Thanks, Horst

We’re going to take a time out from a rather lively few days on the site and say thank you to a guy who helped us get here.

Horst Rechelbacher, as most of you likely know, founded the Ayurveda-inspired Aveda many moons ago, in 1978. He went on to become a kind of patron saint of truly-natural beauty long after that, with the launch of Intelligent Nutrients. He was also an activist and an advocate, a researcher and a provocateur, and this week he passed away at the age of 72.

Horst started his first line with the goal of bringing to the rest of us a holistic, natural and luxurious approach to beauty. His formulas were playful. They smelled amazing. They worked. The line was borne by a philosophy that was ahead of its time, taking naturals out of the stinky health food store and giving women an excuse to feel sexy and indulgent in their rituals of personal care—while still doing something ostensibly good for herself and the planet.

I got really into the stuff as a teenager. I wouldn’t have said it at the time, but looking back, it made a scared-of-being-girlie me (don’t ask, I just was) feel like I was kind of becoming a woman. It made me think it was OK to take a little longer in the shower. And for someone who has a nervous hair-smelling tick that tends to present, even to this day, on dates, it also assured me my hair would smell rosemary-mint amazing if someone went in for the kiss.

Yes, the formulas changed when the line got sold, and yes, what I’m saying is extremely earnest right now, but back in the day that line really stirred me. And when I met its founder a couple of years ago, that stirred me even more.

When Alexandra and I were reporting the book, Intelligent Nutrients was already on store shelves, but it was new. We were dying to interview him, and after a few phone calls I’d landed an hour with the guy at his house (an hour! his house!). Day of, I showed up on time but grew concerned when, 20 minutes after I’d arrived, his wife offered to grab me some soup from around the corner. It was going to be a while—Horst was meditating—but the last thing I wanted was soup. I was busy trying to count how many angel statues there were in the room I was sitting in. I was worried about what I’d ask him. I was distracted by how pretty his wife was.

A little bit later, Horst emerged from his roof deck with the bright eyes of a person who’s gone inside for a bit. A couple of minutes after that, he offered me a sip of hairspray.

I took him up on it—”beauty so clean you can drink it!”—and I was bummed when I later learned this was a kind of parlor trick he pulled out on reporters from time to time. But no matter; the stuff tasted pretty good, like a few drops of bitters in some fizzy water, neat. Plus, as far as gimmicks go, this one, at least, got a point across.

What struck me most about my meeting with him, though, wasn’t that it he made me drink hair products. It’s that no matter how much I tried to talk to him about the industry or even the ingredients in his products, he turned the conversation back to the two things that really actually matter in this whole thing: First, how our actions impact the planet as well as our resilient but ultimately human forms; and second, what it means to feel beautiful.

There’s no doubt in my mind Horst cared about the products and the formulas and what works and what doesn’t. But that’s not what he wanted to talk about. He wanted to talk about biodynamic farming and soil integrity, and he wanted to talk (not in a creepy way) about why love and sex make people beautiful, and why happiness and health make us more gorgeous than anything else. These are things that have continued to inform my ideas about health and beauty, and they’re what stood out for me when I met him.

It’s a rare and lucky thing to have a memorable and perspective-shifting conversation with anyone. I feel especially lucky to have had one with him.

So let’s all please wish his family well, and his own spirit well wherever it goes. And as for me, I want to give a little thanks. Great guy. Great-tasting hairspray. And a life that made a big, big difference.

Please feel free to share any thoughts you have about his legacy, or really anything else inspired by what you’ve read here. Just keep it civil, please. Thanks, everyone, and thanks, Horst.

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Consider this a dispatch from the Department of Heavy Lifting.

I’m going to be talking about the antiaging superstars retinoic acid, retinol, and other sources of Vitamin A. Judging from this post in July — and the zillion really smart comments (seriously, read them all—banana peel?!) — I can see I’m not the only one who has been curious about clean alternatives to Retin-A and its many over-the-counter cousins.

Retinoic acid, in case you’ve never read a beauty magazine, is the active ingredient in Retin-A. It’s derived from vitamin A and it’s a very effective antiager — one of the few with actual scientific studies to back it up — for a number of reasons. First, because it triggers your skin cells to turn over more rapidly, which is why it’s a reliable way to reverse UV damage like sun spots, freckles, and discoloration. It also helps your skin hold onto the collagen you have and it helps produce more of it. Since collagen is the structural support of your skin, keeping it elastic and firm, and since our supplies of it dwindle as we get older, this is where the ingredient really earns its stripes.

Of course, as anyone who’s tried the Rx formulas can attest, the stuff is intense.

