ictoria Rak was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on Feb. 6, 2017, and, like most patients, she felt uncomfortable when she lost her body hair to chemotherapy.
“I felt vulnerable almost,” Rak said. “It made me more of aware of what I was putting on my skin. I felt my skin was naked. I discovered a world of ingredients I did not want to put on my body.”
So, the Cave Creek resident decided to make products herself—and Cheekiesoaps was born.
“I started watching YouTube videos, reading stories online and doing all this research,” she said. “I made artisan soap. I wanted it to be healthy.
“I knew when I was going through chemotherapy that I wanted to live. Everything that is alive wants to live. So, I didn’t want any of the ingredients to be tested on animals. I did not want any animal ingredients in my products. It would defeat the purpose of what I was doing.”
Rak said she was proud when her products were Leaping Bunny Certified, the gold-standard in cruelty-free certification for personal care and household product companies. It signifies that she never uses animal ingredients or animal testing.
Another key to Cheekiesoaps is it moisturizes, Rak said. She adds butters to her products because the Arizona sun and heat can dry out the skin.
“I literally could write my name in my skin,” she said about the dryness of her skin. “I added butters and I really did a lot of research on each individual ingredient.
“I made a soap that’s really nice. My family asked me to make more. I have a 19-year-old daughter who loves it. That’s where Cheekiesoaps was born.”
The word “cheekie” reflects Rak’s heritage. “Cheeky” is British slang for playful and amusing. Rak hails from northern England, and has lived in the United States since 1984.
Rak’s “day job” is as a commercial pet product photographer. A self-proclaimed “dog lover,” she made a natural clay soap for dogs, too.
“I decided that I wanted my dogs to have the very best as well,” Rak said.
“So, an all-around natural bar soap for dogs was born. It has been an incredible addition to the Cheekiesoaps brand. It’s extremely popular and I find it hard to keep it in stock, which makes me so happy. If you think human products have a lot of harmful ingredients, you should check out what’s in your dog products.”
Through Instagram and emails, Rak was asked to make lotion, so she recently expanded her line to include that. The $20 moisturizing lotion comes in scents like sweet pea, cactus blossom, energy, white Christmas, cool citrus basil, berry vanilla, peach and pretty in pink. A lotion without scent—naked—is also available. She plans to launch bath bombs and body butters soon.
“Everybody was asking if I could make lotion,” Rak said. “It sold out in two hours. I ended up making more lotion.”
Rak’s products are truly popular, as she has a 56% return rate.
“I have a lot of very loyal customers,” she said. “I have some soap addicts and Cheekiesoap addicts. They have to have it when something new comes out. People give my products as gifts, which is incredibly humbling.”
Rak’s Doberman Pinscher, Iso, played a part in her cancer journey. Iso usually visited her in the bathroom, sniffed her and made eye contact. Suddenly, Iso didn’t want to sit with her and she retreated to a living room corner.
“I just thought it was really bizarre behavior,” said Rak, who has been photographing since 2004. “I’m good with dogs and animals. I can read them a little bit more than the average person.
“I went to four doctors for my digestive issues, but I made this connection with my dog. I thought something was wrong.”
She was diagnosed with gas pains, initially. One doctor even said her tumor was a “gas bubble.” Ovarian cancer, Rak said, mimics digestive issues. Eventually, she was diagnosed correctly, but only during surgery.
The 14-centimeter tumor was on her right ovary, which was attached to her left pelvis. She needed to undergo chemotherapy because the tumor was stage 1C—C because it ruptured.
The soaps help her relax and feel good about herself after a harrowing cancer diagnosis.
“It was rough for me for some time,” she said. “I think the soap helps me tap into my creativity. Having these people love my product so much and that they’re gifting it to other people is really, really sweet.
“I’ve met so many soapers who are in it for the money. Of course, we all want to make money, but I feel like skin care is very important and we should all be able to afford it—no matter where they are in life. I want everybody to be able to have good, clean, healthy skin.”