4 New York Beauty Brands That Will Change Your Life

Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
It may feel like big businesses dominate the consumer market, but when it comes to what we're putting on our faces, there's something so beautiful — and fascinating — about products that are made right in our backyards — er, somewhere in the vicinity of our 500-square-foot studios.

As New Yorkers, we're particularly proud to support anything and everything made in the city we call home — and beauty and skin-care products are certainly no exception. Finding products that are all-natural, locally-sourced, and made right in NYC is pretty much the dream trifecta for eco-conscious urban shoppers.

In celebration of small businesses run by some seriously awesome women, we hit the studios of four NYC-based brands to see how the magic really happens. The only thing more amazing than how these products feel is how they came to be. Click ahead for a double dose of hometown pride and beauty inspiration. 
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Name: Ji Baek
Company: Rescue Beauty

When did you decide you wanted to launch your own beauty line? Did you always want to work in the industry?
"I was searching for a perfect, clean, and healthy pedicure when I was [working] in restaurant management. With no avail — and utter frustration — I decided to enroll in 'nail school' to demystify New york State protocol licensing, and to research why no one is practicing its health and safety guidelines. The service sector of Rescue Beauty Lounge was born 1998, and the development of the nail polish line organically followed in 2002."

Describe your company's mission in three words.
"Insouciant, iconoclast, and rebel."

Tell us about your creative process. Where do you pull inspiration from?
"Everything and everywhere! For me, inspiration comes from all walks of life: culture, trends, art, people, places, and things — whatever moves me deeply in life."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Is there one product you’ve created that you're particularly proud of?
"Our iron-clad, long-lasting formula took about two and a half years to develop. We have been pioneers of 5-free nail polish (which does not contain formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, and camphor) since [the line launched]."

How has the New York beauty scene changed since you first started?
"Like any creative industry, it used to be more about the individual, and not the mall-like conglomerates that take over every block in every city and country. We have lost all the charm and personality of small businesses."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
What makes Rescue Beauty different from other companies?
"I'm extremely hands-on: I manage all of the emails and social media, and basically know all of our regular web clients as I would in a brick-and-mortar setting. For me, that's the gravy: sharing, and having clients riding the waves with you through each collection you create, hand-mix, write copy for, and direct visually."

What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself in the beginning?
"So many things! I started my business when I was 28 years old. Looking back...what the heck did I know? Had I known what I know now, I would tell my younger self to take it easy. I think [starting] in my early 30s would have been much better for all parties involved — especially me and my hormones."

What has been the biggest challenge of opening your own company?
"To believe in yourself and not let the outside noise, people, and energy get you down or tell you otherwise. See? You're so much wiser in your 30s than in your 20s..."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Is there an advantage to buying locally-made beauty products over mass-produced ones?
"Yes, because companies have more control over the ingredients and are legally bound to follow FDA guidelines, and things like the MSDA (Material Safety Data Sheet), when manufacturing.

"I remember back in 2001, when we were working on our nail polish formula, there was a huge article about the harmfulness of phthalates. I immediately contacted my lab to reformulate, delaying the project for another year. But, it was worth it in the end, and was something I would never have been able to do overseas. Sure, production costs would be way cheaper, but it's about the quality and longevity of our brand. Honestly, I would never wear [nail polish] if it was made in China, so why would I make something I would never wear?"

What is one piece of advice you would give someone hoping to launch their own beauty line?
"Get ready! It's 24/7, 110% of utter devotion, and it's not glamorous at all. Be humble, always read, and be flexible — it's a whirlwind."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Name: Anit Hora
Company: Mullein & Sparrow

When did you decide you wanted to launch your own beauty line? Did you always want to work in the industry?
"I started Mullein & Sparrow in 2012 — I had gotten my esthetician license a few years [prior], and was also seriously studying herbal medicine, and I wanted to find a way to connect the two. I started making a few products for friends, and selling them in a local yoga studio. I actually had no idea that this was going to become my path. It was decided after a lot of soul searching and a long backpacking trip through South America."

Describe your company's mission in three words.
"Pure, clean, nourishing."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Tell us about your creative process. Where do you pull inspiration from?
"I take a lot of inspiration from herbal medicine. I love studying natural medicine from many different cultures, and I am always pulling different things from them. I find the healing power of plants amazing and love to be able to harness that in my products."

Is there one product you’ve created that you’re particularly proud of?
"I am absolutely in love with the face serum. It's filled with amazing ingredients to nourish your skin! It took me a long time to create this formula and decide on all the different (and highest quality) oils and essential oils.