I, like many other people, have used various prescription versions over the years  — this was before I switched to clean cosmetics — but I stopped after one particular formula burned off my face.* It was initially prescribed to me for acne. Let’s have a show of hands because if you break out and go to a regular derm, I bet some doctor prescribed it to you, too! Or tried to. The thing is, I was still really young at the time, and no wrinkles means no heavy lifting means I have no idea if the stuff actually worked as it was supposed to, and it definitely didn’t help my breakouts.

I knew at the time that retinol was a gentler version of the ingredient, and that in exchange for it not burning off my face it would just take a little longer to work (“work”). I also knew it was available in hundreds of OTC beauty products, but for whatever reason (probably because I was like 26) I never got around to trying one.

But in the back of my head, and because I’m 35 now, I’ve been wanting to find a clean retinol formula to test the promise. My first stop was vitamin A. I’d learned that rosehip oil contains high levels of the vitamin, and I’d heard anecdotally of people seeing amazing results. It seemed the gentler, more natural route but I used the stuff religiously for months and months and I can’t say I saw much of a difference at all. Maybe I was using a bogus product?

My next move was to investigate products by formulators who I know are serious about their science — because we all know that any old company can fairy-dust a little vitamin A into a product, call it an anti-ager, and then rip you off with a promise that doesn’t deliver. Which is why I was so excited to try Marie Veronique Organics’ Pacific Night Serum With Retinol. MVO, which was founded by a former chemistry teacher and chemist, doesn’t mess around when it comes to active formulas, and they do their own clinical trials to test results. (This is standard from the beauty giants but rare in the naturals category because it can cost a fortune in terms of manpower and money, and most companies are too small and/or don’t have the budgets for such things.) Anyway, I saw the clinicals and I was ready to try it.

I’ve been using it now for 7 weeks and I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the lines around my mouth are less pronounced and the fan of wrinkles at the corner of my eyes has filled out a bit. Also, my skin tone is more even (though I’ve seen similar results from brightening treatments, so that wasn’t the big thing here). Obviously, I still have lines, and I always will, and I’m good with that!

I even kind of love the lines around my eyes, but I’m not going to lie and say I’d wouldn’t like to slow down the process of aging skin. That’s why my retinol experiment has been so wowing.

The downsides are that I find it a little drying, which really just means I  need a little more moisturizer, and unlike Retin-A, it’s not covered by insurance (god, imagine?). Which sucks because at $150, I know it’s not for everyone.

Has anyone else tried this puppy? Have you found another clean retinol product you like? How about successes with vitamin-A-rich oils? Share, share.

* I want to acknowledge that there are some really smart cookies in the clean beauty community who think that forcing skin cells to turn over more rapidly with topicals can produce problems in the long run, like rosacea and irritation. And while I have no doubt people have seen this happen in their skin, I personally have not, nor have I found research to support the idea. If you have, weigh in!

A little while back I had a natural-beauty girl date at a restaurant here in New York. It was with Kahina’s founder Katharine who has, over the years, become a friend. If you’ve never met her, here are some things to know: She has an easy laugh, she’s emotionally generous, and she has the envious glow of a woman who seems to love life, love the work she does, and love herself. She just has that thing (and by thing I don’t just mean argan oil, though that probably plays a small part).

(Psst, also. Kahina is our Friday Deal tomorrow, so if you’re going to get this new product or gift it, hold your horses till tomorrow when we reveal the codes.)

That night, she was so excited to tell me about her long-time-coming new product: a body serum. It took some doing because getting the oil mix just right for deep hydration but also a bit of a glow can be tricky when argan oil is the foundation of your line. That’s because argan oil is so incredibly good at absorbing into your skin — as anyone who uses it on their face can tell you — which  means when you apply it alone to your body, especially when the air is super dry, it could leave you a little…wanting.

To get an oil blend that is rich and hydrating without being greasy or clothes-stainy? Not so simple. But leave it to Kahina to figure it out.

The new Kahina Giving Beauty Fez Body Serum is, in a word, delightful. A few of us tried it and agree that it’s amazingly hydrating, but its real selling point is the smell, since you’re going to be wearing it all over you. Here’s what Nicolle had to say:

“I never thought I’d say I loved smelling like cumin and clove, but the FEZ Body Serum has a luxurious, spicy scent that calms and de-stresses. A little on my neck and chest before bed helped me relax and sleep better.”

Mmm. I agree. There’s something very end-of-day to the smell, perfect for unwinding and warming up in cool weather. But I’ve also recently been revisiting some of my books on Ayurveda, and after some recent travel, seasonal change, work stress, and a nasty cold, I came to the conclusion my Vata dosha was out of balance. (Pretty sure my Pitta is wacked too, which is awesome.) Maybe Fez could help?

