The Blog Cabin

Ingredient Spotlight: Aloe, Birch, and Fir

Zoë Furlong December 18, 2014

Today we’re kicking off a series of posts to provide a little more information on the ingredients we use in our products. This is something we’ve been meaning to do since launching our shave cream, so it’s been a long time coming.

Let’s dive right in with three of our favorites:

Aloe vera leaf juice (aloe barbadensis– Aloe vera is one of nature’s most effective and versatile ingredients. The juice from the aloe vera leaf hydrates and soothes irritated skin (remember putting aloe gel on sunburns as a kid?), promotes healthy tissue regeneration, and has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s also a natural emollient, meaning it softens and smoothes the surface of the skin. You’ll find organic aloe vera in all of our skin care products.

Found in: Stellar Shave Cream, Fortifying Face Balm, Fantastic Face Wash, 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic, Essential Face Wipes

Birch sap (betula alba) – Birch sap is rich in complex sugars, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids beneficial to the skin. It naturally stimulates circulation, reinvigorating tired complexions, while its astringent properties reduce redness and help to even out skin tone. Birch sap is also a known moisturizer and this, paired with its soothing qualities, makes it particularly good at calming irritated skin.

Found in: Stellar Shave Cream, Fortifying Face Balm, 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic, Essential Face Wipes

Fir needle oil (pseudotsuga menziesii) – Fir needle oil is extracted from the branches of the majestic Douglas fir, native to forests throughout the Pacific Northwest. It has strong disinfecting properties and also imparts a citrusy, crisp scent to our products. Aromatherapists believe fir needle oil helps relieve stress and uplifts the spirits, and we agree!

Found in: Stellar Shave Cream, Fantastic Face Wash, 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic, Essential Face Wipes

These are just a few of the wonderful plant-based ingredients that power our products. We’ll continue to roll out more ingredient profiles in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Have a favorite natural ingredient? Curious about an ingredient you’ve seen on our label? We would love to hear from you.

How our new all-natural candle is different from most candles

Zoë Furlong December 11, 2014


Like a lot of people, we love burning scented candles at home, especially in winter: the aroma and diffused light makes for a warm, cozy ambience. Right around the same time we had our epiphany about all the toxins used in conventional skin care products, we started taking a much closer look at other things in our home, candles included. What we discovered wasn’t pleasant: pretty much every candle we had ever owned, even ones we thought were “all-natural”, contained synthetic fragrance and other unhealthy ingredients.

This is an especially big deal because of the environment in which people typically burn candles: closed-off spaces within the home, often during the winter when it’s too cold to open windows for ventilation (at least here in VT!). This means people are directly inhaling the toxic fumes, often for hours at a time. Based on what we’ve discovered, we would never ever burn a synthetic candle – or a so-called “natural candle” that’s really synthetic at its core (see below) - in our home again. The health risks are real. 

Here’s a summary of how our new Trailside candle stacks up vs. other candles on the market, the vast majority of which are synthetic candles with token amounts of natural ingredients sprinkled in:


Synthetic Candle


Wicks are reinforced with fine metals to keep them standing. When burned, this creates smoke comprised of metal particulates, which is inhaled by people (and animals) in the household. It can also stain walls and fabrics.  Contains no metals of any kind.
Wicks are made of synthetic materials containing petroleum-based ingredients.
Organic, GMO-free hemp and cotton blend wicks. All wick materials sourced from within the USA.
Wicks are often bleached to appear more white
Wicks are not bleached.



Synthetic Candle


Typically made with paraffin wax, manufactured from residue leftover from oil refining (definitely not a renewable resource).

Made with soy wax, derived from soybeans (a renewable resource).

    Chemicals found in the fumes of paraffin candles have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory problems.

    Although nothing that burns is going to be 100% soot-free, soy wax candles burn much cleaner than paraffin alternatives.

    Even if a candle is 100% soy wax, it’s most likely from GMO soybeans (91% of soy grown in the USA is genetically modified).
    Made with non-GMO, pesticide-free soy grown by farmers in the USA.


    Wax Color:

    Synthetic Candle

    Often contains synthetic colorants which can cause toxic soot when candles are burned.
    Does not contain any colorants or dyes.
      Wax is often bleached (producing dioxin in the process, toxic to humans and an environmental pollutant) first in order for dye to show more intensely.

      Although nothing that burns is going to be 100% soot-free, soy wax candles burn much cleaner than paraffin alternatives.



