Harvesting benefits from the “Tree of Life.”
By Kathy Borsuk ~ Photos by Christine Morden, Paradise Photography
Coconut trees are so common in the Caribbean as to be almost invisible, especially to longtime residents. If you have them in your yard, they quickly turn from delight to nuisance when the bulky leaves “molt” and the heavy shells drop without warning. It took the combination of a transplanted Belgian and visiting skin care specialist to recognize that the “tree of life” was growing in the Turks & Caicos. And, to discover that one of nature’s most beneficial oils was literally here for the pressing.
Kristof and Yolanda Lingier believe in the value of coconut oil. I wouldn’t call them fanatics, but health-conscious devotees who are well aware of the myriad benefits the oil offers. They’re sharing this awareness through their all-natural, handmade, ecologically ethical line of skin care products, “Rejouvenance by Provo Line.” The oils, soaps and scented candles all include virgin coconut oil, cold-pressed from local coconuts.
After hearing rave reviews for the products and Yolanda’s associated skin care therapies, I paid the couple a visit at Alamanda, their lovely retreat in Long Bay, to learn more. A native of Belgium, Kristof came south for a job in logistics and supply chain management for Tropical Shipping. Yolanda, born and raised in Europe, had spent much of her adult life as a skin care specialist, catering to the famous faces in St. Barts. The couple met when she vacationed in Provo, and it was a blessed merging of complementary minds and skills.
Kristof is in charge of production and design. He combs the yards of friends, neighbors, resorts and rental villas to cull the large, mature dusky-yellow shells. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have to go far to collect a couple hundred, enough for a bi-monthly batch of oil. It takes a few whacks with a machete to crack open the husk to reach the shaggy brown nut inside. He carefully cuts the nut in half, scoops out the white “meat” and grinds the meat with the coconut water. Next, he uses a wine press and cheesecloth to press out the milk and cream. After about 40 hours of fermentation, the rich “virgin” oil rises to the top, where he skims it off and filters it seven times to ensure purity. Kristof says this “wet milling” process yields one to two ounces of the highest quality oil per nut; it’s a small yield compared to the quicker, easier “dry milling” process, which uses chemicals to extract the oil from copra (dried coconut meat), but leaves chemical residue in the oil.
This precious oil forms the basis of the Rejouvenance products. Prior to moving to Provo, Yolanda founded the highly successful Rejouvenance Spa in San Francisco, so she was well aware of the kinds of products that appeal to the spa cognoscenti. Infusing other essential oils and exotic botanicals into the coconut oil produces massage oils, skin moisturizers, insect repelling oils and hair and skin care oils with amazing scents. Yolanda says “Island Blend,” with its flowery notes of Plumeria (better known as Frangipani) and Tahitian Flowers, is most popular, although each of the scented oils (Satsuma, Coco, Coconut-Lime and the new “Caicos Splash”) have their following. The couple has also blended signature scents for resorts, including The Hartling Group and Coral Gardens.
Because coconut oil has a natural SPF of 4, they used it to create a “reef-safe” SPF 30 sun block that became the Official Sunscreen of Provo’s annual “Race for the Conch” Eco SeaSwim, an event which attracts competitors from around the globe.
Yolanda also used her extensive experience in skin care therapy (especially focused on smoothing blemishes, minimizing aging and repairing sun damage) to create a unique and all-natural line of cleansers, toners, moisturizers and repair serums. She generously gave me a sample to try, and I can attest they are nourishing and refreshing, with a soothing aroma.
Not surprisingly, the Rejouvenance products were soon picked up by some of TCI’s most exclusive spas (Shambhala Spa on Parrot Cay and Anani Spa at Grace Bay Club) as well as the spas at Seven Stars Resort, Coral Gardens and the Beach House. They are also sold in local shops including Art Provo, Caicu Naniki, Framing Grace, Hidden Treasures, Local Cullah, Maison Creole and the Handmade in TCI Wholesale Depot.
Besides using a manual (non-electric) pressing process, Kristof is quick to note that no part of the coconut is wasted. Neatly cut shells are used for packaging scented candles and the all-natural soap products, with the remainder used in the BBQ grill. The husks, he says, make great garden mulch.
The ambitious pair currently operate as an artisanal DIY business, blending and bottling the products and even designing and printing labels, with plans for silk screen printing that will allow them to personalize products for resorts. Marketing is mostly word-of-mouth, with the first overseas order just coming in! Future plans include producing custom coconut oil based amenities (shampoo, conditioner, body wash) for resorts.
But that’s not the only gem tucked away in this Long Bay oasis. From a garden-surrounded room, Yolanda offers a full range of cutting-edge spa therapies and skin treatments that reflect three decades of expertise in the field and utilize all the latest equipment. She admits that her resident clientele is primarily interested in result-oriented clinical skin care to repair years of sun exposure. She also creates custom-made, mineral-based make-up, moisturizers and sunscreens, while also employing her make-up arts for weddings at the exclusive resorts. Because her treatment room is comfortable and discrete, she often treats visitors who prefer a more personal atmosphere to that of a resort.
Kristof explained that the coconut palm is called “Tree of Life” in many tropical countries because it provides food, drink and shelter. Here in the TCI, the term more likely refers to the blessings of long, healthy life with the youthful appearance many of us seek.
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Cover photographer Christine Morden works for Paradise Photography www.myparadisephoto.com , a full service boutique company based in the TCI. She especially enjoyed the Rejouvenance photo shoot to learn about the benefits of coconuts and to smell the amazing scents of their hand-crafted products.