"I found this small, female-owned company (always a plus) that was really strict about the quality of their essential oils; not only were they more expensive, they were also incredibly picky about who they would work with. It was hard getting them to be our supplier, but now that they have seen that our values are the same, we have a built a lasting relationship. They recently told me that they are not taking any new clients, and that we are one of the last companies that are grandfathered in. This makes it even more special to me."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
What makes Mullein & Sparrow different from other companies?
"I think the biggest difference is knowledge and experience. I have studied skin care and herbalism and worked on many clients with all different skin types. I worked at a high-end spa in New York City for years using the best organic products, and have created my formulas with that in mind. It's love and passion backed with knowledge and experience."

How has the New York beauty scene changed since you first started?
"People are a lot more receptive to green beauty now. In fact, now I see people actually asking for it, which was definitely not the case even a few years ago."

What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself in the beginning?
"Just go for it — I feel like I let my fears and insecurities really hold me back in the beginning. I didn't take very many risks and really played it safe. I feel like the company started flourishing once I became braver."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
What has been the biggest challenge of opening your own company?
"Trying to do everything yourself in the beginning is super-hard when you have a vision, but don't have the means to make it a reality. It's been a slow but steady process, and I'm super-proud of everything we've achieved thus far with such little resources."

Is there an advantage to buying locally-made beauty products over mass-produced ones?
"Not only are you supporting small, independent makers, you are also telling the big companies that you want more natural, green beauty. By supporting the small, you are also influencing the big."

What is one piece of advice you would give someone hoping to launch their own beauty line?
"Do your research. The market has become flooded with indie beauty brands, so you need to figure out how you will be different. Make a place for yourself."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Name: Desiree Pais
Company: Benshen

When did you decide you wanted to launch your own beauty line? Did you always want to work in the industry?
"Benshen was born six months ago. My kitchen and bathroom have always been a science lab of sorts; I would make natural concoctions and elixirs, brewing herbs and using them as toners, or using oils for this and that.

"I struggled with acne for so long that it was constant experimentation and crafting. I was in the shower one night, scrubbing my face with what is now Benshen Rose Salts, and I thought, I should just make these and start selling them to my friends, they would love it. I called my mom, told her my idea, and she said, 'Oh, I was just on a cruise with Justin's mom, he started in his kitchen. I'll give you $200 to make one product and see what happens.' I'm standing in the shower thinking, Who the hell is Justin? Turns out she was with [Justin of] Justin's Almond Butter's mom. So, I made Serum No. 1, posted a photo to Instagram, and completely sold out in two days."

Describe your company's mission in three words.
"Beauty from within."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Tell us about your creative process. Where do you pull inspiration from?
"I often pull from my own experiences, which I used to label as problems, but now see as my highest teachers. Serum No. 1 was created to help clear my own hormonal acne, calm inflammation, and provide rich nourishment to my depleted skin that had been attacked by harsh products and picked until I would cry. It was a very depressing time.

"Kundalini changed everything. Once I started practicing — on top of the actual practice — all these women started coming into my reality who were absolutely radiant. I'm inspired by my beautiful tribe of friends in L.A., women like Taylor EyeWalker, Baelyn Elspeth, Nitsa Citrine of Sunpotion, Guru Jagat, Shiva Rose, [Lacy Phillips of] Free + Native, Amanda of Moon Juice. They have shown me what it's like to be strong, prosperous, and beautiful. They've also reconnected me to something I had forgotten: Beauty comes from being rooted in ritual, connected to the natural world, and treating yourself with the utmost love.

"A couple weeks ago, I was doing my whole evening ritual: silk robe, sage lit, candles burning, Narayan Shabd making the space beautiful. It was such a moment — how sacred the space was — I felt like a muse or a goddess from long ago. And, suddenly I had the idea to make a body oil inspired by the Greek goddess Cosmeos, which is now called Cosmeos's Composite. Cosmeos gave the mortals herbs, flowers, and other gifts to nourish the body and spirit. It's literally the most divine thing I have ever smelt or used."

Is there one product you’ve created that you’re particularly proud of?
"It's hard for me to pick one, but it would probably be Serum No. 1. People often ask me where the formula came from. Once I started meditating daily, the chatter became more and more quiet, and I could hear the inspirations coming down from the Golden Chain of wisdom through me. I had never made a serum before, even though I have been studying and working with herbs and plant medicine for years. The alchemy came to me, I started using it on my own skin, and I instantly knew it was magic. It was that moment that it became clear to me that when you are in alignment with what you are meant to do in this life, the universe will take care of you, and everything will come to you as it should."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
What makes Benshen different from other companies?
"My company is different than others because it has a piece of my heart in it. I use a lot of sound current to infuse the oils with elevated vibration. When you're working with ingredients that have all their living enzymes and life force intact, you don't want to be making batches while thinking of how angry you are at your partner, or how stressed out you are about your credit card bill. That will all go right into the product. So, I use Naad (sound current), which I play in my apartment 24/7 — especially when I am making products. I'll sing with it, so Benshen and I are in a time and space of positive frequencies. Nothing but love goes into each batch."

