Happily Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Being in good health goes beyond having swift blood circulation and sturdy bones. Human health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Being in tip top shape means being at your best in mind, body and spirit.

Angela Akinpelu, PA-C, a holistic-minded Physician Assistant in Accokeek, Maryland, takes this multifaceted definition of health to heart. In addition to practicing obstetrics and gynecology, she also runs Soytopia, a provider of nature-based, health-conscious bath and body products and spa services.

“With my background being in medicine, and with the strong history of breast cancer for the women in my family, I’ve always strongly encouraged women to put things both on and in their bodies that are good for them,” Akinpelu said. “Natural solutions have always been a passion for me. Both my husband, David Akinpelu, a doctor of internal medicine, and I have always pursued natural treatments – long before they became more common.”

Girl on Fire
Akinpelu has never met a challenge she didn’t face head on. Perhaps it’s because a lot was expected of her before she even entered this world.

“I’m the firstborn, and my dad was hoping for a son,” Akinpelu, who has lived in Maryland for most of her life, said. “Since he never ended up having a boy, I was that son he never had. I was the plumber, the electrician, the mechanic…I did everything.”

Through it all, she always knew she’d enter the medical field in some capacity, going so far as to volunteer at a dental clinic as a teenager. And she hasn’t slowed down since.

“I started as a dental assistant volunteer in high school and continued from there,” Akinpelu said. “I was a professional dental assistant for more than 25 years. After helping my husband get his internal medical practice off the ground in 2006, I knew I wanted to go back for a graduate degree in the medical field.”

Akinpelu had long assumed she would go to dental school, but then decided to pursue a different route – one that opened her up to a whole new world of overall wellness knowledge.

“Originally, I didn’t know much about physician assistants (PAs), but my husband had always worked with a lot of mid-level health practitioners,” Akinpelu said. “As I was thinking about next steps, my husband suggested PA school. I was accepted, looked into the program, and it seemed exactly like something I’d love. The beauty of being a PA is that we have very broad training; we learn about every type of medicine: Orthopedics, psychiatry, emergency medicine, et cetera.”

Proving that any age is the right phase of life to pursue excellence, Akinpelu left her comfort zone for an intensive two-year PA program.

“I finished PA school in 2012, when I was 45 years old,” Akinpelu said. “I graduated summa cum laude from University of Maryland Eastern Shore.”

Now, she practices obstetrics and gynecology – often assisting in cesarean sections and gynecologic surgeries – at University of Maryland Capital Region Health Center.

Flaming Her Passion
Before entering PA school, Akinpelu – a mother of four and grandmother of two – discovered her passion for candle-making. It was a sweet release from the day-to-day stress of her jam-packed life.

“For fun, I would make candles with groups of children, primarily preteen girls,” she said. “I’ve always been a crafty person, and have tried everything: sewing, knitting, macramé. As I started making more candles, I realized this was something I loved to do, and that I could make a business out of it.”

In 2007, she started producing and selling soy-based candles through her new business, NightinGail Candle Studio.

“I learned that traditional candles, those with paraffin as a base, emit more than 20 toxins,” Akinpelu said. “NightinGail Candle Studios was born when I started making soy candles. Nowadays, it’s not so hard to find soy candles, but they were harder to find at first. I try to come up with sophisticated fragrances that may not be what you find on the shelves of everyday stores.”

It wasn’t as easy as it seemed, either, which was part of the allure for Akinpelu.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting scents to mix well,” she said. “Soy candles are finicky –it’s hard to get them just right. The whole process is really not as simple as melting wax, putting a wick in, and burning it. That’s why I’ve always liked it.”

After Graduation and Beyond Soy
As immersed as Akinpelu was in her PA school studies for those two years, she didn’t lose sight of what would ultimately become Soytopia.

“Right before PA school, I became interested in making natural bath and body products,” she said. “I picked it up again shortly after school. I added that to my line, and then turned NightinGail Candle Studio into Soytopia.”

