DC Refined: Exploring the world of clean beauty with Ivy Wild
Part 1: Ivy Wild should be on everyone’s must-shop list this holiday season
When I first started exploring the world of clean beauty in the mid-2000s, the category was relegated to a single aisle in health food stores. Even there, many of the products were rudimentary at best, and paled in comparison to traditional brands. I struggled with cakey foundation, smudgy mascara and lip color that wouldn’t last beyond the day’s first cup of coffee.
A decade later, the movement has made major strides to become more mainstream, with a multitude of clean beauty brands offering quality products that eschew toxic ingredients without sacrificing performance.
I’ve also progressed on my own clean beauty journey, but I’m still far from an expert. When I heard that a boutique dedicated to clean beauty opened in the Manhattan Laundry Building, I knew I had to check it out.
Ivy Wild was founded by Rachel Mulcahy, a marketing professional in the tech space who also happened to be a self-professed über consumer of makeup and skincare. In the midst of her exploration of brands and products, Mulcahy had a realization that many of the items she loved contained toxic ingredients—even those considered to be prestige brands. So began her own transition to clean beauty.
As she discovered dozens of performance-based brands that she loved, her dream of working for herself and her passion for beauty aligned to bring to life a clean beauty boutique. At Ivy Wild, Mulcahy works with people at all stages of their clean beauty transition, whether they’ve never heard of the dirty dozen or they spend hours reading cosmetics labels. Her goal is not to preach or scold people for using the wrong products, but rather to help them find something that works for them and isn’t harmful to their health.
For me, the idea of just finding products I love without having to pore over the fine print of an ingredient list was both exciting and freeing. Mulcahy helped me do a few ‘clean swaps’ with products that I already had, but was looking for something even cleaner or more performance-based. Here’s how that went down:
Mulcahy started by asking me about my skin and my makeup needs—which I described as a fairly agreeable complexion with a preference for minimal everyday looks.
Foundation: I was using a mineral powder foundation that worked well enough, but I typically prefer liquid over powder. I hadn’t been able to find a clean liquid foundation that didn’t feel overly thick and was versatile enough for various levels of coverage. Mulcahy suggested Kosås tinted face oil, which is very lightweight and provides just a little bit of color, but can be applied more heavily as well. The product is also more skincare-forward, as it is a serum with hydrating meadowfoam and avocado oil. Even though it’s an oil, it dries quickly and doesn’t leave skin feeling greasy. I found it to be the perfect product that lets my skin shine through while also providing an even, finished look and skin-boosting benefits.
Concealer: I have very dark under eye circles, so a good concealer is a must for me. Again, I use powder, but would prefer liquid or cream. My main struggle with these products has been that they settle into creases and cause my mascara to drop. We went with a Vapour concealer stick, which had great color coverage, but unfortunately caused the same issues I’ve had in the past with more emollient products. I ended up switching back to my powder for under my eyes, but will definitely use the Vapour stick for blemishes or other problem areas.
Mascara: When I showed Mulcahy the mascara I had been using, I was shocked to learn that I hadn’t done my research and was in fact using a product that had an ingredient on the Dirty Dozen list. So, I was eager to switch and she recommended Saint, which builds volume while nourishing the lashes. In my wear tests at home, I loved the way the mascara looked, but did experience a little bit of smudging under my eyes, even with the powder concealer. Mulcahy suggested curling my lashes, which helped a little but didn’t completely solve the problem. Because I would rather use a non-toxic product than one that will stay put perfectly, Mulcahy said the best option would be to do a touchup during the day.
Mulcahy says “In some instances, I’ve found making this transition to clean products requires a bit of an adjustment in how you use and apply the product, which is a change I’ve been willing to make for the trade-off.”
Part 2: Rachel Mulcahy of Ivy Wild answers your clean beauty questions
Yesterday, we gave you a little insight into the new clean beauty boutique in D.C., Ivy Wild, founded by Rachel Mulcahy. Today, we are picking Mulcahy’s brain about clean beauty and some of the best brands on the market.
For someone who’s not familiar with the category of clean beauty, how would you explain it?
The FDA in the U.S. has not really done any meaningful revisit to the regulations that they have around skincare and makeup ingredients, whereas in Europe, there are over 1,400 ingredients that they’ve banned. We have not meaningfully updated our regulations since the late 1920s, and in that time, there’s been a lot of evolution in terms of research into the impact of some of these ingredients.
