Mac’s Smacks smacking lips nationwide

But its products–now in 30 stores across five states–are still made in a Hanover kitchen.

“I have had a fascination with lip products since I was probably seven or eight years old,” said McKenzie Payne, founder of Mac’s Smack and local maker of natural lip balms and salves. “Just buying every lip gloss, every chap stick, and every lip balm brand you can find, from $1 to $32 a tube.”

But Payne’s lips, which once invariably glistened with a rotating selection of balms, later pursed after scrutinizing the products she loved. “Once I had children in 2006, I started living a much more healthy, natural lifestyle, really paying attention to labels and really paying attention to what we were putting on our bodies and in our bodies,” she said.

What she discovered about lip balms: the good, natural products were often too expensive, and the inexpensive products contained off-putting polysyllabic chemicals that were hard to pronounce.

In 2011, Payne started Mac’s Smack “with the intention of creating a better alternative for what we were purchasing in the store,” she said.

All Mac’s Smack products are chemical-free, preservative-free, and contain no GMOs. “We are as pure as you can get from Mother Nature,” Payne said.1 Products like Mighty Mint and Intense Healing lip balms ($5 each) use beeswax harvested from local beekeepers, many of whom are Payne’s neighbors and friends. Mac’s Smack products also use locally sourced Calendula oil. “I’m a huge believer in supporting local, and buying local,” Payne said.

But natural ingredients weren’t the only goal for her product line. “I wanted a product that was going to last a long time on the lips and that wasn’t going to leave a white, chalky finish,” she said. “You come across plenty of [lip balms] that don’t last very long, even if they are pure. Some will absorb right into your skin, and then some of them leave a funky texture on your lips.”

Payne started experimenting with lip balm formulations in February 2011. By April, Mac’s Smacks were on local shelves.

“Basically, it’s standing in front of a stove,2 taking risks, and saying, ‘I think this [formulation] is going to work,'” Payne said. She’d mix varying amounts of butters, waxes, and oils into a double boiler, wait for the mix to harden after being removed from heat, and then try it on her lips. “It’s actually a real emotional process, because you have these high hopes that this is going to be the one,” Payne said. Finding the one took time.

“I got to know the ingredients, and as I made batch after batch after batch and it wasn’t what I wanted, I figured out by trial and error what I needed–certain percentages of butter, certain percentages of wax, certain percentages of oils–to make the end result that I wanted.” After two weeks of experimenting, Payne had a formulation both she and her lips loved.

Next, she turned her attention to securing retailers. The first was Farm to Family, which sold Mac’s Smacks at their natural market on Mechanicsville Turnpike. Ellwood Thompson’s followed. So did Urban Farmhouse. “We had great, great responses from local business owners,” Payne said. “For the most part, people were excited that there was an alternative to a big business lip balm.”

Mac’s Smack now also has accounts with five Whole Foods stores. All told, roughly 30 stores in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., North Carolina, and Alabama carry Mac’s Smacks.3

In addition to its six lip balms, Mac Smack’s also produces salves for sun protection, body lotion, and a catchall called Ultimate Fix.

Payne said she and a hired worker produce these products in her kitchen three days a week, averaging several hundred individual lip balms and several hundred skin care products per week. She’s currently looking for a new production facility. “I don’t have any desire to send [products] off to be manufactured,” she said. “The whole idea of staying local, staying kitchen-made, continuing to use other local ingredients…that’s really important to me.”

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  1. However, Mac’s Smacks products are currently not USDA certified organic. 
  2. “I would be up until 1:00 AM, 2:00 AM just standing in front of the stove, and I know my husband was like, ‘What is she doing?'” 
  3. Mac’s Smacks also partners with two Virginia-based alcohol and drug rehabilitation nonprofits: The McShin Foundation and The Luke Cockey Scholarship Fund
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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