By Candace J. Semien, Jozef Syndicate reporter
Erin White has entered a phase where life is seeming to come full circle.
Yes, post covid, post surgeries, post career challenges, and during her turn into the forties, White—a 40-year-old Louisiana microbiologist—is living in a stage of life when you realize the path you are on is purposeful.
White excelled in math and science at McKinley Middle Magnet and Baton Rouge Magnet High. She earned a master’s degree in molecular biology and undergraduate degrees in microbiology and physics.
For years, she’s researched and dissected microscopic skin cells, studied cell cycle regulation, cultivated topogenic bacteria, and probed cancer cells—nearly three decades after her mother gave her a microscope.
“I still have that thing.” White laughs. “That is where it all began.”
The microscope that she received in elementary school became a harbinger for the work and purpose White carries today.
“Though my degrees are accomplishments, I only really ever mention one—the BS in microbiology. Had all gone to plan, I would have had a full BS in physics, not just a BA, and a doctorate in cell cycle regulation. Those two degrees represent failures to me; points in my life where I was showing signs of burnout and weakening mental health. These failures continue to drive me to succeed, push harder, and never accept less than, again.”
That desire is pushing White to use her aptitude for research and science to help others through her sootheURskin products at Thomas Therapeutics and her social enterprise Black Women’s Wellness.
“I have realized over time that I am a natural leader, though it is not a position I always race to occupy. I am sarcastic and have a dry wit. And, lastly, I am a good bit of a nerd,” she said. “I love the feeling I get from solving problems. I actually get giddy.”
White said she is most inspired by her maternal grandmother Bobbie June Simmons Thomas, the first Black teacher at Baker High School. “There were so many students that looked up to her. And I think that knowing this made her shoulders fall back and her head that much higher. She knew the trail she was blazing and the footprint she would leave behind. The blood that runs through these veins is most definitely that of dominion,” said White.
“I can only hope to make her proud,” she said. “My body of work is beginning to show my lineage—not to say that any of my ancestors were widely-known leaders, I mean, neither am I. But they were leaders in their own right.”
Through her therapeutic products—balms, soaps, tinctures— she is solving dermatological, beauty, and esteem problems for thousands who use Thomas Therapeutics.
It began when White returned home from college and noticed her younger sister’s eczema hadn’t cleared but had worsened. “She never really seemed to grow out of the childhood plagues of infection. She had eczema surrounding her eyes and inside her eyelids. It was inside her elbows, behind her knees, on every surface that experienced friction.”
As a researcher, White hypothesized. “There’s got to be a natural way to clear this up. So, we started the search for a natural, steroid-, and antibiotic-free remedy. We scoured the pharmacies and pharmacy departments of our local area. Everything contained a steroid: cortisone or hydrocortisone. Upon seeking assistance in dermatologists’ offices, we were loaded with topical steroid and antibiotic cream combinations or even oral medicines of similar content.
She began researching natural ways to treat and heal dermatitis. The end-product became the start of Thomas Therapeutics which was “not only moisturizing and hydrating but also anti-itch—allowing the skin to heal itself,” she said.
“There are several ways to decrease inflammation naturally, to decrease itch naturally and give skin its integrity back and balance its moisture,” she said.
She knew nature worked and botanical extract would stop inflammation. To that end, Thomas Therapeutics’s line of products are blended to decrease the discomfort of irritated, dry skin. “They decrease inflammation and itch. They allow the skin to heal itself,” she said.
With her microscope and research nearby, White–who is affectionately called Sensitive Skin Scientist–said she is at home in the organized chaos of her innovations lab. “(It is) where I belong. I am a problem solver and that is where I solve them.”
Even during the COVID-crisis, White stayed true to her focus. “While I am a soap maker, I did not jump to make hand sanitizers and other gimmicky products. I felt like it was just feeding into the fearmongering and taking advantage of what little was known versus what we did not know about the virus at the time. As a direct result, I had very slow sales during the beginning of the pandemic.”
“It gave me time to pause. It gave me time to reflect on where my business was going and whether I wanted to continue to have a business at all.” White said she learned to maintain discipline in all things and that feeling an emotion is a choice. “I am learning to take cues from my surroundings. I listen to my body. I listen to the Creator and creation. This has become an important practice for me simply because these are constants.”
Then, White’s mission expanded into Black Women’s Wellness, a social network for women across the world.
Jozef Syndicate: We evolve, and life circumstances shape us. Was there an event that shifted your journey?
White: The entire COVID-19 experience has shifted my journey and changed my trajectory. Between 2019 and now, we have experienced a global pandemic on a scale never before seen. In the Fall of 2020, I’d become fed up with “Say Her Name” and “I Can’t Breathe.” I was tired of being locked away with my outlets to the outside world telling me that this was no safe space to be Black or especially, a Black woman.
I participated in a virtual panel discussion on hair and skin health with the Urban League of Louisiana Young Professionals of New Orleans and was granted the ability to network online. But I felt there was something more that had to be done. It was too much to endure alone in my office or alone in my home. Feelings of rage, exhaustion, anger, and hurt were common to me. And I knew that other Black women felt them, too.
Jozef Syndicate: What did you do as a result?
White: In September of that year, I set up the inaugural Black Women’s Wellness Panel. I had experts in mental health, nutrition, financial health, maternal health, and even spiritual health. We logged on to the virtual platform the evening that a hurricane was actually terrorizing Baton Rouge. Reception and connectivity were horrible, but we trudged through a discussion on why we all of us were feeling these emotions. The differences that we had long been trained to hide were being revealed.
We talked about code-switching and professionalism, we talked about our hair and professionalism. We discussed the violence against us and our people. And in the end, we prayed a little, we meditated a little, and I think we felt a small sense of relief because we’d created a safe space for those discussions to occur. My mission was no longer just about skin health but also skin color. The ultimate goal is to breed confidence.
Jozef Syndicate: What has your journey been like that has led you to this day? Why is there a need for BWW?
White: In my personal journey, I have had to deal with feeling “less than.” I was never liked as a child—too dark to be a pretty or even a girl. I was a depressed child. Dark skin and even darker patches where eczema left its scars, oozing plaques that had yet to heal. I even had eczema at the corners of my mouth, making it painful and unsightly (in my own opinion) to smile. My hair was frizzy and natural until maybe middle school.
I remember the hot combs, curling irons, and rollers that marked holidays, school picture days, and other special occasions. I hated my hair. I hated my skin. I didn’t like myself. At every point of self-acceptance, there was a rebuttal from my father, but my mother and grandmother would build me up.
White: Black Women’s Wellness began because I realized that my childhood was not an anomaly. We need safe spaces for these discussions. We tiptoe around white fragility, racism, and inferiority complexes. We need spaces where explanations are neither required nor desired. We need spaces where Black women are beautiful in all of our shades, shapes, and sizes. So, I am creating that space. Black Women’s Wellness events evoke meaningful discussion, provide delicious healthy meals, and promote rest among a group that is so often overwhelmed, overextended, and overwrought.
Jozef Syndicate: What would you desire others to remember about you?
White: I would like to be remembered for my lineage and how I have made them proud. I would like to be remembered for the supportive roles I’ve played in the lives of friends and family.