How has the New York beauty scene changed since you first started?
"I'm still a newbie in it, but it's profound and thrilling to see more and more women come to the realization that beauty comes from truly nourishing the body from within.

"One of my biggest fears when I launched was, How am I going to make it when there are so many natural brands out there already? And, the more I persist, as well as become friends with the creators of these brands, I realize that each of us has our own unique touch. Competition is a fear-based idea. There's plenty to go around. If the natural beauty army plans to take over the world and give people an alternative to overloading their bodies with chemicals, we need all the brands we can get!"

What’s one thing you would go back and tell yourself when you were first starting out?
"The same thing I tell myself 5,000 times a day, my favorite quote by Yogi Bhajan: 'Keep up and you will be kept up.'"

What has been the biggest challenge of opening your own company?
"Definitely the business side! I'm such a creative at heart, with my head in the clouds. But, I'm lucky enough to have the most amazing support tribe who tells me to come back to Earth when I need it.

"Also, staying on the path of your dreams. I could have quit many times. But, my commitment to my soul's mission on this planet reminds me that this actually has nothing to do with me. I am just a vehicle for Benshen to come to life, to bring this powerful plant medicine to others, and to share how to cultivate inner radiance."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Is there an advantage to buying locally-made beauty products over mass-produced ones?
"Aside from it being similar to the advantage of having dinner at your friend's grandmother's house on the coast of Italy, where all of her ingredients are fresh from the garden versus eating at McDonald's, the major difference is that these products are often made with natural, organic ingredients in their original form, which is incredibly powerful medicine. What happens with a majority of these big companies is that they take a plant into a lab, break it down, kill its life force, and then try to recreate it chemically to mass produce it as quickly as possible.

"One time, my best friend came over to watch the whole process of me making serums. She's not familiar with yoga and spirituality, so it was quite an experience for her. I sage the entire apartment, the bottles, the ingredients, and myself. I have the Narayan Shabd playing in the background. I close my eyes, tune in, and clear myself of any negativity I may have picked up from the day. Then, I start, chanting and meditating with the mantras the entire time. That's the kind of attention and love us smaller brands can afford to give. Quality over quantity, always."

What’s one piece of advice you would give someone hoping to launch their own beauty line?

"Just do it. Meditate every day. Eat healthy and keep your body strong. Be a clear channel for inspiration and beauty to come through to you. There will be obstacles, you will have doubts, but if you stay committed to your dreams, they will stay committed to you. One of my teachers once said, 'In the Aquarian age, it's not that we're chasing after our dreams. Our dreams are chasing after us. It's whether or not we're clear enough to see them, and if our nervous system is strong enough to make them happen.'"
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Name: Sage Lehman
Company: Love + Sage

When did you decide you wanted to launch your own beauty line? Did you always want to work in the industry?
"Love + Sage really only launched this past February, but I've been obsessed with beauty products and makeup since I was a little girl. My mother always used to say, 'It's too bad you can't get summer credit for reading the backs of shampoo bottles.' I've been making creams and lip balm since I was out of college, but for me it was more of a hobby. It wasn't until I put one of my lip balms into the hands of Jessica [Richards] at Shen Beauty that I decided to launch a line. She basically made me."

Describe your company's mission in three words.
"Can't live without."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Tell us about your creative process. Where do you pull inspiration from?
"I pretty much make things that I want myself. I found lipsticks to be drying a lot of the time, and some glosses to be too gooey. I wanted something moisturizing, but I also wanted a color that could be flattering on almost anyone. Once I came up with the tint, I thought about what the color reminded me of; it was a beach rose, and that's how I came up with the scent. At the moment, I'm in the process of formulating a whipped facial oil. I love using oils, but I also find them messy. I'm trying to create something that essentially goes on like a cream, but turns to oil. Hopefully it will be ready to sell soon!"

Is there one product you’ve created that you’re particularly proud of?
"I think my favorite is the Beach Rose Lip Balm. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on the color and scent, and although both are very subtle, I think they really complement each other."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
What makes Love + Sage different from other companies?
"I like the fact that my products are both completely natural and plant-based, but also have a more sleek and modern aesthetic."

What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself in the beginning?
"I am just starting out, so I don't have a whole lot of advice yet. But, one thing I will say is: Be ready for lots of ups and downs, and try to keep it all in perspective."

What has been the biggest challenge of opening your own company?
"At first, it was settling on a name, which took forever. Now, I would say it's the social media and PR aspects. I'm terrible at putting myself out there and promoting myself."
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Photographed by Leslie Kirchoff.
Is there an advantage to buying locally-made beauty products over mass-produced ones?
"I think it just feels good to support small companies. I like to know where everything comes from, whether it's something I am eating or something I am putting on my face. I want my customers to feel confident that I'm using quality ingredients, and only using things I would use on myself."

What is one piece of advice you would give someone hoping to launch their own beauty line?
"If you really believe in your product, just go for it."
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