For millennia, humans have been drawn to the sea for its curative powers. In historic times, thalassotherapy meant swimming in sea water, plastering the body with marine mud, swaddling one’s self in seaweed or breathing salt air to achieve health.
Dom Bridges also believes in the curative power of the sea. Looking for balance, he left a career in commercial filmmaking (look him up, it ain’t boring stuff) and headed to Margate, a seaside town in southeastern England, where the coastal enthusiast found personal enrichment working as a volunteer beach warden, cleaning up the water’s edge. He also found seaweed and, in 2012, founded Haeckels, a natural skincare and fragrance line with the ocean’s ingredients as its core.
Haeckels takes its name from Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a German biologist. If you are a biologist, as I was, you become well-versed in his ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,’ which is basically saying that embryonic stages show somewhat sequential evolutionary developments. Haeckel immersed himself in studying many types of flora and fauna, reproducing them in highly detailed drawings that fascinated the public. The natural world can be amazingly beautiful as well as useful- and we often overlook Nature despite playing a large role in it.
Bridges began researching and experimenting with Margate’s plentiful seaweed, which proliferates thanks to a 14-mile-long Jurassic chalk reef that nourishes kinds of seaweed not found anywhere else in the world. Bringing home bags of the marine plant material, he cooked up batches of the stuff, creating bars of soap to give to friends and family. After every saucepan in the house was usurped for Bridges’ experimental concoctions, his wife gently suggested that he needed to move the operation to a real lab in town, which eventually yielded a retail shop and, more recently, a day spa with treatments done using Haeckels products.
“Seaweed hydrates,” explains Bridges. “It’s rich with valuable vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. It’s all-natural, and all around us. Under license, we harvest it by hand from the beach just steps away from our shop.”
With an emphasis on conservation and community building, the Haeckels line of products has grown to include not only seaweed-based items, but those made with other natural botanicals as well. There’s a facial cleanser made with bladderwrack seaweed and parsley seed; under-eye masks infused with agar, aloe vera and cucumber; a tomato seed oil for skin and hair; and, naturally, bags of seaweed bath.
Fragrances, named for English locales, are meant for men and women. Walpole Bay evokes memories of seawater and clifftop grasses; Dreamland (honoring the Margate amusement park of the same name) has hints of Victorian gardens and the charred leather of the burnt-out roller coaster. The perfumes are all nicely packaged with the GPS coordinates of where the original materials were harvested. Candles and home fragrance round out the Haeckels line. All products are tested on people, not animals, and emphasize sustainability. In addition, many of the packaging materials are made of mycelium (basically the ‘roots’ of fungi) and paper packaging contains the seeds of wildflowers. Generally, 100% compostable or recycled. Another experimental packaging material is an agar (derived from local seaweed) based structure, molded to protect the glass pipette bottles used for serums and oils.
Our favorite candle is Pluviophile, which smells like rain on the pavement and freshly mown grass. The candle jar is a double walled borosilicate glass that can be re-used.
“We are a self-sufficient tiny giant,” Bridges says. “Every member of our team plays multiple roles—formulating, making, designing, photographing, programming, planning and installing—leading to the impression of a company many times our actual size.
“This wasn’t planned,” he continues. “It arose from a desire to share Haeckels with other people; to enthuse them about the health-giving properties of the sea; to raise awareness about natural products that are every bit as effective as chemical-derived alternatives.”