Tinos Reading List – 2019 Edition

One of my biggest pleasures on vacation is the ability to read during the day for hours on end. I try to consume a book every day or two. Fiction, non-fiction, recently published books, older publications. Always paper books – no e-book for me, even though it does mean all of these traveled in my suitcase from DC to Tinos, via Geneva. 

Here is my (very ambitious) reading list for this year’s time in Tinos. 

Bad Blood by Jon Carreyrou. I have been fascinated by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos for as long as I can remember, thinking of her as an example of what a woman entrepreneur can accomplish. Her company’s demise makes her all that more fascinating to me. And this book reads like fiction – and is the perfect example of reality being stranger (and more stressful!) than fiction. 

The Next Girl; Her Pretty Bones; and Her Final Hour by Carla Kovach. These three will be my guilty pleasures, crime thrillers that will be hard to put down. 

Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing by George Cloutier. I have been meaning to read this for some time after my husband gave it to me as a reminder that while a company’s mission is everything, profits make the mission possible. 

The Naked Truth by Leslie Morgan. This is our next Book Club book, a memoir of a woman in her 50s who gets divorced and decides to actively date for a year to get over her sorrows. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear. My friend Jenny gave me this book as she knows one of my favorites is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I can’t wait to dive into this one! 

Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham. A Brigadoon-recommended book, these never disappoint. 

Building a Great Business by Ari Weinszweig. Adam Ross, co-founder of Heyday, with whom I enjoy trading book recommendations, said this was the best book he read in 2018. “Unconventional, but awesome,” I believe were his exact words. 

Le Prophète by Khalil Gibran. My sister Cyrille gave me this book (one of her personal favorites) last week. I guess she thought I needed to add something less prosaic than all my business books to my reading list…  

Le Nouveau Féminimse by Barbara Polla. It’s not a Tinos reading list without my Mom’s latest non-fiction… and this one will be quite the controversial read. 

What are you reading this summer? 

Vacay…

Vacation. Vacay. Vacances. A magical word.

In three days, I will be on vacation. Every year, I take the last week of June and the first week of July off and head to a tiny island in Greece with limited wifi, more churches than people, and good Raki. There, I rest and prepare myself for the second half of the calendar year. I read. I think. I sleep. I swim. I watch the sunset. Sometimes I watch the sunrise. I eat Greek salads. I drink rosé. I nap. I do nothing. I work (some).

In 2017, Americans gave up 212 million days off in 2017 ($62.2 billion in lost benefits). This year, 39 million Americans won’t take a summer vacation. I get it, taking time off is not really how I am wired. I have learned, however, that vacation is necessary. It is part of health care, part of self-care. It is not an indulgence, but something that makes me better at my job (CNBC and USA Today). 

Pre-vacation benefits:

“Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we get done the day before vacation?” (Zig Ziglar)

  • Knowing I am about to be on vacation is a great motivator – almost like I am giving myself an ultimatum. This week I completed two projects that I have been procrastinating on (one of them for 3 months) because I didn’t want to have them weigh on me during my time off.
  • Knowing I am about to be on summer vacation also has positive self-care consequences – I have been eating better (because bikini…) and got my second pedicure of the year because of my upcoming trip.

Vacation benefits:

“A proper vacation does three things. It takes you away from the stresses and demands of your daily life; it gives your body time to heal and rejuvenate, and it invigorates your mind by returning you to your normal rhythm.” (Sage Wilcox)

  • Sleeping. Being constantly sleep deprived, I have a rule to sleep 10 hours minimum every night while on vacation.
  • Daydreaming. I actually let my mind wander, I create space and time in my brain for new thinking, new ideas, more creativity.
  • Exercising. I swim every day in the clear, cold, salty sea, which is good for my body and my soul.
  • Being. I try to disconnect and to not be constantly attached to my devices. This year, I will try harder.

The post-vacation benefits are real. If you don’t believe me, trust the experts: “We know that when people can rest, relax, recharge, there’s a ripple effect of benefits in terms of productivity, creativity, and collaboration when they return to work.” (Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glass Door), and studies show that vacation has proven benefits, including alleviating burnout and making employees more resilient and better able to cope with stress upon their return.

I will come back from Greece refreshed, reenergized, remotivated, more creative, and more productive, ready and excited for the rest of 2019.

Formulations + Facts + Father’s Day

There it was.

Staring at me like a bad pimple on my face before a hot date.

A text message from a dear, longtime friend, who is smart, well-educated, and a loyal Alchimie Forever fan from the start, asking me about the nitty gritty of cosmetic ingredients and formulations.

I couldn’t blame her for her questions – our customers are peppered daily with falsehoods, misinformation, over-marketed wellness hype, and urban myths about cosmetic ingredients and formulations.

Sunscreen in your blood. Hand-made products. Home-made SPF. Not enough regulation. Natural. Clean. Organic. US FDA versus European regulatory standards… the list goes on and on and on. 

Our industry is overwhelmed by perspectives, opinions, truths, facts, half-facts, non-facts, and confusing verbiage. 