“I use fair trade products, which means that the women who grow and harvest the natural raw materials are paid fairly for their labor,” she said. “Fair trade ingredients go into making many of my products: the best body butter in the world, sugar scrub, lotion, lip balm, the list goes on.”

Everything Akinpelu makes is plant-based, and many of her products are made with fair trade ingredients. As a result, people can enjoy Soytopia products in good conscience.

Despite the name of the business, Soytopia offers products – from candles to soaps to lotions – made of more than just soy, too.

“I’m all about making something safe that burns cleanly and smells wonderful,” Akinpelu said. “So now I use a combination of natural oils and butters: coconut, soy and palm wax. Also, all of my bath and body products are plant based, so I use a lot of natural oils and butters for those too. I use the best shea butter ever from West Africa.”

Everything Akinpelu makes is plant-based, and many of her products are made with fair trade ingredients. As a result, people can enjoy Soytopia products in good conscience.

“I use fair trade products, which means that the women who grow and harvest the natural raw materials are paid fairly for their labor,” she said. “Fair trade ingredients go into making many of my products: the best body butter in the world, sugar scrub, lotion, lip balm, the list goes on.”

As she diligently grows both Soytopia’s offerings and its customer base, she finds everything about the business cathartic.

“I have about eight to ten candle scents going at a time, and I’m constantly trying to make the concoction better,” she said. “The same goes for all the other products I make. It can take a month or so to get fragrance just right. A lotion or cream can take six, seven months of development before it’s just right. Still, I find the whole process very relaxing, with dozens of jars out on the counter and making everything. Everything is done by hand: the way it’s poured, assembled, labeled, boxed, designed, and decorated.”

Happily burning the candle at both ends
Between two 24-hour hospital shifts a week and seeing patients at her husband’s home-based medical practice, Akinpelu creates and sells hundreds of products to fuel relaxation.

“When I’m not sleeping or working in the hospital or with my family, it’s Soytopia,” Akinpelu said. “Eventually, I’d like to combine it all. Through our practice, my husband and I now treat neck and low back pain through non-invasive procedures – no pain meds, no needles, no surgery. It’s a smaller practice now than it used to be, and we selectively see patients that we established over the years. Ultimately, though, I want to be able to combine the medical practice with Soytopia – the ultimate medical spa – and do that full-time.”

Dr. David Akinpelu also sees that kind of merged future for Soytopia and their medical practice.

“Everything we do is to address that broader definition of health set forth by the WHO,” Dr. Akinpelu explained. “Aromatherapy would be one of those ways to do that. For instance, relaxation techniques are very important in addressing musculoskeletal disorders and spa therapy helps with that. Both chronic pain and neck and back conditions require a very relaxing atmosphere for patients to get the desired effects of therapy. This is one reason why Soytopia has the potential to really take on a life of its own.”

For now, people can purchase Soytopia products online, at special events, and at spa parties hosted in clients’ own homes.

“We have developed a way of doing the parties through a direct selling/party plan model similar to Mary Kay and Avon models,” Angela explained. “However, we have a very unique twist. When we go out to peoples’ home and do the spa parties, it’s a complete immersive experience: the clients are literally pampered from head to toe. Additionally, the hostess is rewarded with free products and discounts based on sales at her party.”

Through Soytopia, people can also experience oasis on the Potomac River, through what the Akinpelus call “spa cruises” aboard Etiquette, a 40-foot yacht docked along the southwest waterfront of Washington, DC.

No matter how much or how quickly Soytopia grows, Akinpelu insists that everything will always be about empowering women.

“Soytopia has a three-part goal,” she said. “One, to educate women on what to put into and on their bodies. Secondly, I want to help women to become financially independent, which is why I have Soytopia set up as a way that women can actually demonstrate products for themselves, through spa parties, and to earn income. Third, I always want to keep everything handmade. I plan on continuing to teach other women how to make the products, and one day, I’d love to have full scale production in multiple states with women helping to get the products nationwide.”

To learn more, visit www.soytopiaspa.com.