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.  

Alchimie Forever… The Story Behind Our Name

It is Marketing 101 that when choosing a brand name, something short, easy to pronounce and spell, and memorable in various cultures and countries is the way to go.

My sister Cyrille and I chose Alchimie Forever as our brand name, many years ago in a delightful tea shop in the Old Town of Geneva. If I had a penny for every time our brand name was misspelled or mispronounced… What were we thinking?

Watch me tell the story here or keep reading.

As we started brainstorming, we identified four guiding principles:

  • We wanted a name that started with A (first letter of the alphabet, A like Ada, who knows…)
  • We wanted a link to Forever Institut, the medical spa our skin care brand was born in
  • We wanted a word in French (elegant, Swiss, international), and a word in English (universal, American, approachable)

We started listing French words starting with A… and suddenly my sister lit up and said “Alchimie!” And then we switched from drinking tea to celebrating with champagne!

It made sense for so many reasons. Alchimie (pronounced al-shee-mee) is the French word for alchemy. And alchemy is very much at the heart of our skin care philosophy.

  • Alchemy is the medieval science that became chemistry. And how can you formulate skin care products without chemistry, without labs, without clinical studies? There can be no skin care without science.
  • Alchemy is also part magic. The Alchemists were involved in such mystical pursuits as transforming lead into gold and finding the stone of eternal youth (both endeavors somehow related to beauty and youth). And skin care is indeed part magic…
  • The Alchemists were also among the first to identify plants as having healthful benefits. And potent botanicals are at the core of our formulations.

So yes, our brand name is hard to pronounce, and hard to spell – and now you know why: science, magic, and powerful botanicals!  

One Product, Every Single Morning

Growing up, some might say my parents were quite “lenient.” My sisters and I never had curfews. We were never forbidden from going to parties or having parties at home. We were allowed to have a sip of champagne for special occasions before the legal age.

However, there were some rules that we had to follow to the letter. Good grades in school (just because). No smoking (because it ages you). No tattoos (because they don’t always look good when you’re older). No desserts (because sugar ages you). And no sun, no tanning, no sunburns (because the sun is your enemy – at best it ages you, at worst it kills you).

From an early age, we were taught to wear hats, sunglasses, and a moisturizer with SPF. Every single day. To this day, I cannot walk out of my house without a product with SPF, regardless of weather, season, temperature.

Here’s why:

  • The sun ages your skin – this is called photo-aging, or UV-induced skin aging. Think dark spots, fine lines, broken capillaries, laxity of the skin.
  • Chronic sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer (even without sunburns). Indeed, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation: “Both intermittent, intense exposure (the kind you get on vacation on a sunny isle, often leading to sunburn) and chronic lifetime exposure add to skin cancer risk. Studies have shown that chronic sun exposure is most associated with the development of squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common skin cancer, while both chronic and intense, intermittent exposure are believed to play a role in basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer.”
  • Darker skin types, while not as prone to skin cancer as lighter skin types, should also wear SPF protection daily to prevent dyspigmentation.
  • UVA and UVB are both nefarious to the skin. SPF is a measure of UVB protection only – it does not address UVA. Make sure any product with SPF you use is “broad spectrum”, the official indication that the product will protect your skin from both wavelengths.
  • What SPF number should you look for? My father always said SPF 20+ is perfect for “normal life.” Per the Skin Cancer Foundation states: “In vitro tests have shown that SPF 15 sunscreens filter out 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent and SPF 50 98 percent.”
  • Chemical screen or physical block? You choose – what matters is that you use a product with SPF 20 or above every single day.
  • My pick? You guessed it: Alchimie Forever Protective day cream SPF 23. In addition to containing SPF protection, this lightweight moisturizer is packed with antioxidants including blueberry and edelweiss extracts, and vitamin C. No ashiness, no oily residue, no shine. Just antioxidant and SPF protection.

Every single day.

 

Tinos Countdown

In June, I count the days. The days until I am eating a Greek salad and drinking a glass of rosé at my favorite café at the Port of Rafina, in Athens, awaiting the ferry that will take me to my happy place, the island of Tinos. There, for two weeks, I will enjoy the sand, the sun, the sea, I will swim and read and eat and think and write and sleep.

In addition to counting the days, I relish the weeks leading up to that day and the anticipation by preparing for my trip in very specific ways. Here is my vacation preparation routine.

  1. I like to have 5-10 books to read during this two-week period – both fiction and non-fiction, both what one might consider “trash” and business books. On my list so far are The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Who is Rich, In the Name of Gucci, Off the Clock, The Verdun Affair, Principles, and more.
  2. Bathing suits. New year, new bikini. My collection is slowly but surely growing. I love Volcom, VIX, and Roxy.
  3. Even if I have any left from last summer, I purchase new sunscreen every year (it expires and all that). Of course, daily, the Alchimie Forever Daily Defense SPF23. And in addition to that, LaRoche Posay’s Anthelios Nourishing Oil SPF 50+ and Coola Sport Face SPF50 White Tea Organic Sunscreen Lotion.
  4. Beach body. I strive to eat healthy year-round, but in June I pay particular attention. More water, more vegetables, no carbs or sugars (I make an exception for champagne and wine), less cheese. And hopefully a three-day JRINK juice cleanse…
  5. Beauty appointments. The week before I leave, I make sure to get my eyebrows waxed (thank you Erwin and Karma!), have a pedicure (choosing a particularly exotic nail polish shade), and do a full body polish (this, at home, with Aveda Beautifying Radiance Polish).
  6. Every summer has its own playlist, songs to listen to on the road, at the beach, on the balcony. I have not yet started this summer’s playlist… any recommendations?
  7. Goal list. I head to Tinos with a list of goals, usually involving thinking projects, content creation, strategic planning. It’s amazing what happens to my brain when I let go of the daily tasks and activities and make room for the bigger picture.
  8. Don’t bring to Tinos list. I usually get a couple projects done in June that have been on my gameplan for months – because I refuse to “take them” with me to Tinos. Whether it be a project I have been procrastinating on or a random administrative task I have not yet figured out how to delegate and must take care of, it is getting done before I get on that ferry.

