Lauren Whitney Pennington started out as an actress — and a successful one at that. (You might recognize her from a guest stint on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.) Finding herself craving something more, she took a step behind the scenes to focus on writing a film — and in a bizarre turn of events, her staunchly-vegan writing partner gave her an ultimatum: Stop eating meat, or forget about working together. And that’s how she ended up at a vegan protest, cuddling a pig and reevaluating everything. “It kind of changed my life,” Pennington, the founder of natural skincare company Spiced Sugah, tells nécessité.
Needless to say, Pennington’s path from pig-petting to building a bona fide business out of handmade skincare, hair care, and body care products was not a straight one… but that’s what makes for a good story, right?
“I took the entry he gave me and started researching like crazy, and I realized there are a lot of unhealthy vegans, and there are lot of people who don’t understand why they’re using natural skincare — they just do it because it’s a trend,” the entrepreneur shares. Pennington made it her personal mission to understand everything she was putting in and on her body; part of that included formulating her own skincare products with natural ingredients.
“I started making the products just for me — it was pure vanity,” laughs Pennington. “I wanted perfect skin and perfect white teeth and my hair to be long and pretty” — not to mention safe from the harmful chemicals that often pollute standard personal care products.
Her hand-crafted small business began to grow in the usual way: She gifted her products to friends and family for holidays, who then encouraged her to launch the line for real. The boost that pushed her over the entrepreneurial edge? Advice from her pre-med sister.
“My sister is doing research at UMC Hospital [in Mississippi] and she told me, ‘Don’t have a product that’s just coconut oil,” Pennington explains. Besides being pretty basic, coconut oil has a molecular value that’s too large to penetrate the pores. “I realized, after doing research that the reason you feel so slippery after you use certain oils is that the molecular value of the oils are so big and your pores are so tiny, they can’t sink in.” That simple explanation was a lightbulb moment for Pennington, who was soon dreaming up ways to break down the molecular value of bigger oils in order to make them more beneficial to the skin.
“If you take coconut oil and mix it with jojoba oil, which is the size of your skin’s natural oils, and then you take essential oils, which are like micro-sized, and you blend that all together — then you’ve broken down this bigger molecule so your skin can eat it up,” Pennington explains. You don’t need to fully understand the founder’s little science lesson to understand this: the woman’s products work.
After months of learning, blending, and guinea-pigging on her sister (who probably has enviable skin by now), Pennington soft-launched Spiced Sugah. Her mission? To teach people the facts about skin and hair health. “I’m not gonna sell you this crazy dream of a miracle product,” the founder states matter-of-factly. “I’m gonna stick with the facts: We’re plants, our hair has to be watered like a plant, you know?”
This concept of treating your skin and hair like plants comes up again and again with Pennington, for one simple reason… she’s kind of right. Before Spiced Sugah, she was a bit of a product addict, trying everything from Clinique to designer skincare to banish breakouts and soothe her dry skin (the move from humid Mississippi, her home state, to dry-as-a-desert Los Angeles did some damage).
“I was seeing my skin doing different funky things and just thinking that was normal,” she says. It wasn’t until she started “watering” her skin with simple rose water and tending to it with plant-based oils that she noticed a dramatic change. Which brings us to the moment you’ve been waiting for: What, exactly, does this glowy goddess use on her skin?
“The first thing I do is exfoliate — I exfoliate everyday which a lot of people think is harsh,” she says. “But I use my own product from Spiced Sugah made with broccoli seeds and poppy seeds, so it’s very gentle and biodegradable. I think you should exfoliate to break up the sweat and oil from the night before. There are essential oils in the scrub, which attach to the dirt and pull it out of your pores — then I wash. I wash with Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, it’s really good.”
After exfoliating and cleansing, Pennington brews a pot of tea… for her face. “I steam my face — I literally put eucalyptus and sage in a boiling pot of water, I put my head over it for 30 seconds, and I drink the rest of it for tea.” Talk about multitasking. Finally, “I moisturize with a little rose water, then I put on the Vitalizing Face Tonic from Spiced Sugah.”
Even though Pennington shys away from using the phrase “miracle product,” I’m going to say that’s exactly what the Face Tonic is. Its potent blend of avocado, jojoba, and prickly pear oils magically spans across all skin types. “I think the best oil you can ever use on your face is avocado oil,” Pennington says. “It gives you a beautiful glow.” She maintains that jojoba oil is ideal for those with oily skin because “it balances out your natural oil levels;” while prickly pear oil tackles acne like nothing else.
“It’s a more expensive oil, so people don’t like to use prickly pear — but the properties are unmatched, it’s so good for scarring,” Pennington explains. And the founder spares no expense when it comes to delivering flawless skin.
Spiced Sugah isn’t just skincare, though. The line boasts hair care and body care products, too, which Pennington uses on the daily. “If my hair is curly, I wake up and spritz it with my Herbal Hair Tea and go about my day — in my mind, I’m just watering my hair!” she says. “If it’s straight, I take the Awakening Scalp Oil and put it on my ends, and I go. It’s so simple.”
Underarm TonicBuy Now
The final step? A swipe of Spiced Sugah Underarm Tonic. If you’ve been struggling to find a natural deodorant that works (and haven’t we all?), you need this in your life. “My boyfriend wanted something cleaner, deodorant-wise,” the founder explains of her oil-based blend. “I’m like, if a grown man can wear this for 13 hours, we’re good!”
It seems impossible that Spiced Sugah is a one-woman operation, but Pennington still blends, packs, and ships every order herself — although she admits that a team may be on the horizon. Up next for the brand? Spiced Sugah’s first water-based product, created in collaboration with another natural company. The details are mostly hush-hush, but I can confirm one major detail: You’re gonna want some.
Ahead, shop nécessité’s favorite Spiced Sugah products.