I was keen to add abyanga back to my daily routine. It’s a kind of self-massage ritual that you perform with therapeutic body oils, and you can find out more about that here if you want to try it (you do!). It can be a bit of a messy pain to do it the old fashioned way, and I wouldn’t want to use up all my oil in one shot. But since Fez has such a warming, soothing fragrance, I thought it would be nice to, post-steamy-shower, apply it, abyanga-style, in slow circular motions starting at my feet.

I did that for a few days and while it’s too soon to know if it’s rebalancing my Vata (LOL),  I can say this: I feel calm, I smell good, and today, anyway, I feel like I’m doing something good for myself.

If that’s not an ideal natural beauty product, I don’t know what is.

What’s your favorite Kahina product? Some other body oil you love? (And any Ayurvedic dosha-balancing tips are welcome, too. Ahem.)

Calling all moms and friends of moms!

We are going to share something a little different here because our dear friend Erika has a delicious six month old, her first born, and she’s learned so much in such a short period of time. Through her pregnancy and now into her experience as a new mom, Erika has blown our minds. She’s also had some days that are harder than others, mainly because however much we, as a culture, focus on pregnancy and birth, everything that happens after is a little less clearcut. When the baby is born there’s…a baby. And a life that needs to be nurtured, even as moms try to do basic things like, you know, eat dinner. Some things proved easier than others.

So she wanted to share her story and we’d also love to hear from you — moms, friends of moms, moms of moms, partners — for what you’ve learned about preparing for the post-birth period, too.

In April of this year, I gave birth to my baby boy. During the course of the pregnancy, I spent a lot of time preparing psychologically, physically and emotionally for labor and birth. However, I hadn’t spent much time planning many of the more practical issues:

How was I going to feed myself (and my soaring metabolism), especially after my husband went back to work? Who was in my day-to-day support group and what kind of help would I need? What kinds of challenges might I face with breastfeeding and were there remedies or helpful products I could stock up on in advance?

I am writing this post because I wanted to share what I learned about the post-birth period. The most important plan I had made for the first forty days after birth was to stay close to my baby and incubate with him. I had read about the first forty days as being a special time for mother and baby across a number of cultures (Mexico, India, and ancient Israel, and even in Kundalini yogic philosophy), and it seemed to coincide with what my doctors were saying about how long it would take to heal physically from birth. But hardly any of the professionals—including the doctors, the doula, the birth class teacher—spoke to me in any depth about what happens after birth.

There was a lot I wish I had known how to plan for, and how to talk about with close family and friends. On the most basic level, for example, I found it really challenging to feed myself. This got easier with time (and with online delivery, god bless) but it seemed way beyond me at first.

I would sit there alone in my apartment, half naked, breastfeeding, and really hungry. I couldn’t even figure out how I was going to get dressed to pay the delivery guy, never mind run downstairs to open the door for him in my third-floor walk-up in Brooklyn. This might seem ridiculous, and even as I write it now, six months later, it makes me laugh, but only because the fog of motherhood is just starting to lift. And in the end, I was grateful for really simple things—visitors who came with a ready-made meal (such as Aunt Siobhan’s snap pea salad!) or even a slice of pizza. Someone to hold the baby while I cooked or ate or showered. Or just someone to look at and talk to other than the baby. A friend of mine, Rachel, has recently started working on helping parents plan the period after birth, too.

So for those of you who, like me, jumped in with your eyes closed and woke up in a pool of spit-up with no one to blame but yourself, here are some things to think about before the big day:

• If possible, fill your freezer with healthy food and set up a meal plan with friends/family.

• Ask someone to help you manage expectations for visitors and well-wishers.

• Prepare chicken stock or beef stock for the first few days after birth. This is especially helpful if you’ve had a Cesarian and you are only allowed to ingest liquids for the first couple of days.

• If you’re planning to breastfeed, do you have the name of a good lactation consultant? Maybe you can meet her before you give birth so you know what to expect and what to buy in advance (my personal go-tos include Lansinoh Lanolin, All Purpose Nipple Ointment (by prescription), Dr. Bronner’s soap to wash any abrasions, and cabbage leaves to ward off infection in the breast—seriously! They work!).

• If you’re planning to pump, you should know that the Affordable Care Act makes it a requirement for your insurance to provide you with a breast pump free of charge.

• Consider whether you will have support for the nights. The sleep deprivation starts to accumulate and it’s important to get help before you lose your rocks. This can be your partner, a close friend, a family member, a postpartum doula, or a night nurse.

