Dr. Polla (aka Dad’s) top skin care tips

Earlier this Summer, I had the chance to share my Dad’s (aka Dr. Luigi L. Polla, Switzerland’s leading dermatologist) favorite tips about how to age gracefully with consumers and influencers across the country. For those of you whom I did not have the chance to preach in person, I would like to preach in writing… thank you for humoring me.

Here are my Dad’s top dos and don’ts to age more gracefully:

  1. No smoking. Ever. It increases the presence of free radicals in your skin, accelerates aging, gives your skin a leather look, and creates terrible upper lip wrinkles.
  2. No straws. Just don’t do it. These are bad for the environment and bad for your upper lip wrinkles.
  3. Sleep on your back. And yes, you can teach yourself to do it. Even if you sleep half the night on your back, your face and décolleté wrinkles will thank you. (My Dad can always tell how a woman sleeps by looking at her facial wrinkles… deeper on the side you sleep on).
  4. SPF daily. From January 1st to December 31st. When it rains, When it snows. Every. Single. Day. No excuses, no exceptions.
  5. If you’re old enough to drink, you’re old enough for a good anti-aging eye cream. Prevention is key, and the skin around the eyes is so thin it needs more help and earlier help than the rest of our face.
  6. Your face ends on your décolleté. Treat your neck and bust as you do your face, with effective anti-aging products and SPF every day. Nothing is worse than your face saying “I am 37” and your décolleté saying “I am 44.”

What tips would you add to these? I can’t wait to hear!

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.  

What Does Kantic Mean, and Why Do We Use That Word?

If you have been using our products for more than five or six years, you probably remember words such as Nd:YAG, Superpulse, Alexandrite, Q-switch, and one of the most complicated to spell and pronounce, Yttrium. These words are all related to the field of lasers. We loved the idea of highlighting my father’s pioneering role in the field of laser technology (remember, he was the first to introduce lasers for use in dermatology in Europe back in the mid-1980s) by having laser-related words on the packaging.

Feedback from the field suggested that while our idea might have been brilliant and made complete sense to us, our customers were confused. They could not pronounce many of the names. They asked if the Alexandrite product was named such because it was meant to be used after an Alexandrite laser treatment (that would have made sense… but was not the case). So, after many family dinners, internal debates, and a couple of arguments, we made the decision to remove these product names from our packaging and brand verbiage.

We made an exception for the word “Kantic” however. My father was attached to the laser names, and to the idea behind using them, and loved Kantic the most. So, we compromised, and three products still have this laser name – forming the Kantic collection of products:

So what does Kantic mean? Kantic is a “misspelling” of the French word Quantique (we liked the K and the C), which translates as quantum. It comes from quantum physics, which studies how atoms and particles behave, including in the field of lasers. It is true to our heritage and to the pioneering role my father played in the field of laser technology. You can find out more here.

Luckily, Kantic is one of the laser terms that is most easily pronounced (in both French and English).

Luckily, the three products that form the Kantic collection share benefits and appeal to a similar skin type:

  • Anti-aging and antioxidant
  • Nourishing and hydrating
  • Calming and soothing
  • Anti-redness and anti-irritation

And luckily, every year, my father and I get better at debating and compromising.

Our Business Didn’t Start as a Business… Our Origin Story

Alchimie Forever does not exist because one day my father, Dr. Luigi L. Polla, sat at his desk and decided to start a skin care brand.

Alchimie Forever does not exist because a consultant ran focus groups, identified white space in the market, raised some money, and created a business.

Alchimie Forever exists because my father is a softie and can’t stand to see children suffer.

Alchimie Forever exists because 30+ years ago, my father couldn’t find the perfect product to help heal the skin of his young patients post procedure.

Let me tell you our “origin story.” (Thanks, Marc Ross, for teaching me this terminology.)

My father opened his dermatology practice in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986, and was the first dermatologist to offer pulsed dye laser technology to treat children suffering from Port Wine Stains and hemangiomas. Parents brought their children from near and far to have Dad erase these debilitating birthmarks, an endeavor that required numerous treatments over a period of months, sometimes years.

I was already working with my father back then (at the front desk) and I remember hearing the children crying from the pain, as the laser treatment created heat and discomfort, redness and inflammation, and a burning sensation. And if there is something my father can’t stand, it is a child in pain (he switched his medical specialization from pediatrics to dermatology after realizing he could not handle seeing terminally ill children). He needed a product to help make them feel better – to help heal their skin.

Not finding the right product, he created his own “recipe.” He would send his patients’ parents to a neighborhood pharmacy with a compounding prescription, the pharmacist would whip up a magical product in little white jars right there and then, and the child would stop crying. The prescription was for what is known today as our Kantic Brightening moisture mask. This compounded product, meant to help heal the kids’ skin post procedure, smelled so good that the mothers ended up also using it, and asking for more at the follow-up appointment: “it makes my skin glow,” they would say. For their convenience, we ended up “pre-making” the product.

