makeup remover. It takes off ALL my makeup, no smudges, no lines, no leftover anything in the morning. When we were formulating this, I wanted it to be the highest efficacy. It’s not enough for any of our products to be ‘good for a natural.’ It has to be good enough to get people to switch from a conventional product. And this one definitely is.”
Advice for Entrepreneurs
Kiara says that the number one reason anyone should pursue starting a company is passion. “That’s why we’ve made it this long. I’m passionate not just about essential oils, but also about preventative healthcare. If we can make our brand sexy, something you want to display on your counter or nightstand, then you’re more likely to use it. That helps prevent illness and sickness, but you have to want to reach for them because they’re aesthetically pleasing first. You have to want to carry them in your purse and show them to your friends. If they’re too crunchy, too granola-y, then you’ll hide them away and forget about them. I want to live in a world of that preventative medicine, that’s accessible and eye-catching.”
Part of building on that passion is blending what actually helps you, Kiara adds. “What you feel really passionately about, what really works for you, will show your customers you’re authentic. And you’ll have the drive to make it successful because you know it works.”
And when you know it works, you’ll avoid shortcuts. “Avoid the temptation to compromise ingredients to increase profit. If you stay true to quality, then your customers will line up.”
Want more insight into how entrepreneurs got their start? Follow along on our full Business of Wellness series.