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Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor

When ‘Natural’ Baby Lotions Failed Her, This Mom Started Her Own Brand

“I was a first-time mom and shocked and angry to find dangerous carcinogens, sulfates and synthetic fragrances in my son’s baby shampoo labeled as ‘natural.’”

The Bump presents #MomBoss, a series dedicated to showing off all-star moms. We catch up with mompreneurs behind products we love, influencers who get real about motherhood and SAHMs who can multitask in their sleep.

When Jessica Iclisoy first became a mom, everyday baby brands let her down big-time. She was aghast to discover dangerous chemicals in “natural” baby products—so she used her anger as fuel to start California Baby, a skincare company offering gentle, plant-based babyproducts. Now, two decades later, the the founder and CEO is sharing her favorite go-to natural baby products, as well as all of her crazy parenting stories she can look back on and laugh about.

Photo: California Baby

What inspired you to start California Baby?

California Baby began 22 years ago, when I was a first-time mom and shocked and angry to find dangerous carcinogens, sulfates and synthetic fragrances in my son’s baby shampoo labeled as “natural.” The shampoo I bought from a local health store wasn’t any different than the leading conventional brand. That led me on a journey to find—and ultimately create—a natural, non-toxic alternative.

How did you juggle starting a company and raising kids?!

I believe in combining the two and not separating them into different worlds. Since my company was—and still is—a direct reflection of my lifestyle, they complement each other. When push came to shove, raising my kids was my priority and I would focus on them. It would be the perfect break I needed to get a fresh perspective on the business, which, if you let it, can take over your life.

If you could go back in time pre-baby, what advice would you give yourself?

I think about this a lot and how I would do things differently. I would say: relax! You’re not going to break the kid. I would also allow them to figure out more things for themselves. It’s beneficial and natural for them to do the essential work of growing. It’s how they thrive, learn and become self-reliant.

Photo: California Baby

Name a life-saving product during your first year as a parent

I used a bathing and massage ritual to calm my son, who had a hard time falling asleep. It’s why I was so interested in a non-toxic baby wash. This led to the development of my first (and still very popular!) product, the California Baby Calming Shampoo & Body Wash. I also blended my own massage oil using French lavender, and my routine was to bathe him, wrap him up in a big comfy towel and then give him a massage—and he’d be out like a light! A bath and a massage are a very effective combo to get your little one to sleep.

Any hilarious #MomFails along the way?

In the early days of California Baby, I traveled a lot to stores to present my products to buyers and I would bring my kids along on these road trips. They were around 8 and 5 years old at the time, and I would pack them and the products in the car and go.

One time, I was rushing and corralled my kids into the car. When we arrived at our destination five hours later, ready to go into the store for my sales appointment, I realized the kids didn’t have any shoes! We had left the house without them. So instead of going to my meeting to sell my products, I had to reschedule and immediately find a store to buy shoes for them.

What was your best parenting hack to get you through it all?

Ear plugs! I would buy low decibel ear plugs (so you can still hear) and wear them when it seemed like everything was breaking loose, loud and getting out of control. I could hear, but it took the edge off and allowed me to be more of an observer rather than being in the craziness. Ear plugs helped me go back to being the voice of reason.

Are there California Baby products your family uses as adults?

My family and I use the whole line! Although the products are formulated with babies and children in mind, especially in regards to allergens, they are just as effective for kids and adults. We all use the shampoos, hair conditioners, lotions and creams. Calendula Cream is a mainstay—everyone is reaching for it, especially in the winter when it’s super dry and our skin gets itchy. It’s the only thing that works!

Tell us about California Baby’s revamped look!

I’m one of those people who likes change—I’m always striving to improve our products and how we communicate to our customers. I wasn’t interested in doing a drastic change of the look and feel of our labels, because our packaging communicates who we are in a fun yet clear way.

In this update, I wanted to feature our iconic Sun Face, which is normally only prominent on our sunscreens. Parents and kids recognize our products by our Sun Face, so in this update I made it the most prominent feature of the label. My goal is to have the Sun Face be the most recognizable part of the brand, similar to Target’s Bullseye.

We were granted use of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) biobased seal on the labels, certifying our products are made of 100 percent plant-based ingredients, meaning zero synthetics, which is a rare recognition for its category. I wanted to showcase that too.

Published November 2018

Plus, more from The Bump:

Ingredients to Look for To Pamper Baby’s Skin

The Best Baby Shampoos, Washes and Soaps

Best Natural Beauty Products to Use During Pregnancy

PHOTO: California Baby