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June 13, 2008

Pretty in the City of Lakes

JR Watkins
You can follow the Watkins
beauty routine, too

by Mollie Chen

Ah, Minnesota. The land of Target, the Walker Art Center, and arguably the world's best peanut butter. I made an ill-timed visit to Minneapolis this past January, and even with the negative 20-degree weather, I found plenty to love (and eat and buy). There are an inordinate number of talented graphic artists there; I spent a fortune on stationary at Letterbox Creative, a sweet stationary store that also sells cupcakes on Saturdays. Now I have a new favorite Minnesota export: J.R. Watkins Natural Apothecary, a 140-year-old line of good-for-you, good-for-the-earth beauty products.

Joseph Ray Watkins, an amateur remedy concoctor, launched the company in 1868 with a single product, red liniment, which is still available today. The company has maintained independent ownership (a rarity these days), and continues to operate out of its original building in Winona, Minnesota. They recently gave their entire line a complete makeover, tweaking formulas and giving the packaging a chic vintage look. Everything is 95% natural, and with most products coming in at 99.40% or higher, they're well on their way to getting certified by the National Products Association.

My picks: The super-moisturizing mango body cream, made from shea butter and a slew of natural oils (coconut, avocado, jojoba), smells good enough to eat and doesn't feel greasy at all, and the beeswax-based lemon salve worked wonders on my chronically dry hands. None of the products costs more than $14, which is incredibly reasonable considering the quality of ingredients (and how cute the packaging is--admittedly always one of my considerations). And if you need one more reason to hop on their bandwagon: Watkins, their gourmet spices and extracts sister company, recently held a healthy recipe contest. The winning appetizer? Spice-glazed bacon bites. Be still my heart.

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