Her questions – which admittedly, sounded a bit like accusations to me – inspired me to pull back the curtain and post a deep-dive blog.

So, here it goes: My professional thoughts as an executive and as a consumer on the subject of cosmetic ingredients, formulations, and being environmentally mindful…

As many of you know, Alchimie Forever is the brainchild of a world-class dermatologist based in Switzerland who also happens to be my father. He is a Western-trained medical doctor with 40+ years of experience. He believes that both (some) lab-made synthetics and (some) botanicals are safe and effective for use in skin care. This harmony between the best synthetics and the best botanicals is at the core of our formulation strategy.

From the start, Alchimie Forever has been about safety and efficacy over source.

We position our brand as clean and clinical, which I understand are over-used words and may mean different things to different people. Same with “natural,” “organic,” “active,” “cosmeceutical,” “biodynamic,” “non-toxic,” and most words brands are using to market their positioning for consumers. 

Still, Alchimie Forever is transparent, authentic, and accountable to science. 

In an attempt to clarify how we develop our products, and how our formulations have evolved over the years, here are some facts:

We strive to make our products as efficacious and as pure as possible – recognizing that the body of knowledge in our industry evolves and changes. 

We manufacture most of our products in the US, with a couple products still being made in Switzerland, because of the complexity of those formulae.

We sell in European countries, and as such abide by the European and Swiss FDA-equivalents, and REACH regulation (meaning we do not use the 1,000+ ingredients prohibited by European cosmetics regulatory bodies).

We are vegan.

We are cruelty-free, certified by PETA and Leaping Bunny. (As a side note, animal testing in cosmetics is prohibited by European regulatory bodies – on both ingredients and finished products).

We are paraben-free. Our formulations contained parabens initially, so we decided to reformulate our products without these molecules. It took us over five years to remove parabens from all of our formulas. We replaced parabens with Benzyl Alcohol, Benzoic Acid, Sorbic Acid, Chlorephenesin, or Phenoxyethanol, which are effective preservatives that are overall not as controversial.

We strongly believe that an effective preservative system is key to safe cosmetics formulations.

We are gluten-free.

We are soy-free.

We are free of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

We are dye-free.

We are nut-free.

Some other ingredients we do not use include iron oxides, aluminum, kojic acid, triclosan, hydroquinone, mineral oil, propylene glycol, formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasers, anything in nano-particles.

Four of our products are rated by Think Dirty, with a score of “Clean” (0-3), with more to come.

We are working with EWG to update our ingredient listings on their website. Much of the Alchimie Forever information listed is outdated (for example, some of our formulations are still listed as containing parabens, which is no longer the case).

We are working to remove Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs) from our formulations. These ingredients are used as emulsifiers and have started to be controversial in cosmetics as they may contain harmful impurities such as 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogen. Our PEGs are certified as pure and free of such impurities, yet we are committed to replacing them with cleaner alternatives.

We use sulfates in our Purifying gel cleanser, specifically Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Laureth-8 Sulfate (we do not use Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). We are working on this formulation to remove sulfates while maintaining the lovely sudsy texture our customers love. For consumers who prefer a sulfate-free cleanser, we currently offer our Gentle cream cleanser which is sulfate-free.

Our Protective day cream SPF 23 uses a blend of chemical screens. We do not use (and have never used) oxybenzone or octinoxate, which are the chemicals seen as being harmful to reefs. Our Protective day cream SPF 23 is approved in Hawaii and Florida and considered reef-safe. We also hear consumers’ request for a mineral / physical block, and are researching the most current science to fill that need with an elegant, non-greasy, formula adequate for all skin tones.

We use lab-made fragrances, in concentrations below 0.2%. All of our fragrances are certified phtalate-free. We also list any of the 26 fragrance allergens potentially contained in our fragrance formulations (per European regulatory standards).

We, however, do not believe essential oils are an adequate alternative to lab-made fragrances as they are often irritating to the skin.

We work on our carbon footprint and on our packaging.

We, however, do not believe there is a silver bullet in terms of packaging.

Our formulations are concentrated so a little bit goes a long way – meaning you don’t have to repurchase products every few weeks, but rather every couple of months. This helps cut down packaging waste.

We use outer boxes for many of our products, because boxes protect our more delicate formulations from light and heat.

We love glass, yet glass is heavier than plastic, hence requires more energy to ship; it is also a challenge to travel with.

All of our boxes are recyclable, as are all of our inner jars and tubes (except for the pumps of our body product bottles – and we are working on that).

At the end of the day, if none of this has convinced you that our products are, if nothing else, safe for you to use, please know that all four of Dr. Polla’s daughters use Alchimie Forever daily – and have for 10+ years. 

Do you really think our Dad would let us use products that are unhealthy or unsafe in any way? 

I don’t think so. 

Also, Dad, happy Father’s Day. Thanks for your integrity in product formulation. Thanks for your accountability to science and facts. Thanks for your level-headed approach to trends and fads. Thanks for your commitment to wellness and beauty, which keeps me feeling and looking my best.  

