In the world of beauty, bath products often take a second seat to cleansers, face masks and makeup but soaps and skincare are essential—and that has become even more apparent in recent years. In fact, it was during these times that Nopalera, a premium bath and body line inspired by Mexico, came to fruition. Having just partnered with Free People this month, Nopalera blends nopal (a prickly pear cactus commonly found in Mexico) and research on formulation to create a clean, moisturizing-focused collection of botanical bar soaps, moisturizers and exfoliators that elevates Latino culture as well as the industry.
For the brand’s founder, Sandra Velasquez, the idea to create a cacti-derived collection stemmed from a lack of representation. “In 2019, I was working as a sales rep for other brands,” she tells us. “So I was in a lot of stores as part of my job and I noticed that there were no products on the shelves that really spoke to the Latina consumer, being myself. Latinas are the largest minority group in the country, why is there nothing on the shelf?” Frustrated with the insufficient market and her own financial situation, Velasquez began studying formulation, taking classes at the online, organic skincare school Bontanica. In 2020, she launched the brand she wished she had seen in stores.
Knowing that Latino, and specifically Mexican culture, had to be at the forefront of the brand, the founder arrived at nopal, which as she explains, “is the most Mexican plant ever—it’s even on the Mexican flag.” More than just culturally significant, cactus also has a variety of skincare benefits. The founder continues, “I use two different parts of the cactus: the green pad, the part of the cactus that most people know and the fruit that grows on the tip like a red bowl.” That tip is known as the “prickly pear,” but “no Latinos call it that,” says Velasquez. “In Spanish, it’s called ‘La tuna,’ as in tuna fish. That fruit has seeds and those seeds, when you extract them, produce a really luxurious oil that’s higher in Vitamin E than Vitamin E oil.” Further, it’s high in minerals and antioxidants, making it a powerful, penetrating ingredient in Nopalera’s Moisturizing Botanical Bar.
When it comes to the pads of the cactus, their insides—which have a similar texture to aloe vera—bolster and cleanse the skin. “Some people put the pads of the cactus directly on their face,” Velasquez tells us. “It soothes the skin, draws moisture to the skin and really the nopal is just highly regenerative, way more than aloe vera. If you’ve ever cut an aloe vera plant, it doesn’t grow back quickly or at all. The nopal, on the other hand, if you cut off a pad, another one will grow in a couple of weeks.” The nopal’s ability to heal itself makes it a more sustainable, versatile and healthier alternative for the skin, where it can further encourage cell regeneration.
Nopalera’s current collection is made by hand in Massachusetts and features a range of bath bars, cleaners and exfoliating scrubs—all wrapped in beautiful and bold packaging. Unlike other body washes on the market, the botanical brand is pure and ultra-moisturizing. “The soaps are cold-processed soap which is a true soap, meaning it’s not the soaps you see at the grocery store like Irish Spring and Dove. Dove is actually not a soap,” Velasquez points out. “That’s why they don’t call it a soap, they call it a beauty bar because it’s not actually true soap; it’s really a detergent bar.” To make up for the lack of high-quality soaps, the founder experimented with different formulas that can clean and create lasting hydration.
“I really wanted a moisturizing soap because I have really dry skin. So I studied the ingredients of the fatty acid profiles of different plant butters and oils and created a formula for the soap base,” she explains. From there, she adds the nopal, which are wild harvested from Mexico. The process to create their Botanical Bars is similar: Velasquez starts with a solid, plant butter bar to foster hydration with ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Then, she adds cactus oil to deepen its moisturizing ability.
Aesthetically and fragrantly, Nopalera’s bath and body line delights. Bright colors and gentle, earthy aromas of jasmine and lemongrass imbue the collection. These were all thoughtfully curated to reflect other aspects of Mexico. “The scents that I chose just remind me of places I’ve been,” says the founder. “Jasmine is everywhere, especially in the southern part of Mexico. Tangerine reminds me of orchards and my family who has an agricultural background. I wanted to pull from things that reminded me of Mexico and to come out with products that work together.”
In April, Nopalera will be releasing their first unscented soap for those with extra-sensitive skin after the launch of their partnership with Credo Beauty in mid-March. As the brand continues to evolve and grow, however, Velasquez’ mission remains the same: “to decolonize the bath and body category because it’s so filled with Eurocentric brands.” She tells us, “The community is ready to see themselves in an elevated way.” Seeing premium, Mexican-embodied options on the shelf is one way to empower this image.
Images courtesy of Nopalera