      Synthetic Candle


        Does not disclose chemical ingredients, usually grouped on ingredient list as "fragrance"
        Lists all essential oils which impart the candle's aroma.
        Scented with numerous synthetic petrochemicals, some of which are linked to hormone disruption, sperm damage, central nervous system disorders, and more.
          Scented with essential oils derived from plants.
          Contains chemical scent enhancers (“boosters”) and phthalates to help spread fragrance through the air and make scent linger.
          Does not have synthetic “boosters” to amplify fragrance.



          Synthetic Candle


            Packaging suppliers often have little to no environmental commitment.
            Carton made using 100% wind power in a carbon neutral facility.
            Often use plastic and other non-recyclable materials.
              Carton made with 50% post-consumer fiber, 100% recyclable.
              Glass containers sometimes contain lead and other heavy metals which can leach out. 
              Tumbler glass is food grade.

              Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of how our candle is different from most other candles, the vast majority of which are really synthetic (often in spite of what’s claimed on the packaging!). If you’re convinced all-natural is the way to go (or if you just want a great-smelling candle), we invite you to check out Trailside. In fact if you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward: use code Trailside5 to take $5 off our candle through year-end 2014.



              • "Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution." Environmental Protection Agency, 2001.
              • "Combustion Characteristics of Candles Made from Hydrogenated Soybean Oil.” Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, 2002.
              • "Dioxins and Their Effects on Human Health."World Health Organization, 2014.
              • "Scent of Danger: Are There Toxic Ingredients in Perfumes and Colognes?" Scientific American Global RSS. Scientific American, 2012.
              • "Soy Facts."Way Out Wax
              • "Study: Some Types of Candles May Pollute Indoor Air."CNN. Cable News Network, 2009.
              • "The Chemicals in Candles."Time. Time, 2009.

              Ursa Major's Very Vermont Gift Guide

              Zoë Furlong November 14, 2014

              We’re pleased to present our first Very Vermont Gift Guide! Finely crafted bow ties, stationary and spirits – we hope there’s something wonderful here for everyone on your list.

              1. Orvis (Manchester). Heritage Moleskin Field Coat, $250  


              Orvis is about fly fishing, yes, but they’re also America’s oldest mail-order outfitter (1856). How about this Heritage Field Coat in Olive? Perfect for that country gentleman in your life, or the city dweller who aspires to be one.

              2. Beau Ties (Middlebury). Ski Lift Bow Tie, $59.


              Go on, rock a bow tie this holiday. Beau Ties’ Ski Lift design featuring skiers and, you guessed it, ski lifts, is destined to become a New England classic. Not a big skier? Don’t worry, Beau Ties has many other fun styles to choose from.

              3. Vermont Smoke and Cure (Hinesburg). Real Sticks, $29.95.


              Tasty, nutritious and all-natural, Real Sticks come in all kinds of zesty flavors. They're great for keeping you awake when you’re motoring north to see Grandma, or for powering you up that snowy mountain when you get there.

              4. Red House (Shelburne). Waxed Canvas Storage Bin, $56.

              Red House makes beautiful field satchels, work aprons and wallets - we’re especially fond of this multi-purpose storage bin. How you use it is up to you, but we’re partial to the way it’s pictured here: filled with freshly-split firewood!

              5. Ursa Major (Burlington). Trailside Candle, $40

              Our all-natural scented candle contains a fulsome blend of pure essential oils including cedar, spruce, sandalwood, mint and orange. It's the perfect indulgence for your home this winter, and it makes a delightful gift too!

              6. Scout's Honor Paper (Burlington). Camp Icon Cards, $16.

              Illustrator Annemarie Buckley is creating a stir with her whimsical, modern designs. Her Camp Icon series contains four handsome cards printed on thick paper stock, each more fitting than the next for that heartfelt holiday note.

              7. Caledonia Spirits (Hardwick). Barr Hill Honey Gin, $34.99


              Barr Hill Gin is racking up awards with spirits aficionados worldwide, and for good reason. It’s made with fresh Juniper berries and raw northern honey for a uniquely delicious taste that’s literally rooted in Vermont. Lip-smacking good!

              8. Finn Utility (Richmond). Streamer Wallet, $55.

              Mix great design with a love of fly-fishing and you get Finn Utility. We’ve got our eye on the Streamer Wallet, made of bridle leather, waxed twill canvas and 100% sheep shearling. If anything is worthy of holding your hand-tied flies, this is it.

              9. Norton's Vermont Toboggans (Barre). Green Mountain Family Toboggan, $200


              Who doesn’t love whooshing down a snow-covered hill on a toboggan? Just saying that word makes us smile. This holiday give the gift of speed and smiles with this Green Mountain Family cruiser, the Jeep Woody of sleds.