We’re really trying to stick with the basics and avoid the most universally recognized, scientifically-shown toxic ingredients. So either the Dirty Dozen or the Toxic Ten, which are the most broadly accepted terms for a set of the ingredients that are known to be harmful. We’re starting with that as the baseline. At Ivy Wild, we want products that don’t contain any of those, but that are very performance-focused.
Editor’s Note: The research-based reference list Ivy Wild uses is this one from the David Suzuki Foundation.
What’s your most trusted source for learning about ingredients and exploring the science behind them? Are there certifications you look for when choosing products?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource that we use to stay up to date on what’s evolving in the research into ingredients and our understanding of non-toxic ingredients. EWG has rolled out a certification, but many brands still aren’t certified, and it’s likely a lengthy process, so we’re keeping an eye out.
How many brands do you carry? Are they mainstream or more indie?
We have somewhere between 15 to 20 brands and we’re still reevaluating that all the time. The things that we’re really focusing on are making sure that we’re covering the bases in a really strong way with those core everyday essentials, as well as some of the more luxe fun things. We make sure that we have a really good variety in terms of the formulations and the coverage and the different price points.
Vapour Organic Beauty is a makeup line that I think of as sort of the OG of clean makeup, and so they’re probably the one that most people are familiar with and really pioneered a lot of this. But then there are newer, exciting brands like Kosås Cosmetics, for example, which are really fun color cosmetics, like highly pigmented. They’re the more up-and-coming exciting brand that people are hearing from. We’re also trying to find a couple of those fun, hidden brands that aren’t as available, that are harder to find.
What are some of your favorite products or brands?
What products have you shied away from carrying because of concerns about performance?
We’re still trying to test out deodorant, which is a very important one. But it’s a very personal thing and reacts with people’s body chemistry differently, and I think there’s a big education gap in terms of the way that we typically wear antiperspirant and deodorant today, where we’re expecting it to perform a certain way. I think it’s a little bit of a lifestyle shift to come to the realization that you’re going to have at least a month or two where you may be adjusting and may not be the best smelling, but also the idea that it’s something that you keep in your purse and you reapply throughout the day. That was one of the things that personally I believe in and I know the science is there that says you really don’t want to be rubbing aluminum into your open pores, but I really also didn’t want to be stocking products and having customers come in and have a bad experience. I didn’t want them to come in and try one thing and be like, ‘That didn’t work well; none of this must work well.’ Because everything else we carry, we’re so confident about and we use all the time and think it performs really well, if not better than traditional products that we’ve used.
Fragrance I was reluctant to look at for a while, because it was hard to find scents that smelled young and vibrant and weren’t really grandma-ish or really crunchy, but also then had lasting power. A lot of early clean brand fragrances were also super expensive, so you’re spending a lot of money on something that didn’t last. But that I’ve seen shifting and there are some great brands that we’ve been trying that I think we’re going to pick up now.
Nail polish we haven’t really dipped our toe in yet.
What was the main reason you wanted to explore clean beauty and make that transition for yourself?
The real catalyst for me was the personal health thing. They say somewhere between 60 to 70 percent of what you put on topically is getting absorbed by your body, and some of those ingredients bio-accumulate and will stay in your body for years and build. For me, that was the personal ‘aha’ moment. But it’s true, once you start digging in, you realize a lot of these brands are very environmentally conscious, sustainably minded, or socially conscious and they contribute a portion of sales to causes. Saint Cosmetics, for example, contributes a portion of sales to this group that helps fund women who are getting out of abusive relationships.
Tell me about your realization that many brands contain toxic ingredients, and how do you help others on the same path?
When people come in, our goal is not really to hit them over the head with ‘You have to get rid of this; you have to get rid of that; you have to switch everything over.’ We’re not really trying to play that role so much as we’re more just here to help them find something that they’re going to love and don’t have to worry about this, because it’s nontoxic. We’re meeting the consumer where they are in their realization or awareness about how much they want to transition over.
If someone does have a question about the brands they currently use, how do you help them understand the products and transition to clean ones?
We talk about it at the general ingredient level. We give them categories of ingredients. So we’ll say, the most commonly used ingredients that you want to watch out for are parabens and phthalates. These are preservatives that are in the majority of products, and fragrance is in the majority of products, so we sort of put that out there so that they start to be familiar that at a base level, in every category of product, you’re likely to find some of these things. We start there and then help people look for things for clean swaps that are going to still focus more on what their skincare needs are, or what they’re interested in in a makeup product. We don’t pull the labels up and go through in detail with folks. We want to let them know it’s easier to come in and just find something and not worry about it.