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Fulton mom's cancer scare inspires Dear Baby natural skin care line

For The Baltimore Sun
She wanted a more natural lifestyle for her family. Soon she had a business on her hands.

Sundays are cooking days in Kate Ansari's Fulton home.

Ansari and her sister, Emily Derr, start around the kitchen island, pulling their main ingredients from nearby cabinets: coconut oil, arrowroot powder and bitter almond oil.

Then, wearing aprons and yoga pants, they start mixing. Add some shea butter here. Add some avocado oil there.

"It takes over this whole space, and it's a huge mess," Ansari said.

But given the all-natural ingredients, it's a mess the sisters said they love to make.

Ansari, 30, and Derr, 27, of Chevy Chase, are founders of Dear Baby Products, a line of handmade skin care items for babies and women. Products range from baby bottom paste and baby oil to facial scrubs and dry shampoo.

"Everything we use you can buy in the grocery store," Ansari said. "It's things that are real. You don't have to second-guess if it's safe to put this on my child's skin."

The sisters launched the company in 2014, a year and a half after doctors diagnosed Ansari with thyroid cancer while pregnant with her son, Mclaren.

"After Kate's cancer diagnosis, we really tried to find the silver linings and turned our attention to living a more natural lifestyle," Derr said.

Ansari began taking better care of herself and eating more organic foods. As she progressed through her pregnancy, Ansari said, she no longer wanted to use products that contained artificial ingredients.

"I began thinking more about what I was putting on my skin and my son's skin and trying to be healthier in general," she said.

The only way to know a product didn't have a hidden chemical was to make it herself, Ansari said. So once Mclaren was born and doctors removed part of Ansari's thyroid, the sisters began experimenting in Ansari's kitchen.

Their first product, produced specifically for Ansari and Mclaren, was a simple, white body lotion made from coconut oil and shea butter.

"Coconut oil is solid up to 76 degrees," Ansari said. "So once it's on the body, it melts."

But applying slippery oil on a baby is not easy, the former television news producer said.

"Kids are wiggling, and you want to get it absorbed ASAP," she said.

Ansari and Derr added shea butter and arrowroot powder to solidify the lotion. It worked.

They continued experimenting and, within a few weeks, created bottom paste, massage oil and baby powder.

"Kate and I began whipping up recipes for baby products in her kitchen, and we were honestly really impressed that such fantastic products came from our bowls and spatulas," said Derr, who by day works in finance.

After finalizing the basic ingredients, the sisters added their signature scent: An essential oil made from apricot kernels that smells like almonds. The smell reminded them of their grandmother's favorite cherry-almond lotion, Ansari said.

They tested their products on themselves, Ansari's son and family volunteers, and by summer 2014, they began selling Dear Baby Products at local farmers' markets and as baby shower gifts.

Claudia Stein of Elkridge was one of their early customers.

"I've become very much into getting things as natural as possible," Stein said. "Even more so for my child."

Stein's favorite product for her 9-month-old daughter is the bottom paste, made from coconut oil, shea butter and arrowroot powder. Her daughter has yet to have diaper rash, Stein said.

"It works great," she said.

"And I could actually pronounce the ingredients."

While more research on all-natural baby skin care is needed, Dr. Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, said items free of artificial chemicals are better than products filled with chemicals — as long as the results are similar.

"Long-term data on the effects of everyday chemicals on human skin is sparse," he said. "Some attribute the persistent and climbing rate of skin cancer to the products that are consumed by Americans. Others suggest environmental pollution… Nonetheless, natural products are safe for babies and are therefore supported by pediatricians."

Health benefits of using all-natural items include smooth skin, timely healing and less irritation, he said. Still, parents should use caution to prevent babies from inhaling the powder or putting oily hands into their mouths.

Throughout the past year, both Ansari's family and Dear Baby have grown. Ansari had her second child, Ava, with her husband, Sajid, last fall. Whole Foods in Columbia picked up the Dear Baby line. The sisters launched an Etsy site, and Bluum, which distributes monthly boxes of products for parents and children up to age 5, will carry Dear Baby products this fall.

While Ansari declined to provide an exact sales total, she estimates Dear Baby Products has nearly 1,000 customers.

Both sisters are also working on their MBA degrees and exploring how to expand their line to include all-natural makeup. (Think beet root powder as blush.)

"We run very busy lives, but we are both at our best when we are busy," Derr said. "The biggest challenge has been time, which I'm sure most new entrepreneurs would agree on. There just aren't enough hours in a day."

Until there are, Ansari and Derr said they will continue their daylong Sunday tradition of making their products and fulfilling orders from Ansari's kitchen — messes and all.

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