One product led to another, and to another, and finally to the brand that became Alchimie Forever.

Alchimie Forever exists because of what is still our hero product, our Kantic Brightening moisture mask.

Long before this mask had a name, it had a loyal following.

Long before we had a brand, we had skin care solutions.

Long before we had a business, we had a mission.

What Should Our Next Product Be?

The very day I announced that our newest product, our Advanced retinol serum with time-release technology was hitting the shelves, I was asked what our next new product would be. I felt like how I imagine a woman feels who has just given birth being and is asked when she is having another child…

Today, exactly two months post launch, I am ready to think about newness again. Here is what is on top of  my mind – I would love to hear your insights, requests, ideas, and input.

It if were entirely up to me, I would create a facial oil. Of all of the product categories that are represented by other brands in my skin care routine, oils are the most significant as I am always using two or three depending on the day. The Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum may be my favorite of all time (and certainly the most expensive product I have purchased in a long time!). I grew up using Clarins facial oils, which I still use today. I love the oils by Goldfadden MD, Indie Lee, Naturopathica (the carrot oil in particular). Can you tell I have a thing for oils?

Even better, a facial oil in capsules.

And, I love capsules. My Mom used oil capsules on her skin when I was little, and I remember seeing her open one delicately every evening – like it was a treasure of pure liquid gold for her face. She loved an obscure French brand that is no longer in business, and in trying to replicate that memory, I recently purchased the Advanced Ceramide Capsules by Elizabeth Arden. Maybe this purchase also has a little bit to do with my girl crush on Reese Witherspoon? I love opening up those little bubbles of deliciousness and love the feel on my skin, but don’t love the fragrance, or that they contain dimethicone. Could we create an even better product?

Another mask. After all, our Kantic Brightening moisture mask remains our hero product, top seller, and editor favorite, so it would be strategically sound to expand the “mask franchise.” Plus, we have had requests for a mask that is more focused on purifying and detoxifying. (I can tell you it won’t be a sheet mask however, I hate those). The pressure is on  – a second mask would have to be as perfect, as magical, as this first one…

A toner / mist / antioxidant spray. We don’t have a toner in our line because our cleansers are pH balanced to the skin. Having said that, there is something so refreshing about a mist, and it is one of the non Alchimie products I use. I love the Yonka Lotion PS mist that smells like lavender and often use it during travel…

At-home peel pads. Estheticians everywhere love our professional-only Brightening peel. I do too, and I must confess to sometimes using it on myself at home. So it is only natural to think about a “real” at-home version. Yet I have mixed feelings. Can we make better at-home peel pads than the Dr. Dennis Gross top-selling product? If we make them “safe” for consumer use, are they still effective? And if we make an at-home version, will consumers forego our professional peel treatment?  So many questions…

Mid-Year Reflections…

I am a planner, a list maker, a goal tracker. I start new years with a list of goals, some new, some left over from the previous year. And usually, sometime in the middle of the year – typically during my vacation in Greece, or around Labor Day weekend – I re look at my goals and set myself up for success for the fall.

This year, my mid-year reflection happened this past Saturday, August 18. I was in Magnano in Riviera (Italy), where my father is from, a place I have not visited in over 20 years. I was there with my husband, my three sisters and their partners and children, and with my father – per his request, to celebrate his 70th year of life, and have our annual Polla Family Council meeting. Such a family gathering, and such a birthday, were conducive to reflection.

So, I reflected.

The first few months of 2018 were challenging, for reasons I still had a hard time processing. I acknowledged this to myself and thanked myself for getting past it. I thought about a note I made for myself at the end 2017 about strengthening my tolerance for tension. I certainly can check that off my list.

I thought about what I am most proud of professionally, namely continuing to grow Alchimie (look for some new distribution this fall), launching our newest product (Advanced retinol serum), continuing to lead Neill Fulfillment.

I reflected on my relationships and the people closest to me. Am I contributing to their happiness, to their growth, to their personal and professional development? These goals are important for the rest of 2018 (and beyond).

I reaffirmed my commitment to my self-care and reminded myself how part of the reason I started feeling better late Spring was more running, more water, more sleep, more reading. I re-commit to ending the year healthy and strong, physically and emotionally.

I thought about some very specific goals I have yet to achieve: redoing our YouTube videos; working on my book idea; reaching 10,000 Instagram followers for Alchimie; reading the books remaining on my “Marie Kondo-ed book pile.”

Finally, I think about what I am looking forward to for the rest of the year. These next few days in Italy, maybe becoming a home owner, lots of productive work travel, my god-daughter Jade’s week-long visit, the holiday season.

So much to be grateful for, so much to do, so much to look forward to…