Beauty by the jar
Warm Earth Cosmetics offers natural makeup in colorful ceramics
The lemon ginger tea Douglas Leiker served on a recent winter day was crisp and warm. It took me a few minutes to realize I was sipping from a cup he’d made, the polished tones transitioning from an earthy soil shade to a smooth, sandy hue. I noticed the same type of craftsmanship on a nearby kitchen shelf filled with dinnerware in his south Chico home.
Leiker’s refrigerator has no space on its front—it’s filled with memories: pictures of his wife, Lynda Sezon; and daughters, Olivia and Sophia, now studying at UC Berkeley; as well as his college days as a young, lanky, curly-haired potter at Chico State. A card reading “Nature is my church” peeked out from behind a magnetized calculator.
On the table next to us were dozens of jars he’d hand-crafted at his home studio and fired in the kiln installed on the back patio. They were patterned vessels in reds, ivories, blues and purples. The blush and eye shadow powders inside them were just as vibrant. Excited to show me, he dabbed a sparkling violet shade onto my hand.
Leiker, founder of Warm Earth Cosmetics, got into the makeup business by happenstance. While working at his downtown shop in the Phoenix Building in the ’80s, he noticed women purchasing a lot of makeup at the neighboring cosmetics store.
“I started looking at the chemistry of what they were buying, and I had known a lot of that stuff from my chemistry background in clay and glazes …” Leiker said, his voice a soft rasp.
Leiker doesn’t consider himself a cosmetics revolutionary, but values keeping his products as clean and natural as possible. The makeup he creates has no added preservatives and is oil- and fragrance-free. It is not tested on animals. And his stoneware containers are also designed to be kept as keepsakes—rather than tossed when empty—and are hand-thrown, -glazed and -fired.
“It’s as natural as you can get,” Leiker said. That’s important to him, and for good reason.
Cosmetics products do not need premarket Food and Drug Administration approval, with the exception of color additives. Certain ingredients, like fragrances, can contain hormone disruptors, according to Environmental Working Group, and are among the top five allergens in the world. Preservatives like parabens mimic estrogen and are used widely in cosmetics—certain parabens may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders, according to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products.
The main ingredient in Warm Earth’s eye shadows and blushes is a natural mineral, mica, which is milled to various particle sizes to make it either frosty––giving blush and eye shadows a sparkle––or matte. Oxides are then added. Iron helps produce a lot of browns, ambers and ochres, Leiker said, adding that he follows FDA cosmetics guidelines on how to process, sterilize and package products, keeping them “clean and food-grade and pure.”
Leiker came to Chico from a Bay Area community college in 1972. He taught for a brief time after graduating from Chico State, but found he was drawn to the challenges of ceramics.
As a young potter, Leiker studied the chemistry of clay and glazes for 10 years under the mentorship of his friend and Chico State ceramics instructor Jack Windsor. He experimented radically on how to improve his craft, observing the potters at Northern Star Fire Works Pottery, where he worked for 16 years.
Leiker opened his first retail store, Earth and Wood, on Broadway with a buddy who sold cabinets.
He founded Warm Earth Pottery in 1980. In many ways, Leiker has approached the art of creating makeup the same way he has approached ceramics. He enjoys the challenge of dry-milling colors, screening them and ending up with a product that has staying power, not fading too quickly from customers’ faces.
“That took a lot of time and test[ing] and results to figure that out,” he said.
At the height of his business, Leiker sold to both big and small pharmacies west of the Rocky Mountains, and had a few hundred active accounts. His products were sold across Europe, Central and South America and the U.S., and were featured in television shows including Columbo. He still works with Princess Cruise Lines, his biggest client today, and sells his products online and at S&S Produce in Chico.
After nearly 40 years, Leiker continues to mill his own powder makeup sold in his worn stoneware porcelain jars—this niche is “what has kept me in business,” he said. He downsized when his daughters were born, but he’s been contemplating ramping it up again, possibly hiring staff to increase production.
Either way, he’s not planning on stopping any time soon. “Money isn’t my main driver,” he said. “I enjoy what I do.”