WWD Beauty Summit Highlight: Warmth & Competence

Yesterday, I saw a (self-proclaimed) cold-hearted German economist tear up. It was the highlight of the Women’s Wear Daily Beauty Summit!

Organized by the brilliant Jenny B. Fine, this conference brings 400+ beauty executives together to listen to leaders, explore the state of the industry, and network.  

Markus Strobel, President of Global Skin & Personal Care, Procter & Gamble and said cold-hearted German economist, presented a case study on the turnaround of SKII in China.

Any brand, he explained, needs two complementary aspects to be successful:  

  • Warmth. Meaning “what are your intentions?” This is the humanity of the brand.
  • Competence. Meaning “what is your ability to deliver on your promises.” This is the efficacy of the brand.

SKII, he explained, was all competence and no warmth. Indeed, consumers in China perceived the brand’s intentions as “selling us as much products as possible.” Not what the marketing team was going for…  

The team thus set out to bring emotion back into the brand, to relate to the humanity of the consumer, specifically targeting the “leftover woman,” who in China, is a woman over 27 years old and is not married.

The intention of the brand became to give a voice to this “leftover woman,” to see her, to listen to her, to elevate her. And thus, the Change Destiny video campaign was created. With millions of views on YouTube, in China and around the world, this emotional video changed the trajectory of SKII in the Chinese market.  

Yesterday, as the audience watched this video, many teared up in empathy, including said German economist – who admitted: “this one gets me every time… even after watching it 100 times.”

And thus, we were all reminded that we are human, that we crave emotion. Strobel left us with the following insightful question and marketing challenge: “How do you all find the humanity in your brand?”

On The Power of Permission Slips

I have a confession to make. While I love Brené Brown – I heard her speak at Serious Business a few years ago and have appreciated her messages and her Ted Talks ever since – I do not love her books. I struggled through Daring Greatly last year, and I just finally finished struggling through Rising Strong (which I started reading in January).

Yet I am glad I struggled through it – because one of the concepts she mentions really resonated with me: the idea of “Permission slips,” like the ones I used to have to get as a child to be excused from school or gym class…

Per Brown, “permissions slips” are great not just for children, but for adults as well, and are to be used in both personal and professional situations. Permission slips are a great way to establish trust during a group conversation, or if you are using them for yourself, to understand what might get in your way.

Brown mentions for example writing herself a permission slip some time ago: “I wrote my first permission slip on a Post-It note the morning I met Oprah Winfrey for the first time and taped an episode of Super Soul Sunday. It said, ‘Permission to be excited, have fun and be goofy.’” 

I used this concept in a strategic team meeting yesterday, specifically mentioning the following permissions:

  • Permission to engage with emotion
  • Permission to feel both excited and scared
  • Permission to question everything

These set the tone for our meeting, and many questions began with “I need a permission slip…”.

What will you give yourself (or your loved one, your kids, your team members) permission to do and feel today?

The Power of Hand-Written Thank You Notes…

I love to send handwritten notes. Birthday cards (yes, even to adults); “random” notes (sometimes with an article I think will be of interest;) and of course, thank you notes.

One of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received was from my girlfriend Heidi Kallett, former owner of the Dandelion Patch. She gave me 365 thank you cards and envelopes, and the book 365 Thank yous by John Kralik. The cards are long gone, the book is on my bookshelf as a reminder to keep at it.

If you don’t write thank you notes, try it. A hand-written thank you note is an overt act of gratitude, something the world needs more of.

When to send

  • Anytime you open a gift in absence of the giver. Really, anytime you receive a gift.
  • Anytime to are invited to someone’s home for a lunch, dinner, or party.
  • As soon as you can possibly write the note is the most opportune time to send them.
  • Keep in mind it is worse to never send the note than to send it 6 months after receiving a gift. While more timely is better, the time for a thank you note never has lapsed. Not sending a thank you note is always worse.
  • The most memorable thank you notes are thank yous for random acts of kindness, because those are the most unexpected.
  • Anytime you question whether you should or should not send a thank you note, you should send one.
  • There is never a wrong time or occasion to send a thank you note.
  • Always send a thank you note to a prospective employer who has taken the time to interview you.
  • It is always appropriate to send an immediate thank you email, but only in addition to the hand-written note that will follow.

What to say (and what not to say)

  • Always mention something specific about the gift, preferably how or where you are going to use it; this specificity is particularly important if you received a gift card.
  • Remember that even if you do not like the actual gift, you are thanking someone for his or her thoughtfulness and for the fact that they put time and effort into the gift.
  • Never say you won’t enjoy the gift, have a duplicate of the gift, or will never use it. (Yes, this seems obvious, but you would be surprised…)

Modern day rules

  • An email thank you is never a replacement for a hand-written thank you note.
  • Because of the prevalence of email, actually, a hand-written thank you note will have even more of an impact.

Start today. Send one thank you card to someone, just because. And then sit back, and enjoy how it makes you feel, and how it makes the recipient feel.