              10. Darn Tough (Northfield) Pinnacle Over-the-Calf Ultralight, $23 


              In our minds the perfect pair of winter socks should be toasty warm, snug, comfortable (no seams), durable and odor-busting. Oh, and they can’t be black. This Darn Tough merino delivers on all fronts. And they’re guaranteed for life!

              11. Ibex (White River Junction). Ramble Wool Pant, $225.


              Wool? Rambling? Sign us up. This pair of trousers, designed to “make winter more free”, has our number. Still need convincing? The Ramble has 4.8 out of 5 stars from 19 happy Ibex customers. We’re sold.

              12. Farmhouse Pottery (Woodstock). Milk Bottle Match Striker, $36.


              We can’t think of a friend who wouldn’t be delighted to receive one of these…Beautiful, hand-thrown pottery with a practical purpose—strike a match anywhere on the bottom half of this little pot and sparks will fly!


              That’s a wrap! Hopefully this Very Vermont Gift Guide has made your holiday shopping a little easier, and a lot more fun. See you on the trails!


              Still searching for a new book-keeper

              oliver sweatman November 14, 2014
              We need a new book-keeper! The position starts immediately at two days a week and could grow into three+ days/week within 6-12 months. Here’s a bit more information on the role:

              Areas of Responsibility:
              • Full-service bookkeeping
              • Bank account reconciliations; month-end close
              • AR management – customer invoicing, statements & follow-up
              • AP management – bill approval, preparation of payments
              • Making bank deposits, (e)mailing invoices/statements, etc.
              • Inventory control/costing – cost sheets, POs, stock levels, etc.
              • Regulatory filings - basic compliance with state & federal regulations
              • Work with CPA to prepare annual tax return; communicate with members re: tax matters
              • Financial reports for management

              • Ideally the candidate has the following qualifications:
              • Two-year degree in accounting/finance (ideally)
              • Two+ years of relevant work experience (expertise with manufacturing and cost accounting is desired)
              • Advanced experience with QuickBooks & Excel
              • Detail-oriented with excellent organizational skills
              • Professional written and verbal communicator
              • Pleasant to be around
              • Discreet and trustworthy

              NB, our current book-keeper (who’s fantastic, but she’s left VT for Nevada and is now working with us remotely) will be on-hand to train our new book-keeper and help with the transition.

              To apply, please send a cover letter, resumé and references to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you!

              Our Annual Hiking Adventure

              Zoë Furlong October 29, 2014
              Yesterday, we embarked on our second-annual team outing (see the post on our first outing here). This year's adventure? Hiking to the 4,081ft summit of Camel's Hump, the third largest peak in Vermont! What a great excuse to get outside, get our legs moving, and celebrate Fall and the ever-growing Ursa Major team. Rest assured that beer and pizza followed this hike.
              The ladies of Ursa Major on the trail.
              The slick trail conditions didn't deter us or the other hikers (two and four legged) we met along the way!
              Emily, Zoë and Chris stop at a clearing to take in the majestic view and get their bearings. 
              Nicole and Marshall reach the blustery summit. 
              The whole team at the summit.
              Happy Trails!

              July in Photos - An Instagram Round-Up

              Ollie Burruss August 20, 2014

              July's top Instagram photos really sum up summer in Vermont: singletrack rides, peak-bagging hikes, backwoods rambling, and the classic hay in the barn shot. Hard to get much more Vermont than that. 

              Hope everyone out there is enjoying summer as much as we are (don't get the wrong idea - we're working hard too!). To see more of that wholesome Vermont life, head over to our Instagram feed: @ursamajorvt.

              June Instagram Mash-Up

              oliver sweatman July 08, 2014

              A round-up of Ursa Major's most popular June Instagram photos, including a Vermont landscape and cows.

              Here's our round-up of the most popular posts on our Instagram feed over the past month. Based on our feed, one might think we spend all our time playing around in the great outdoors, but that's not true. We love work, we really do, and we put in good long days in the office because we're passionate about what we're doing here at Ursa Major and we're committed to becoming your favorite super natural skin, hair and, yes, body care solution over time. That said, we'll admit it, there's no way we could grind this hard if the great outdoors wasn't right out the back door. For us, ready access to the mountains, woods, streams, lakes, etc. is fundamental to "the good life" and we wouldn't have it any other way, at least not for any long period of time (we do love the city, albeit in short bursts). On that note, we've been jamming since early this morning and the trails are looking pretty good after a few days of warm, dry weather… #gooddayswork #workhardplayhard #livemajor #woohoo

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