• If some of these tips seem hard to plan or unrealistic given your personal circumstances, see if there are any services you can sign up for. A friend of mine, Rachel Weinstein, recently created Wooden Spoon Wellness, to help new parents plan the period after birth. She also offers cooking lessons for partners, drops off nutritious meals for hungry moms (which I devoured throughout my first forty days), and works one on one with women to help them connect with their new bodies.

• Get out of the house every day. Even for a really short period of time, even without taking a shower, even in your pajamas. My commitment to going outside was my own personal lifesaver.

• See if any close friends or family would be willing to come over to help on a fixed schedule (once a week or twice a month, whatever works) so that you can count on the help in advance, instead of having to ask for it in a moment of panic.

Women have been giving birth and raising babies in all kinds of circumstances and communities since time immemorial.  And although it’s the experience we most have in common, it is also the most personal and unique, and sometimes the most challenging. And the most miraculous. Please, share your advice in the comments!

Welcome to our new Monday series! To kick things off, I’m going to empty out my filthy, lipstick- and eye-pencil-stained makeup bag and give you all a peek at the contents (not shown: how sick the actual inside of my bag looks).

Let’s get housekeeping out of the way first: Every week someone new will share what they’re using every day. We’re going to solicit submissions from our favorite green girls, makeup artists, founders of lines we love, and, as always, we want yours, too. If you want to share, send us a note at nomoredirtylooks at gmail dot com with the subject line MAKEUP MONDAYS. Please follow the format below.

Name: Siobhan O’Connor
Age: 34
Where I live: New York
My relationship with makeup: Reformed. Before we wrote the book I hated makeup and barely wore it. It made me feel insecure to even try to line my eyes or find a red that worked on me. These days, it’s functional meets playful. I need to look put-together every day for work. My job doesn’t require makeup, obviously—but it helps. Since I work in magazines, though, I can experiment with really loud lips and dramatic eyes if I feel like it. I can also wear nothing at all if I want to (I don’t, usually).

Here’s what’s in my makeup bag:

Tinted moisturizer: All summer I used Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Repair Tinted CC Cream as my base on top of Suntegrity SPF. It’s a tinted moisturizer and I adore it, but with fall upon us, I reupped on Suki Tinted Active Moisturizer, which has a little more pigment and is more hydrating—perfect for a fall pallor. So that’s in the bag.

Powder: I use it sparingly. I still use Laura Mercier loose minerals in Warm Sand. I use this as a concealer, weirdly enough, on spots or discoloration—but never under my eyes, since powder is dry-looking and can be aging. If I need something to set my tinted foundation, I use RMS’s UnPowder, which gives a matte even look, and is colorless.

Concealer: Under my eyes it’s still RMS “Un” Cover-up, but since I don’t put this  anywhere else on my face (the coconut oil breaks me out), I also use Studio 78‘s little pot of concealer as needed.

Brows: I used to be obsessed with a tinted brow gel from Bobbi Brown. These days, I use Nvey Eco eye shadow Palette 3 to fill in my brows with a firm angled brush. My eyebrows sort of disappear into my face, so once I learned how nice it can look with a more-present eyebrow, I started doing this every day. I combine a few of the colors in the palette, and I use them sparingly.

Eyeliner: I still cheat a lot here with Nars or Maybelline on days when I have big meetings or TV, but for everyday I use Josie Maran’s eyeshadow in Smoke as a liner, or W3LL People‘s eye pencil in Black.

Eyeshadow: This is not an everyday thing for me, but I love W3LL People loose eye shadows as well as RMS shadow in Solar or Karma (or both). Solar really makes my blue eyes pop. The latter lasts less long than the powder formula, but it looks so much prettier than anything else in my bag. Sometimes I use MAC, too, for special occasions.

Mascara: I already outed myself as a mascara cheater, but right now I’ve been using Jane Iredale Longest Lash Thickening Mascara in Black and I like it a lot. Sometimes I layer my Bobbi on top of it.

Nail polish remover: I keep Priti NYC soy polish removers in my bag for on-the-go polish removal. It’s the best one I’ve tried and it works on even the nastiest polishes.

Luminizer: RMS Living Luminizer, obvs.

Lip/cheek: I am obsessed with the new Jane Iredale Pure Moist lipstick in Margi. I found my perfect red. I thought I’d found it before but no chance—this is it. It wears like a stain and lasts hours. I also love RMS in Sacred (amazing) and Smile (sweet), and Vapour in Torch (pow!). Ilia‘s Shell Shock is still my all-day, every-day. I use lipsticks on my face and blushes on my lips.

Etc: Since beauty comes from the inside too (aww),  I always have Tata Harper Anti-Irritability on me, as well as Lotus Wei perfume in Infinite Love and Hope Gillerman Stress Remedy.

Any of my favorites also your favorites? Check back for another one next week!