A Tribute to the Man Behind Burt’s Bees

Burt Shavtiz, the namesake and co-founder of Burt’s Bees passed away yesterday at the age of 80, but he leaves behind a lasting beauty legacy.

Photo by burtsbees.com

Whether you’re a beauty junkie or not, you’ve probably used Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm at some point in your life. From the iconic yellow packaging, the peppermint scent, and the tingly feeling it leaves on your lips, the balm—launched in 1991—is a classic. The man behind it, Burt Shavitz, was so much more: A leader in the natural products category, his passion for bees and the environment will leave a lasting mark on the beauty world.

As a beauty editor, I have always loved Burt’s Bees’ products—especially the Cucumber & Sage Cleansing Towelettes ($6, burtbees.com), the Lip Crayon in Carolina Coast ($9, burtsbees.com), and the Coconut Foot Creme ($9, burtsbees.com). While I’ve been a fan of the brand for years, I have to admit I didn’t know Burt was an actual person until the day I was headed to a meeting with a Burt’s representative, and was greeted by an older man with a wild white beard and a train hat. The man whose face is stamped on his products—the eponymous Burt!—came to life in the lobby of my office building.

After geeking out and asking him for a picture, we sat down to talk and I learned that “The Bee Man” (as he liked to be called) lived a modest life in rural Maine with his dogs. He was a beekeeper by trade who loved creating natural products using sustainable practices. What l loved about Burt was that despite how quickly his company grew (he went from selling his products at craft fairs in the 1980s to being acquired by the Clorox Company in 2007 for $925 million) I could tell he remained true to himself and what he believed in. From his looks to his lifestyle, the success of the brand didn't change him—a rarity in today's world. A few years after meeting Burt, I was lucky enough to be invited to the company’s headquarters in Durham, North Carolina, where I toured their labs. I have been to many research and development facilities throughout my career, but this one was different; everything produced there had been sourced in nature. That meant tracking down a natural brightening ingredient such as daisy extract for a moisturizer or discovering that clary sage can increase the skin's ability to retain hydration. Creating products isn’t so easy when chemicals are eliminated from the equation, but Burt never took the easy way out.

While I was visiting, the company was working on their Renewal line, which targets wrinkles. After much trial and error, they found that the combination of apple and hibiscus plumped and firmed the skin. I gave the serum a try and the texture felt silky and left my skin supple and visibly smoother after a few weeks. I left the lab with a real appreciation for the brand and its effective, affordable, no-frills, practical products. As well as for the bees, which produce some of the healing ingredients in the brand’s formulas. The tour of the headquarters got even more interesting when we were able to witness the observation hive, the largest of its kind in North Carolina and home to over 15,000 bees. Its purpose is to educate visitors on how important bees are to human life and the environment.

As we say goodbye to Burt, his passion and respect for the environment will live on. And his products will serve as an important reminder that sometimes the best solutions to problems—beauty-related, or otherwise—are the simple ones.