Hatteras resident Christina Deneka is a master at formulating the perfect blend of essential oils and botanicals to create personal care products, including European-style, handcrafted Castile soap and natural skincare products.

Her business — Hollow Daze Surf Designs — may not have a brick and mortar storefront, but she does have an ocean-view studio, “so friends and customers can visit the source.”

Once a successful practicing attorney working “ridiculous hours in a congested, urban environment,” the artisan opted for early retirement, so she could focus on something that resonated within.

“I chose to retire early and cultivate a new lifestyle with my family in a place that stirred my soul the first time I visited as a college student in the ’90s,” she says.

So, what’s so special about essential oils, anyway?

Why essential oil is, well, essential

The first thing to understand is the use of the word “essential.”

The term “essential oil” refers to the fact that the oil is the concentrated essence of a plant.

The benefits of using pure essential oils and botanicals — and no synthetic fragrances or colorants — are as old as time. In the Book of Genesis, the Garden of Eden is described as a paradise of healing flowers, plants and trees.

Flash forward 2,000-plus years, and science has proven that when an oil with the sesquiterpene compound — such as cedarwood, patchouli, frankincense, sandalwood and myrrh — is inhaled, it helps increase the amount of oxygen in the limbic system of the brain, which leads to an increase in secretions of antibodies, endorphins, and neurotransmitters.

Studies by the National Institutes of Health find the clever little compound has shown great antimicrobial potency, as well as the ability to act as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant — and numerous studies have shown that frankincense can destroy cancer cells in the body.

Scientists are currently studying sesquiterpenes as a way to cure ailments such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

The attorney-turned-artisan says there are several reasons why she uses pure essential oils and botanicals, as opposed to synthetic fragrances or colorants in her products.

For one thing, faux fragrance and artificial colorants are among the most common cause of negative skin reactions — regardless of skin type.

“I call fragrance the ‘F word’ because it literally makes my skin crawl and makes me feel sick,” she says. “This innocuous-sounding word can hide over 3,000 undisclosed component ingredients, including known toxins like benzene derivatives and phthalates.”

The labels on over-the-counter skin care products are not required to disclose the components of “fragrance,” which are regarded as proprietary trade secrets.

Likewise, components of synthetic colorants can also be problematic, “particularly through the prevalence of paraben preservatives. I avoid anything with ‘color’ listed as an ingredient,” Deneka says. “When you perceive a color in a Hollow Daze product, it comes from a natural source, and it is there for a reason.

“For example, to get a head start on the bugs in mosquito season, we make our Lighthouse Lemongrass soap with locally roasted coffee, which helps to temporarily neutralize your human scent.”

The largest organ in the body is the skin, which covers a surface area of around 21 square feet, she says, “and it absorbs what you put on it, so our ingredient philosophy is: If we do not want it in the body, we do not use it in our products.”

That’s why Hollow Daze Surf Designs begins all of its Castile soaps with 100 percent extra virgin olive oil.

“By choosing extra virgin, we avoid using lesser grades of processed oil and believe that results in a more luxurious, healthier soap. Many of our customers have extremely sensitive skin, and love the simplicity, quality and effectiveness of our soap and skincare products,” she says.

Deneka says she often creates new products in response to customer requests and feedback.

For example, a new customer shared with Deneka that when she ran into a friend she had not seen in awhile, she thought the person had undergone a cosmetic procedure, “when, in reality, she was just using a particular Hollow Daze soap as her facial bar soap, and she was moisturizing her skin with one of our body oils.”

Deneka says she connected the dots and developed Hollow Daze’s Frankincense Facial Serum, “which has become our one of our most popular products of all time.”

Other popular products are the company’s Castile bar soap and lip balm.

“During the summer, our Surf solar spray and Lighthouse Lemongrass bug sprays are also extremely popular.”

Deneka says she’s grateful that she listened to that inner voice that urged her to jettison a demanding and stressful career. When she did so, she could see her true path, and it led to her some wonderful — and unexpected — opportunities.

“Because I am passionately committed to my craft, this lifestyle and supporting the ability of independent local artists to make a living in the Outer Banks, I now serve as president of the Hatteras Island Arts and Craft Guild, organize the Avon Art Shows, and coordinate the Brew & Arts summer show series,” she says. “We are blessed here with the best of both worlds: a supportive local population and abundant numbers of appreciative visitors.

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