Anna Almiroudis’s passion for the earth and all things gooey and creamy that you lather, soften, and massage with is rooted in her Hellenic heritage. “I know it had something to do with going back and forth every summer to Greece growing up,” she relates. “My mother and I would roam the mountain side and pick up chorta and sweet-smelling herbs like thyme, oregano, and marjoram. We’d even smuggle them in plastic bags in our luggage back to New York.” She remembers growing up in rooms full of herbal aromas; dried chamomile bunches, tufts of mint, sage and basil hanging from threads in the kitchen; wafts of lavender from within linen drawers.
It is no wonder her products, hand-made, all-natural, salves, hand creams, skin lotions, body scrubs, soaps and shampoos, have the secret ingredient in them—mastiha, the antiseptic resin from the island of Chios where her family originates from. She runs the small shop, Anthesis, from within an arcade of boutique stores in DUMBO. Alongside her many-folded career paths, she always kept up her side business of handmade products, literally concocting samples from within her kitchen sink. She was a regular at flea markets, sample sales, and weekend fairs for years. It wasn’t until the fateful hand of destiny constellated a series of events that led to her opening an official shop. She was working as a health scientist the City Department of Health, she had been taking a herbal medicine class at the Open Center; a co-worker went on leave and she took over the study assigned to her– to document the chemicals workers in nail salons were exposed to. Her research on this project led her on an ever-unfolding journey into the prevalence of unnecessary chemicals and by-products in every day skin products.
If it is so much healthier to use natural herbs instead of chemical additives, I asked her, why are they so prevalent? “It’s cheaper,” she states. “Companies can dilute the natural ingredients with lots of parabens and petrolatum making it more cost effective for them, but less potent for the customer. Additionally, you can’t patent a flower or an herb; this is another reason why it is easier to patent your own mix of ingredients than to take it directly the way nature intended.”
While on this quest, she read a pivotal book about the toxins in every day soaps and creams. This led her to stumble upon the conclusions of a well-publicized study in Europe that tested a hefty sample of pregnant women and the concentrations of chemical elements in the blood of their unborn fetuses. The results were astonishing. The babies who were yet to be born had higher levels of household cleaners in their blood than their mothers. Her research became an obsession (to the point of illicitly reading about toxins during staff meetings). She was shocked to realize we were swimming in a toxic sea from the unnecessary additives and harmful chemicals that seeped into our skin from everyday products such as skin softeners, lipsticks, shampoos, hair sprays, and soaps. She had found a cause and was determined to do something about it. Parallel to this self-induced project, this a friend of hers, also in the handcrafted jewelry business, urged her to incorporate as she had found a shop for them to share.
That’s when she decided to quit her job and devote her energies to making the world a more natural place. She took her passion for concocting natural, organic-based cleansers, creams, and scrubs from the kitchen sink to a small quaint shop in one of the shared arcades in DUMBO. Her store has the feel of a beauty shop with the flair of an antique apothecary with thin glass shelves across the walls stocked with dark glass bottles and containers neatly in rows. All her products are hand-made and certified organic: certified organic oils, certified organic water hydrosoles ( the by-product of the distillation process when flowers are made into essential oils). Her favorites are lavender hydrosoles and chamomile hydrosoles which she uses in the base of many lotions. Most products are certified vegan as well, except of course, for her milk and honey cleanser (Honey has hydrating properties, so it cleans your skin without drying it out.)
In the doorway of her eclectic shop, Anna stands as a Mediterranean medicine woman pointing out the difference between a salve and a lotion, the best herb to use for a skin rash, and explaining to a stray customer that she must use a hard oil like olive oil in order for her candles to harden. She has started an “anthesis” or blossoming of herbal wisdom.