Big Apple + Little Sister = Best Day

I go to New York every few weeks, and I write about my visits every few years (including here and here). This week, I had the pleasure of spending a day in the Big Apple with my youngest sister Roxane who was visiting from Switzerland. Here is what our perfect day together looked like.

Mimosas at the Loews Hotel

On Park in mid-town, this is one of the most civilized places in NYC, whether for coffee, lunch, or drinks. I love it for meetings, I love it alone when I need to catch up on emails or write, and I love it for everything in between.

A facial at Heyday Upper West Side

Despite family businesses involving a spa and skin care, Roxane is not a facial aficionado… so I had to gift her a Heyday facial. Not surprisingly, she loved everything about it – the setting, the treatment itself, the post-facial glow, the wonderful team members. No better way to start a day in the city!

A stroll through Nordstrom 57th street

Both of our first times in this gorgeous new store, we were in awe of the beauty offering. Not just the ground floor beauty store (which was packed with shoppers by the way), but also the first floor Beauty Services area. Featuring various “shops in shop” including Heyday (yes, they are in all the right places), Drybar, Face Gym and more, as well as wonderful niche brands, this area gave off a cool, chic, inviting vibe that made you want to shop and treat yourself.

A haircut at Fourteen Jay 

Roxane is addicted to her short haircut, and to Aveda. When she asked me for the best Aveda salon in the City, I had to recommend Fourteen Jay, a project my friend (and celebrity hairstylist) Frank Rizzieri was involved in creating.

Apero at the “new” Pastis

Pastis reopening last year after a five-year hiatus was to me some of the happiest 2019 news. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner there still feels like a party, something utterly “New York” that can’t be replicated anywhere else. A must.

We didn’t have a chance to visit all of the places on my list… here are a few left for her next visit.

The bar at Morandi

Another Keith McNally creation, Morandi in the West Village is on my list of places to try.

An afternoon at Great Jones Spa

One day I will make the time to have a long and perfect massage at this legendary spa, and I will take advantage of their amazing amenities, including the River Rock Sauna, the Chakra Light Steam Room, the Jacuzzi, and the Cold Plunge. One day…

21 Day Cleanse…Was it Worth it?

On January 5th, I started a 21-day cleanse, which I described here. I did it. I did not cheat. I loved it. And while I am glad it is over, I am maintaining many better, healthier habits.

Here are my key takeaways.

    1. I feel better. In my head and in my body. I am thinking more clearly, my belly is more comfortable, my early mornings are more pleasurable.
    2. I need a lot less food than I think I do. My “normal” calorie budget is 1,300 per day (according to my Lose It Apps anyway). On average, over the three weeks, I ate about 1,000 calories per day and I was not hungry except on the days I exercised.
    3. With these new eating and drinking habits, I need less exercise. During the past three weeks, I exercised only twice per week, which seems to be plenty both mentally and physically.
    4. I did lose weight, 8 pounds to be exact, which is a lot for me and hard to do in three weeks.
    5. I did not miss alcohol, but I did miss the rituals. I missed the ritual of a glass of wine during a lunch date with a friend (replaced by non-alcoholic beer) and the ritual of a glass of wine in the evening to wind down (replaced by many cups of all kinds of different teas).
    6. My evening beauty routine has improved. Somehow exfoliating and masking and “retinol-ing” go better with three cups of hot tea than with three glasses of wine.
    7. My skin is clearer. I don’t know if this is from the liters of tea (herbal mostly) I consumed, from my more regular use of my Advanced retinol serum (see above), or from the lack of alcohol, or all of the above, but I am definitely more “glowy.”
    8. I spent a lot less money on food and beverage, partly because going out did lose some of its appeal, and partly because when I did eat out, there was mostly lettuce and certainly no alcohol on my tab.
    9. I went to the grocery store twice in three weeks (versus my average of once every two months…). With these new habits, having the right food at home and in my purse at all times is essential to avoid “mistakes due to hangry emergencies.”
    10. I discovered a love for apples. I have probably eaten an apple a day since January 5th (the only fruit allowed on this cleanse) and I plan to continue. They keep the doctor away, are easy to travel with, and are available in American Airlines lounges!
    11. My new rituals and habits have stuck beyond 21 days. I have not added milk back to my coffee. I have not added carbs or sugar back to my diet. I am still limiting dairy. I did enjoy mimosas with brunch and a great cabernet with dinner this past Sunday, the first day “post cleanse,” but I have not had any alcohol since. I will certainly splurge on date nights and on weekends, but these new healthy habits are here to stay – and that is the best possible outcome of these 21 days.

I cannot think of a better way to have started 2020!

Two New Favorite Spots in Geneva

I love going home to Geneva, Switzerland, partly because I feel like the city is the same as when I left it in 1995. I love going to the same places over and over again, and have written about my favorites both in National Geographic and here.

Yet, as I leave after three days in my childhood home, to go back to my adult home of Washington DC (go Nats!), I was thrilled to discover two amazing new places that I look forward to visiting again and again.

La Comtesse Champagne & Cocktail Bar

My sisters and I had an apéro there last night, with Mom. A 6th generation family business run by the lovely Anaïs Leconte, this elegant yet cozy bar is an expansion of the core business, which is making champagne. Highlight: the champagne cocktail list is the longest I have ever seen. I will need to go back many times to try them all! 

Le Decanteur

Nestled in the Quartier des Eaux-Vives, this modern Italian restaurant and wine bar is my new favorite. Amazing pasta, amazing Italian wine list. Luca Ragnelli, the owner and master chef, has been cooking since the age of 13, studied at the Ecole Hoteliere of Geneva, spent time in Parma, and worked at the Noga Hilton (now Kempinski) before opening his restaurant. My favorite factoid? One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is inspired and named after is aunt Tina.

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 sulfate-free (as of December 2019 our Purifying gel cleanser still features a fabulous foaming texture, but without sulfates).

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. 

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 average 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.