Green Beauty Directory Interviews Our Founder
A new reviewer emerged recently in the ever-energizing Instagram organic-beauty circles: Neige @greenbeautydirectory. Neige has been surprising the community with her library studies of the origins of natural beauty industry (see her post from March 27th, 2018) and with her soulful hand-painted illustrations of gems from skin care lines she admires (the illustration of Yasuni Face Balm tied to this blog post and of Nap in the Meadow Face Serum, older packaging, are both rendered by Neige).
Here is a little bit from Neige about her passion around the organic beauty zone. Read on for a transcript of her interview with Ava (originally published on @greenbeautydirectory's Instagram page on May 22, 2018).
Earthwise Beauty: You have an interesting background: a photographer, visual artist, professional translator. How did you also become fascinated with organic beauty?
Neige: In my early 20's I started to suffer from acne. At first I thought it would pass by itself, and when it didn't I tried conventional treatments. After several years went by without any improvement, I became frustrated. I had always been interested in phytotherapy and aromatherapy, so I started investigating to see if I could find something that would help me. At first I couldn't find anything convincing, but then about four years ago I came across an article about some of the early Green Beauty brands, and it instantly sparked my interest.
Earthwise Beauty: You don't seem to pay attention to the newest, most exciting, or most promising skin care products, but you have taken a lot of time to dig deeper into the history of natural beauty. And you seem to know more than the average reviewer about the founders and formulators behind the companies you are most interested in. Tell us why you go deeper, what you are learning, and what you are trying to convey to your readers.
Neige: I am very curious, and when something interests me I want to know everything there is to know about it. So when I discovered the green beauty movement, I looked at every brand available. I started comparing products, including making excel spreadsheets to compare ingredient lists, researching individual ingredients etc. I really wanted to understand why products had been formulated in a certain way, which ingredients would work for me and why. At first, whenever I had some free time I would be researching something. After several years, I started to realize maybe some of it could be helpful to other people. Because I had spent so much time going from brands websites to look at products ingredient list's to Instagram or blogs to find reviews, I thought it could be helpful to make that information available in one place. This is when I thought about putting together product series, which was the idea that lead me to start my Instagram page. To my surprise it has blossomed into much more since then, but this was the starting point.
I soon realized that I wanted to use my platform to shine a light on small-batch-handmade-independent brands with a lot of integrity when it comes to their formulations and their ingredient sourcing process. But it wouldn't be enough if this movement was alternative only in the ingredients it uses, and this is why I really appreciate the fact that many brands try to do business differently: being fully transparent, occasionally praising competitors, and not relying on false claims or unattainable beauty ideals to sell their products.
May 3, 2018
Neige: When you launched Earthwise Beauty in 2005, there were very few clean/natural skincare brands on the market... What were the first years like for you?
Ava: I launched Earthwise Beauty when we lived in the artistically explosive and ever inspiring Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Even in 2005, there were already a few Whole Foods Markets in Manhattan that I visited a few times a week, and I often shopped in New York City’s well-stocked health food stores for my organic grocery items. Visiting those stores gave me an idea of what styles of skin care products were already available, and what styles were not at all available. I quickly saw that while ingredient list purity standards were high at Whole Foods, there was still plenty of room for interesting products with surprising or novel scents and textures, and many of the most effective skin-healing botanicals were barely ever included, which could have been because the formulators were chemists, not herbalists.
Neige: One of the things you are known for is your ability to craft efficient yet subtle formulas, so would you tell us what is your formulation process like?
Ava: The formulation process has evolved over the years, and it is probably still evolving. I test a lot of ingredients from many suppliers and from our own wildcrafted or organically grown herbs and flowers. There are ingredients that come into fashion and quickly become considered close to miraculous, but if for any reason these ingredients do not deliver visible and substantial results in my tests, I don’t include them in my final formulas. My inspiration usually comes from an ingredient, a particular specimen of an essential oil or carrier oil that either has skin care properties that I particularly like, or, more often, that has an energy, texture, and color that I find bewitching and unique. The rough idea for a product is born when I become aware of a customer’s skin need through reading comments on our Instagram page and the e-mails we receive from customers. It only makes sense to me to create a new product if there is an unmet need.
I then proceed to make test runs, keeping the initial goal for the skin need in mind. On the basis of this need, I choose complementary ingredients for the formula. I continue testing different combinations, first to achieve the results I am after, and then to refine the scent and color where possible. I never start with a firm idea for a color or scent, because then I can never create a perfect healing formula. I can have a lovely, doable idea for an irresistible lip balm in ivory color, but if the ingredients that deliver the most healing to the lips are brown, red, orange, or green, I would not want to be limited and have to exclude them.
If it makes it sound easy, I will add that there is the invisible layer of accumulated knowledge and experience that forms a foundation of my work, including the many books I have read on Western and traditional Chinese herbalism, medical aromatherapy, natural perfumery, flower essences, and nutrition.
Neige: Once a product is formulated, how do you test it?
Ava: We test the many test runs on ourselves, I test on myself over a long term in different seasons and, ideally, on trips, and our employees are happy to volunteer. At times I send testers to friends or family members if I know someone has a skin type I would like to test the sample on or the person lives in a climate I would like to test the sample in.
Neige: In order to have an insight into what goes on behind the scene, would you tell us what a typical workday looks like for you?