Is it June 29 yet?

The Polla Sisters’ take on baths

 

I recently asked my sisters to share with me their “unique, strange beauty routines.” Somehow, they all came back with information specific to baths – which is so timely given the recent Marie-Claire article about the return of baths (September issue). Apparently, baths are on our minds.

I was fascinated how they all independently went to the topic of the bath, and how unique and varied their (our!) routines are.

Roxane, the youngest, is a fan of baths. Long baths, in particular during exam time (she is in medical school). Candles in the bathroom; iPad in the bathtub; various oils or bubble baths depending on her mood. Did I mention long baths? Sometimes she will spend three hours in the bathtub reviewing her class materials. It’s her version of “me time.” When she comes out, she mixes a bit of Alchimie Forever’s Kantic+ intensely nourishing cream with her body lotion to keep her skin feeling soft, and looking young.

Rachel doesn’t really take baths. But when she does, it is because “it’s an emergency.” Meaning she is at the end of her rope and needs some quiet relaxation time. She will also keep her baths to the evening, and will also light a dozen or more candles. She will pour herself a glass of wine, and make herself some pasta – and enjoy dinner in the bath. This reminds her of when we were little and Mom would bathe and feed us simultaneously, because it was faster and easier than trying to have us bathe and then have us sit at the dinner table to eat.

Cyrille, on the other hand, never, ever, ever takes a bath. She hates how it makes her legs and feet feel swollen and tired. She is a shower girl all the way, and ends each shower with a frigid cold water on her legs, moving up from the feet towards the heart. “It’s good for blood flow, makes me feel as light as a feather, and prevents cellulite,” she promises. Like Rachel and Roxane, however, she showers in the evening. And similarly to Roxane, she uses an Alchimie Forever face product as her body lotion – the Kantic calming cream.

And me – well, I love baths. I take baths almost exclusively on the road. It is a wonderful reward after a long day of travel, and hotel bathrooms usually have a larger bathtub than the one in my tiny Georgetown bathroom. I love Kneipp bath oils and Aveda stress fix bath salts. No candles for me (I don’t travel with them), but yes to a glass of wine or champagne in the bath. And my post-bath product routine focuses on our body products! (Firming gel for neck and bust, Optimizing body contour gel, Dry skin balm, and Aveda stress fix lotion).

Now all we need is a photo of us in the bathtub looking as glamorous as these super models!!

Evening routines of the Polla sisters

It is not often that two of my sisters and I find ourselves on “this” side of the Atlantic. Yet this happened just a couple of weeks ago when Cyrille, Rachel and I met in NYC for a day of strategizing and brainstorming. (Roxane was with us in spirit of course). We mostly worked, but we also laughed and talked about non-work things. Specifically, given that they were both a bit jet-lagged, we talked about sleep and evening routines. I have written about my evening routines before, and loved hearing about my sisters’. There are definite common traits…

Roxane (who chimed in this part of the discussion by Skype) is probably the best sleeper among the four of us. Her evening routine involves changing clothes as soon as she gets home from “normal” clothes or scrubs, as she is in medical school, to something “comfortable yet sexy.” Her husband usually gets home a bit after she does, and their evening ritual involves cooking themselves dinner, during which time they share their respective days and unwind in the kitchen. Her tips for a quiet evening include “minimal screens” (computer, phone, TV, other), and none whatsoever in the bedroom. She goes to sleep before midnight (she says that is when we sleep the most restoratively – and since she is in medical school I have to believe her), and wakes up by 5:30 am.

Rachel also likes the ritual of changing clothes as soon as she gets home, and she is an evening showerer. Something about washing the day off of herself, she says (and of course she uses numerous Alchimie Forever products, for face and body). She lights multiple candles, puts on her Juicy Couture suit, spends special one on one time with her daughter before putting her to bed. That is followed by a good glass of red wine that she shares with her loved one, while sharing their day’s successes and challenges.

Apparently the changing clothes is either genetic, or something that we each took from our mother. Indeed, Cyrille also changes as soon as she gets home from work (she is very specific that even jewelry comes off), into one of her husband’s shirts. She then spends an hour in the kitchen, cooking vegetables while drinking a glass of red wine and munching on cheese. She always cleanses her face with Alchimie Forever’s Purifying Gentle Cleanser and applies organic hazelnut oil on her face (maybe a product I need to look into developing). She always place a big mug of herbal tea on her night table (fennel, chamomile or sage), and to full immerse herself in sleep mode, she plugs her ears and covers her eyes with a fluffy sleep mask.