In early July, on vacation, Denise and Mary Kate took a day to head west to Gilsum, New Hampshire, home of the Badger factory. Badger is a skin care products company based here in New Hampshire. In the interests of “shop local,” we figured we could head out and get to know one of our local companies. We’ve waited this long to tell you about it so we could post some reviews, too.
Badger started with one product: Badger Balm, an intensive hand moisturizer designed by carpenter Bill Whyte for his fellow carpenters and their winter-dry skin. Formulated in the Whyte home, Badger has grown from that single product and home production in 1995 to a product line of more than 70 items and a factory/office building of its own in 2014. This building is open for tours (which are short and fun — and the place smells amazing).
Badger formulates all its products in the Gilsum factory. Their focus on “natural” ingredients and herbal and traditional medicines is great for those of us with allergies — NOT because “natural” means anything at all these days, and anyway, most of what we are both allergic to is natural. But the small size of the company and their attention to detail means that a) they can tell you where their ingredients are sourced, how they are processed, and how they are used in each product, and b) because this attention extends to detailed labeling that cites much of this information right on the label. Need to know how the extracts are produced? The label tells you: most of them are carbon dioxide extracts. Need to know the source of the vitamin E? The label tells you: all their vitamin E today is sunflower-based, rather than soy-based (bad for Denise, good for Mary Kate).
In our tour, we asked specific questions about processing and cross-contamination and cleaning procedures. In the production facility on site, most of Badger’s equipment is cleaned with detergent, alcohol (yes, corn-based), and a hot olive oil flush. All of the tinned products, as well as the oils and bug spray, are made on site. The lip balms and sunscreens are made in other production facilities, with ingredients sourced and supplied by Badger, that follow Good Manufacturing Practices.
On specific allergens:
No wheat or peanuts are used in any of the products produced in Gilsum, though the facility is not certified free of either. Your comfort level with this may vary, but if you want to ask questions, customer service is knowledgeable and friendly.
The soaps, lip balms, and sunscreens are produced off-site, and on lines that may have processed these ingredients.
Soy is used in a few Badger products, as well as used on lines in the off-site facilities. Tree nuts, including coconut, are used in Badger products and may have been used on any of the lines. In all cases, good manufacturing processes are followed, but your comfort level with these may vary.
Corn is not used in Badger products, but corn alcohol is used, at high heat, as part of the cleaning process (but not the final step, which is a hot olive oil flush).
The company does recommend patch testing if you are sensitive to any of these things.
Products made before 2012 may have different ingredients than today’s. Read the labels.
On our tour:
We wish we’d been able to take pictures, but when we asked, the tour guide regretfully explained that photos weren’t allowed because some of the things we were shown were actually somewhat secret. Which makes sense. But we really wish we’d been able to take pictures of the gleaming machines filling the balm tins because that was really awesome. The factory itself was spotless, clean and airy, in direct contrast to other factories Denise has worked in the past. On the production floor, they had the biggest olive oil containers we’ve ever seen. We could have gone for a swim in them if the containers didn’t have a top. The company works directly with a family estate in Spain called Soler Romero. The factory store also sells the olive oil which is USDA certified organic. Denise is still kicking herself for not buying any.
The headquarters has a cafeteria which serves employees a free daily organic lunch during their paid 30-minute break, which includes fresh, in-season produce from the Badger gardens. The tour guide told us about their Babies at Work program where on a case-by-case basis a parent may be allowed to bring their new baby to work for the first 6 months. The company also has opened its own full-day child care center for children of Badger employees at reasonable prices in the former Badger Company facility. Employees get a quarterly stipend for products from the Badger lines. It seems like it’d be a pretty cool place to work.
We also got to see The Secret Badger Lab, where they design and formulate new products. The Secret Badger Lab had big picture windows in it, which seemed somewhat antithetical to the secret part (no one was in the Secret Lab that day). It was impressive to see the whole process, from idea to production, all in one building.
Our tour guide was wonderful and because we had emailed in advance, discussing our food allergy issues, she had prepared a handout for us to review, and was ready to discuss the manufacturing processes, the cleaning protocols and their cross-contamination processes with us. If you are local and you want to go on a tour yourself, they are available Tuesdays through Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. by appointment. And if you buy products at the factory, there is a discount.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed trying out the stuff I bought on our Badger visit. Overall, the products smell great and are very moisturizing. Going more or less clockwise:
I’ve been a regular user of the Headache Balm for years, so I thought I’d give the Stress Soother stick a try. I really like the delivery system (it’s basically a giant chapstick — in fact, Denise has a chapstick that size), but while I do find it nice mid-afternoon or during conference calls at work, I will buy the headache balm in stick form next time. I prefer the smell and, for me, it’s slightly more effective.
The dual color Lip Tint lipbalm (top, in Copper) is a little bit of a mixed bag for me. I rarely wear lipstick because I can’t remember to reapply it all day and I generally can taste (and don’t like) the flavor of the pigment. That’s true here, too, though I’ll say that the color is subtle and nice when I do wear it. I think I’m just destined to be a lip balm kind of woman forever.