Ava: Our business is entrepreneurial; we are a small team of four women who each have very broad job descriptions. I guide our team and also have my own tasks, which vary depending on the day—some days it can be more time spent in the studio making product batches or test runs, and on other days I spend more time at the computer advising customers about the best product options for their skin needs, researching ingredient suppliers and ordering our ingredients, and also writing our Instagram posts.
Neige: You are from Poland, you have been living in the US for a long time, and I believe your husband is from China... what differences have you noticed regarding the "beauty habits" in these countries?
Ava: In both Poland and China, there are groups of skin care aficionados who are very interested in natural and organic products that deliver results and overall are enjoyable to pamper oneself with. In both of these older cultures, I see less focus on the perfection of the products they try, and a general fearlessness around new products, new ingredients, and new ways of using skincare, such as blending two products together before applying. In the United States, we have a younger culture and many of our customers are very young women who are more vulnerable to marketing messages that make them feel unintelligent, inferior, or helpless. Here we get more inquiries from prospective customers who are timid to play with new products, to experiment, and I feel that my big task is to encourage these women and men to follow their own intelligence, to learn to trust their own wisdom. I have experienced a lot of support for what I do from our families in Poland and in China, and as a company, we have had tremendous support in our mission in particular from abroad, from many countries in Europe, from Australia, from India, and from China, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Neige: Traditional Chinese medicine is renowned for its incredible knowledge of herbs and plants... have you discovered any remedies or plants' uses through your husband and/or his family?
Ava: I have discovered many uses, but they are primarily for internal use as herbal teas, and sometimes herbs are added to soups. It has been a fascinating discovery, and over the years I have begun making more and more connections with herbalists, acupuncturists, and tea experts from China and in China. I hope to visit China in the fall of 2018 and this time learn more about high-end Chinese black, puerh, and green teas.
Neige: You have a new balm launching soon, can you talk to us about it, and how it differs from Tigress?
Ava: Our Yasuni balm is fully developed, yet for many reasons we were delayed in launching it. I do hope it will happen in May or June 2018. Yasuni is a face balm that is slightly lighter than Tigress, is noncomedogenic, and does not include essential oils. Its main action is exfoliating with fruit enzymes, which is of particular benefit to oily, blackhead-prone, and hyperpigmentation-prone skin types. It lightens the skin and controls oil throughout the day, leading to fewer breakouts, less congested pores, and fewer blackheads.
Neige: How would you suggest to integrate it into a routine along your other products?
Ava: We will be recommending Yasuni for use on the oily or blackhead-prone areas as the final skincare layer (or before sunscreen). For some customers, excessive oil production happens more during the day, and for others at night. For some, all over the face, and for others on their cheeks or on the T-zone only. Many customers who want a very light balm as their daily moisturizer (instead of an oil or an emulsion) will enjoy Yasuni in the warmer months as their only product over one of our aloe-based serums.
Neige: Earthwise Beauty products will soon have a different packaging, what inspired that change?
Ava: With more and more retail stores carrying our line, we needed to switch to a packaging that is fully light-proof, to protect the precious contents from light damage and to extend the freshness period. We also wanted to respond to customers’ need for the more streamlined, modern look that is current right now. We are a group of visual, artistic types and have always wanted beautiful designs for our line, but we needed to wait until our company savings allowed us to invest in the expensive new packaging. We are finally able to make it happen.
Neige: You have recently created a second company, Pacific Northwest Essences. When did you first become interested by flower and gem essences and why did you decide to create PNW?
Ava: I first became interested in flower essences after I saw a few other companies use them as ingredients. I was intrigued because until that time, the elusive vibrational energy that I wanted our products to have was a big mystery to me. I didn’t know it back then, but even without flower or gem essences, our products, because of the way they were sourced and made, had always been vibrational. Once I entered the field of flower essences, I saw that to understand it, I needed to study to become a certified essence practitioner. This field has become very fascinating to me as it furthers my knowledge and experience as an herbalist working with private clients. A dedicated web site that allows me to share flower and gem essences for internal use as herbal remedies, often custom formulas for specific concerns, was a natural next step.
Neige: I initially launched this page with picky skins, especially acne-prone skins (like mine!) in mind, and as we all know, acne can rarely be improved exclusively thanks to skincare... do you have any advice/trick you could share with us?
Ava: There is a method that is highly effective and it sounds simple: find an experienced Chinese acupuncturist who is very good at custom herbal formulas (I suggest combining acupuncture treatments with an herbal treatment). I usually suggest that customers look for an acupuncturist who was fully trained in China and then emigrated to their country of residence. Some acupuncturists trained in the United States can be very good as well, but I have experienced that the skill level varies a lot in this group. Many Chinese herbalists use the so-called patent herbal formulas, which are herbal formulas in the form of pills and capsules, and others have received the special training to prescribe custom formulas as loose or granulated herbs. I have had success with patent formulas here and there, but I particularly recommend the targeted custom. Many skin disorders, whether acne, eczema, or psoriasis, come from within; they are a reflection of the internal organs being out of balance or overburdened. Topical products will often help, but they won’t heal the issue permanently or fully. What is great about Chinese medicine is that it is a system we can learn from and make a bigger impact on our skin and our health on our own. For example, if the acupuncturist reports we have what is called “toxic heat” (which is excess heat in the body that manifests as inflammation, excessive sweating, headaches, and acne or other skin issues with redness), we can do some reading on our own and implement more cooling and detoxifying foods and teas. Over time, we gain a sense of understanding about our own body rather than be mystified and puzzled by its actions.
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