The Mustache Wax was a gift, and while I haven’t personally used it, I do like the results. It’s not stick or greasy, but it definitely adds a final touch to facial hair grooming. The Arnica Sore Joint Rub wasn’t particularly effective for me, but mostly I get muscle aches, not joint aches, so I might not be the right user for the product. It smells pretty good, though.
The Anti-Bug Sunscreen I’ve only gotten to use once so far. The zinc oxide might, I think, make it difficult to use every day, under makeup, and it does make it harder to rub in (but, conversely, you have to rub it in and therefore probably apply it more thoroughly and effectively). I think that will be true for all zinc oxide sunscreens, though. I was out for a few hours, and the sun went in after a bit, so I might not have gotten burned anyway. Not the best test for the sunscreen part. BUT. It was hot and humid and buggy. The bugs left me alone and I did not sweat off the sunscreen. This would be excellent for hiking, I’d think.
I’ve kind of saved my favorites for last. The Nutmeg and Shea moisturizer is amazing. The smell, which is nutmeg-forward, is different in a really good way, and the moisturizer is rich. It takes a bit of time to soak in properly, yes, but the results are definitely worth it. This will be a product I’ll use for a long time. I can’t wait to use it on my hands and feet in the winter. This is definitely my favorite product of the entire haul. The last thing up there is the Highland Mint lip balm. This is also a keeper, with a good mint flavor and a really nice smooth texture. There are about a thousand flavors, though, and I might need a different flavor next time. Though mint really is nice.
Badger, as a company, is a place I’d like to support. Luckily for me, I enjoy their products, which makes it pretty easy to do.
With the coconut and corn allergies, I have a really freaking tough time finding personal care products that are safe for me, and you’ve all seen me put recipes for lotions, lotion bars, and lip balms on our blog. That being said, when we were looking into places to visit Badger seemed promising because there might be a sunscreen I could actually purchase and not have to make myself. And I really did not want to order zinc oxide to experiment with making my own sunscreen until I got a recipe right. Here’s my haul from left to right: Cayenne & Ginger Sore Muscle Rub, Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray, Lime Rocket Cocoa Butter Lip Balm, Pink Grapefruit Lip Balm, Sweet Orange Cocoa Butter Lip Balm, Badger SPF34 Anti-Bug Sunscreen and Eucalyptus & Mint Aromatic Chest Rub.
I know that you’re going to ask, Denise, why buy lip balms when you’ve made them before and you have the stuff to make them? I’m going to make this really simple. Because I CAN. The fact that I don’t have to spend half an hour making lip balms the next time I run out is worth gold in and of itself. It’s nice to just be able to buy a product for once JUST LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. (Oh, was I yelling? Sorry about that.) The Pink Grapefruit lip balm, which has a olive oil, castor oil, and beeswax base instead of the cocoa butter, seemed a bit more moisturizing to me than the cocoa butter oil ones, but I liked all three. For those with corn allergies, I did not seem to have any issues with cross contamination either from the corn alcohol equipment cleaning or from potential cross contamination from the beeswax (depending on what the beekeeper fed the bees), but I’m not super-sensitive either. They all smelled pleasantly fruity, and I’d buy them again.
The Eucalyptus & Mint Aromatic Chest Rub smells wonderful. It’s intended for use as a soothing chest rub, or as a steam inhalant when added to a humidifier or pot of hot water, but I really haven’t had a cold, a cough or a stuffy nose since I bought it, so I haven’t been able to give it a good test. But the aroma is pretty awesome.
The Cayenne & Ginger Sore Muscle Rub smells amazing. Because with ginger and cayenne spicy goodness, how could it not? I concur with Mary Kate’s review in that it didn’t seem that effective for sore muscles, but it’s got some great moisturizing ingredients so I’m happy using it as a balm.
The Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray works well. It has the aroma of Citronella, Rosemary, and Wintergreen essential oils. You’re really going to smell like citronella, but it kept the bugs away. I didn’t mind the feel of it and the spray is a convenient application method. Just a quick disclaimer, I am generally pretty accident prone and if it’s possible to break something, I’ll probably break it. However, I didn’t expect to put a significant dent in the spray bottle by tossing it a couple of feet. I was aiming for a tote bag but I missed by a couple of inches and it landed on the floor. I’m not saying that I’m disappointed in the package or that it’s a problem, because again, bug spray that works that I don’t have to make is gold, but just be aware that you may not want to repeat my mistakes if you wish your bug spray to remain pristine and without big dents in the bottle.
The only safe for me sunscreen that Badger had was the Badger SPF34 Anti-Bug Sunscreen. I’d echo Mary Kate’s review in that it is harder to rub in than other sunscreens. I did like the dual sunscreen/bug repellent properties. I do wish that it had a higher SPF, as I used to use an SPF 100 before coconut, but according to WebMD, that might not be as big a deal as I had previously thought. And again, I didn’t have to make it! (Cue heavenly choir).
I wish more of their products didn’t contain sunflower so that I could try them, but I’m happy Badger has some products I can use and make my life easier.
Overall, the Badger visit was a rousing success. If you are looking for personal care products, check out Badger’s website and see if they might have something you’d like to try. This post is all the opinions of Denise and Mary Kate, was not sponsored, and we were in no way compensated for any of this review.